I have lived in Oxford for a little over two years now, and lived in the UK for about 6 years now. In this series of articles I will try to explain to my readers in Pakistan what life is like in the UK, and of course in the lovely city of Oxford.
I will begin with something that is close to my heart. Being from Lahore, food is one of the biggest joys known to me. In the first article, I will talk about Eating out. The second article will be about cooking food.
And this is where I have very disappointing news. While you can get very good food in UK, it does not compare to the food you get in Pakistan.
There are also certain things that are very different in terms of food here than they are in the UK.
Fast foods such as McDonalds, KFC, etc.
Fast food places like McDonalds and KFC are a lot cheaper in the UK than they are in Pakistan. For that reason, they are also considered quite cheap. Normally they are considered a place to grab a quick bite, but not really meet someone and have a chat. The good thing is that they have quite a few Halal options, especially the places which have bigger Muslim populations.
A typical meal costs you about £5.00 but cheaper snacks can be had for £2.00.
A kebab in Pakistan is what we consider ‘good’ food. You would happily invite someone over for dinner and treat them to Kebabs. A bit of roasted chicken, maybe. You know the drill. Serve with some salad, lovely fresh naans, and an assortment of chutneys, and you are on to a winner.
Not so in the UK. A kebab is considered something British people only eat after a night out, where they are too drunk to notice any flavour. It is cheap, the kebab shops are open till late, and the kebab shop guys would quickly throw some meat on to pita bread with some sauces and hand it to you. More often than not, this is not a good meal. They also lack decent sitting space, which means you may not want to sit there and have your food.
Not all is lost though. Most of these shops are Halal and are quite cheap. Also, if you happen to find a good one, you can actually get a pretty decent meal out of them. There are a few chains that can be found in the UK that offer a decent grub. Not great, but decent. Dixy Chicken, who also tried a hand in Lahore, is one. There are others such as Chicken Cottage and Kebabish.
What you get in these Kebab shops are Doner and chicken kebabs off of a rolling skewer, much like the Shawarma people have in Pakistan. You also get other things, such as shish kebabs, and different types of burgers.
While it is rare, some of them do make fresh naans.
A typical meal costs about £5.00 but you can have a burger for about £2.00.
I put Nandos after the above two because I remember Nandos being very expensive in Pakistan. In the UK, it is good because it has more Halal outlets than any other food chain in the UK. It basically serves its purpose as a slightly glorified Kebab shop. The food is fairly good, and while I did not go to Nandos much in Pakistan, I imagine it is the same quality if not better here. It is more expensive than the above two though.
A typical meal would cost you anything between £5.00 to £7.00.
There is an assortment of restaurants here called Indian restaurants, and British absolutely love going to them. This is quite ironical as most of those are owned by Bangladeshi people. They would happily invite you out with them to go to one, and ask you questions and treat you like an expert there. They also love their curries, but beware, the curries you will get served are different from what you get in Pakistan. Most curries are the English versions of the curries, and because of the Bengali ownership, you get a lot of Bengali dishes as well.
The most popular dish in the UK is called Chicken Tikka Masala. Now before you squint your eyes at that name, it is purely a British dish. However, since they cook a lot of it, it is not a bad thing to try. Most other dishes are very mild. Other are totally different to what you expect. For example, while a Karrahi is still something of a mild Karrahi, a Korma in the UK is a very white/yellow looking thing which is very mild. More like a butter chicken or Chicken Makhani.
Once again most of these are Halal as well, and you do pay a bit more, per head it costs you about £10 but it can make a good night out.
PS you are always served Poppadums at the start of a meal with an assortment of chutneys and pickles. While this is not practised in Pakistan, this does make a good appetizer.
They also serve a few kinds of naans, which can be quite good.
While this may sound harsh to the Brit, the closest thing you get to dhabba food in UK is pub food. And yes, a pub is not just for drinking beer and getting drunk. In fact I find a good pub is the best place to have lunch. While there is no such thing as a Halal Pub, you can have a few Fish options, as well as loads of Vegetarian options. Read the menu carefully as some things may have elements of alcohol in them. You can always ask the person serving you about these things as well. It also gives you a chance to chat to the locals.
Pubs are also a good place to get a bit of English food.
Meal can cost you between 5 and 10.
Italian food is very tasty. That is simply a fact. It does not seem so in Pakistan, but mainly because we do not have many good restaurants there. The one thing you have to be careful of is the use of pig based products. The safest option is to stick with vegetarian options. Mushroom risottos, pastas, and various pizzas make great food.
There are not many Halal options, but you may come across a rare few.
Meal will cost you on average about 7 to 8 pounds.
Chinese food is very different in the UK. However, one does get used to it. There are a few Halal options out there. Most of these cook food in the Pakistani style we are used to eating. Mostly Chinese food can cost you about 5-6 pounds per meal.
England has a lot of nations living in it. Hence, a lot of different types of restaurants exist that offer you everything from Libyan, Arabic, and Russian to Jamaican, Polish and French foods. Feel free to try these out, but make sure you know what you have ordered. It is more complicated than you think it is.
It is quite common to order Appetizers before a meal, a main course, and a pudding (sweet dish). You can ask the waiter to bring the appetizer and main together, as that is what we are more used to in Pakistan.
Also if you are eating in a Chinese/Thai restaurant, it is customary to eat food with chopsticks. However, feel free to ask for a spoon/fork.
Giving a tip is up to you, and a sum of 10% of the bill works well. Ideally, pay tip in cash, because if you add it on a card, there is a chance your waiter may not get it.
Naans deserve a special section of their own because that is one thing I miss the most about the food you can buy here. You can get packed naans from most supermarkets, the ones you have to bring home and heat.
Some cities have tandoors. Very rare though.
Otherwise, the best place to buy a naan is from a kebab shop or an Indian.
Sadly, expect to pay about a pound for a simple naan.
Places to eat
Depending where you are, you can either be very near or very far from Pakistani cuisine.
London is of course a good place to be, as there are loads of Pakistanis living there, hence loads of Pakistani food.
Bradford, lovingly known as Bradistan, for the amount of Pakistani people living there, is also a good place for Pakistani food.
Manchester has Wilmslow Road in the area of Rusholme, which is full of Pakistani restaurants.
Birmingham is another good place.
Here are the few restaurants that I would recommend as my favourites:
– Shere e Khan, Star City, Birmingham
– Bundu Khan, London
– Nawabs, Manchester