Oxford is a city I will always associate strongly with its food. It’s not a culinary capital, but its food was important for me.
It’s where I learned to cook.
It’s where I learned to cook meat, even.
It’s where I learned that I like to cook.
It’s where I learned that it’s okay to take on crazy, adventurous recipes…in a dorm kitchen.
It’s where I learned how to feed myself, on my own, without relying on a dining hall or my parents’ kitchen for every meal.
It’s where I learned that rubber gloves can be really handy when pan frying chicken.
It’s where I learned that you probably shouldn’t wear rubber gloves when you’re latex sensitive. (Goodbye strawberries.)
It’s where I learned that you really can throw pasta up against the wall to see if it’s cooked.
It’s where I learned that there is a substitute for every food, no matter how seemingly essential.
And every piece of kitchen equipment.
It’s where I learned about the history of coffee, a great topic even though I don’t drink it.
It’s where I learned that I have a great nose for wine, even though the smell alone makes me too sick to ever contemplate drinking.
It’s where I learned that Food Gawker can be addictive, and inspiring.
It’s where I learned about chocolate.
It’s where I learned that even free scallops aren’t always the best deal.
Even though it’s where I suffered frightening food reactions, where I had to pay attention to how much I ate in a way I hadn’t before, and where I ultimately got sick, food in Oxford is still a marvelous thing. It formed a new interest for me, it exposed me to new tastes, and it brought me closer to some amazing friends.
I’ll write about restaurants and cafes some other time, since I get asked for recommendations every so often. And I’ll write about the food “in hall” (at Teddy Hall’s dining hall) as well, and fulfill my long-ago promise to my Uncle Steve to blog about British food. (Though I’m sorry, but I never did attempt bangers and mash.) For now, I’d like to talk a little about the stores and markets that helped my friends and me indulge in our culinary tendencies as we embarked on adventures such as osso bucco, paella, a thousand risottos, chicken cacciatore, the perfect Bolognese, coconut curry, homemade chocolate, and crepe cake, all in ill-equipped dorm kitchens. (As well as a thousand simpler pleasures.)
Boswell’s for kitchen equipment.
The East Oxford Farmer’s Market. Sandy Lane Organic Farm for winter vegetables. Roz’s Breads from around the World for challah and the most delicious bagels – because I might not have set foot in a service the entire time I was there, but I could still stay connected, in my own way. (Being Jewish in the UK is a topic I should, but in all honestly most likely won’t, write about.) The Natural Bread Co. for savory pumpkin bread. (+ the used book stand for one pound books.)
The Tesco on Cowley Road for most of my weekly shop. (I forgive you for the initially confusing, chaotic, and bill-raising redesign, I swear. You stocked hazelnut milk thereafter, which had the double benefit of being delicious and unappealing to my kitchen-mates.)
Sainsbury at the Plain for quick stops on the way home, fresh-baked croissants, and those weeks when I couldn’t contemplate walking any further than necessary to get my blue-flavored Powerade and Ritz crackers.
Uhuru for things more specialized, and the times when I needed to pretend Cowleyfornia actually was and step foot in a natural foods store.
The Covered Market for fresh, inexpensive produce, real butcher’s shops, and a fishmonger’s.
Hotel Chocolat for thank you gifts and window shopping.
Whittard’s for tea, naturally…though to be honest, I mostly preferred my Good Earth from home and apple tea from Turkey. The loose-leaf chais were lovely.
Marks & Spencer’s on Queen Street for some more specialized ingredients and a change of pace, though the place had the tendency to put me into sensory overload and the strawberries (before my sensitivity set in) were more expensive.