When you move to a new country, you get in touch with new realities, traditions and cultures in a gradual way. But – unless you want to starve – one of the very first necessities is eating, and therefore the food, the restaurant and the little corner shop become our first direct experience with the local culture.
Even if we are no great chefs, it’s difficult not to be tempted by ethnic or exotic flavours, and the desire to get to know perfumes, colours, and flavours of the local cuisine will soon overcome us – despite our feeling pulled between two contrasting desires, especially at the beginning. One will prompt us to concentrate our energies and time on trying to adopt the local cuisine, while the other is that strong push that belongs to our made-in-Italy-DNA,which tells us that Italian cuisine is the absolute best and that for no reason on earth can we abandon it. With patience and good will, we will soon find a balance.
The “other” cuisine is always an interesting and enriching adventure, even when we discover that it’s not so far from our traditions and we realize that in some cases it’s tastier and easier to prepare than ours. Reading the different topics in the Cuisine section of the Italian forums of Expatclic.com, you can make, as if by magic, a gastronomic world tour that won’t leave you disappointed.
With a flight of fantasy, we soon find ourselves with mouthwatering recipes that will make our stomachs grumble. What a lovely sensation: imagine eating a warm, crisp baguette in the streets of Paris, while our children bite into a fragrant chouquette.
In Switzerland it’s almost impossible not to be tempted by chocolate, not to talk about the fondue, especially if you are a big fan of cheese.
Staying in Europe, Holland displays kiosks of raw herrings with onions (something that takes a while to digest… if ever!) and others selling irresistible appelflappen: apple pancakes just sweet enough. In Berlin you will be tempted by bratwurtz, pork sausages, to be eaten in the open air in winter, with hot mustard and an icy nose. Spain and its movida make us dream of paella, made in a variety of ways: from the more traditional one with chicken and peppers, or shrimps and squid, to the most modern ones with beans and artichokes.
Arab countries and North Africa tell us about the spices and the bitter sweet flavours of “one thousand and one nights”: our palates are charmed by falafel, chickpea and coriander balls, by shawarma, the typical Arabic sandwich with the meat cut directly off the turning grill, and by hummus and rolled vine leaves.
India takes us towards well-defined flavours that are spicy and delicate at the same time, and difficult to condensate in a few dishes.
The Japanese cuisine has fish and rice as its basic ingredients, it’s refined and sophisticated, and shows off in the wonderful presentation of its dishes.
In South America, and more precisely in Peru, ceviche is considered a national cultural heritage: it apparently dates back to traditions over two thousand years old. It’s made with very fresh raw fish, marinated in lemon juice, and the addition of onion and aji, the Peruvian pepper at the heart of another delicious Peruvian dish: the aji de galina.
Some countries, though, reveal other realities: our curiosity is stimulated, but we often lack the courage to try dishes that are very, very far from our tastes.
Kenya offers us zebra meat, in Australia and in the Congo it’s very easy to find crocodile meat on restaurants’ menus (a white, lean meat… I tasted it and it’s very similar to chicken!). Again in Australia they eat kangaroo and emu (a kind of local ostrich). In Stockholm they eat elk, in South Africa antelope filets (and since several species exist, you have a choice between the springbok or the blesbok).
There’s ample room for extra strong stomachs, too: in Tanzania the kumbi kumbi are fat flying termites grilled on an open fire till crisp, in Australia the bush is full of delicacies: ants, larvae and beetles are considered rich in proteins and less polluted than supermarket food. You can eat them both raw and cooked…alongside with a good dose of courage!
Among this melting pot of gastronomic traditions, our splendid Italian cuisine stands out strong and proud. Italian cuisine is globally recognized. I think you can find it in some of the remotest places on earth. Sure, sometimes it is mistreated and scrambled:spaghetti are “rinsed” spaghetti seasoned with ketchup (horrible!),and anything can be added on top of a pizza for the most outlandish tastes (a favourite is pineapple – to make it a tropical Hawaiian pizza, and even strawberries, chicken and pesto!). Even our fantastic lasa-G-na is sometimes hardly recognizable after some ill-treatments, especially when it’s accompanied by a cappuccino instead of a good glass of wine!
But at this point we can intervene to take the horror away, and fight a righteous battle as one who really knows the cuisine, and cannot accept it to be so viciously brutalized. Because Italian cuisine is made of simple and genuine ingredients, and respects local traditions that bring us from north to south along the whole country, amongst a plethora of dishes and flavours.
For this and many other reasons – out of nostalgia, wanting to feel at home, or for our children (and sometimes our demanding and picky husbands), many of us face the new country with a lot of patience and rush into a search for those little shops, that particular supermarket, that peculiar stall, that will allow us to recreate our usual pasta and everyday sauces, and simply reduce the distance between local habits and ours.
A funny topic launched a while ago on Italian forums asked which is the Italian food that we miss the most, the one that we are ready to put in our suitcase even if we are facing hours of travel, or defying severe custom controls.
The result was clear: Parmigiano Reggiano is the undisputed winner. Without it, our cuisine really seems to be flavourless! Close to the Parmigiano came the Stracchino, whose imitations leave us speechless, the extra virgin olive oil and the Prosecco.
But we also miss coffee (of that particular brand!), Baci Perugina, cubes and yeast for cakes, pesto made with basil from Pra, bufala mozzarella and the burrata. And of course the “affettati“, the cured hams and meats that, according to national statistics, are our most exported products but often no longer fresh when they get to their destination… forcing us to spend a lot of money to satisfy our cravings!
Still, for our wonderful cuisine, we are ready to do this… and much, much more.
Perth, Western Australia