6 November 2014

Food Souvenirs -

It may seem strange to think of food as a souvenir of your time in country but taste and smell are two wonderfully evocative emotions and can bring back an experience like almost nothing else.  A lot of the food I cook makes me think of growing up with Oma in the Netherlands and helping her prepare meals.  Whenever I have to substitute one ingredient for another I think of my mother’s struggles and creative solutions in her expat kitchen (and thank her for teaching me how to get around such problems). I have a range of British recipes that I have learned to cook and they make me think of the friends who taught me.  Borek transports me back to Turkey, churros to Venezuela, shashlik to Kazakhstan and so on.  
Traditional Christmas pudding - a variation on
my Mother in Law's family recipe.
I shamelessly collect recipes from restaurants – if I like a particular food I find that the chef is usually happy to share.  Sometimes, in out of the way postings restaurants can be a good source of information on where to source ingredients and if you are really lucky and strike up a good friendship they may sell you some part of their wholesale order.  Friends are also an excellent source of recipes – a Turkish friend taught me how to make Baklava and Turkish coffee, a Peruvian friend shared her recipe for causa etc.  I think of them each time I cook their recipes.

Traditional English Scones - recipe courtesy of a family friend.
I have a range of cookbooks that I picked up at various destinations.  Even just reading through them can transport me back to a place and time and it is all the more fun to make food to share with friends.  Of course the internet is a treasure trove of recipes from anywhere and everywhere but there is something so satisfying about a cookery book.

A small selection of books from trips around the world.
In Kazakhstan our housekeeper (a self-confessed mediocre cook) would be fascinated with the recipes I cooked from around the world and I would give samples and translate recipes for her to bring home for her sister to try, they now eat hot cross buns every Easter!  In Nigeria we had a wonderful cook, Johnson, (my mother was required to cater for sit down parties of up to 60 people at least once but often up to three times a week) who loved nothing more than to pore over my mother’s extensive collection of recipes.  He would spend hours preparing shopping lists for dinner parties and experimenting with substitutes.  Other than the failed attempt at profiteroles (substandard flour I believe) everything he turned out was perfect, a real feat given the shopping restrictions in 80’s Warri.  He also copied presentation – I remember a bread pudding where the orientation and number of slices was an exact copy of the picture in the book.  His dream was to open a restaurant – we would happily have helped him set one up but sadly his older brother, head of the family, decided he should continue with the secure work for expat families to support their ageing mother and the family children. 

Meatballs with mash and red cabbage - one of Oma's favourite family meals.
Last Christmas we were in Cambodia spending a holiday with my sister who flew in from the UK.  It was a mutually (in)convenient location and a place we had all wanted to see for  a long time.  I have never had the time to indulge in a cookery course on holiday before now.  Siem Reap, however, has a wide range of cookery classes available and with three adults available to keep an eye on the kids it was possible for two of us to indulge.  It is definitely something I will look into again for future holidays.  Now every time I make fresh spring rolls I remember, not only a terrific holiday in Cambodia but a wonderful afternoon spent with my sister whom I miss very much in the day to day of expat life.
Fresh Spring Rolls - evocative of
a wonderful holiday.

So much of expat life is about impermanence, memories help root us to our own personal history and food memories are some of my favourite. I see this pattern now repeating with my own children - when I cook plov it takes them to Kazakhstan, Yorkshire puddings  (a recently perfected skill) remind them of their granny in the UK.  I wonder what will remind them of me in years to come.

Added to the Expat Life Blog Link where you can find the best expat stories on the web.

Expat Life with a Double Buggy

Click on the picture for more information on the challenges of the expat kitchen.

Ersatz Expat


  1. Hi Ersatz Expats from the Experimental Expats

    Excellent post and great blog. I came across your blog on Expatsblog.com and enjoyed it thoroughly.

    My wife Diane and I are moving to Penang in the spring. I was recently laid off from my job and we decided to try early retirement. Moving overseas from the USA makes the most financial sense and we’ll be applying for an MM2H visa as soon as I turn age 50 (The cost of the visa is double for younger applicants). We’ve never been to Penang so it’s a big leap of faith.

    I recently started my blog about the transition from the USA and upcoming move ahead of our arrival and I’m currently scouring through expat blogs based in Malaysia and other Southeast Asian locations looking for friends, new followers, contacts, ideas and advice. You are exactly the kind of blogger I search out as I try to build my audience. If you could check us out at http://www.experimentalexpats.com I’d be honored to have you as a follower. Please share if you enjoy it.

    We look forward to following your blog
    Rob and Diane

    1. Dear Rob and Diane

      Thank you for your very kind comment. Your move sounds very adventurous - good luck with the visa application and the move. I have not yet been to Penang but my Husband has and says it is very beautiful. I will be watching your blog with interest. If you are ever on holiday in Sarawak give me a shout!

    2. Hi
      Thanks for replying. We didn't make it to Sarawak but wanted to so the first time we hit Borneo we'll be emailing you 1!

  2. Hi Ersatz Expat, good to find your blog and I love your photos of a cream tea and Christmas pudding! We moved from the UK to the USA, so I've just cooked a traditional (I hope!) Thanksgiving dinner for my American in-laws, and I plan to make the traditional British Christmas dinner. You're right, there's nothing like food to remind you of different places, and home :)

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