Foods we miss: the ingredients of memory

I was talking to Christopher about the things I missed when I first arrived to Edinburgh. Good bread was one of those things. Since then, my opinion of what good bread is has changed a lot. The stuff I loved when I was a child doesn’t cut it anymore. It made me think. What do I still miss? What do other people miss? What would they miss if they went home again?

A woman eats fish and chips on her lap.

I wrote a handful of emails and and asked a few friends: Ann, Corinne, Nina, MarshallTaryn and Vasilis share what they miss from home – and what they’d miss if they left the UK – below. I’m fascinated by the differences and similarities in their answers and would love to hear from more ex-pats. Email me at caroline@edinburghfoody.com or give your answers in the comments.

Ann

Ann is from Germany and has lived in the UK for 23 years.

What food stuff do you miss from home and why?

Being German I miss bread and all the other tasty things you get in bakeries in Germany.

What food situation do you miss from home and why?

BBQs! Germans are the kings of BBQs, and my family will often BBQ just because they can – also in winter! I’ve recently invested in a small portable BBQ so I foresee more BBQs in the summer.

What British food stuff would you miss if you moved home again?

It’s a terrible cliche but fish and chips and tea. The black tea you can buy in Germany is just not the same. Or maybe it’s the water. Or the milk.

What British food situation would you miss if you moved home again?

Burns Supper. A large group of my friends get together every year to celebrate Scotland’s national poet with neeps, tatties, haggis and lots of whisky. We enjoy that occasion so much, that we installed a McGonagall supper in July to celebrate that other great Scottish poet. Dundee Cake features heavily, and terrible poetry!

Corinne

Corinne is from France and has lived in the UK for 28 years.

What food stuff do you miss from home and why?

I mostly miss fish quenelles, petit Suisse (a type of fromage frais), tinned peas, green beans and flageolets which do not taste the same as tinned UK equivalents. Fresh fruit and veg: artichokes, frisée salad, cherries and charentais melons in season. Those are truly the last frontier in terms of French food but have found cyber ways of getting hold of stuff.

What food situation do you miss from home and why?

Sitting outdoors for eating and drinking. So more weather related. And getting hold of a fresh baguette.

What British food stuff would you miss if you moved home again?

Cheese for sure and the occasional langoustines and scallops.

What British food situation would you miss if you moved home again?

We are very lucky in Edinburgh with such a huge range of dynamic restaurants that have appeared over the past 6 or 7 years all inspired by the Nordic movement so I would definitely miss that. And curries. Although I haven’t had the real stuff yet! I have also enjoyed concept like the pitt. Where are they?

Marshall

Marshall is from the US and has lived in the UK for 28 years.

What food stuff do you miss from home and why?

Locally grown fruit – flavour!

What food situation do you miss from home and why?

Stopping to pick things like figs or kumquats from trees growing wild nearby where we lived.

What British food stuff would you miss if you moved home again?

The wonderful variety of Indian restaurants. Does this count as British? I think I had only been in one Indian restaurant before coming to this country.

What British food situation would you miss if you moved home again?

The smell of chips with vinegar wafting deliciously in the air when I pass someone with a fish supper while walking home at night.

Nina

Nina is from Sweden and has lived in the UK for 6 years.

What food stuff do you miss from home and why?

Funnily enough, I miss the most basic stuff. The everyday foodstuffs and simple weekday meals – no doubt because the light of nostalgia shines on them. Certain types of bread, like ‘limpa’, a bread made with wheat and rye flour, and a generous helping of golden syrup. I can also crave a certain type of soured milk (kefir) called ‘Fjällfil’ which is made in the area where I grew up. Beyond that, as I grew up in the north, I was raised on wild elk and reindeer meat, and wild berries – something you can’t really get here. Not cheaply any way.

What food situation do you miss from home and why?

Meals with family, mostly, especially around the big Swedish holidays such as Christmas or Midsummer. And evening fika! In my family, and I think for most Swedish households, dinner is usually an early affair, so around 8pm we tend to gather around for a cup of tea, and a slice of bilberry-pie (wild blueberry) on fancy days.

What British food stuff would you miss if you moved home again?

I’ve lived in the UK on two different occasions, so I know for a fact that clotted cream was deeply missed. So much so that I once scoured the internet for ways to make it myself, but it proved very time-consuming… It was a sad clotted cream-deprived year.

What British food situation would you miss if you moved home again?

