31 May 2016

Stocking The Expat Larder

My non expat friends have beautifully varied and well stocked larders.  They have just about everything they could ever hope to need, collected piece by piece, bit by bit.  As an expat you just can’t maintain a kitchen store cupboard in the same way.  Things can generally not be shipped between postings although rare ingredients can often be brought in later through hand luggage.  A larder has to be built from scratch in every posting, sometimes with a very restricted range of what is on offer.  

Getting to grips with the food available in a new posting is always a bit of a challenge.  It takes time to find the best supermarket, grocer, butcher etc.  Filling up my new larder is a priority in the early days but it is expensive to buy all in one go.  Over a few weeks I start to build up what I feel is the basic minimum.  This will allow me to make a range of meals without having to purchase special ingredients.  My list of must have (as opposed to nice to have) ingredients, the ones I build up first and try never to run out of are as follows.

Staples, like Pasta tend to be easily available in most postings
Shelf Goods
  • Pasta (Shapes, Lasagne, Cannelloni)
  • Plain Flour (Baking and 00)
  • Yeast
  • Baking Powder
  • Baking Soda
  • Cream of Tartar
  • Rice (Basmati or Jasmine)
  • Couscous
  • Sugar (Caster, Brown, Muscovado, Icing)
  • Dried Fruit
  • Nuts (Walnuts, Almonds, Pistacios, Hazlenuts etc)
  • Cereals/Porridge
  • Baking Flavours (Vanilla and Almond Essence, Rose Water, Orange Blossom Water etc)
  • Coffee
  • Green Tea
  • Cocoa
  • Hot Chocolate
  • Biscuits
  • Chocolate Bars
  • Museli Bars
Some postings have a greater range of herbs and spices
than others.  KSA is particularly well served.

Herbs, Spices and Other Flavorings
  • Spices: Cinnamon (ground and whole), Allspice, Nutmeg, Cloves (Ground and Whole), Mace, Star Anise, Ginger, Paprika, Cayenne, Turmeric, Cumin, Cardamom, Coriander, Chinese 5 Spice, Poppy Seeds
  • Cooking Spice Mixes: Ras al Hanout, Zaatar, Tandoori
  • Pine Nuts
  • Pepper: Red, White, Black, Lemon
  • Dried Herbs: Oregano, Parsley, Thyme, Bay Leaves
  • Pots of Fresh Herbs for the Windowsill or Seeds to Grow them
  • Pureed Herbs (if available if not make from fresh and store): Garlic, Lemongrass, Galangal, Ginger
  • Olive Oil (Basic and Extra Virgin)
  • Cooking Oil
  • Ground Nut Oil (for roast potatoes)
  • Vinegar (Balsamic, Plain and Apple Cider)
  • Soy Sauce
  • Worcestershire Sauce or Maggi
  • Kecap Manis
  • Sweet Chili Sauce
  • Coconut Milk
  • Pesto in a range of flavours.
  • Tomato Puree
  • Hot Sauce
  • Beef, Chicken and Vegetable Stock Cubes
  • Honey
  • Maple Syrup
  • Mustard (English and Dijon)
I buy what I need in small quantities so they
are always fresh
Jars and Tinned Goods
  • Soups
  • Fish (Tuna, Salmon etc)
  • Chopped Tomatoes
  • Passata
  • Kidney Beans
  • Baked Beans
  • Sweetcorn
  • Jams and Marmalades
  • Nutella
  • Olives
  • Sundried Tomatoes
  • Mayonnaise
  • One or two jars of cooking sauces for Mr EE to use when I am out
Tins are a useful way to stock a larder
  • Loaf of Bread
  • Milk
  • Vegetables: Peas, Sweetcorn, Brussels Sprouts
  • Fruits: Strawberries, Raspberries etc for smoothies
  • One full size frozen evening meal
  • Minced Beef
  • Chicken and Salmon Fillets
  • Shrimps
  • Fish Fingers or Chicken Nuggets
  • Burgers
  • Ice Cream
The staples on the list tend to be available in most places.  If they are not I just do a work around, it is easy to make Passata, Sundried Tomatoes or Pesto for example and they will keep for a while.  Some ingredients I do without until I can bring some in, it is not the end of the world not to have Ras Al Hanout!

