9 Foods Americans Miss Most When Traveling and Living Abroad
The Daily Meal's editorial director Colman Andrews shares his inspiration behind his book "The Taste of America" in part one of his interview with Rob Rosenthal.
For culinary travelers, each voyage is an Amazing Epicurean Race, an attempt to devour as many regional dishes as possible before returning home. We usually don’t stay long enough (the average American takes 16 days off work each year, and only part of that is real vacation) to long for hometown eats. How can you crave a bagel when faced with the buttery baked nirvana of pain au chocolat and kouign-amanns at your Parisian boulangerie?
Conversely, expats are able to explore the eats in their adopted town at leisure. The tourist pace slows down to a local stroll. Instead of rushing to slurp ramen, foreigners living in Tokyo can sample multiple noodle shops until they find their favorite haunt. Yet as the days become months on foreign soil, a curious consequence unfolds: Expats start to miss their native foods.
We were curious to learn which dishes and ingredients Americans who are living abroad, or traveling out of the U.S. for extended periods whether for business or pleasure or educational purposes, missed most. To compile our list, we cast our net to expat blogs and reached out to our network of Americans across the globe in search of tidbits about what they missed. Then we consulted our own list of American foods you can’t find abroad. A lot has changed since we first published that story, as more American foods have become available in markets and specialty stores worldwide. Often, these days, the issue isn’t the availability of a particular food, but the extent to which the ingredients in it may vary in other parts of the world.
Becky Stafford, an American in the midst of a two-year post in Addis Ababa, shares how Ethiopian milk tastes different since it needs to be boiled before consumption and the dairy cows from which it’s made are skinnier than our full-fat heifers. The disparities sometimes fall in the foreign country’s favor; Jude Smith, an American who has lived in Paris since 1996, divulges that she and her family prefer the French version of Special K to the American one.
Many expats yearn for packaged goods and snacks because of familiarity and ease (in cooking and portability). Regional produce and meats that are difficult to obtain abroad are also craved. In the broader sense, expats miss the variety of American foodstuffs — 50 kinds of kombucha! — at product-laden shops like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.
Proust proclaims that “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Sometimes it takes living internationally to make an American truly appreciate his or her homeland’s food.
Additional reporting by Colman Andrews
Sure, there's good beef in France (the famous Charolais), Italy (bistecca fiorentina, anyone?), Australia, and certainly Argentina, among other places — but carnivorous expats often find themselves craving American beef. Meat tastes different abroad due to different diets, additives, and breeds; ceci n’est pas un hamburger. Then, there’s the issue of finding familiar cuts, as every culture butchers animals differently. For instance, brisket, a barbecue mainstay, is tough to track down in Germany. This cut differential goes both ways; when I served short ribs to Japanese friends, they were stunned to find our thick Yankee version instead of their skinny cut.
Corn on the Cob
While people eat corn around the world, this specific way of eating corn — biting into a torpedo of grains just off the fire — is lost on a lot of Europeans, many of whom think corn is for livestock. Even the most kitschy American restaurants abroad don’t have it on their menus. Attitudes toward corn on the cob are changing, however, and you’ll occasionally find it in Europe, but due to its newish status as a hot food commodity, it tends to be over- or undercooked. Chowhound users say they have seen corn sold on the cob in Taiwan, Turkey, and Japan, where it is a great novelty, but most of them agree that it tastes pretty awful — in general, it is served with no seasoning and the kernels just aren’t as plump as the ones we’re used to here in America. One country that does understand corn on the cob is Mexico, where a popular street food is corn on the cob grilled, then slathered with butter or mayonnaise, chili powder, and cheese and moistened with lime juice.