Monday, 30 April 2012

What do you miss?

This is a question that I have been asked by many people since I left the UK more than 20 years ago.

When I was in the Netherlands, Dutch colleagues and neighbours used to frequently ask what I missed. Was it general interest, something to say or their assumption that not everyone would love all things Dutch that made them ask? I don’t know, but my answer changed over the years. When I first arrived, I had a long list of things I couldn’t buy (or couldn’t find) in the Netherlands and 15 years later when I was about to leave the list had just three things on it, English sausages, marmite and hills. I never got used to Dutch sausages (far too much meat and taste), I could not buy marmite except in very expensive ex-pat shops and I always found the excessively flat and windswept landscape depressing.

Now of course I am in France and the question is still frequently asked. Interestingly I have never been asked by a French person, only by Dutch or English visitors to our campsite or in the gîtes or indeed by fellow ex-pats. I suppose the French could not imagine that there was anything in another country that could possibly be missed by anyone. However, I do still miss things, yes still those tasteless English sausages (no self respecting Frenchman would eat one) and marmite (which is so expensive you need to re-mortgage your house to buy it locally). But now I have added to my list, I have lots of Dutch things I miss, Indonesian spices, sambal (chilli paste), ketchap manis (sweet soya sauce) and the most divine food created by mankind: kroketten.

Kroketten are a deep fried meat snack resembling a potato croquette only twice as long and double the diameter, you eat them in soft white squishy bread rolls with lashings of mustard and each one contains more cholesterol than you should eat in a year. My mouth is watering just thinking about them. As soon as we get over the Dutch border for a short stay, we head for the nearest snack bar and we manage to sink out teeth into quite a few during the time we spend in the country.

After many, many, messy and unsuccessful attempts at making them, I have now managed to create a recipe that actually works and so we can have kroketten any time we like. My what-I-miss list now has one item less on it, just those tricky Indonesian specialities to go.

Last Friday we had to go to Mâcon and as we left a shopping mall car park we spotted a shop called Asia Shop, I did an emergency stop into a nearby parking space and we went in to look. They had been open less than a week and they had shelves full of sambal, Indian pastes, special dried fried onions that are a must for Indonesian chicken soup, not to mention spices galore and Indo Mie. Fridges full of beansprouts, tofu and other veg and freezers full of things like durian. We spent ages in the shop oohing and ahhing over the wonderful things they had on offer and left with a selection of goodies.

So my list is now getting even smaller, just down to sweet soy sauce, Marmite and of course we mustn't forget those tasteless English sausages.

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