Trying Brazilian açaí in Rio de Janeiro, February 2016
Trying Brazilian açaí in Rio de Janeiro, February 2016

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 values 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, and 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 sometimes 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, prunes 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-flavoured 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, is 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, and 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 in a new country? What are your comfort foods?

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  1. Alex March 28, 2016 at 11:08 am

    I just wanted to say I do not understand roasted marshmallows and melted chocolate.

    Eastern European food is also very different than what we have in North America. I don’t think I fond of any food that is original to North America.

    1. Zhu March 28, 2016 at 6:46 pm

      Oh, tell me more about Eastern European food, please! This is a region of the world I don’t know much. Can you find your local specialties in North America?

    2. Alex March 29, 2016 at 9:15 am

      There are 2 stores in Ottawa with Eastern European produce: Stolichni Deli on Carling Ave and Lakomka International Deli close to IKEA. There is some food there from home, some pickled fish, smoked fish, red/black caviar, smoked fish cans, a big variety of teas, “Korean-style carrot” – very popular, Curd snacks, sunflower seeds, perogies but mostly you will find candies and cookies.

      Eastern European food is meat centered, lots of fat, lots of mayonnaise. Not very healthy, but very tasty 🙂

      But most of the food you have to cook at home, closest restaurants that will serve Eastern European food will be in Montreal.

      1. Zhu March 29, 2016 at 4:56 pm

        Oh yes, I know both!

        Funny, sunflower seeds and perogies are also staple of Chinese food (except perogies are called jiaozi, but it’s really the same thing…). I remember that in Winnipeg, perogies were super popular, you could even find them in 7/11!

        No national diet is very healthy. I mean, French food is also a lot of butter/oil (depending on the region), cheese, sauces, etc. But yes, tasty! Any good Eastern European restaurant in Ottawa I should know?

        1. Alex March 29, 2016 at 5:49 pm

          Unfortunately there aren’t any at all in Ottawa.

          For me, the best one is at home, my wife is wonderful cook 🙂

          1. Zhu March 29, 2016 at 10:26 pm

            Aaww, that’s cute! Are you both from the same country? Romania?

          2. Alex March 31, 2016 at 10:49 am

            Yes, we are both from the same country – Rep. of Moldova (a long time ago used to be part of Romania).

          3. Zhu March 31, 2016 at 3:59 pm

            Oh, sorry for the mistake! I was taking a guess based on your name, which sounded a bit Romanian based on my limited knowledge of this part of the world. Pardon my ignorance… but what’s the national language?

          4. Alex April 1, 2016 at 11:08 am

            I wouldn’t say that you were wrong.

            Our national language is Romanian. We are the same nation living in 2 countries (with a bit of different history). Moldova was captured by USSR so we became one of the USSR Republics, while Romania stayed independent.

          5. Zhu April 1, 2016 at 6:13 pm

            … and I’ve just spend 30 minutes reading about Moldova on Wikipedia 😀 Fascinating country. If you’re up for it, I’d love to interview you!

  2. N March 28, 2016 at 1:49 pm

    Les Danettes me manquent (ceux à la vanille, ici il y en a mais ils goûtent différent!), la tisane à la verveine (impossible à trouver ici, pourtant c’est si commun en France!) et les chocolatines, et les pains aux raisins. Je me suis même mise à la recherche d’une bonne recette de brioche (j’ai trouvé de l’eau de fleur d’oranger et ça m’a donné l’envie), mais je n’ai pas encore réussi à reproduire ce que je veux.

    1. Zhu March 28, 2016 at 6:50 pm

      C’est drôle, la Danette est arrivée au Canada, et en y regoûtant, j’ai pas trouvé ça top top. Peut-être que les Danettes canadiennes sont différentes?? Ou que mes goûts ont changé? J’ai trouvé des bons yaourts au Brésil, j’adorais les yaourt grecs de Danone là-bas, banane et céréales, yum! Et puis des yaourts natures, quasi impossible à trouver au Canada!

      Pour les pains au chocolat et les pains au raisin, je trouve mon “fix” dans les boulangeries chinoises, idem pour la brioche. Curieusement, les petits pains asiatiques ont la même saveur que la brioche bretonne! Même si je suis sûre que la recette est différente.

      Je crois que je connais quelqu’un qui a LA recette de brioche. Rappelle-moi de lui demander pour toi!

      1. Isa March 30, 2016 at 4:57 am

        Je ne sais pas pour la Danette en particulier mais il y a plein de produits où ce ne sont pas du tout les mêmes chaînes de production. Par exemple le Nutella ou le chocolat Lindt n’ont rien à voir en Amérique du Nord qu’en France (ingrédients, texture, goût… faits au goût américain)

        1. Zhu March 30, 2016 at 4:53 pm

          Franchement, je trouve que le chocolat Lindt a le même goût, surtout depuis qu’on a les boutique Lindt. La Danette, par contre, je crois que c’est pas la même recette. Nutella, je ne suis pas fan (! I know!), je ne peux pas comparer.

