No matter where you grew up in the world, if you move to another country there will be some favorite food items that are unavailable or incredibly expensive there. We all tend to lock in many aspects of our pallet and tastes at an early age, and it can be frustrating when you have to live without your favorites for years at a time.
It’s well known that Australians love Vegemite and most Brits love Marmite, even though most other people find both of them disgusting, and both of them tend to be hard to find in much of the world. For others it’s ice cream or cheese or good bread or a particular kind of meat that you really start to miss when it’s not around.
I don’t have any special research to qualify as an expert on this subject, but as someone who has lived for months at a time in many parts of the world, I’ve gone through it quite a few times for different things each time. I’ve also spoken to many people who miss foods from back home, so I’ve collected up some of the popular strategies for dealing with it. Admittedly, they are pretty obvious, but still it might make feel better to know they aren’t the only ones who care about something that seems so frivolous.
1 – Concentrate on your favorite new things in your new home
When a door closes a window opens, or however that expression goes. Unless you’ve moved to a remote base on one of the poles, chances are very good that there will be many new food items that you love in your new home. The tricky part for some of us is being bold enough to sample and find the good stuff. It’s (too) easy to just trim our menu down to the things you like that are available without trying unfamiliar things to add to it.
So long before you start getting down about missing your favorite foods from home, you need to make a point to try at least a few new dishes or items each week. One example that I really liked is Som Tam salad in Thailand. It’s a staple among Thai people made from strips of unripened papaya among other things, and it’s usually incredibly spicy. I’d never had anything like it so it wasn’t an obvious addition to my weekly menu, but I loved it and ended up having it several times per week.
2 – Attempt to make it yourself
Obviously this is easier with some things than others, but certainly there are many things you might miss that you can actually make yourself. Some people I know make bread that is much closer to what they like, and other people make ice cream. Again, in Southeast Asia, ice cream is very hard to find or very expensive, probably because all Asian adults are lactose intolerant.
In Bangkok I remember seeing Haagen Daazs pints for around US$10 in supermarkets, the same ones that go for US$4 in the US. In most smaller cities you can’t get ice cream at all because it’s expensive to import and the demand is very low. So buy one of those simple ice cream makers that you put in your freezer, and you can make ice cream anytime you like for a low price.
3 – Arrange for care packages from visitors from home
If you are lucky enough to live in a place where friends and family from home like to come visit you, it’s a common trick to have them bring along some supermarket items for you. Since so many people like to shop while on holiday it’s already common to leave some extra room in a suitcase on the way there.
Currently I live in Turkey and it seems like all my British friends have regular requests from all their friends who come visit a few times a year. If you don’t have visitors coming you can usually order things through the mail, with more expat-oriented services opening lately.
4 – Schedule trips where you can indulge
Some people would think you are crazy for making a big deal about food cravings, but if you feel like you are denying yourself of a favorite, you might start building a resentment for other aspects of your new life or home. If you are lucky enough to be within travel distance of your old home you can probably get by just reminding yourself that you’ll be able to get refills on your next trip.
But if you live on the other side of the world, you might not go home regularly. In this case it’s probably wise to at least schedule regular trips to a big enough city where you’ll have some of those options. It could sound ridiculous to some to tell them that you are taking a 3-day weekend in the big city nearby to have a Big Mac or a banana split, but some of them might actually want to join you if you do admit to it.
5 – Search for a good substitute
For things like Vegemite and Marmite it might be hard to find a substitute, but for most things there is probably something out there that can step in, at least for a while. For example, in the small town I live in now there is nothing even resembling the Mexican food I love growing up in California. However, they actually have a thing that is identical to a flour tortilla (and very cheap as well) to the point that some brands actually say “flour tortilla” on them along with their Turkish name.
Rice and beans are easy to find, and even avocados are as well, so if I can find some spices that are more like jalapeno pepper than paprika, I’m in business. Without being able to read the labels it can be challenging, but far from impossible.
6 – Go ahead and splurge
I’ll admit that I’m a bit of a cheapskate about many things, so for me it’s often a case where the thing I want just feels way too expensive than it’s really worth. Products that have to be imported great distances can be many times more expensive than they are back home, and it’s easy to resist feeling ripped off by just avoiding them.
One example I’ve come across recently is Louisiana-style cayenne pepper sauce, like Durkee’s RedHot, which is used for making Buffalo chicken wings. In California I can get a bottle for under US$1, but here the exact same bottle costs over US$4. Being too cheap, as I sometimes am, is unwise. Trying to save US$3 and slowly going crazy is a terrible strategy, so sometimes I’ll just have to learn to ignore the price and buy it anyway.