Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Foods I Miss from America

I recently offered some American candies, Good & Plenty, (sent by a close buddy who's now in Chicago but remembered they're one of my favorite candies) to a friend at work who asked what food I miss the most from the U.S. Well, there's quite a lot, and "the most" can depend on my mood...

A list like this will probably barely scratch the surface, since it's hard to just sit down and think of everything... But I'm imagining all the great things I've eaten at various times...

  • Cereals - There are a few cereals here in India (although certainly not the mile long aisles of them like in American grocery stores!), but they're not the same, they're harder, more abrasive and hurt the inside of my mouth when I eat them.
    • Cheerios - Cheerios rank up there pretty high, actually. One of my favorite breakfast and snack foods. I just love shoveling it in my mouth when I'm reading or watching movies or any time. Sure, I had Cheerios in the U.K. on my trips, but they're highly sweetened and not as soft and light as plain American Cheerios. I might have to eat four bowls of Cheerios to equal the nutrition in one bowl of Total, but you know what, I can eat four bowls with breakfast without a problem, except maybe stopping at four...
    • Lucky Charms - Sometimes I just get the urge for some kind of cereal with those marshmallows and this ranks up there pretty high. I don't mind the generic ones...
  • Bagels - Bagels, bagels, bagels.... India seems to be a bagel-free country.
  • Beef - It's not that there isn't beef in India, but I've been told over and over again not to buy any to cook at home, only trust the quality from a few select restaurants, mostly Parsi or Muslim owned, that are tied in with a farm. Any retail beef is supposedly not necessarily fresh and not good quality.
    • Roast Beef - I just love roasting a nice chunk of beef. I'm not adventurous in trying it different ways, I just like to rub some butter on it, toss it in the oven for a couple of hours, take it out and eat slices while it's still hot and steaming...
    • Hamburgers - I don't even need the buns (which are available in India!) since usually I only use that as a handle to hold the meat when I'm in public. Sometimes I eat some of it, sometimes not, rarely all of the bun...
    • Steak
  • Fresh salad - While lots of vegetables are available here in India, generally in the market place they're a lot less consistently fresh and good than in the U.S. The variance is probably because vegetables are rarely eaten raw in India, the way they are in the U.S., they're almost always cooked with a lot of spices that really cover up the flavor, so bad ones are less noticeable.
    • Spinach - It's very, very rare that the spinach I've eaten in India has tasted good raw. In the U.S. I just like to take fresh spinach out of the fridge, run them under warm water in the sink to clean them and shove them in my mouth.
  • Chocolate Silk soy milk - Actually we get single serving cartons here in India, but I miss half gallon jugs that I can just pour glass after glass without worrying about "oops, only one left". And the single serving ones just don't seem right for adding in a ground up Oreo cookie...
  • Chips - While there's no doubt the fresh Budhani potato chips here in Pune are absolutely fantastic, and Kur-Kure is delicious, there's ones I miss a lot from the U.S. that I'd like to eat:
    • Doritos - Yeah, we can get small packs of imported ones, but the prices are so high Leena refuses to entertain my requests for them.
    • Fritos
    • Funyuns
    • Diane's Nacho Cheese Tortilla Chips - Let's face it, they're the official chip of the Waldport High School Games Club!
    • Cheetos - I like the puffed ones, not the crispy ones.
  • Oat bread - Being allergic to whole wheat, oat bread is my favorite kind of packaged bread, much better than white bread. But here in India I've only seen white and whole wheat.
  • Pretzels - Only once did I find a bag of pretzels here in India, and after eating a few they turned out to be terrible, and whole wheat. Pretzel rods, pretzel sticks, soft, hot pretzels, those pretzel rolls with peanut butter... Mmm.....
  • Pepperoni Pizza - Yeah, I know it's on the menus of several restaurants, Smokin' Joe's and Pizza Hut, for instance, but often they don't actually have it. But the Smokin' Joe's menu says flat out that it's pork and not fresh, and the few times we've ordered it at their restaurants the waiters have tried to dissuade us from getting it.
  • Persimmons - Not a common fruit, but I like 'em when they're good and ripe, super sweet!
  • Soda Pops
    • Dr. Pepper - My favorite of the big sodas.
    • Root Beer
    • Ginger Ale
    • Cream Soda
  • Lactose intolerant milk - Since I have a lactose intolerance problem, but I like chocolate milk, I miss being able to buy milk that won't cause such a problem...
  • Twinkies - Okay, these may not be good foods, and I didn't eat them often in America, but now that I can't get one, I sure miss them. Even more when I read or see something about deep fried Twinkies, which I'd like to try.
  • Ice Cream Sandwiches - Good quality? Bad quality? I really like all kinds of ice cream sandwiches, from the cheap grocery store branded ones with plain vanilla ice cream between the cookie pieces to fancy Dove ones and all the ones in between...
  • Pocky - Mmm.... Pocky!
  • Flavored Oatmeals - I like all those various flavored oatmeals that just need hot water added. I've tried with plain, unflavored oatmeal but I have no idea how to add flavors so it doesn't just taste like boring, sticky oatmeal, and most of my attempts to make it end up inedible.
  • Smoked salmon - Ah, I really miss those plastic packages of smoked salmon from the grocery store. They go with spinach as a great breakfast, just open the package and rip chunks off to eat...
  • Fake Crab - Yeah, I know it's cheap, garbage fish with some added flavor, not real crab, but I like it anyway, especially the flakes, more than the sticks...
  • Yogurt - I don't like plain yogurt, I only like fruity flavored, sweetened yogurts. They're starting to turn up in India now, but the variety and quality aren't up there with the U.S. yet, and about 25% of the packages are definitely sour, with the package puffed almost to the bursting point, before the expiration date...
  • Tea - As funny as it sounds, living in the world's largest tea producing country, but American grocery stores simply have a wider variety of teas available to consumers, and a wider variety of qualities of black tea and a wider variety of flavored teas.
  • Beer - I'm not much of a beer drinker (in fact, I had more fun brewing my own than drinking it...), but I like a half-pint glass of a nice, rich stout, porter or a fruity ale every now and then. Unfortunately, the beer in India is all pretty lousy lagers.
Undoubtedly I'm missing something from my mental trip down the grocery store aisles...

