Sometimes it can be easy to take the things around us for granted. Enough time spent around a certain stimulus or situation and it will often cease to have the same impact compared to the first time, or returning to it after an extended period of time. Perhaps moving somewhere new, and there’s a particularly pretty commute to work. Or perhaps a particular dish made by a parent or a loved one. You know it’s beautiful, you know it’s delicious, but driving the same place five days a week, or eating the same dish for a week, and the magic is a little dampened, so to speak. You can also have the opposite situation, when moving away from somewhere, and you begin to miss the things that you previously gave little thought, or had just delegated it to one of the regular experiences in your day-to-day.
As anyone who regularly reads here will know, I don’t live where I was born. I was raised in Massachusetts, and though it has only been over a year since I’ve left the United States (however much longer it feels than that, as cliched of a comment as that admittedly may be), I’ve found there are certain things that one may or may not miss that are surprising. They were to me when I first felt them, at least. I’ll just mention one this time.
Food. Of course. That’s an easy choice. The obvious choice. The subsequent example of home cooking is the even more easy refinement than that.
“Fish usually swim in water, too. Right, move on,” said the non-existent, tangent-hater in the crowd.
I could spend hours discussing the nuances of my father’s affinity for cooking, or my mother’s inimitable creativity in making great dishes out of a limited supply, but that’s like talking about how great breathing is. Admittedly (and unfortunately) some people don’t have those kinds of memories or attachments to their childhoods, but perhaps call me naive to think that most people will have some dish, one food, from their childhood that they would pay anything to have again, exactly how they remembered it. That’s not exactly what I wish to explore, as quaint and sweet as it may be. It’s the more odd attachments that I’ve found that I more wish to mention.
Yes, even though I live in Prague, a comfortably international city, there is still some fast food that hasn’t made its way here. I can’t fully complain about that, they’re just never the fast food I want, said the petulant self-important manchild. Case and point, the nefarious Big Three are here: McDonald’s, Burger King, and KFC. They dot the landscape like pimples that every sees but politely tries to ignore but lives with anyways. However many delightful moments you can have recanting your ordering “royales with cheese,” it’s not a high point in cultural exchange. In Galicia, they were far more rare, which was great, but there was also an accompanying deficit in overall food variety. A measured give and take, one supposes. I hazard to guess that my walking with disdain past familiar chains I grew up with, in a place I was only acquainted with four years ago, is still just a bit of my sort of snobby traveler’s response to American globalism.
But I am getting off-track.
There are some things that I’ve found aren’t specifically American foods, but they’re prepared in a uniquely American way that many places cannot replicate. Perhaps for the better, sometimes.
Mexican food, for example. My two best examples of this are as follows: Qdoba and La Veracruzana. They reside on polar sides of the Mexican food spectrum, politely ignoring the bowel-shredding Taco Bell, but both dear to my heart.
Qdoba, for many who will not know, makes decent enough, but huge and surprisingly delicious, burritos. Nowhere close to authentic, but varied and unpretentious enough to warrant my regular patronage. I realized I missed Qdoba more than the company of some people I knew, and it made me feel awful. And yet hungry. Awfungry? Never mind, it’s a chain, there’s no reason for the longing, but by the Nine Hells it’s true.
La Veracruzana is the far more tasteful one of the two, being a far more authentically-presented and prepared style, and ergo, horribly, horribly delicious. They may only exist close to the Amherst/Northampton region, but my god were they, nay, they ARE worth going to. It, along with the overall fantastic food/college culture of the area, a joy to eat at in my four years at university.
You just don’t find Mexican of these qualities or preparation in the usual places in Europe. You can, but even most locals will likely have trouble pinpointing somewhere. Like the proverbial Ahab toward the white whale I still hunt for it. However Mexican food hasn’t stolen my leg, but only my heart. Or my stomach’s heart. My stomach’s heart is my heart, so… well… moving on.
Also? Buffalo wings. One artifact from the US that just hasn’t SOMEHOW managed to make a foothold in any of the European cities I’ve seen. In my experience, finding someone who has heard of them can be a lucky thing in unto itself. A food so ubiquitous to almost every menu stateside is a rare commodity in these parts. Even finding buffalo-style sauce is an adventure. One of the only sources of these crispy, spicy delights is at T.G.I. Friday’s: 6 pieces for a staggering 195kč, or $9/€7. You can go to a blindingly good Vietnamese place around here and get two entrees and a drink for less than that. It’s maddening. It also makes it rather clear, at least to me, who exactly is the average target audience for T.G.I. Friday’s.
There are also some foods I don’t miss. At all. Perhaps it may be partially explained from my relatively short period away from the States, or perhaps I just really don’t miss much about the place. Or something of both. For the few precious artifacts that my heart currently clings onto, the degrees that I would go to have them is almost shocking.
I suppose what I mean to say is that you’ll never know what you latch onto from where you used to be until you’re already gone. I have a few other examples that I may jot down here, but a quick glimpse for now may serve to, well, whet your appetite.