Friday, 21 March 2014

Frivolous Friday: Are we defined by what we eat?

Definitely. Food, that all important stuff not only keeps us alive, but it defines us too.  Huh. You maybe, but not me, I hear you think. Well, imagine this: An Indian without curry. Or the English without roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. The mind barely goes there. Even us South Africans have our favourites. What would life be without koeksisters, boerewors, bunny chow and All Gold Tomato Sauce? In a word: MISERABLE. And I don't even like boereworsBut there, I've said it: life is miserable without them because food is part of what defines us, telling us how to see ourselves. It provides us with home from which we then build our homes. Deep stuff. 

But as an aside, in case you think I'm being literal, I don't see really myself as a stukkie wors, exactly. (Translated from Afrikaans, a stukkie wors is piece of boerewors sausage. See glossary below. For the uninitiated, boerewors is a South African institution a bit like sunshine, rugby and Nelson Mandela. It's total sacrilege to admit to not liking it. People have been stoned for less.)

But, I digress.

Before I came to England, I had no idea how important food and shopping for food was. In the past, I would sally down to my local supermarket, grab a trolley (shopping cart, for my American readers), and breeze down the aisles, chucking in familiar products as I went. An entire monthly grocery shop for a family of five would be done in twenty minutes. Half an hour tops. I admit, I'm a very predictable shopper with a list in my head that I hardly ever deviate from. My world would collapse if they ever dared rearrange the supermarket shelves . . .

And that was the main problem when I arrived in England.

Picture Aladdin stumbling into the robbers' cave.
See his expression.
Hear his whoop of delight.
Then freeze the frame.
Now tell him he has twenty minutes to fill his trolley with everything he thinks he needs for a month. Sure, he'll just grab at the brightest, sparkliest bling. Who wouldn't? 
Fast forward to him getting home, parking his magic carpet in the garage, and unpacking his haul. Watch his delight turn to consternation.
Hear him gasp, "How in heaven's name am I supposed to live - feed a family - on this lot? Where's the pre-chopped butternut squash we eat once a week? Or those really useful packs of pre-made chicken ala king sauce that are always so handy when I'm in a rush?" 
Feel the slap from the cold hand of reality. 
Gone. All of them. 

Nothing in Tescos, or Sainsbury's or any of the UK stores look ANYTHING like what I used to buy back in South Africa. Even the Cadbury's chocolate tastes different. So now a twenty minute shop has become an epic - almost like trying to find the Holy Grail. 

In the beginning, I actually cleared my diary for shopping day. And then there's the humiliation . . . yes, the humiliation of standing for ten minutes staring at the peanut butter, wondering which tasted anywhere near as good as Yum Yum. The other shoppers would look at me like I was some kind of peanut butter pervert. I shudder to imagine what they were thinking exactly . . . 

When I shared my shopping nightmare with my sister-in-law, Kaz, she told me of a South Africa woman she knew who actually broke down and cried at the tomato sauce aisle in a store in Perth, Australia. I feel for you, sister! By the way, like half the rest of South Africa, Kaz and my bother moved to Perth, Australia a few years ago. 

But months on, I have to admit, it's not all bad.

We didn't have Bakewell tarts back home, or easily accessible Doctor Pepper, or really cheap Terry's Chocolate Orange. 
Bakewell Tarts. A very good reason for moving to England

I guess one must count one's blessings. Or, as as those people filled with annoyingly positive optimism would say:  Bloom where you're planted. 

My roots are still a little on the fragile side, but I'm getting there.

Enjoy the weekend. And for my South African readers - have a braai for me!

Glossary of Terms

koeksister: An amazingly delicious, super-sweet, deep-fried, plated doughnut dunked in syrup. Served chilled. To die for.

Boerewors: A greasy, highly spiced sausage, often barbecued - or as we say in South Africa, braaied - and usually served in a hot dog roll. The smell of braaiing boerie hangs heavy in the air over the suburbs of South Africa, especially over weekends.

Bunny chow: Another food designed to slam your arteries shut. Usually bought as takeout, bunny chow consists of a hollowed-out half loaf of bread - usually white - filled with vegetable or meat curry. Nothing beats coming back from a really long camping trip in the bush, stopping at the first take-away, (usually reeking of rancid cooking oil) buying a bunny chow and plunking down on the pavement to eat it with your fingers. Now that's civilization.

All Gold Tomato Sauce: The best brand of tomato sauce - ketchup - in the universe. No exaggeration.

Yum Yum: See comment above about All Gold Tomato sauce, only here it applies to peanut butter.

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