On top of this larder  I keep my fridge stocked with the week to week basics (milk, eggs, fruit and vegetables etc).  My cupboards in Saudi are now pretty much stocked.  As and when I need some more exotic ingredient for a recipe (Juniper Berries and Myrtle Leaves for example or food colouring to ice a child’s birthday cake) I will make sure that I add the leftovers to my store for next time.  Of course my basic list will look very different to some other people’s.  I like to bake so have a a large stock of baking ingredients to hand at all times.  Others might use lentils, chickpeas, split peas as they use them regularly.  I use them very rarely so just treat them as exotics, buying them when I need them and keeping the leftovers.

What do you keep in your larder?

For more posts on the Expat Kitchen please click the picture below.

Ersatz Expat

Posted to The Practical Mom's Practical Mondays linky

25 May 2016

Expat Cooking Challenges...and Meatloaf!

I have not posted any recipes for some time for a number of reasons.  The first 1/4 of the year was spent sofa surfing in the UK, not really conducive to cooking and often with other people doing it for us as we were in their houses (thank you my lovely Mother in Law, Father and Sister).  Before then, in Ipoh, I had a rather unpleasant kitchen for a while.  A single working hob top on which I could not easily regulate temperature and a temperamental oven do not an enjoyable cooking experience make.  Here in KSA my oven may speak American but I have a nifty temperature conversion app on the telephone and the hob and oven do actually work.  Combine this with plenty of space to prepare and cooking is enjoyable again.  I am still waiting for our shipment when I will get things like the rice cooker, my own pans, food processor etc but in the meantime I can make basic things with our float.

One of the ways I try to extend a bit of constancy and normalcy to our children's ever changing lives is by keeping our evening meals broadly similar in each posting.  Of course different locations lend themselves to different cuisines.  Partly that comes down to what is available in the shops, here in KSA we always have tabbouleh and hummus in the fridge as they can be bought everywhere, in other postings these were one off treats that I had to cook from scratch every time.  Meanwhile toad in the hole, (pork sausages baked in batter for non English readers) was never going to be a runner here in KSA.    A certain amount of variation is also due to climate, we ate many more stews and pies in the Kazakh winters than we did salads, while lighter offerings were more popular in Malaysia.

Nevertheless, like all designated family cooks I have a repertoire of dishes that come out again and again, adapting where necessary depending on what is available in the shops.  One of my perennial favourites is meatloaf.  I know that this is often derided as a dry, unappetising meal but my family really enjoy it and I find it an endlessly versatile recipe and when made properly it is not dry at all.  In some countries I might cook it with half and half (pork and beef mince combined), here of course I only use beef.

The basic meatloaf recipe is mince, pepper, herbs and or spices (which like the meat I vary depending on where we are and what I feel like), onion, garlic, breadcrumbs and egg.  How much depends, of course, on the type of container I am using, I have a natty little form which looks like a loaf tin but has an integral lifting rack which forms the dual duties of helping to extract it (avoiding the need for lining) and draining the juices into the bottom of the pan for use in gravy later on.  I often top the whole thing with bacon (or turkey/beef facon) for extra flavour and moisture.  Any left over mix gets made into home-made beef burgers and stored in the freezer for a quick snack.

I like to stuff the meatloaf and leave the filling as a surprise for the children.  Miss EE's particular favourite is the traditional egg while Master EE prefers cheese.  The possibilities are endless, Mexican meatloaf with spicy peppers and Monterey Jack cheese,  Italian with a mozarella/basil/tomato confection in the centre.  I have thought about doing a reverse moussaka with aubergine and bechamel baked into the centre but I suspect Mr EE who dislikes aubergine would not be too keen.   I am not overly keen on lamb but a kofta kebab flavoured lamb mince meat with some sort of complimentary stuffing might be quite pleasant.  In other words this plain old housewife staple is something I enjoy playing around with, you can't really go too wrong, if the fillings don't work there is still the surrounding meat to enjoy.

The resulting meal can be served with just about anything from a fresh leafy salad to mashed potato and gravy.  Make no mistake this is a big piece of meat and can serve 8 people comfortably.  Luckily it also keeps very well, the children often take a slice for lunch the following day, bulking it out with salad or put some in a sandwich.

How do you like to personalise this very versatile meal!

For more expat kitchen posts please click on the picture below.

Ersatz Expat

19 May 2016

48 Hours Layover In Muscat

A few months ago we had to travel from Malaysia back to the UK, while the flight is not unreasonably long (14 hours) it is still longer than we wanted to take in one go as Mini EE was 15 months so just about the worst age for travel (non toddling babies and those who can sit in their own seats being a much better proposition).

