I often buy my food at the Polish store close to my house. I have hired an English-speaking doula for my son’s birth. If I can’t buy something at my local Albert Heijn, I order it online. And I am no exception.
A lot of my expat friends (especially if they’re Italian or French) complain about the quality of food in the Netherlands. Even I, excited to try out new things, was very disappointed with the bread (yes, even the one considered "wholegrain") you can buy here and started making my own, or buying my bread at Polish or Turkish stores.
But why can’t we just adapt? Why can’t we just be happy with the products we have in the Netherlands? I think there are many reasons for that and it’s not easy to explain. For example missing food is never about food. It is about homesickness, and missing something that you considered a given until you left. When you can’t find the product you were so used to, it can be quite frustrating.
Missing food is not always about quality or taste: I am sure Dutch expats (Dutch cuisine isn’t very special, although it does have some dishes that I learned to enjoy) miss their food even if they’re in a country with a very renowned cuisine, such as France or Italy.
Second, there are cultural differences in how and what we eat. We all have to eat, but for many cultures food is also a shared experience. In some countries it is important to prepare, cook and serve food in a certain way, and only use very special ingredients. In the Netherlands, much of the produce comes from greenhouses, causing concern about quality among expats, and causing them to go out of their way to buy food they consider good quality.
Then, there are special businesses and services targeted towards the expat community: real estate agents, lawyers, shops, doctors, translators, intercultural communication trainers, couches and much more. And oh yes, bloggers. Many expats themselves set up their businesses to help other expats. But do we really need these services?
Not knowing local customs and not speaking the language can put us in a very vulnerable position. This is why good quality services can be such a big help. However, we have to be careful because some companies can take advantage of this and overcharge.
While expats don’t need products from their country in order to survive, it’s not always about survival. It’s about quality of life. And if products and services tailored specifically towards expats improve that, why wouldn’t we use them? Why wouldn’t we wish for a little taste of home to give us comfort, or for some help to navigate a system we don’t know? I say: “go for it”.
Otherwise, try to get creative and see if you can make a new dish using local ingredients and a variation of your traditional recipes. I once made pierogi with ricotta cheese because I couldn’t buy Polish curd cheese!If there was a dish you used to eat in restaurants or buy ready-made, try making it from scratch! Or see if you can try out a new recipe from your new home country. Who knows, maybe you’ll find yourself a new favourite dish! If you’re feeling brave, do something the local way- you will also learn something new!