Saturday, 29 September 2012

Cupboard Confessions of an Expat

'fessing up'

Comfort food takes on a whole new meaning when you move abroad. You develop strange cravings for things that you never thought you would miss. Stumbling over products from home in a supermarket here can make you feel elation akin to winning the lottery. Such delicacies as Angel Delight, Sandwich Spread, Bird's Custard and Walker's Shortbread are sold in the British international section of supermarkets here in Germany. The reality is that probably the people of Britain have moved on from these to more sophisticated foods whereas expats like me are trapped in an ever decreasing spiral of instant powdered puddings, questionable salt levels and twee packaging.

As part of the Trailing Spouses' Art Project in Bielefeld, Germany, Rachel asked us to contribute a recipe that reminded us of home or connects us to home. I found this surprisingly difficult, realising that my expat tastes have changed so much over the twelve or so years since moving to Germany and, for me, it is products rather that dishes I crave.

So here, just for the record, are some of the foods I can't do without in Germany, my couldn't do withouts (I am reformed),  and my 'could I now do without these if I had to leave Germany?' food quandries.

Can't do withouts -

Marmite -

This is my most serious and incurable expat addiction. Actually, it would be an addiction even if I was in the UK. I don't eat Jam, honey, peanut butter or Nutella, so if I don't have my little glass jar of black gold then my breakfast is a sad affair. It is rare to find a German who understands Marmite. I have never been a pusher, but there are some Germans curious enough to sniff it at least, but then vow never to go near it again. I now have my sources in Germany and have compiled detailed charts with various prices. I have been known to pay four times its British market value just to get my fix. And it is worth it.

Couldn't do withouts

Heinz Treacle Puddings

When I first moved to Germany I got an inexplicable need to fill my suitcase with those treacle puddings that you boil in their tins. I was, I think, trying to impress by new German boyfriend shock and awe style with what British culinary culture had to offer.  The average German woman can bake a cake from scratch at the drop of a hat, but could they boil a pudding so sweet and rich that it takes a week to digest it and not spray boiling water over themselves in the process whilst opening the tin?  I felt confident.

Could I do without if I left Germany?


Bread has changed perhaps in the UK since I moved to Germany for the better. My German spouse told me how, as an experiment, he once held a loaf of white sliced bread in the UK between his hands and squeezed, squeezed until it was reduced to tiny proportion of its former self. There was nothing to it, he said, it was light as air and never filled him up. In Germany, they sell bread with a 1KG stamped into it. You can eat the bread, but also use it for other purposes, such as body building or door stops, which is very practical. But there is so much variety of bread here, you are really spoiled for choice. And that is something I would miss if I left Germany.

Do you have any guilty expat food pleasures? Or would you miss food from your new country of choice if you returned to the UK?

P.S. anyone who knows me will wonder about the glaring omission of crisps. This is, I feel, a topic that will one day take up a blog post of its own, or even a book or two. As I am going through a period of reflection and introspection about my crisp eating habits at home and abroad I feel I need to give this theme the time and space it so rightly deserves. Thank you.


  1. Darn, now you have me wondering about that crisp habit of yours... ;P

    Where do I even begin.. I feel like an (ex)pat of three countries, so my (ex)pat cravings are somewhat intricate. I'll try:

    As I've already facebooked, leaving Germany usually means leaving Quark, which is simply not possible. Trying to explain - let alone translate - Quark is a hopeless and usually frustating endeavor (for both sides, mind), as is explaining the various shortcomings of the suppsoed Quark equivalences in the respective countries.

    And lye rolls. Though I've since learned how to bake my very own lye rolls, out of sheer desperation. They're not as awesome as they ones from a German bakery, but still.

    From Spain, there's leche condensada. God bless the Polish/Russian immigrants for bringing that very same thing to Germany. For a horrendous price, and available only in a limited selection of brands/containers, but that's okay - I can get my leche condensada fix if I need to. (Wikipedia tells me that the UK has since nearly completed the progression from "unsweetened evaporated milk" to "(sweetened) condensed milk". Germany hasn't even started - we still only sell unsweetened condensed milk.

    As for the US.. I'm ashamed to admit it, but I think I'd ask for some pop tarts if someone asked me what to bring for me if someone went back today. That, and these Kool-Aid style fruit punch powder tablet thingies.

    1. Its funny you should mention Quark, as it is something I still don't get, and it is hard to explain what it is. Is it yoghurt, cream cheese or cottage cheese? Is it sweet or savoury? I do still feel a bit puzzled by it! I wonder if they have it in Aldi in the UK? It must have been great to find it in the Aldi in Spain!
      I know a few Americans here in Bielefeld. I can ask them if they know a secret source of pop tarts. Have you checked out Real? Thanks for sharing your expat cupboard confessions with me. I don't feel so alone with mine!

    2. That's the thing.. it's supposed to be cream cheese, but it's totally different.. more yoghurt-y in taste, but consistency-wise, definitely more cream chees-y.. and in anything but consistency, you totally could compare it to cottage cheese.. I know people who say to purée cottage cheese if unable to find quark, but the mere idea repulses me.

      Sweet or savory? Umm.. neither? I think the more common usages tend towards a sweet context (cheesecake; yoghurt-style uses like wih fruit, müsli, etc.)but it's also good in a savory context (e.g. for sour-cream like dips).

      Yes, I've checked -real- (great source for anything foreign-ish like that, yes!), but that's been a while.. I think Germany's slowly moving to be a more toaster-friendly nation (another journey on which anglophone countries have already been moving much farther), and since even those toaster schnitzels have now made their appearance on the German market.. maybe I should try again.

  2. Thank you Lucca for the insiders guide to quark. I feel that if I can use Quark then I may have "integrated" into society here in Germany - seriously. My mother in law always adds cream to it and vanilla sugar and fruit and comes up with amazing desserts. I will definitely try it out as a basis for dips. I agree that pureeing cottage cheese is not a nice thought. What desperate measures we will go to to simulate food stuffs from home!

  3. You didn't tell them about the Sandwich Spread but then that was my dirty habit while you were overdosing on Marmite.

    You might find this amusing - especially on school dinners

    Anonymous Louise

  4. I am often tempted to buy the sandwich spread, but manage to stop myself in the nick of time. Do you still eat it? Come on, you can tell me! I like that article that you sent me: I indoctrinated Eric into Marmite from an early age, and have given him an appreciation of crisps come to think of it, all the healthy things from my cultural heritage.