Muscat - a somewhat calmer layover than Dubai
Discretion being the better part of valour we decided to break our journey half way and give ourselves a day off before resuming the journey to the UK.  While most people stop in places like Dubai we thought we would take the opportunity to look around Muscat, an altogether quieter and calmer proposition.  
Exploring the Sultan Qaboos Mosque
While the journey did not get off to the greatest start (a drugged up taxi driver screeching along the Malaysian motorways at 150kph, immigration delaying Master and Miss EE’s exit on their cancelled student visa for so long that we almost missed the plane and finally just to top it off an emergency stop/aborted take-off due to a plane landing out of sequence), thankfully the rest of the journey went very well.

Sultan Qaboos Mosque Oman                    Sultan Qaboos Mosque Oman

As this was our final exit from Malaysia we were rather overburdened with luggage, 5 suitcases, a pram, carry on and a box with Mini EEs car seat in for use in the UK.  It was a miracle that we managed to stay within our weight allowance and we needed two taxis at the other end.

Sultan Qaboos Mosque Oman                    Sultan Qaboos Mosque Oman

We were staying with a long term Expat Couple who let some rooms in their villa through AirBNB.  They were not there when we arrived but had told us they would leave the doors open and just go in and settle in the rooms.  Having been up for 36 hours straight sorting out the final packing I went to sleep while Mr EE and the children sorted everything out.  By the time I woke the owner had returned and advised us where to eat etc, he even loaned us a car so the children would not need to walk the short (2k) trip into the local town for food after their long journey.

Sultan Qaboos Mosque Oman

Sultan Qaboos Mosque Oman

We had arranged with one of the taxi drivers to ferry us around the following day and he arrived early.  We put ourselves in his hands asking him to make sure that we saw the highlights of the city.  We spent an hour in the Sultan Qaboos mosque, a huge complex near the airport.  The mosque is beautifully landscaped and decorated with impeccable taste.  While children under 10 are not allowed in the main prayer hall the very kind doorman allowed our three children to come in with us so we did not have to take turns.
Muscat Bazaar
The tiny bazaar was heaving with tourists from cruise ships
Muscat Bazaar

From there we drove up into the mountains before driving back down to the coast to enjoy a few hours at the corniche and bazaar.  The Muscat bazaar is tiny but thronging with tourists.  Most of the wares on sale are modern tourist tat or overpriced ‘antiques’ but there are a few genuinely good pieces if you are willing to spend the time looking.  The restaurants next door, while obvious tourist traps, served good portions of food at reasonably decent prices and the children were all given a piece of fruit on leaving. 

Muscat Corniche
Popular tourist cafes on the Corniche
We drove on to see the royal palace complex and then to spend some time looking through a private museum, the Bait Al Zubair, nearby dedicated to the cultural history of Omani life.  The museum was excellent, set in some traditional houses it was just the right size to enjoy for an hour or two and with plenty of information to put the exhibits into context.  Next to the (excellent) coffee shop was a recreation of a traditional Omani house and a space for the practice and display of traditional crafts and industries. 

Muscat Palace
Royal Palace Complex
Fort In Muscat
Fort Guarding the Anchorage

By this time we were starting to flag so our driver took us back to our temporary home.  We walked into the local town for a quick meal before spending the evening in a rather pleasant discussion on local history, culture and work with our hosts.   A girl I knew from school lives just a few minutes drive from our AirBNB, (one of the advantages of a boarding school is that I seem to know people in all sorts of places) we had intended to meet up but sadly we never quite managed to co-ordinate our schedules so we will catch up sometime in the future.

Bait Al Zubair Museum

Complete with random goat statues gracing the gardens
(no photographs allowed inside)
The homeward flight was late enough in the afternoon to allow us to have a relaxing breakfast before trekking to the airport to catch our flight to the UK.  All in all, while it is not a traditional stop over, I can heartily recommend Muscat as a good place to break a journey between Europe and East Asia.  The pace of life is calm and the people we met were incredibly friendly and very hospitable.  We will almost certainly be back as our 48 hour stop left us wanting to see more of this country which is, luckily, rather conveniently located for our new posting.  

