The fabulous fabric stores that exceed my dreams are matched only by the variety of foods available on the shelves in grocery stores. I quickly discovered the need for an American-sized refrigerator and freezer—my one splurge in my new home.
In my case, learning to live in a new country started with the basics—getting food. I was excited when I could walk to Super U, the local supermarket about three-quarters of a mile away, and negotiate the purchase of groceries on my own.
When I shared my enthusiasm with my family for having explored the store, figured out what the products were, and successfully negotiated a credit card payment, they had a good laugh.
Turns out that when I pronounce “Super U,” it sounds like the car, Subaru. The French pronunciation is so different that it took them a minute to figure out what I was talking about.
Looking back, I can see that level one of my food shopping skill was to find what I wanted (or an acceptable substitute), pay for it, and bring it home. Buying produce was always a challenge because I had to bag it, weigh it, find the item on a monitor (in French), push a button, find the price tag dispensed nearby, and grab my produce. With people waiting behind me, the pressure was intense.
But I’m comfortable now with level one. I shop, bag my own groceries (which I still find odd), and usually can exit without embarrassing myself.
Level two was exploring French products that were new to me to expand my cooking skills. Living near the sea, the obvious place to start was with seafood. I screwed up my courage and bought la lotte, an ugly-looking hunk of fish about a foot long. The butcher cut it into individual serving sizes. My French family was good-natured about eating it, and it turns out that monkfish is delicious. The experience gave me the courage to try other fish.
Expresso has also taken me to Five Continents, a grocery store that specializes in food from (as you might guess) all over the world, including the United States. I found Jiffy peanut butter (which I bought) and real Oreo cookies (which I resisted buying).
After several visits to Five Continents, I began exploring food items from other parts of the world besides the States. Not content to simply recreate my American favorites, I wanted to expand my culinary repertoire and move to level three.
I found Japanese, Mexican, and Chinese favorites from black beans to spring rolls to miso soup to yakitori sauce. A jar of Italian pesto and Spanish olives made it into my cart as well. But I had to plan my mealtime experiments since my pantry is really small.
My latest experiment is making palm soup, a traditional dish from Africa. I read the recipe, and it didn’t seem beyond my modest cooking skills.
To make it, I’ll brown onion, garlic, and chicken. Then I’ll add fresh mashed tomatoes, a bit of chili powder, salt, pepper, and a can of sauce graine (palm nut concentrate) from Africa. I’ll let the mixture simmer in the slow cooker for a few hours, and we’ll eat it with white rice tonight.
From the internet, I learned it would be more traditional if I made the soup with fish, but I’ll experiment with that version next time. (Maybe monk fish!)
With two hungry teenagers and their tired mom and dad, who’ve worked at their jobs all day, my cooking experiments are mostly well-received. And if they are ever inedible, we can always pick up the phone; order fabulous American-style hamburgers, fries, and onion rings; and have them delivered to our door within minutes. Or pizza!
Next on my list of recipes to try is a Sunday morning treat—Basque-style French toast. The brioche-style bread is soaked in warm milk and butter and then fried. It is served covered in a hot orange-maple syrup.
Who knew international life could be so interesting? Bon appétit!