I wouldn’t say that I love to cook, but I do love to eat. Last night I hauled out a recipe book which was an expat leaving gift. As I chopped, stirred and simmered I thought about how expat life has influenced the way I cook.
Variety: Although everyone eats more internationally these days than they used to, I’m sure that living overseas has broadened my tastes. It’s not just been the cuisine of the countries we lived in, but also that of the many expat friends we made who have introduced us to their favourite recipes in restaurants and in their homes.
Cleanliness: For a number of years we lived in countries where the tap water wasn’t safe to drink and food handling was questionable. I quickly learned to sterilize fruit and vegetables by adding a baby bottle sterilising tablet (or a teaspoon of bleach) to a sink full of water and soaking for 20 minutes. One of the joys of repatriation is not having to do that any more, but I do continue to wash things a lot more carefully than I used to.
Cooking from scratch: Living without North American convenience foods was a blessing in that it forced me to learn how to cook many things from scratch. Now I know how, and also how much better the food tastes, I’m reluctant to go back to bottled sauces, packet mixes and take-out. Cooking “properly” does take more time, so I’m so grateful I can work part-time and indulge my passion for fresh vegetables and home-made dishes.
Substitution: Although it wasn’t much of a problem in Dubai, chasing down ingredients in Azerbaijan and Egypt was almost a full-time occupation; the “hunter-gatherer” approach to shopping a friend once called it. As a result I became a master of the art of substitution and must admit I use it still when I can’t face trekking all over town for an unusual spice, or find I’ve run out of something half way through fixing dinner. Here’s a list I made for myself of some of the more common ones.
Eating less meat: In 2004 my husband was being pursued for a job in Kazakhstan. After 3 years in Azerbaijan I suspected the meat there would be equally problematic – of dubious provenance and tough as old boots – so I decided to add a few vegetarian recipes to my repertoire on the assumption that dried beans, lentils and legumes seem to be available most places. In the end he didn’t take the job, but by then we found we enjoyed eating lighter, healthier, meatless meals. We’re by no means vegetarian, but do eat a lot less meat than we used to.
Of course, I was very much influenced by the particular countries I lived in, so I’m interested to know if people who lived in different countries also found their cooking style changed. How did living overseas change the way you eat?