Ask any expat anywhere in the world what they miss about their homeland and at the top of the list will be their favorite comfort foods from their country.
During my expat years, no matter where I was living at the time, I hoarded food from my own country as well as other countries I had visited. Cheeses, meats, sauces, cans of special soups, salad dressing mixes and spices from numerous foreign countries — all could be found tucked into corners of my pantry, refrigerator and freezer.
When we traveled to countries that were only a short flight from İstanbul, my son and I became quite adept at finding ways to wedge kilos of cheeses, meat products and chocolates into our bags as we prepared to head back to İstanbul. We enjoyed bringing back some of the new tastes we found, as well as some of the imported foodstuffs we discovered in the markets we traveled to. When friends and family from abroad came to visit, they always reserved room in their suitcases to bring us some of the items that we craved from the United States and the United Kingdom. Friends in İstanbul knew that hidden away in our freezer, behind the cuts of meat from our local butcher, were stashes of foreign cheeses and corn tortillas.
Like me, other expats have their personal supply of goodies from their homeland that they bring back from their trips there. Friends across Turkey have their fridges stocked with cheeses, crumpets, maple syrup, specialty jams and jellies, different types of sugar for baking holiday pastries and even goose fat. We all learned long ago to make sure that we have extras on hand because when these coveted items run out, it might be a long time before we are able to accumulate more.
Years ago, when I moved to Turkey, there was very limited access to foreign foods, and the few that were available were generally very pricey. All those years ago, my father would come to visit us every year and he always brought along a large duffle bag stuffed with items that I missed from home. Now that more imported items are available in İstanbul, the suitcases and bags that friends and family lug over with them have lightened. However, every year, starting around the beginning of November, the expat community begins to exchange information on where non-Turkish foods can be found. High on the list are affordable sweet potatoes or yams. Sightings are shared, along with prices. Debates are held online about the pros and cons of the different types of sweet potatoes that surface in both the local markets and large grocery store chains. As Christmas approached this year, the quest was on in İstanbul to find peppermint-flavored candy canes. While there were suddenly countless candy canes available throughout the city, most were oddly flavored fruit ones that just did not fit the bill. As expats have learned from experience, when you do find something from home that you craved, always buy extras because the next time you return to that particular store, the items you wanted will probably no longer be available. I cannot count how many times I found a particular item after long searches and did not grab it when it was on the shelves. Later, when returning to purchase more, I would find that the store no longer carried that particular item. That experience makes you want to kick yourself for not stocking up and hoarding as much of that particular item as possible when it was available.
Habits that are hard to break
Now that we are settling into our new home far away from İstanbul, we find that there are some habits that are very hard for us to break. While shopping at the local grocery store a couple of weeks ago, my son spotted some instant potatoes that he had sampled at my mother’s house, where we had been staying for a couple of months following our arrival. Although my mother is an accomplished cook, at 85 years of age there are times when she is too tired to make a complete meal from scratch, so she keeps a few items on hand that allow her to easily whip up an impromptu meal. While none of us are huge fans of instant or dehydrated foods, I can understand my mother sometimes taking shortcuts with meals. As my son and I cruised the grocery aisles, he suddenly stopped.
“Let’s get some of those!” he said, pointing to the shelves with packets of instant foods. “Let’s get some of those potatoes that Nana used the other night. They were great!”
“Alright,” I sighed, “We can get one to use for a night when I am too tired to deal with cooking.” Those who know me well know that I am not a fan of dehydrated, packaged or processed food. I prefer to spend hours in the kitchen creating a good meal, rather than 30 minutes cooking what I consider fake food.
“Oh no,” my son said. “We need to get more than just one packet. They might not be here the next time we come to this store.”
“This is America, the land of processed food,” I exclaimed. I tried to assure him by saying, “Trust me, instant food will never be hard to find.”
“But, what if they run out or decide to not sell this anymore?” he asked. “Remember how many times in Turkey we found things we wanted at the store, and then it was gone and never sold there again. The same thing could happen here as well.”
It took me a few minutes before I could finally drag my son away from the instant food section of the grocery store and back into the produce aisles, where we found an abundance of what I consider to be “real” food. Even though I am always reluctant to buy packaged food, I understood why my son was so concerned about the possibility of never finding the same brand of instant potatoes ever again. After growing up in İstanbul, he is now conditioned to wanting buy extras of any goodies we find.
It will take us some time before we stop hoarding food items that we love. I realized that this behavior is deeply ingrained in me as well when I reached into the back of our fridge to pull out a chunk of truffle cheese that I had hidden out of sight. At the back of our fridge, there is also a collection of imported chocolates that I carefully ration for the both of us. Although I know I can find the very same product at the local grocery store, a part of me still worries that one day these treats may suddenly disappear. This is a habit we will both have to work hard to break.
Article by k.hamilton for todayszaman.com