The first time I realized there was a language barrier between Brits and North Americans was when I went grocery shopping in Toronto. There, I was surrounded by vegetables and herbs that looked familiar but had strange names, triggering a blurry Mr. Krabs episode in my head. In a No-Frills supermarket, I opened my Google browser on my phone and typed “What is the egg of a plant?” shortly followed by “scallion?” I’d heard the terms before, but I always thought they were other things—not the same as an aubergine and a spring onion.
To this day, every time I visit the States, it’s still a struggle. God forbid I look up a British website’s recipe in America, or an American recipe in the United Kingdom: the result is always a drain on my data, as I try to figure out why I don’t already know what a parsley leaf looks like. More than anything, the comfort I feel walking into my local chicken or doner shop—deploying light-hearted shorthand with the people working the counter—is a sharp contrast to the alien feeling I get walking into a bodega.
That's because when it comes to idiosyncratic lingo, the U.K. is a fertile breeding ground, drawing from the rich traditions of wordplay and applying them to chippies and curryhouses alike. The knack for verbal gymnastics has become even more dynamic thanks to the ingenuity of immigrant communities, who have adopted and enriched both the the stiff English food and English language. Understanding these linguistic subtleties is crucial: In a city like London, where everything and everyone is packed tight, your ability to "code switch" and respectfully call the guy serving your two-piece chicken and chips "Bossman" says a lot about you. It’s why these words are so comforting—they're a reminder of home, and of who we are.
I usually don’t have the patience to explain the vernacular of my beloved city, but when it comes to food, it’s best to know what’s what. So for anyone who is jumping on the grime music hype so much that they want to take the flight out to blighty (the U.K.), here’s a basic guide to our food terminology when you finally do touch road.