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First time shopping in London grocery store...Please help!!!

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First time shopping in London grocery store...Please help!!!

I will be traveling to London this July-Aug, 2013 with my husband and 3 girls. We will be staying in an Apartment in Waterloo that we are renting form BoutiqueLondonLets. We will be eating breakfast and dinner in the apartment and packing sandwiches for lunch. I've never shopped in a grocery store in London. Here in the states you can go to the store and get an already baked rotisserie chicken, veggies that are pre packed and can be steamed in the bag, and pre packed deli meat for sandwiches. Do they have this sort of thing in London? Could I walk into a grocery store and get a pre baked chicken? I'd like to make spaghetti,too. Therefore, do they have pasta sauces, noodles, and ground beef that I could pick up to whip up a quick pasta dish? These may sound like dumb questions, but I'm also used to shopping in grocery stores in Taiwan where you have to go to about 3 or 4 different places to get all the ingredients you need to make something.

Here, in the states, the grocery stores have panko breaded chicken or fish in the frozen section that you put in the oven for 20-25 mins and bake. We also have prewashed in a bag ready to cook veggies. Do they have the same there?

I'm just trying to plan ahead and figure out what I will be able to get in order to prepare pretty quick and healthy meals.

Are there any large grocery store chains in or near Waterloo? I know there is a Greensmith's, but I don't know anything about them.

Oh yes! And do you have to provide your own grocery bag or do they put your groceries in a plastic or paper bag?

Sorry for so many questions, just trying to plan ahead.

Thanks for your help!

Vancouver, Canada
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1. Re: First time shopping in London grocery store...Please help!!!

Interesting questions.

Yes, shops provide plastic bags, both lightweight, recyclable (but multi use) bags and sturdier plastic Bags For Life. The latter cost 10p; when one wears out, return it to the shop for another. Many shops also sell jute or cloth reusable bags. At most shops, you are expected to bag your goods.

You will find fresh fruit and veg in bulk as well as washed and prepared veg and fruit of all kinds. You will find minced beef, whole chickens, joined chickens and all sorts of fresh, chilled and frozen fish fillets and fingers. Fresh and dried pasta of all varieites is available, including gluten free and organic pastas, along with all sorts of jarred and fresh sauce.

Small and large shops have fresh breads and rolls along with morning goods, cakes and other bakery items. You'll find fresh milk, juice, yogourt, butter and cheese of all types, fresh and prepacked.

In short, I think you will be surprised at the substantial variety of goods in shops. Have a look at www.waitrose.com and www.sainsburys.co.uk You can browse the aisles (as if you were going to place an order) without registering, to get an idea of what is available.

Organic and gluten free products are available at most shops and tend to be of high quality. Don't discount the kiosks you might see near stations or at street markets: fresh fruit and veg may be cheaper at a kiosk, and busy ones have a fast turnover.

There is a reasonable size Sainsbury's Local in Waterloo Road and an M&S Simply Food inside the rail station, but check the Sainsbury's, M&S and Waitrose websites for the nearest big shops to your flat; you'll need the postcode to locate the nearest. Tesco is everywhere as well, but I prefer the other three.

London, United...
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2. Re: First time shopping in London grocery store...Please help!!!

You will find British supermarkets compare well with American counterparts. However, I find there is more differentiation amongst British supermarkets. A big trend in the past 5-10 years has been the appearance of shops that are halfway between a normal supermarket and a convenience store. These will be mainly in city/town centre locations. They are smaller in square footage and have a smaller selection.

By way of example, the largest supermarket chain, Tesco, segments into at least 4 sizes of shop: express (glorified convenience store), metro (small urban supermarket), unlabelled/standard (normal supermarket), extra (large edge of town shop including substantial non-food offerings: clothing, DVDs etc.). A Tesco express in an area with lots of office workers may be predominantly lunch foods (pre-made sandwiches and salads) whereas one in a more residential area will have more foods for cooking at home in the same square footage.

