Updated: Aug 23
Welcome to Part Three of “5 Things I Learned to Live Without While Living Abroad.” If you missed Part One: The Kitchen, or Part Two: The House, give them a read first!
In Part Three: Food, I’ll be sharing 5 categories of foods that I learned to do without while living in North Africa and the Middle East. As a Nutritionist, food is a pretty big part of our lives – not just healthy food, either! But during our stay abroad, we’ve become increasingly flexible, and have had to really simplify our diet according to what we have available.
1. Specialty diet foods: The learning curve for this one was steep. The kids and I are predominately gluten- and dairy-free, and for ease sake, I depended quite heavily on packaged, healthier foods like real-fruit gummies and fruit leather, minimally-processed snack bars, and loads of gluten-free ready-to-eat products like breaded chicken, pizza crusts, and waffles. Once the kids started school, I was left scrambling to further simplify my healthy living routine to include super simple on-the-go breakfasts and packable lunches that weren’t too radically different from what their peers were eating. Fortunately, this ended up being one of the biggest blessings in disguise, as I was forced to further limit our consumption of processed foods and the long list of ingredients that even healthier options contain, and focus solely on simple meals and snacks made quickly with whole food ingredients.
2. Packaged skinless, boneless chicken: Well, this wasn’t necessarily nonexistent nor grossly overpriced, but what became our norm was going to the butcher and waiting around while he plucked a chicken from the cage before slaughtering, cleaning, and packaging it. I mean, it sounds gruesome, but if you’re a meat-eater … well, that’s how it’s done, just not while you’re around. This always meant we ended up with the whole chicken, though, and were oftentimes left fighting over the chicken thighs – my favorite! And my son’s. And daughter’s. Yea …
3. Seedless produce: When we first moved to Morocco, my two littles were 4 and 6 years old, and always turned their noses up at grapes or watermelon with seeds. Ok, ok, so did I. After my third attempt at getting them to eat seeded grapes, I threw the bag of grapes in the freezer, intending on adding them to my daily green smoothies. The kids got ahold of them first and ate the whole bag, not the least bit fazed by the seeds, and now, years later, they eat seeded grapes from the fridge without hesitation. Even better is the fact that Z now prefers seeded watermelons as his favorite part is the crunchy seeds!
4. Ethnic foods: this applies to both the limited ethnic items available for purchase at the grocers, and restaurants offering good ethnic food. The latter was hardest – when I felt I had eaten my weight in tagines in Morocco, I’d crave a good enchilada or General T’so chicken, yet what little options there were often left much to be desired. I resorted to making ethnic dishes at home – curries have been in my regular meal rotation for years. I remember spending weeks trying to find nori sheets – thin paper-like sheets of nori seaweed used to make sushi. And then feeling I had struck gold after finding a taco kit at my local Carrefour, and canned refried beans to boot. Though it’s fairly easy to
5. Good cake: Make no mistake – there is no shortage of cakes and pastries in North Africa nor the Middle East, but in my 3 years abroad, I have yet to find a cake similar in texture and flavor to American-style cakes – that light, airy, nearly-overly-sweet goodness that even supermarkets seem to make quite well. More often than not, the cakes I had abroad were dense and flavorless, and birthday cakes were often wrapped in fondant the width of your finger. And fillings between layers? Fuggidaboutit. If you are fortunate enough to find a private baker offering American-style cakes, prepare to fork over a small investment.
Do you live abroad, or are currently consider moving overseas? What kind of things are you certain you’ll never be able to live without?