For more posts on Expat Life please click on the photograph below

Ersatz Expat

Posted to Seychelle's Mama's Expat Life Linky

Seychelles Mama

12 May 2016

The Ersatz Guide To Entering and Leaving Saudi Arabia

Every expat knows that travel is going to form a large part of their life and experience in country.  Given that KSA is the most difficult in the world to enter (visas regimes are very restrictive) it comes as no surprise that the airport can be a challenging experience. 

Saudia the national airline tends to be significantly cheaper than other carriers and we have found their flights to be excellent.  Good legroom, genuinely helpful flight attendants and excellent food.  It also flies to a wide range of destinations so Jeddah, our host city, makes an excellent hub.  Jeddah is the closest port of entry for Hajj and Umrah pilgrims and as such the flights tend to be pretty full.  Nevertheless every flight we have been on (Mr EE has done this a lot) has boarded and deplaned to the busses very quickly and easily.

Entering Saudi

When leaving the plane women should make sure that they are wearing an abaya or, if they have not been able to purchase one, long, loose clothing.  They should have a scarf to cover their head if asked.  All flights landing in Jeddah (and I believe, Riyadh) park on the tarmac some way from the terminal requiring a bus transfer.  If you are travelling with young children you will not receive your pushchair until after passport control so make sure that you have a sling or other carrier in your hand luggage.

A passport is not enough, you need reams of paperwork to get into KSA
In Jeddah, on entering the terminal building we have always been met by a fantastically unhelpful member of terminal staff.  The immigration hall is set up with the Umrah and other visas on the left and resident visas on the right.  Without fail the initial man directs all non Saudi’s to the entrance on the left.  There is no point trying to argue with him or insist that you need to go to the right, walk past the visa queues and into the main hall and ask another man if you can join the resident queue (there is usually someone there scratching his head trying to work out why all residents are walking into the wrong entrance).  Travellers with children will often be sent to the front of the queue, particularly during busy periods.  Some companies will also have representatives ‘air side’ to help their employees to the front of the queue.

On your first arrival in Saudi you will be required to scan the fingers and thumbs of both hands, thereafter you will only be asked to scan the fingers of your right hand.  Your visa will be checked, if you are a first time entrant.  Subsequently you will need to show your iqama and exit/re-entry permit to receive your entry stamp.  Once you are through passports you must show your entry stamp to a guard before you are permitted into the baggage hall.

Baggage is a nightmare because the belts are very short.  The combination of a very generous baggage allowance (two suitcases per person) and long waiting times in passports means that the cases pile up on the belt.  If you are dealing with your own luggage you will need long arms to reach a heavy case that is towards the back and if you are wearing an abaya you will also need to watch out not to get it caught in the belt.  Alternatively you can hire a porter for a very modest fee and he will sort the luggage out for you.  Once you have your bags you can go through the final security check, all bags are scanned whether or not you have something to declare,  and find your driver.

It is almost impossible to predict how long it will take to get through passports.  The fastest we have got through is 27 minutes (when Miss EE and I returned from a short trip home) but our driver tells us that he has waited up to 6 hours before.  If you are travelling with young children you may want to make sure that you have some drinks or snacks set aside to help you through the tedium that is the passports queue.

Leaving Saudi

You will have made your first arrival in Saudi on a 90 day resident visa which will have been replaced by your Iqama.  In order to be able to leave the country you will need to apply for an entry/re-exit visa.  This can be done relatively easily online and they are available as single or multiple visas.  They are not cheap, costing several hundred Riyals a visa. We are using single exits at the moment because we are getting close to the end of the school year, thereafter we will use annual multi exit visas.  I will feel better not having to apply online for something in the event that I need to travel last minute for a family emergency or similar.

On arriving at the airport you will be presented with a confusing array of check in desks.  Very few of these will have a destination flight highlighted.  Self-check-in is available but we have never yet managed to get this to work, we get all the way to the end and are told to go to a counter anyway.  It is best to check which counter to queue at although queue is a relative concept.  Once in a queue it is helpful to make eye contact with someone at a desk nearby, any desk, and shout your destination and they will make sure that you check in on time as some of the people might be queuing for flights due to leave much later than yours. 
There is no rhyme or reason to the queuing system
At the passport check you must present your passport, iqama and exit/re-entry visa.  You will receive an exit stamp and it is a good idea to remember which page it is on as this will be checked again before you board the plane.

