You never realize how much you get used to certain foods unless you give them up. I moved across the Atlantic Ocean twice: first from Russia to Canada right after graduating university and second time from Canada back to Russia nearly 3 years ago. Every move was radically changing my habits, including eating habits.
My first immigration experience was strangely not quite scary. Maybe because I was young, or maybe because I was starting a (new) life: you get a lot of new and unknown jumping into adult life after university, just in my case it was also happening in a new country. My friends and family though were wondering:
Aren’t you worried about different mentality? It’s another continent. Maybe you will miss some Russian things, maybe even some foods?
Unexpectedly to myself I was barely missing any of Russian culinary classics. Of course, Montreal makes it easy, because there are different immigrant communities. So we could go to Russian grocery store and get Russian mayo, cheese, herring, kefir, kvass, pelmeni – just name it. Yet, I was not doing it a lot. I rarely had cravings for any particular ingredient or dish. Except for kefir, which turned out to be sold in any grocery store and I got to making it at home anyway.
After having spent nearly 8 years of my adult life it Canada, I moved back to Russia (for various reasons – I will not go into details). It was rather a surprise for me to feel that new-immigrant cultural shock you are going through when you arrive in a new country. After all I was returning to my home country, and yet I was feeling like a newcomer.
And it was a shocker for me to discover that I actually miss some of Canadian food. Not so much cuisine, but certain ingredients.
I’m not talking about some treats like lobster or scallops. Or some typical “multicultural” foods like Indian curry paste, Japanese mayo or Aisan sauces. It’s more about daily foods that I could get pretty much at any time.
So here we go. If you have any of these easily available to you, get to appreciate it!
Foods I cannot get at all (or I’d have to turn the world upside down)
It is non-existent in Russia. Kind of strange, because kale grows well in cold climate. I “treated” myself with kale when going to Poland from Kaliningrad – they have pre-packaged bags of shredded kale. These bags felt more like kale scraps, but I was happy to get my hands even on that. One season I got desperate and was growing a kale bush on my balcony! Kale salads, kale chips, kale in stews – I’d have it all on nearly daily basis.
In Canada a 2 lb bag of fresh mussels cost about 4-5 CAD, and it could make a very nice and quick dinner for my husband and I. In Russia it is hard to find whole mussels in a shell even in a frozen state. And even in Sochi, city by the sea I have not come across fresh mussels yet.
Of course, a Canadian classic! This natural vegan sweetener would be my go-to for overnight oats or oatmeal, for a glaze or in a salad dressing. I still have an unopened can of maple syrup from the last year visit of my father-in-law. Somehow, I keep it for a special occasion. I know that otherwise I’ll go through it fairly fast and there is no refill in sight.
Whole or peeled – give it to me! Is it that typical to Asian cuisine? Russians are crazy about sushi – you can find nori, sushi rice and rice vinegar in any supermarket. But there is no edamame to be found anywhere. I could eat these whole pods steamed with salt as a snack or use frozen beans in a salad or some other dish.
Okay, this one is not so typically Canadian… ingredient. I have not seen sake in alcohol stores. And frankly, it is not even so much for drinking (though a hot sip of sake is always a pleaser), but for cooking some Japanese dishes. Should I mention the absence of dashi, kombu and mirin?..
Foods I can barely get (and it would cost me an arm and a leg)
Oh, sweet potatoes! I saw them only in one store in Kaliningrad and in one supermarket in Sochi. Maybe it is more accessible in Moscow, but in both cases when I got across sweet potatoes, it was costing a fortune.
I’m almost tempted to get a few bulbs for any price I can find and regrow. Sweet potato toast, roasted, fries, chips, mash… Mmmm… Sigh. The closes I can substitute it with is butternut squash, but it doesn’t fully do the job in replacing sweet potato.
Lime is ridiculously expensive in Russia. Like 1$ a piece! Of course I would use it to squeeze over avocados, but I have to stick to a more sour lemon juice. I like the sweetness of lime, and I know that it works just better in some recipes, but I cannot force myself to pay such a price for an “additional” ingredient.
Avocados are sold a lot in here. Overall, at a higher price than in Canada. They mainly come from Israel. Green and hard as rock. I know you can ripen avocados, and that’s what I was doing back in Canada. But what I miss in Russia is properly ripening avocados. Getting this fruit is like playing a lottery: sometimes you can win, but often avocados just rot inside and go from rock to some disgusting brown mush.
Despite being more and more available, peanut butter is fairly hard to find. It’s mainly sold in healthy food stores, and when you find it, peanut butter would be either made from raw peanuts or cost unreasonably a lot. Classic PBJ is an all time saver, but I could use peanut butter to make energy balls, add it to smoothie bowls etc. I guess I’ll just have to get a good food processor to make my own.
Whole hemp seeds are fairly available in healthy food stores, but those sweet shelled hemp hearts are becoming an expensive treat. They are so nice to sprinkle on salads or yogurt, to add into granola or a smoothie bowl. I know, it’s probably not that daily cooking ingredient, though I wish I could put my hands on it.
Sometimes we take food for granted. Ingredients you may get used to will become especially valuable when you lose easy access to them. Savor and enjoy every bite. Because like I was always saying
Food is inevitable pleasure.
P.S. Despite having strong nostalgic tone, I am in no way complaining or comparing two countries. I do enjoy my meals and cook up with what I have. I definitely don’t miss high prices in Canada for any decent quality food.