I have written recently in this column about some of the opportunities I have had to eat international dishes in their countries of origin, from the simplest of fish and chips in England to zebra steaks in Kenya.
“When in Rome, eat as the Romans do.” But sometimes the expatriate is in Rome and tires of “true” Italian pizza, and just wants a stuffed-crust meat-lovers special– or a Big Mac – or a big barbecue sandwich with a side of fried pickles. I’ve had days like that, and have made some interesting finds.
In truth, I have occasionally resorted to eating and actually enjoying meals that I might have otherwise shunned in America simply because I could find them on every corner.
The best example of this was our visit to McDonalds somewhere between Paris and Normandy in France.
France is renowned for its cuisine, but we had small children with us and the “stinky cheese” and foie gras didn’t cut the mustard with them. Enough said?
The Filet de Fish sandwich was more tasty than usual that day, not because it was any different than what I could get in just about any town in America – I just hadn’t had a Mc-Anything in a year or two.
At that moment it was new and different, and I could muster up some appreciation – once, at least.
We had only been living out of the country a few weeks when we attended a Thanksgiving meal/yard sale put on by a group of American expats. Two cans of pork barbecue were up for auction that day, and I was the highest bidder. I make no claims that it was up to standard with all the good barbecue we are blessed with in Starkville, but it was fit to eat.
More than fit for someone who could not get pork from any source in that locale. After just a few weeks without it, I hadn’t realized that my pork-tuitary gland had already begun to shrink in on itself. (Maybe that’s how vegetarians survive?)
England is not a place known for especially good local cuisine, once you’ve had your fill of fish and chips. In fact we learned on our first trip there that the most common type of restaurant in Britain is Indian. We like Indian food well enough, but by the time we got to that island we had our sights set on Mexican. Though I lived all but a few weeks of my childhood in Starkville, I was brought into the world in Texas, and for a long time I considered myself a native Texan. As such, we found sanctuary just off Trafalgar Square in London at the Texas Embassy. It was like walking out of London entirely and onto an Urban Cowboy set – Tex-Mex food for the tummy, and loud country music for the soul. We went back often.
My favorite American food experience in the United Arab Emirates was at a mall in the emirate of Sharjah. Lunch was a biscuit and a shrimp po-boy from Popeye’s. Normally I would not eat a biscuit as a side to a sandwich, but normally I didn’t get to eat at Popeye’s. Dessert was a shared Cinnabon roll -I’ve found it’s either share or go into sugar shock with those big’uns.
Dinner was back at the food court for a Quizno’s Philly cheesesteak and a trip to Marble Slab Creamery. It’s always hot outside there, so it’s always a good time for ice cream.
We can testify that a Frappucino tastes just about the same in at least a half dozen countries, and was the perfect drink to wash down those Krispy Kreme doughnuts in Kuwait.
I ate beef ribs and a hush-puppy-like object at TGI Fridays, while looking out the window onto the indoor ski slope in Dubai (which I had just finished skiing.)
Fuddruckers and Little Caesars kept me sane in Bahrain (good food leads to poetry.)
In Yemen the American fast food row was more like a corner: Pizza Hut, Baskin Robbins and KFC. The Pizza Hut had no pork toppings (though beef pepperoni is not bad in a pinch).
Baskin Robbins rarely had 31 flavors. KFC didn’t have biscuits or mashed potatoes with gravy. But do you think that stopped us?
The funniest restaurant memory in Yemen, however, is not something we ate but something we saw in one of our favorite eateries: Zorba’s, a Greek/Lebanese restaurant (no relation to the one here, as far as I know).
Along the wall were numerous black and white pictures of typical Greek scenes, and right in the middle of it all was another black and white image, this one of a cow standing upright, encouraging those of us eating lamb, cracked wheat and warm yogurt to “Eat More Chikin.”
Jay Reed is a local foodie and pharmacist. The culinary tastes expressed here are his and do not necessarily reflect the appetites of the Starkville Daily News or individual members of its staff. He welcomes your comments at email@example.com .