I don’t think anything personifies Christmas in the UK more so than the Big Christmas Food Shop.
For the last couple of weeks, the schedule of when and the strategy of how one is going to go about the business of food shopping for the festive season has been high on people’s agenda. It appears that it is not a ‘one stop for all’ approach. It has to involve at least three to four locations in different parts of town that operate a one way traffic system.
Whilst living in South East Asia for nine years, I have attempted to replicate the whole Christmas dinner complete with all sides and Yorkshire puddings. But after sweating it out in a kitchen that has no aircon in 32 degrees but feels like 38, the appeal of going pared back or alternative becomes highly attractive.
So the concept of the Big Christmas Food Shop is still fairly new to me and I have been very blase about it. I don’t remember it ever being such a concern before. But then, it wasn’t me who was preparing Christmas dinner and the most people I have ever had to stretch to was three one year. Now though, I am in daily conversation with people who no longer have the luxury of just rocking up and a festive turkey magically appears. It’s a bit like reading Harry Potter and discovering that those amazing Hogwarts banquets are not conjured up by magic but a team of house elves putting in a lot of elbow grease.
And I am amazed at the numbers people cater for. Upto 20 people someone was having. Where do people sit? How much crockery and cutlery do you have? How do you actually cook that amount of food in one standard sized oven that I can barely manage to cook a regular Sunday roast in? (If I have one requirement for my next home, it’s to have two ovens.)
I guess when you’re hosting a one day pop up restaurant then quite right, you do need to plan your Big Christmas Food Shop with military precision and break it down into categories. Meat and poultry. Seafood. Cheese. Dried groceries. Fresh groceries. Beer and wine. All from different suppliers. And I do get that everyone has their favourite go to places. Even I have been persuaded that this year’s festive meat must come from a butchers that’s five miles down the road upon a passionate recommendation.
As talk turned increasingly towards discussing what day people were heading to do their Big Christmas Food Shop, I could feel a slight panic rise inside of me over the fact that I hadn’t given much thought to when I was going to do mine. I’ve never had to before. My biggest worry has been will there be sprouts and parsnips in the supermarket because neither are a very common vegetable in Asia and Christmas dinner is not Christmas dinner without one sprout on your plate.
Some people were going to go late on Christmas Eve and snap up whatever was on offer. Others had already finished theirs. Most were worried that impending hangovers would make the task even more arduous. In my rational mind, I know I am cooking for three adults and three young children (who only want to eat pigs in blankets, Yorkshire puddings and rice.) I found I needed to keep reminding myself that I’m not catering for 20 full sized adults and yet the panic I could feel rise inside of me started to bubble away. I found myself caught up in the frenzy of thinking that I must be at the shops by 7am. It was only cemented by a text message I received from a friend who had done her Big Christmas Food Shop at 6.30am that morning via two major supermarkets.
So I cave. The next morning, whilst I ought to be languishing in the luxury of no early morning school run, I find myself leaving home earlier than I would for the school run. I don’t even bother washing though I do brush my teeth. Standards. And the sun has barely finished rising. I feel a sense of smugness settle in as I set off. I am one of those organised people I think. I’ve got my list, I’ve checked it twice. I arrive at the supermarket with my own carrier bags and I enter through the automatic doors. I am immediately engulfed by mountains of parsnips, Brussel sprouts, carrots, cabbage. As I push my trolley with determination to the sprouts, I catch the eye of another fellow Big Christmas Food Shopper and we both let out a deep sigh. She laughs. We grab our sprouts and head off in different directions.
I think I got in there early but so does at least 500 other shoppers. I lose focus and take refuge in the Homewares section. It is much more peaceful here among the Christmas jumpers and kitchenware. I get sidetracked and pick up a singing dog that belts out a Depeche Mode/Christmas songs medley and four different sizes of baking trays. I head back to General Groceries and remember to pick up three bags of festive salted caramel pretzels. (These are so good and I truly missed them between the months of February and October.) I try and focus but it’s so early in the morning and I haven’t had a proper cuppa tea yet and there are people who are steering their shopping trolleys with GPS technology. Some are even in teams of two with designated items they each must get like some kind of festive The Amazing Race challenge. So I head back to the quiet refuge of Homewares and pick up more useful items not on my Big Christmas Food Shop list.
Eventually though I make it to the Checkout and I’m out of the supermarket. I feel elated but also like I’ve done a whole day’s work and need to go home and have a lie down. As I exit the car park, a long line of stationary traffic to enter has formed. The tailback is a good kilometre and I pass someone that I recognise. They should really have got up at 6.30am.