GUATEMALA CITY – Ask any expat what they miss most from home and food is almost certain to top the list – at times beating friends and family into first place.
England is not exactly the gastronomic capital of the world, but living in Guatemala, there are occasions when I yearn for the most mundane culinary items from back home.
I miss curry, cider, Cadbury’s chocolate, marmite and a cereal that won’t spark diabetes. As a fussy tea drinker, I refuse to sip Lipton Yellow Label, so as soon as anyone mentions coming out to visit me I send them a grocery list – with Twinings English Breakfast Tea starred at the top. Friends have carted tubs of hot chocolate for me from Bolivia and others have kindly kept their clothing to an absolute minimum to fit in my requests. There really is no substitute for comfort food.
Here are some other treasured cravings from expats:
Silvia (Argentina): “Coming from Argentina, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that one of the things I miss most from back home is red meat. I miss entraña asada (hanger steak) cooked on a parrilla (grill) and eaten at a noisy table with friends and red wine. And it’s not a party unless you have Fernet (a bitter Italian liquor) and coke. Although I don’t miss it that much, every time I Skype with friends who are drinking mate (a tea-like beverage) something in my brain asks me why I’m not doing the same. Then there are those things that you don’t realize how much you miss until you see them again; a few months ago an Argentine friend gave me some Havannets (chocolates) and I almost cried with happiness.”
Arnout (The Netherlands): “I really miss our junk food, such as chips with mayo, curry-ketchup and chopped onions, frikandellen and kroketten (typical Dutch deep-fried snacks). However, a friend of mine here in Guate actually makes them and they’re brilliant! We usually get a few Dutchmen together and have a munch session with beer and Dutch music. I’ve just been back to the Netherlands after two-and-a-half years and I took an extra (foldable) suitcase with me, which I filled with all kinds of Dutch goodies.”
Alycia (United States): “I really miss soft pretzels, and when I tried making my own here, I wasn’t aware of how to adjust the leavening ingredients for high-altitude cooking, so they almost exploded. The first time I went to a decent restaurant and ordered something that contained sausages, I was surprised to find cut-up hot dogs in my gourmet dish. Other things that I used to order at restaurants, which I can’t find here, are toasted ravioli (a St. Louis favorite), scotch eggs, fried pickles and, finally, Italian beef with all its cheesy gooeyness and hot peppers.”
Asmena (Kenya): What I miss is a wider variety of lentils and pulses. Not just the frijol negro, but split mung beans with skin (or even without skin), adzuki, black-eyed peas, split yellow lentils, split red lentils, toor dal (split pigeon peas) and chana dal… to name but a few! These wonderful little powerhouses, eaten with rice or tortillas, create a very tasty balanced meal. I also miss lamb – although it is now available at exorbitant prices. A good traditional lamb, beef or chicken donair or charwarma would be awesome!”
Aleksandra (Poland): “I miss some fruits like gooseberries, sweet cherries and black currants, although since living abroad I have discovered a lot of new ones, so it somehow recompenses. I miss soups; we prepare hundreds of different types and my favorite one is made from soured salted cucumbers (you can’t buy those here). But I have discovered “repollo ácido,” which you can buy to make bigos, a very typical Polish dish.”
Beck (Australia): “Even though I haven’t lived in Australia for the past six years I still miss the traditional meat pie, a popular snack with minced meat and gravy inside a delicious pie crust and topped with tomato sauce. In all my travels I have never seen them quite like the ones they make back home, so it’s always on my list of foods to eat when I go back to visit.”
Kira (India): “My absolute favorite dish from my motherland is Idli Sambar. It’s a breakfast food and one that is virtually impossible to duplicate here (although I did bring some Idli flour in my suitcase and it’s almost gone). Idli Sambar are super yummy rice cakes that are steamed and served with a savory Sambar stew. Recipes vary by region and family; however, I make mine with chana daal (large split yellow lentils), urad daal (black lentils) and additional spices. Once you adopt this for your breakfast, even tortillas and black beans leave you wanting more.”
So, what is a food-craving expat to do?
Globalization hasn’t yet managed to homogenize taste buds, but it has given us some solutions. If you are a good cook you can try recreating your favorite dishes, or if you aren’t you can ask for food parcels from back home. You can schedule indulgence trips, search for good substitutes, or contact one of the handful of online stores that specializes in reuniting salivating expats with their cravings – Expat Emporium is one such company targeted at Heinz-Baked-Beans-loving Brits.
Let us know what culinary delights you miss most from back home, and whichever way you satisfy them. ¡Buen provecho!