Expat Food Cravings

Ask any expat what he or she misses most from home and food is almost certain to top the list — at times beating friends and family into first place.

I know England is not exactly the gastronomic capital of the world, but there are occasions when I yearn for the most mundane culinary items from back home.

Mate (Juan Pablo Olmo @Flickr)

Mate (Juan Pablo Olmo @Flickr)

I miss curry, cider, Cadbury’s chocolate, marmite and a cereal that won’t spark diabetes. As a fussy tea drinker, I consider sipping Lipton Yellow Label to be a punishment, so as soon as anyone mentions coming out to visit I send 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, for there really is no substitute for comfort food.

Here are a few other treasured cravings from expats in Guatemala:

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 cooked on a parrilla 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 Argentinian friend gave me some ‘havannets’ (chocolates) and I almost cried with happiness.”

Arnout (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 2½ 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 gooiness 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 power houses, eaten with a cereal such as 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 blackcurrants — although in Guatemala 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 savory snack with minced meats 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.”

Frikandel Speciaal (Sjeemz @Flickr)

Frikandel Speciaal (Sjeemz @Flickr)

Tomas (Czech Republic): “We lived in Manhattan for 20 years before moving to Antigua and, like in Manhattan, new restaurants are always opening up. But, unlike in Manhattan, many of them deliver to your door. There is so little to miss here. The plentiful supermarkets in Guatemala City and the fabulous Antigua market stock just about everything you would want to cook that you might miss here. Just this week I was a guest at a luncheon for 15 in someone’s house and I brought them German potato salad. They made Bohmischen rouladen, which in Germany are called ‘Czech ruladen,’ but in Czech are called ‘Spanish birds.’ The week before we had 20 people over for an Indian pot-luck dinner and everyone cooked something. What is there to miss from home?”

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 has not yet managed to homogenize taste buds, but it has given us some solutions. If you are a good cook, you can try being creative, 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.

Whichever way you satisfy your culinary cravings: ¡Buen provecho!

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