A nice Sunday roast aside, growing up in a small, norther town, the variety of foods from all over the world that you can experience in the UK would be, and was, missed. Good Indian-food is hard to come by. Gathering at the pub is also a situation that just doesn’t happen in the same way in Sweden.

Taryn

Tarys is from South Africa and has lived in the UK for about 11 years.

What food stuff do you miss from home and why?

I’m vegetarian and South Africa’s traditional foods tend to be very meat-centric, so I don’t really miss many of the ‘obvious’ classic dishes. That said, I have made veggie versions of some of these, which I really enjoy. For example, bobotie, a Cape Malay dish consisting of curried mince (replaced with the veggie alternative) baked with a creamy egg-based topping, usually served with yellow rice (rice cooked with turmeric). South Africa has some very delicious vegetarian sweet treats, though. A favourite is koeksisters, a plaited doughnut, fried and then drenched in syrup, resulting in a creation that is crunchy on the outside, gooey on the inside, and overall very sweet and very sticky!

What food situation do you miss from home and why?

A South African braai. While ‘braai’ technically means ‘barbecue’, a braai is more than just cooking over an open flame, though the difference isn’t easy to encapsulate and explain. A braai is an intensely social event that is an integral part of South African culture, so much so that Heritage Day, celebrated on 24 September, has become known as Braai Day. Again, it’s traditionally very meat-centric, but veggie meat alternatives or things like vegetable skewers can also be braaied, and most braais include some veggie options anyway such as stuffed butternut squash, wrapped in foil and cooked over the fire, or potatoes, again wrapped in foil but placed into the coals to cook.

What British food stuff would you miss if you moved home again?

A few years ago, my answer would have been easy: the sheer variety of vegetarian food available in the supermarkets here! When we left South Africa, the only veggie option in supermarkets was Fry’s, and in my local supermarket the veggie section shared freezer shelf space with delights such as chicken feet! Now Quorn and various supermarket own brand veggie food is available in South Africa too. I’m not sure if MacSween’s veggie haggis is available in South Africa yet. If not, I would definitely miss that!

What British food situation would you miss if you moved home again?

UK pub culture. While South Africa does have bars and a few pubs, it’s just not the same as it is here in the UK. I would miss the social aspect of meeting friends at a pub for drinks, as well as miss (veggie) pub food.

Vasilis

Vasilis is from Greece and has lived in the UK for 20 years.

What food stuff do you miss from home and why?

Home-made filo-pastry pies. You can now find hand-made filo in all supermarkets (that’s the pie stuff, not the baklava stuff) in Greece. In the UK Just-Rol have an acceptable version, but you can rarely find it in supermarkets, and the sheets are too tiny. Greek Artisan Pastries in Portobello is partly covering this need.

Green peppers with thin skin, fruit (peaches, melon, nectarines, oranges, tomatoes) with actual flavour.

Gyros that is good quality, and does not cost the earth.

Kolokithokeftedes (courgette fritters), and other veggie-based fritters.

Foraged greens as a standard form of salad.

What food situation do you miss from home and why?

Most things that have to do with eating in a warm country: casual lunch with mezze (and alcohol, but that’s by the bye); tavernas on the beach, serving fish and seafood.

It is customary for snacks and mezze (from peanuts to a variety of hor d’oeuvres) to arrive for free when you order drinks, or biscuits and mini croissants to arrive with your coffee.

Salad (as in green stuff, not as in “egg salad”) as part of every meal.

What British food stuff would you miss if you moved home again?

Fish and chips as a staple, and as a standard choice in most pubs. Hot-smoked salmon, and smoked mackerel: here you can find them in any supermarket.The products (from spices to booze to candy) you can find in asian/south asian/eastern european supermarkets

The bags of watercress sold in the supermarkets. I have no idea why this does not exist in Greece. Ditto for cress, and chives, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries.

What British food situation would you miss if you moved home again?

The food variety, both in terms of different cuisines, but also in terms of experimentation. There are many eateries (not all of them necessarily upmarket) that see food as a craft, and presenting new “ideas” as normal. That includes having a choice of vegetarian and vegan food that tries to be creative.

Being able to order food in a lot of pubs; pub food as comfort food.

Picking and eating berries while you walk around the city.

Being able to order a bacon roll

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About Caroline von Schmalensee

Cooking, eating and drinking is fun as well as necessary. I do food for fun and I write for a living. Good food makes the world a more delicious and satisfying place. Good writing, meanwhile, can make the world a less confusing place.

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