          1. Isa March 31, 2016 at 4:26 am

            Je trouve qu’il a le même goût mais pas du tout la même texture !

          2. Zhu March 31, 2016 at 3:57 pm

            Tiens, c’est marrant!

            Par contre, les oeufs Kinder (les gros où y’a la surprise dedans) changent de goût et de texture selon les pays. J’en ai acheté un peu partout (… à des fins d’étude et pour Mark, cela va sans dire…) et je n’aime que la version française. Na.

  3. Martin Penwald March 28, 2016 at 11:11 pm

    T’as oublié la flamiche au maroilles. Mais il y a toujours le risque de briser les règles de la convention de Genève sur les armes chimiques. Cela dit, miam.

    1. Zhu March 29, 2016 at 4:53 pm

      Jamais goûté (ni senti!) ce fameux fromage!

  4. Isa March 30, 2016 at 4:53 am

    That’s probably the most important topic of all: food!
    Even if I don’t like the term, I’m a foodie. I would try any kind of new food, just to taste, just out of curiosity. I’m also very demanding concerning the quality of the ingredients (and I definitely didn’t find that the north american food could top the french-italian-spanish-swiss, etc level of quality. The standards are just too low, even in organic agriculture).
    That said, I borrowed some customs from my time in Montréal: I now eat guacamole and hummus all the time! But I was just happy to find local grown, cheap food when I was back.
    When it comes to my tastes, I’m the typical french girl, all wine and cheese. Can you imagine how sad I was in the US!

    1. Zhu March 30, 2016 at 4:51 pm

      In theory, I’d like to care more about where my food comes from and I’m all for natural local ingredients, etc. But traveling relaxed the standards I never had… you eat what you find, period! I do have my own “rules”, i.e. I tend to favour smaller shops, stay away from fast food chains, etc. But again, it depends where I am. And I can’t afford organic food, so that’s off for me. I eat very little meat because I’d rather eat really good meat once in a blue moon, for instance.

  5. Frenchie au Canada March 30, 2016 at 4:01 pm

    I’m with you, I don’t particularly like doughnuts or the pizzas they have here. I’ve never had mac&cheese and I don’t like burgers and hot dogs (BBQs in the summer).
    My husband ends up craving Scottish foods like black pudding, fish and chips and curry while I want French bread and cheese when I look for comfort. And because I grew up eating htem I also crave nice soy yogourt, pickled daikon radishes and soba noodles. So when I get a chance to visit Vancouver or Calgary I stoke up on our staples 😉

    1. Zhu March 30, 2016 at 4:58 pm

      Interesting cravings! I love soba noodles too, I can see how they can fit in the comfort food category. I’m not familiar with Scottish food, though. I don’t like hot dogs either… or rather, I don’t see the big deal about them.

  6. I Say Oui March 30, 2016 at 9:52 pm

    It’s so interesting to hear what a French person craves! As you mentioned, they’re simple comfort foods, much like a North American might miss macaroni and cheese or peanut butter. Not quite like my cravings for confit de canard and eclairs, which are not at all tied to childhood nostalgia. When I lived in France, I sometimes craved soft sliced bread, slices of pizza, and Original Cheerios (French supermarkets only have Honey Nut Cheerios).

    1. Zhu March 31, 2016 at 3:55 pm

      Your cravings are interesting too! Between us, now, when I’m in France, sometime I also crave soft chewy bread. Just a slice, you know… I love baguette and fancy bread with more texture, but there is something deeply comforting about a slice of buttered chewy bread 🙂 Did you try pain de mie to help with this craving?

  7. Lexie April 1, 2016 at 3:34 pm

    aaaah je mets pas de tomates dans le croque-monsieur!! Le truc que font bcp de Français, où qu’ils soient, ce sont les quiches. J’ai remarqué ça. Pénurie de souper ? Hop une petite quiche 😉

    1. Zhu April 1, 2016 at 6:15 pm

      Non, pas de tomates dans les croques? Marrant.

      Oui, les quiches c’est le grand classique. J’adore ça aussi, pas vraiment la version aux lardons, mais celles avec des légumes.

  8. Christiane April 4, 2016 at 1:19 pm

    You listed almost all of the foods from my childhood and now I am very hungry lol !

    Hmm I think I eat a few Canadian food items out of convince center if I am too tired to cook or I am running late. Most of the time, my hubby and.I try to cook french and African food (not a lot of African food as it tend to be more oily). Fried plantains are my go to comfort food in the weekends.

    1. Zhu April 4, 2016 at 4:51 pm

      Plantains are awesome, I think we talked about it before… love them too.

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