Thursday, August 04, 2005

ex-pat food cravings

Those of you who have never embarked on extended travels or lived overseas for a time may not know this, but there is a syndrome which I shall label "Ex-pat Induced Food Cravings." I've never been pregnant, so I don't know what pregnancy-induced food cravings are like. I tend to disbelieve the old pickles-and-ice-cream paradigm myself, but like I said, I haven't been there. Perhaps the moms out there can enlighten me. Or frighten me. Or both.

Ex-pat food cravings are different. They're not longings for the strange and unusual. They're cravings for familiarity packaged in food form.

I'm thinking about this today because yesterday afternoon I put down Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone in order to attempt making my own Wheat Thins. Yes, homemade Wheat Thins. This is a mission upon which I embark for the sake of my sister, the current ex-pat of the family. She has developed a craving for Wheat Thins, and though she has recently been pregnant, the diagnosis is ex-pat-, not pregnancy-induced, food craving. Naturally, of course, Wheat Thins are unavailable in Choluteca. This is part of the indication of the syndrome.

My Wheat Thins were, alas, neither tasty nor crunchy enough. I will try a second recipe after acquiring some more wheat germ. When I get it right, off the recipe goes to my mei-mei, who then (hopefully) will make a couple batches, and then discover that, upon availability, the cravings subside.

My own ex-pat cravings centered around cereal. (Cereal was nominally available in China--if you wanted to spend $10 USD a box.) I also had short but intense bouts of craving for a good creamy pasta. And cheese enchiladas. And, well, cheese. (Cheese was also nominally available in China back in '98--you can get all kinds of crazy French cheeses now, at Carrefour.) And I discovered that my liking for grits (yes I'm a good Southern gal in some ways, at least) had increased exponentially--and for grits, I was entirely dependent upon a collection of inherited envelopes of instant grits.

I won't call my year-long yearning for a decent cup of coffee an ex-pat craving; that's just garden-variety addiction and coffee snobbery. I'd feel the same anywhere.

Thanksgiving was a big deal for us Americans living in China. Some mistakenly attributed the emotional importance of the holiday to religious significance. It wasn't that at all. It was a Feast of Familiarity, and we would go to great lengths to "get it right." We had to have mashed potatoes--doable, but expensive because of the cost of butter. Had to have green beans. Had to have dressing. Had to have, of course, turkey. The turkey was a problem--my first year, we grudgingly made do with roasted chicken. Later, after my return to the States, I heard that one family had raised its own turkey. I don't know where they got it from. They had to hire a restaurant to cook it, because, difficulty #2, you can't stuff a turkey into a toaster oven.

I'm poking fun at us, sure, but Thanksgiving was a serious thing. It was important. It was a lifeline of sorts. It was a haven of American-ness in the middle of China. It was a chance to, for the length of a meal, feel at home in a place where we always felt out of place.

So, my Wheat Thins were a disappointment. But I shall redouble my efforts. I can't fly myself to Honduras or send endless streams of care packages stuffed with Wheat Thins for my sister. But hopefully, I can find a way to make a tolerable substitute, one which will evoke thoughts of home and feelings of familiarity, so that my sister can begin to feel at home wherever she is.


priscilla said...

I know just what you mean. I miss going to the beach without paying, white fat free chicken, free healthcare and cheese that doesn't glow in the dark. I have started two lists - the first is "Things I miss about NZ" and the second "things I like about America". So far, both lists consist mainly of food products.
You sound happier.

JTB said...

Feeling much better now, thanks...

I knew you'd be able to relate!!! I remember watching you salivate over some kind of mustard in Wegman's international food aisle. And something about 'golden syrup.'

And America is a richer and lovelier place because of pavlova and hokey-pokey. :)