When Peter White headed for the concessions stand at halftime of a women's basketball game at the Olympic Park outside of London, he found himself in quite a quandary.
"Meat pies are all that they had," says the Lynn University sports management sophomore from Weston, Mass. "I mean, I like steak and I like pie -- but not together."
Such is the dilemma faced by countless tourists who have descended upon London for these Summer Games. Stadium concessions at Olympic venues have varied from odd but fascinatingly delicious to downright bizarre and bordering on, well, kind of gross.
At Eton Dorney near Windsor, site of the rowing competition, a few brave souls have munched on soft-roll sandwiches filled with gammon, a traditional holiday food in some English households. (Gammon is -- hold onto your forks, everyone -- the hind legs of a pig that are soaked in brine and cured.) Purchasers of vegetable pizzas in Olympic Park have found their cheesy preparations covered in a layer of... corn kernels. At Earl's Court, site of indoor volleyball, few have dared to touch the chopped lamb pocket pies, as the food sat in their warmer cases. And just outside the ExCel Center, home to boxing and other events, lovers of french fries have been able to top their "chips" with baby-food-style mashed peas. No, we're not kidding.
To be sure, London has never been well-known around the world for its native culinary brilliance, perhaps short of tasty and filling pub food. But as the world arrived on this capital city, some fans have wondered why stadiums are offering concessions that are not even enjoyed by many locals.
"They do have some strange items of concessions -- even for us Brits," says Sarah Willis from London. "Nothing that I would enjoy. I guess it will be fish and chips for me from now on at the Olympics."
The offerings have not been without at least some successes. As predictable, the indigenous crispy cod fillets are top-notch. At the city-sized Olympic Park, choices include grilled prawns, jacket potatoes and varied vintages of champagne. Weighty but tasty breakfast sandwiches of meats, egg and cheese on cibatta bread can be found at Horse Guard Parade, host of the beach volleyball matches.
"Some of it is really heavy food, but I must admit that it does have a lot of variety and it is tasty," says George Cheng of New Zealand.
That is, when the food is available. Some Olympic venues simply have run out of concessions, seemingly unprepared for the mass of people that have sold out most every Games event in the London area. A local rowing club reported that, on one occasion, Eton Dorney's concession stands ran out of food by 11:00 a.m., some two hours before the first race was set to begin. Even tap water is now in extreme demand at Olympic venues. On the fifth day of the Games, long and slow lines for access to public water fountains at Wembley Stadium snaked throughout the hallways of the massive soccer venue.
"Let's hope that the local organizing committee can get these logistics sorted out quickly," says Emma Synnott of the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012. "So that the return of drinking water from the tap goes down in history as a triumph and not a damp squib."
Of course, there is always McDonald's. The official Games sponsor has constructed a pair of Walmart-sized restaurants in Olympic Park. Day and night, tens of thousands of patrons have made their ways to the Mickey D's counters.
The locals, meanwhile, continue to encourage us to have some culinary patience and give everything a try. Needless to say, we find some dishes far more appealing than others.
"Bangers and mash is a tradition in the U.K.!," says Carl Sanders of Surrey. "Come on and step out of your box, mate! Bangers and mash is bomb wicked!"
We think that he means that it is good. But we will leave that for another day.
Students in Lynn University sports management's "Olympic Games Experience" class, currently in London for the Summer Games, contributed to this story. Follow Prof. Ted Curtis and Dr. Chad Barr on Twitter at @LynnUSportsMgmt and on Facebook at LynnSportsManagement.