Thursday, July 16, 2009

Interesting food abroad

Expats have to deal with the fact that they’re likely to have some ‘interesting’ gastronomic experiences.

This may all sound a bit obvious. Yes, different people in different countries eat different things and not all will be to each other’s taste. As an expat you will sometimes see some odd things served to you on a plate. You’re either going to see this as part of the rich experience of living an expat life or run screaming for the hills and the nearest tin of baked beans.

This also isn’t just a question of exotic locations and exotic foods – though it depends a bit on what you call exotic. I know one US citizen living in London that was appalled and terrified by some of the things the local people ate. Top of his list was of course Jellied Eels, cockles, mussels and whelks (though how many Londoners eat those these days?) but the power of speech left him entirely at the sight of a soup dish full of pie & mash.

Nor are all Americans amused by Fish ‘n’ Chips as many seem unable to recognise the battery object as fish. I’ve seen Americans (and some Englishmen for that matter) in Edinburgh and Glasgow with their jaws on the floor as their haggis was served on a plate. Some thought they were safe with the Scottish breakfast until it arrived and was seen to include Clootie Dumpling – a sort of fried fruitcake with the bacon and eggs.

My favourite was an American friend who once asked in Birmingham where the nearest Macrobiotic restaurant was. “Yaow wot?” To be fair to Brum, this was a long time ago.

Of course many people moving from one European country to another find even bigger differences. Many English speaking expats have trouble getting to grips with the horse steaks that can be served in France, the sometimes almost raw meat in Italy (and several other continental European countries) or in Spain several varieties of fish that look like they have been imported from Venus.

I personally think all this diversity is great and all about broadening one’s experiences. Not everyone agrees though. As I’ve commented on before, increasingly in supermarkets and even some local markets one can see the foreign food sections springing up to cope with the demand for fish fingers, beans and tinned soups. That, I think, is a less healthy sign.

Still, it’s always gone on. I have a Chinese friend that has spent a lot of time in Europe and he tells me that he can’t recognise a lot of the food served in Chinese restaurants here as Chinese. In some Chinese restaurants in the Chinatown areas of some big cities such as London, he will ask for the Chinese menu and select dishes from that. He likes ‘our’ Chinese food but just struggles to recognise it. He thinks that it is Chinese food that was first ‘Americanised’ for originally US tastes, then re-exported from the USA into Europe where an essentially American set of dishes was then ‘Briticised’ or ‘Francocised’ etc. Odd theory but he may be right.

So maybe the squeamish expat has a way out. Just open that local restaurant specialising in British or American dishes tweaked for local taste. What about in France battered fish in a Béarnaise sauce? In Italy egg ‘n’ chips carbonara? In Spain perhaps cheeseburger-aella? In Australia roo ‘n’ clootie pie?

Never say I don’t give you ideas!


sapience said...

A very Interesting observation but it happens mainly due to the non availability of raw materials specially the spices and moreover due to the taste buds of localites. For example if you will serve a real India curry to a Britisher he would run for his life to get some sugar and water as it is so spicy that they will suffer from acidity for the next three days

Anonymous said...

I think it's safe to say that few styles of food make it into America unscathed...Italian, Mexican, etc.