While a few other long-term expatriates I've known all say when they return to America McDonald's is the first place they go for a "taste of home" I don't see myself doing that. I'd rather start with something good rather than fast food. Admittedly, on my last vacation back I did hit A & W in the terminal at Newark Airport during my layover, and I was extremely disappointed with the burger and fries, but the root beer was heavenly after a few years without...

Plus shopping for groceries in the U.S. is just a lot easier. There's always more variety in one place, better inventory control so what you want is more likely to be there, and far, far more helpful staff at the grocery stores. Here in India any question like "do you have X?" almost always results in a negative answer, even the worker is standing in front of a shelf with several feet of the item, compared with an American grocer who will usually do what they can to help find things in the store.

In an American grocery store if I need help picking a ripe cantaloup, I can almost always count on the produce person to help make a good choice, but my experiences in India buying fruits the seller usually seems to try to offload the worst on me and quote a higher price, or I'm just not argumentative enough to bargain for both quality and price or something... Buying fruits has generally not been a pleasant experience for me in India, though fortunately Leena's the one who's been doing it for the last few years.

And I'm more accustomed to the behavior of other customers in American grocery stores, the neat, orderly queues where most people wait patiently for their turn, or impatiently, but still wait, and give some breathing room. Compared with Indian grocery stores where the checkers are usually incompetent and going slow, many more items ring up at wrong prices (and unlike American stores, the Indian ones don't let you get away with a lower price when it's their own mistake, so you have to wait while they fix it) and lots of people try to jump ahead in line. I have to be defensive, stand closer to the person in front of me than I'm comfortable and try to maintain my place or if I leave enough space for someone to fit in front of me, someone will try it. It's worst when people send their servants to pick something up, they have the least respect for the line.

Related to food, I miss baking tremendously (I'm not much of a cook, just a baker). In India, before getting married I had an oven, a cheap German one that scared the hell out of me whenever I had to turn on the gas and then lean deep inside it to light it with a match to the hole near the back of it...

But after we moved into our own apartment, there's no space in the kitchen for it. We've been on the waiting list for a second gas cylinder for a few years, but the gas company never has spares to give us a second one. If we do get one, maybe I can set the oven up in the servant's bathroom (since we have no servants). Then I can try baking bagels or pretzels.

On the other hand, with any luck we'll be moving to America faster than the gas company...


  1. ahhh u makin me drool! i miss most of this from US too.. and mainly tacobell stuff! the caramel apple empanada :) yumm!

    do u write reviews on u write awesome.. u shud b rewarded really well there.. i got some free mvoie tickets too!

    anyways nice blog here! happy bloggin!

  2. Hey thanks, glad you're enjoying what I'm writing.

    I haven't heard of I'll take a look, though.

    If things work out later this year I'll "make a run for the border" like the Taco Bell commercials... I wonder if they still make those cinnamon and brown sugar pastries?