What Foods Do You Miss While You’re on the Road?

July 1, 2011 |

One of the hardest things about traveling or living abroad can be finding familiar foods that you enjoy, crave, or miss. I’ve had random cravings for all kinds of things on the road, and have found myself paying an arm and a leg for things I rarely eat at home because I’m craving a familiar flavor (I’ve bought Snickers bars in SE Asia and Doritos in Argentina).

I LOVE the flavors of Mexico and the Southwestern U.S.—chili powder, cumin, green chiles, chipotles… I often cooked with those ingredients in the States, and it’s often difficult to find that kind of food in other parts of the world. When I was traveling around the world, I found that places that did serve Mexican or Tex-Mex were geared toward foreigners and usually MUCH more expensive than the local food.

Not to mention that it can be risky business trying Western food in a place where the cuisine is very different. I remember ordering a pizza in northern Vietnam that was pretty much inedible—it had some bizarre ketchup-type sauce, vegetables you would never see on a pizza, and very little cheese. Blech. But sometimes you can find foreign flavors done well in the most unexpected places—I actually remember having pretty decent Mexican in Delhi, of all places! (Although the refried beans tasted kind of like pork and beans.)

Don’t get me wrong—I love trying the foods that are local to wherever I am; it’s one of the main reasons to travel, in my mind! But when you’re gone for a long time, there’s no question that you start to look for something different. (When I first got to India I was eating Indian food two times a day, and paying the price – and then I realized that although I love it, I would NEVER eat Indian food twice a day, for days on end, at home! My body just couldn’t handle it. So I tried to mix it up with some other foods too.)

For the moment, since I have a place other than my backpack where I can keep things, I will often stock up on spices and treats when I go back to the U.S., or have visitors bring me things (a recent haul from my parents included things like peanut butter M&Ms, roasted-tomato salsa from Trader Joe’s, and a couple cans of green chiles). Using those ingredients from abroad or things we’ve been able to track down locally, some friends and I have hosted Mexican night, sushi night, curry night, and more—it’s so fun to share new flavors with the locals and enjoy foods we don’t get to eat very often.

My supply of chili powder is getting a little low at the moment, so I am SUPER psyched that this weekend I’m going to be a judge at the 1st Annual Buenos Aires Chili Cook-Off! Some of the expats involved have taken their longing for familiar flavors and turned them into successful businesses: a Texan who makes salsa and barbecue sauce, a Mexican who makes tortillas, and a Chicagoan who makes cookies. You’re always better off going to the source to get these things, rather than trying, for example, a pizza made by Vietnamese! (One made by an Italian living in Vietnam would be a different story, of course!)

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