The Broad is Back!

September 27, 2012

Comfort food

Filed under: ex-pats,New Broads,Sweden,Uncategorized — by maggiec @ 6:12 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

A woman hit me in the head with a yoga mat today. It was the start of a wonderful conversation.

I had stopped by a new “lot” store on the way home, and as I rounded the corner, I walked into a falling yoga mat. It doesn’t sound as dramatic that way, though. The woman who had knocked it off was very apologetic, and while she was talking, I noticed her accent.

She was German-Algerian and French was her first language, so I was wrong in my guess. But we both had lived in Geneva as she freelanced for the UN, so we had Geneva in common.

She also lived here now, but had been in Paris to visit family, and this store was new to her. I mentioned that it was a good place for German cookies and we were off!  We stood in that store talking for a good ten minutes, two strangers but tied by their search for familiar foods.  I think I enjoyed having that conversation again as much as I enjoyed telling her where to find certain things.

Ex-pats, when they meet their fellows in foreign lands, always have the “where can I get…” conversation.  Once I’d lived a place long enough, I was the one giving the newbies the information.  Some things are impossible to find in foreign lands, but we all learn where we can find many of the ingredients or products we need to make being an ex-pat less “foreign”.

As I’ve been back in America for five years, I don’t often have this conversation anymore. Today I realize how much I’ve missed it–the sense of being different, of spying out things natives may overlook. Of being on a foraging adventure with like minded folks. It was bonding over food–an activity as old as civilization.  Living in New York City I can find everything I miss if I’m willing to pay the price and perhaps travel a bit.  But some products are harder to find than others.  Real crème fraîche made with unpasturized cream is very difficult to find. The children’s candy staple Kinder Eggs are actually illegal in America. But for the most part, I can find things.

I still get cravings, though, and miss foods from “home,” but now “home” is Sweden, Switzerland and Taiwan.  The Taiwan part is easy. I go to Chinatown.  Sometimes I don’t even have to go that far. The other day I was walking down a block in the Garment District, and was all of a sudden back in Taiwan. Something delicious and exotic and very, very Chinese was wafting out of a small take-out restaurant; the streets were clogged and dark from construction; the languages around me weren’t English. I was so happy to feel “at home”!

Swedish food is only really a problem at the holidays, and I have a “connection” now. IKEA used to be a source, and still is, but they carry a house brand now, not the brand names.

Swiss food is the most elusive to find sometimes. Swiss wine is incredibly difficult to get outside of Switzerland, which is a shame. I developed quite the taste for it in my years there.  Choucroute garnie, a dish of sauerkraut, sausages, ham and pork pieces with boiled potatoes, is hard to duplicate (especially since I bought it ready made at the store). Filets des perche, a lake fish from Lake Geneva, are a regional specialty not usually found outside the canton.

The other day, though, at a large discounter I found petit suisse and swooned. It’s a fresh unripened cheese, often flavored with fruits or chocolate and given to children as a snack as we use yogurt in America but in much smaller servings, only a few ounces. I bought a package for my son, as it was a favorite of his when we lived in Geneva. He wasn’t interested, having forgotten it, so I had to force myself to eat it. A sacrifice, but I did it.

My conversation pal did tell me one great secret: where to find quark!  No, Trekkies, not the character.  Früchtequark (called fromage frais in French, but not the same as just any fromage frais) is fruit flavored or served with fruits and is wonderful. Oh, how I’ve missed it!  I actually dream of it sometimes.  But I’ve learned there’s a source in the Bronx of all places! Now I love the Bronx, but it’s not usually known for a large German population.  The Bronx is were to go for great Italian and Dominican food.

There are days I miss being an ex-pat terribly. But today, for a sweet few minutes, I was once again the world citizen, helping a fellow traveler find the familiars of comfort food.



  1. I find that the problem with living in many different places is that your heart gets split into pieces and it sometimes feels as though you can never be whole. Do you find this to be true?

    Comment by lumatiza — October 17, 2012 @ 9:30 am |Reply

  2. Absolutely! Never quite whole and never quite home!

    Comment by maggiec — October 31, 2012 @ 11:01 pm |Reply

  3. […] a party here with the food choices) and I found petit suisse! I love the stuff, and actually wrote about it in my old blog when I discovered it at a local “lot store”. Then I found raclette cheese, some great […]

    Pingback by When Worlds Collide | A Broad Abroad Again — August 21, 2014 @ 2:25 pm |Reply

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