Home is not just where the heart is; it’s also where the taste buds are. This seems to be especially so when in a foreign land.
This past week, I went to dinner with four other expats and one German (but who is part British and part Indian), and we got into a long conversation about where in Munich one can find the best Indian food. One of my dinner-mates was Indian, and he was praising a hole-in-the-wall Indian joint, claiming it sells the best [insert name of said Indian food that I’ve now forgotten] he’s ever had outside of India. Specifically, he described this food as tasting “just like home.”
Another dinner-mate, who is British by birth but Pakistani by heritage, was lamenting the lack of good Pakistani food, saying she just can’t find food like her family makes.
As I walked home from this dinner, I pondered the connection between food, taste, and homeland. People do seem to end up missing certain foods when they have left their home country, which sometimes induces an endless hunt for home-like fare. For example, one of my American friends here, with her German husband in tow, has been on an ongoing search for the best, most American-like hamburger in Munich.
Sure, ethnic restaurants can help satiate one’s desire for that home-like cooked meal (although, if McDonalds and Starbucks are considered “ethnic American,” I can’t say they do anything for me). Some may call these restaurants the globalization of food, but I wonder if they are just expats’ own remedy for their craving for “home-food.”
A brief Google search for attachments to food revealed one article stating that people associate certain grub with specific childhood memories, and another claiming people find comfort foods, well, comforting when feeling stressed or lonely (both emotions that accompany moving to a new place). So there seems to be some science behind the food-home connection.
But whether scientific fact or experiential assumption, seeking out familiar foods does seem to be a fact of life abroad. For example, I asked my flatmate, who lived in Vancouver, BC for a while, if there were any German foods she missed while she was there, and she immediately exclaimed, “Brezen” (pretzels, of the soft variety–a very Bavarian snack).
In my own experience, when I was living in St. Lucia (in the Eastern Caribbean), I recall having strange cravings for vittles like for flour tortillas and cheese that was not yellow, because these were hard, if not impossible, to come by on the island. What was strange about these cravings was that, aside from the cheese, many of them weren’t things I eat on a regular basis in America. My flatmate agreed that you end up longing for food you don’t normally crave at home.
Here in Germany, I tend to cook meals that are close to home (i.e., what I cook in the States). Granted, the food available here is not drastically different than what is available in the homeland. In fact, in some cases, I think the food here is much better. Even so, I haven’t yet ventured into trying any German recipes, even though my flatmate has a healthy collection of German recipe books.
Perhaps if I were living in a small Bavarian village, rather than a big city, with less access to home-like foods and a higher consumption of traditional Bavarian fare–e.g., Bratwurst, Brezen, and Kaesespaetzle (what I consider the German version of mac and cheese)–then I would start pining for quinoa, kale, and the rest of my usual hippie-vegetarian provisions.
Though, I will admit that I do miss my favorite comfort food: Annie’s mac & cheese (note to friends and family: if you send me a care package, please throw in a few boxes of that…especially the organic shells and white cheddar). Kaesespaetzle just isn’t the same.
How about you, dear readers: if you’ve lived in a different country before, what home-food(s) did you miss?