Home is where the taste buds are

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).

Brezen! Image by Jonathan M

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?

Kaesespaetzle. Image by Wiki der Wikinger

5 Comments

Filed under Travel

5 responses to “Home is where the taste buds are

  1. I am just now, as I read this, preparing for my class this afternoon, which will focus on knowing place through food! Two great pieces that deal with this: (1) http://www.anniaciezadlo.com/artistInfo/thumbs/15.pdf [“They Remember Home,” about Iraqi refugees in Lebanon, eating to remember a sense of place], and (2) http://www.westword.com/2006-01-05/dining/mama-s-house/ [“Mama’s House,” on Ghanaian immigrants in Denver]

  2. We like Annies M&C too. I liked the intro to your enviro hope blog, and was also planning to borrow the mother earth image… couldn’t find the attribution to see if it was public or what. Anyway, are you on FB or LinkedIn or whatnot? Don’t want to pack too much into one little comment. thanks.

    • Hi. Thanks for checking out my blog. Unfortunately I don’t remember/can’t figure out from which website I got that image. It seems several sites are using the same one, so it might be a wild goose chase to figure out the original source. Sorry I can’t help. I am on LinkedIn, so you can find me there.

  3. Courtney Berner

    One of the the things I missed most both times I lived in France was good Mexican food. I would have killed for some refried beans or a decent margarita. More recently during travels in SE Asia, I developed an intense craving for a chicken sandwich, which definitely falls into the category of things I never eat or crave at home. While I would prefer that you just come home to get your mac and cheese, I will consider putting some in the mail instead. 🙂 Miss you!

  4. Jack Seifert

    Hi Jenny,
    I miss the pure veal Bratwurst and pommes frites with gravy that kept me alive when I was low on funds in Munchen. One could buy them from small street kiosks, as well as in restaurants like Mutti-Brau in Schwabing. Also, the Leberknoedel zuppe and the great local beer like Spatenbrau and Paulaner, as well as their wonderful beer halls with the Oom-pa-pah bands going all day long (at least they did back then in the 70’s.) I also miss having a beer in Englischer Garten while listening to the band and the great Fasching parties that were held in the Alte (or Neue – not sure) Pinakothek with what seemed like all of Munchen there in costume. I have often wondered if they still do that. Beleive it or not, in the 70’s, I can remember that Lowenbrau Beer was still delivered by horse-drawn wagons until they stopped after realizing that the horses were getting sick from the auto pollution (never mind what it did to das loyten!) Strangely enough, I also miss Spaetzle und schnitzel. BTW, I lived with my friend Tim in Arabellahaus on the outskirts of Schwabing, near the Mittlerer Ring. (Tim, originally from Boston and a successful computer consultant for Euro Ford, still lives in Munchen with his wife, whom he met in the Hofbrauhaus) Finally, I miss the cold late night slices of lousy, but hot pepperoni pizza sold by street vendors on LudwigStrasse, before th subway was built and when we all got around by strassenbahn exclusively even in the ice-cold winter snow.

    Hope you are well, Fraulein Jenny, and having fun in my long ago adopted town, Munchen. It’s a great place. Be sure to visit all of Crazy King Ludwig’s wonderful castles. I am jealous.

    Onkel Hans

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