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The Motherlode

There is no doubt that when you live away from your home country, your initial exposure to so many new and interesting flavours and foods contributes to an incredible enthusiasm for your new home’s cuisine. When you first come to China and discover food that surpasses your previously held ideas of Chinese food in every single way, your love affair with Chinese cuisine begins. So it’s been for me with any place I’ve spent extended periods of time – a hospital placement in rural Thailand had me making my own curry pastes (hell, even growing my own papayas) for months on end, and a long sojourn in Turkey had me stuffing mussels and learning to make pide. 

 But as I meet more and more long-term foreign residents of Shanghai I begin to notice a similar theme – they hardly eat any Chinese food. With the odd exception, they actually eat less and less Chinese food the longer they live here, whether because they get craftier about finding the foods they were used to eating at home, or because as time passes it be comes harder and harder to maintain the same high levels of enthusiasm for your new-found food culture. 

We are so hard-wired by the food culture we grow up with it becomes difficult to make any permanent and major changes to our food DNA unless forced to by necessity, like lack of availability of our chosen foods. I love Chinese food – its variety, its complexity, its history, but I guess I’m being unpatriotic and a touch disloyal to cook and eat so darn much of the stuff.

And after nearly two years in China I’m actually beginning to crave foods I hardly ever ate at home. Not because I don’t love Chinese food, just because I can’t have them. Take snacks, for example. When I’m out and about and starving, and could really go a fruit and icecream Weiss bar, it just doesn’t cut it to rip open a colourful plastic bag and take out a big, cold, juicy….chicken’s foot. 

Yesterday my Mum arrived from Australia for a visit, and she must have known we’re all experiencing a fair bit of foodie homesickness here, because out of her suitcase came the biggest, fattest pile of Aussie snack foods gathered ever gathered on foreign soil.

Australians abroad, read this and weep:
  • TimTams (the world’s best chocolate biscuit)
  • Cherry Ripes (cherries, coconut, dark chocolate…ahhh)
  • Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate
  • Australian macadamia nuts
  • really big, fat marinated Kalamata olives
  • Pascall marshmallows
  • Redskins (these hard, raspberry flavoured candies are what every Aussie kid loses at least one tooth on)
  • Violet Crumbles (choc-coated honeycomb)
  • Queen’s vanilla bean paste (an Aussie invention..if you can’t buy vanilla beans, this is the next best thing)
  • Furry Friends (chocolate bars with pictures of small furry Australian marsupials on the outside)
  • and for reasons known only to my Mum, a tin of SPC Number-ghetti, which will probably still be sitting in the cupboard when we eventually leave China)
And if you’re wondering about the lemon, Mum picked it from the branches of a lemon tree we planted in our garden back home three years ago. Apparently it’s now dripping with the lemons I’d love to get my hands on!

So thanks Mum! I cooked her a big Chinese feast to say thanks, and welcome to Shanghai, and then after dinner we all tucked into a Cadbury Crunchie bar. Mmmmmm! 

Tell me what you crave most when away from home in the comments below!

  • Anonymous

    Love those visitor's suitcases packed with goodies from back home! Anybody coming here in the next weeks should bring me a bottle of dark green, rich, pumpkin seed oil from styria (Austria). Sooo good for a nice salad! I'll get it smuggeled to China somehow too, I'll be creative, I just have to have that stuff…!But watch out, if it breaks in the suitcase everything is green and will be green litterally forever! Michaela

  • Jules

    She forgot TWISTIES!

  • Fiona

    Oh! The Twisties! my mouth is watering for their fabulous crunchy orange fake cheesiness!

  • croquecamille

    What do I miss? So many things. Many of which I can get in Paris, but they're just not the same. Cheeseburgers and burritos probably top the list. But xiaolongbao are up there, too! 🙂

    What will I miss when I leave France? Probably more than I know. But this I know for sure: the cheese. The bread.

  • MaryAnne

    I totally understand the migration back toward your own country's comfort foods. For me, I don't so much migrate toward Canadian things, as I've not lived there full time since I was in university. Instead, I find myself sometimes in the City Shop or Parksons basements searching for Turkish yogurt, or British chocolate or Italian cheese. At work, my desk drawer has Japanese rice crackers and dried Thai mango strips.

    Am I willfully refusing to take part in the cuisine of the city I live in? Nah. I often buy my veggies from the Jiashan lu sidewalk vendors, and my fresh noodles. I buy nibblies from street carts and big steaming bowls of noodles from hole in the wall Lanzhou joints. We'll eat out at least once a week in a Chinese restaurant of some sort (usually Hunanese or Sichuan). For me, it's really hard to fully immerse in Chinese food because, well, I don't really like meat. I was a vegetarian for a decade and a half and can kind of stomach small shreds of meat in a veggie dish. Dumplings are perfect for me. Duck necks and cow ligaments and fish heads? Not so much. Also have life-long fear/loathing of any kind of fungus/mushroom. Very limiting. I try to be brave and open minded and to eat as much as I can of what's out there but…

    The comfort food is what I often come running back to. Even if it's, say, Thai or Indian comfort food. 😉

  • Louise

    What, no Vegemite? Rather inspired to pack the vanilla paste, it is handy when you can only get some of those $10 single vanilla beans. I lived in Canada for a few years when a young adult, I missed Violet Crumble and Vegemite the most. Not that I eat all that much Vegemite at home most of the time anyway.

  • Fiona

    I rarely eat vegemite either. But so comforting to look in the cupboard and see it there right next to the pork floss. And it's a great hangover cure – vegemite on white bread toast, and a mug of very strong tea.

  • Eizel

    Moms always know what you crave for – mine is farmer's cheese they wrapped in banana leaves 🙂

  • Fiona

    Intriguing! I'd really like to know more about that cheese!

  • adventuresomekitchen

    That is awesome! I've never lived anywhere long enough to miss my home cuisine… that said, I do think I would miss a good Barbeque sauce if I was gone for an extended period of time.. Love that your mum brought you a lemon! Did she have to sneak it in? Enjoy- and cook something totally wonderful with it! Have a nice visit with your mum!

  • Fiona

    To Jen @adventuresome kitchen – the lemon was put to good use for a big batch of lemon and sugar crepes on Sunday morning – thanks!