As Chicago sang: “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” – which is always true in soppy 1980s ballads and teen movies, but surprisingly also holds true for your tastebuds. Ask an expat from any country what they miss most about home, and I can guarantee you that some mention of food or drink will be made in the top 5.
The Aussies have their TimTams; the English don’t think anybody but their countrymen can make “proper” tea, and the Canadians search in vain for real maple syrup. These days, there is also a huge South African expat population whose bodies are abroad but whose tastebuds are still very much in South Africa.
I have often conceded that living in London is a really soft option for South Africans because we can get so many SA products here. I might have craved biltong if I lived in a small town in Sweden, but here in London there are loads of expats and others making it, so I neither crave it nor risk arrest and deportation by trying to bring it back from South Africa with me. Mrs Balls? Aromat? Nando’s sauces? Cape grapes? Not a problem – try your local Sainsbury’s supermarket.
But even with the surprising number of South African products freely available here, there are always things that I crave – and it’s usually the stuff that I struggle to find!
Mum remembered Melrose
At home, patty pans and gem squash were always staples in our house. Here, they are curiosities seen only at expensive markets and premium supermarkets. Oh how I long for a gemsquash vendor selling a 10kg bag at the traffic lights!
Who remembers Boston butt? It’s a roll of deboned smoked pork that comes in a string net and that you slowly roast in the oven. My mom used to serve it with apple jelly and I loved it unconditionally – but it is totally unheard of here (and, confusingly, in Boston!).
Can somebody please explain to me why I can buy Kenyan green beans and Mexican blackberries… but nobody seems to export yellow Kakemas peaches? I sometimes crave one so badly that I can actually feel their soft fuzzy skin in my hand and smell their dusty sweet smell that takes me straight back to school days. Man, I miss them!
They say absence makes the heart grow fonder… and that certainly seems to be the case for me and Melrose cheese spread. I know it’s processed and not that good for you and as far removed from cheese as you can get… but when I set foot in the grocery store in SA, I buy the biggest jar I can find (preferably the biltong flavour). Ditto Nik Naks, Peppermint Crisps, Anchovette and green fig preserve. How did I not realize while I was living in South Africa that these products were the epitome of gourmet heaven?
That said, when I am away from London, I miss the ready availability of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Jerusalem artichokes, cheap summer berries and their crazy range of potato chip flavours like green Thai curry – so it seems I am now doomed to a life of longing wherever I choose to live!
So what foods would YOU miss if you had to leave South Africa?
Jeanne Horak-Druiff is the face behind the multi-award winning blog www.cooksister.com. This ex-lawyer based in London now spends all her free-time cooking, photographing and eating good food.