Monday, September 3, 2012

The little things: gastronomic edition

"It's often the little things that make all the difference in whether or not one is happy when moving to a new country." I explain to a grad student after she tells me that, yes, one can get good American style coffee around University F. The more I think about that statement, the more it rings true to me. Especially in the area of food.

Moving from college to the country of my parents origin, I rejoiced in the freshness of the produce available. I didn't understand why anyone would ever want a fridge instead of going to the market every day. I'd never SEEN eggplant so firm and tasty! On the other hand I missed bread with a good crust, and don't even get me started on what passes for cheese over there. Every June found me dreaming of strawberries, and July was spent obsessing over taste of peach juice and the fuzzy texture of peach skin.

When I left to get a degree in economics, I entered a country with a rich cheese history, and I was in heaven. I remember getting to the train station on my way to my new college town, and immediately buying a cheese sandwich from one of nothing special shops at the food court. I think it involved Brie. I still remember the ecstasy. But the people in this country didn't know how to spice their food. I was (still am) convinced that even the black pepper in the condiment packets were less spicy than those sold in the states.

Coming to grad school city, back in the States, I missed the variety of cheeses available in the grocery deli, but thrilled in the fresh peaches available at the farmer's market. This was also where I discovered the wonderful world of heirloom tomatoes and the breadth of mushroom varieties. I even found a woman who grew and sold every dried herb you could think of, and then some. Herbal remedies be damned, I entered a world of taste experimentation. My partner's extensive caffeinated tea selection and my herbal tea collection occupied an entire shelf of the pantry.

The farmer's market in postdoc city (the first move listed so far that does not involve changing countries) is the only place I've ever seen that puts the marketing experience in my parent's country to shame. The heirloom tomatoes were a disappointment, but the corn and lettuce... I did not find a replacement for my herb seller, but we had a wonderful coffee shop in our neighborhood that introduced us to the wonders of different beans from different parts of the world.

So now that it is hard to get a farmer's market near University E, or American style coffee at a coffee shop, I've decided to cut fruit out of my diet in grief and be grumpy about the coffee for part of my week. This weekend, I found a man who sells seedling of every herb you've ever heard of, and then some. He must have had at least a dozen types of thyme for sale. It'll be more work and less variety than opening up and smelling jars of multi colored leaves in Jenn's stall, but pulling flowers and leaves from my garden for me tea will definitely be more fun. Now I just need to find more planters!

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