Security checks are segregated with one line for women and one for men so be prepared for your party to be split, young children travelling with one parent will be allowed to stay with them but older ones will be asked to queue separately.  Once through you can shop in the duty free or get a bite to eat.  Don't bank on being able to find a seat to relax on, the hall always seems to be bursting.  Travellers to the US and the UK have to go through extra security screening before going down to the gate.  Finally there is an extra exit visa check before boarding the aircraft and you are finally on your way.

For more posts on life in Saudi Arabia please click on the picture below

Ersatz Expat

5 May 2016

Not Quite The Afghan Souk

Jeddah is home to a reasonably large Afghan souk, shop sellers either travelling home to Afghanistan to collect their products or purchasing things from people travelling to Mecca on pilgrimage.  I have heard that it is THE place to go for carpets.  Now I must admit to being a bit of a carpet and kelim fan, something that runs in the family.  My parents bought so many while in Turkey that there is no more available floor space in the family home and my sister recently had to put half of hers in storage.  Our own carpets are all in our container, waiting for the day we purchase a forever home to put them in but that does not mean that I would mind having a few to travel with, in fact I have my eye on a very fine silk on silk Iranian carpet that I saw at an exhibition the other day.

Carpet Shop Jeddah
Afghani rugs are easily available in Jeddah
My compound has a twice daily shopping bus and one day last week this was due to go to the Afghan Souk so I leapt at the chance to spend a morning looking at carpets and kelims thinking that if I found something decent Mr EE and I could go back at the weekend to see if he liked it too.

Street Scene Jeddah
This part of town is less picturesque than the main
UNESCO area of Balad but has its own charm
             Typical Street In Jeddah

In the event I never got to the souk.  The driver parked the bus a short walk away and I got distracted by the ordinary streets of the town.  The area was a less picturesque part of Balad which is so popular with tourist/pilgrims and, of course, expats like me!  This part of town was all together more functional.  I was fully intending to walk down to the Souk when I was distracted by the smell of bread.  One of my fondest memories of our time in Diyarbakir (Turkey) was the beautiful fresh bread that came straight from the oven, so tasty that we would often eat it on its own, sometimes taking just enough time to get some honey.  Turning a corner I saw a traditional oven turning out the most beautiful rounds of bread.  Unable to resist I bought one and spent the rest of the morning tearing strips off from time to time. 

Traditional Baker Jeddah
Bread straight from the oven
While I was enjoying the bread I spent some time looking in the windows of some of the gold (some were gold plated) shops.  I was given a beautiful, very pure and very delicate gold filigree necklace for my 18th birthday which was stolen in a burglary 4 years later.  I am forever on the look out for a good jeweller that will stock something similar.  Sadly nothing I saw even came close, some of necklaces were pure rather than plated filigree but were far too large and ornate so my quest continues.  A few of the shops also stocked good collections of silver jewellery.  The styles are too big for me not really to my taste but it would be a good place to go for people who can pull off that sort of thing.

BIG and flashy is the way to go here...

Walking on there were more small shops selling small handicrafts, pottery and basket ware.  A small street off to the side contained small butchers' shops and fishmongers, the street was full of cats (they are ubiquitous here) searching for scraps and I could see that many of the butchers not only tolerated this but actively encouraged them by throwing down offcuts.  My guess is that this stops the cats from stealing and their presence will help control vermin.


I have not seen many flower shops in the malls but a number of the places here sold the most beautiful flower garlands and decorations, the owners sitting on small stools while stringing them together.  The options are all shown on the walls, I didn’t want a garland or fancy concoction but they sell single flowers as well, they are all kept in the fridge for freshness. 

Shops sell all sorts
Shisha Seller, Jeddah
From Shisha/Hubbly Bubbly...
...to Abayas for all occasions
Not wanting my flowers to wilt I took them back to the bus so they would be happy in the air conditioning and, realising that I would not really have time to make it down to the souk I decided to cross over the road and spend the rest of the time seeing what else I could find.  There were more jewellery shops, some shisha sellers, a lot of shops selling perfume and incense and shop after shop selling abayas with a hugely diverse range of decorative patterns. The area was covered which offered a welcome respite from the strong sun.

I have not seen trunks for sale in ages
Some welcome shade
All in all, although I did not get to my destination of choice I found the places I did visit absolutely fascinating, so far removed from the tourist bustle of the main part of Balad and yet still friendly and welcoming.   I can go back for carpets another time!

Street Near Afghan Souk Jeddah

For more posts on life in Saudi Arabia on the picture below

Ersatz Expat

Posted as part of the Travel At Home blog linky.

Ersatz Expat