I would also note that the Marks and Spencers Simply Foods shops tend towards more pre-made foods (including pre-made meals that you can cook/microwave at home). The British high standards of chiller cabinet (i.e. fresh, not frozen) ready meals is something my American friends often comment positively on compared to American supermarket offerings.

Dried pasta (generally imported from Italy but well priced) and sauces are ubiquitous. Frozen breaded chicken and fish will be available in larger stores, but some of the convenience store sized shops will not have any frozen foods or will have an extremely small selection that may tend towards ice cream. Rotisserie chicken is available in larger supermarkets, but less so in the small/medium sized stores.

I have never heard of Greensmiths, but it seems to be an upscale deli/organic food shop, not actually a supermarket.

If you want to experience a particularly British approach to frozen food, there is an Iceland near Waterloo. This will have relatively cheap frozen foods in bewildering variety.

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3. Re: First time shopping in London grocery store...Please help!!!

All of the above mentioned shops have websites and will deliver. So have a browse online before you go, order and have it all delivered to your accommodation. No stressing about finding a supermarket, what the metro shop stocks or issues with bags. Problem solved (millions of people shop this way in the UK. Online supermarkets are big).

London UK
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4. Re: First time shopping in London grocery store...Please help!!!

Half the joy of an overseas holiday is to shop in local stores and see what is available. Everything you listed will be available in London food shops and supermarkets. Do try our cheeses, they are so good even the French rave about them. However we may well have a larger selection of food than back in Texas because in London you can eat around the world and it is reflected in the shops. When you visit a grocery store in London you will find it so similar to shopping in Dallas. After all the supermarket concept came across to the UK in the 1950s from the USA. Yes, the prices will be in Pounds Sterling and what you would have paid for pro rata in US$ you will pay in Pounds Sterling here. Regrettably food is more expensive here but the exchange rate will take some of the sting out of the paying the bill at the check-out. Sure, things like 24oz T-bone steaks and quart cups of coke are a decided rarity, but go shopping with an open mind and an empty shopping trolley/basket and enjoy your holiday in London.

Bon appetite.

Edited: 02 April 2013, 11:23
West Virginia
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5. Re: First time shopping in London grocery store...Please help!!!

Who is doing all this cooking? I hope it's not all you!

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6. Re: First time shopping in London grocery store...Please help!!!

A point to note - weights will usually be shown in metric. (500g = 16oz approximately). But if you go to a deli counter and ask for perhaps half a pound of cheese, or 4 oz of olives the assistant will understand perfectly! Also if buying hot pre-cooked chicken, this will cost more than one pre-cooked and cooled. This is because of a recent change in tax. VAT is now charged on all food bought hot.

Memphis, TN
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7. Re: First time shopping in London grocery store...Please help!!!

I think you will be pleasantly surprised at the variety and quality of prepared meals available in the supermarkets. You should have little problem finding what you're looking for.

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8. Re: First time shopping in London grocery store...Please help!!!

My two experiences shopping at Waitrose in London were pleasant. They had a nice variety of products I'd expect to find at home, as well as local/regional items. You'll definitely find everything you want and need at a decent sized store.

Sutton in Craven
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9. Re: First time shopping in London grocery store...Please help!!!

The other answers have covered off all your questions but consider this. You'll be staying about a mile from Borough Market ... http://www.boroughmarket.org.uk/ ...

The range and quality of the food available (to eat there or bring away to cook at your apartment) is superb and a 'must see' for anyone who has even a vague interest in cooking. Your kids will love it - we took our 9 year old daughter there a year or so ago and she was mesmerised by the sights and sounds.

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10. Re: First time shopping in London grocery store...Please help!!!

Whilst Greensmiths aren't the cheapest shop by any stretch of the imagination, their quality is excellent. Myself and friends have popped in regularly when attending a group in Lower Marsh. Their Quiche Lorraine to take away is especially tasty.