Next to an intimate knowledge of espresso, my favorite thing about working at a coffee shop this summer was all the people I got to meet. Surprisingly enough, I encountered a fair number of Brits.
There were curious families on vacation. There was the Florida-tanned, graying man who punctuated his sentences with a quintessentially British “love” each time I poured his coffee.
There was also the Vans Warped Tour roadie who both stuck out and blended in. He had the tattoos and laminated pass like the rest of his festival counterparts. His short, straight-across bangs (fringe?) and embroidered striped shirt were almost-universal, Western hipster attire. But he squinted at the menu for a bit before his voice rang out in a clear, English accent. It was to ask if there was any way we could make him an Earl Grey.
Lastly, there was Riz. He always dressed well in sleek, dark colors. And he was nice enough in our interactions, even if he always seemed to be in hurry. He just so happened to come in on my last day of work. The transaction was pretty standard: I greeted him, I rang up his coffee and his panini. When it came time to write his name on the sandwich bag, I looked up at him.
“Your name is Riz, right?” I asked tentatively. It was my last day. At this point, if you were a regular, I had probably memorized your name and drink order. But I only saw Riz every now and then, so I thought it would be best to double-check.
“Yes!” He cracked a bit of a smile before saying wryly, “Of course you’d remember. There aren’t too many people coming in here who have an English accent and are brown.”
Again, it was a matter of similarity and difference. I took note of a fellow brown person looking sharp and doing their thing. But I also took note of the accent. I had to chuckle at that. #Exposed.
We got to talking. He had heard it was my last day and that’s when I explained that I was off to England for the semester. His face lit up in absolutely wistful delight. He missed it all so much! His family, of course. He did get to visit them and the city, but not as much as he’d like. Once or twice a year. But the food! I had to try all of the (dank) Asian food in London. Had to.
And that’s really where I’m at right now: the food. I absolutely adore Asian food. From Korean grocery stores to hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese joints, I am already on the hunt for the authentic stuff here in the States. At about 7 percent each, the Indian and black African communities are the biggest non-white ones in London. I am definitely ready to taste what modern-day London has to offer.
I’m sure some of you are asking, “What about Traditional British Food?” Well, sorry, mate. Not much can be done in the way of bangers + mash or traditional shepherd’s pie or sausage rolls or steak + kidney pie: I’m pescetarian.
But of course, that lends itself to trying one of England’s premiere delicacies by the name of fish + chips. If you’ve been out to eat with me you know that my hearty lunch or dinner choice is probably going to be fish + chips (second to a veggie burger and excluding any Asian or Latinx cuisine).
From Maryland to South Carolina to Florida, I’ve lived on the coast my whole life. I feel like I’ve tasted every incarnation of fish + chips possible.
Nevertheless, when I study abroad in England this semester? I hope every chippie I hit up in London reminds me that 1776 was a mistake.