But for offal, insects and raw meat (a purely psychological stance), there are few foods I absolutely don’t want to see on my plate. Despite an occasionally tumultuous relationship with food, I love tasting exotic meals, various textures, spices and mystery ingredients and I enjoy discovering new eats.
I’m not a picky eater, but as someone who value food, I do have preferences. And I’ve come to realize that I’m not a huge fan of North American food—or rather, this is not the food I crave.
I first noticed my cravings were different when I was working in an office environment where potlucks and treats were a popular way to socialize (and make people work overtime). My co-workers praised my commendable willpower because I often ate very little. My dirty secret? I didn’t particularly care for the food everybody was crazy about. I like croissants, they liked donuts; I buy Lindt chocolate, they snacked on Hershey’s; I eat creamy yogurts, they enjoyed ice cream; I dreamed of a proper calzone, they microwaved Pizza Pops; I love blue cheese, they cut marbled cheese; I wanted a four-cheese quiche, they baked mozzarella sticks.
I wasn’t being “reasonable and virtuous”, I just didn’t feel like getting second helpings of some free food I found just “meh” and only ate to be polite in the first place.
During my first two years in Canada, Feng and I ate out a lot, mostly out of laziness, curiosity (me) and convenience (Feng). I tried everything, from Wendy’s square burger patties to Tim Hortons’ Timbits, from Asian all-you-can-eat buffets to Root beer, from maple syrup to onion rings. We gained weight, spent way too much money on food and the fridge was always depressingly empty, so at one point we started cooking again. At first, I just followed my French recipe book, but cooking French food in Canada was costly, time consuming and frustrating. Then I learn to cook local ingredients to my taste. That was better. Now I’m at the stage where I give in to my French cravings when I can (I can find some cookies, cheese, etc. easily) and cook Chinese/world food the rest of the time.
I have always appreciated the fact that despite harsh winters, Ottawa is far from being a food desert. I can find everything I need here, even though I sometime complain about the lack of variety for products I love—for instance, the line of dairy treats is quite basic and yogurts don’t come in twenty-thousand flavours like in France. On the other hand, there are entire aisles of products I don’t buy at all, like microwave popcorn, frozen meals or deli meat. Sigh.
When we cook, subconsciously or not, Feng and I often try to recreate foods we grew up it, as if we wanted to smell the Proustian “madeleine” and trigger this involuntary memory that evoke recollections of the past. Feng, who, admittedly, likes North American food more than I do, cooks and buys Chinese food from his childhood: jiǎozi (steamed or fried raviolis filled with meat and Chinese leek), ramen noodles, páigǔ (stewed pork chops), bāozi (steamed bread with meat and veggies), Jiǔcàibǐng (pancakes with scallions), stir-fried rice, yóutiáo (stick of fried dough), sliced BBQ pork, prune candies, twisted sesame bread or shānzhābǐng (haw flakes candies).
I also have a long list of foods that appeal to a very strong memory related to my childhood (and none of them include macarons, snails, horse meat or whatever specialty foods French supposedly eat…):
- Croque-monsieurs, the fancier version of the American ham-and-cheese sandwich—French use way more gruyère cheese and add sliced tomatoes, mais oui!
- Grilled sausages, including the spicy chorizo, served with mashed potatoes (all kids make a “volcano” with the mashed potato, drop a tablespoon of butter in the crater and watch it melt).
- Pasta with ham, salted butter and shredded cheese (not all French meals are très gourmet).
- Céleri rémoulade, an entrée of thinly cut pieces of celery with a mustard-flavored remoulade (sauce vaguely similar to tartar sauce).
- Gratin dauphinois (baked potatoes, cheese and crème fraîche).
- Stuffed tomatoes and stuffed potatoes.
- Creamy pasta with smoked salmon.
- Savoury quiches, homemade or bought at the bakery.
- Cordon bleu meat (turkey or chicken wrapped around cheese, then breaded and pan-fried).
- Oeufs à la coque (soft-boiled egg with pieces of grilled buttered bread to eat the runny yolk).
- Fresh croissants, toasted, sliced open and buttered (yes, butter on a buttery pastry!)
- Sliced bread, buttered with cocoa powder sprinkled on top (it sticks to the butter, it’s magic!)
- French cookies, such as choco, Petit Écolier or galettes Saint Michel.
- Flan Alsa, a popular instant flan powder, a bit similar to Jell-O’s instant pudding.
- Waffles and crêpes with Nutella or sugar.
These are the foods from my childhood, the flavours I try to recreate, the comfort foods I occasionally crave.
It makes sense. I’m not rejecting North American foods, but I have no memories of roasting S’mores over a bonfire or making Kraft macaroni and cheese with my mum. However, I do remember buying a croissant, fresh out of the oven, when walking by the bakery on my way to school at 7:30 a.m.
I created memories with Canadian foods and I discovered cool stuff here—my diet is way more exotic than most French in France. Yet, I’m missing an emotional connection to this North American diet.
How about you? Did you adopt a new diet with a new country? What are your comfort foods?