I’ll be up front – I don’t mean where to travel. I mean where to go to find those elusive items you crave and sometimes actually need when you are off home base. Of course, my experience is very Czech centric from an American point of view, but it could amuse you others to see how desperate expats can get for a cup of real brown sugar.
So we’ll start with the brown sugar. Back in the day (don’t I sound so experienced in expat living? Or just old?) my roommate and I used to mix molasses with white sugar. I honestly think that was better (because it was moist) than the massive, dry granules that you usually find at stores like Tesco, Globus, and health food stores. Then the health food store I frequented in Brno, Czech Republic started to have fairly good “packable” brown sugar and in the last two years, I’ve have been an exclusive brown sugar shopper at Marks and Spencer, the British clothing store that has food products tucked into the back of most stores as if clothes were more important than finding brown sugar.
So I’m almost ready to make American chocolate chip cookies but have run out of the chocolate chips my mom throws into every package she mails us. (Because she knows where the priorities are at.) Sometimes Tesco or Globus have chocolate chips but these are teensy weensy and super expensive for the handful you get. You buy five packs to make one batch of cookies and then can’t balance the budget that month. No room for error or snacking as you bake (not that I do either, right?) Besides, they aren’t even semi-sweet – just plain sweet. Not the best for the chocolate chip cookie. I haven’t seen these anywhere else. I chunked up baking chocolate in my hand chopper and my husband and kids liked it better. (They weren’t washing the extra utensil.)
Okay, let’s get off the cookie ingredients before I stop this and go make a batch. (Incidentally, how many burned calories do you earn to use on freshly baked cookies by making them and cleaning up after yourself? Just wondering. No reason.)
Cereal. This is one of the things that actually blows me away every time we’re in America – the overwhelmingly long aisle of cereal choice after cereal choice. I love muesli but sometimes you just need (your kid) to have a bowl of cheerios. Of course, there’s honey nut everything anywhere. But we found multigrain cheerios (among other amazing finds) at a store in Prague called Roberstons. They ship anywhere in Czech for a fair price so we just load up on all kinds of cereal (Rice Krispies, Grape Nuts, Special K with Red Berries, Frosted Mini Wheats, Raisin Bran) once a month or so, pay online, wait for the package in the mail, and enjoy breakfast as if we were sitting in Bixby, Oklahoma.
Corn syrup. I don’t usually use this, but come Thanksgiving, I desperately need a piece of pecan pie and then pull my hair out scouring stores for corn syrup. Of course, the health food store wasn’t the first place I thought to look. But that’s about the only place to find it. Along with other, hard-to-find unhealthy foods.
Here are some more of the finds I count as major gastronomical victories for my little American family (and our big American mouths):
balsamic vinaigrette salad dressing: Marks and Spencer
amazingly thin American corn chips: Marks and Spencer
box stuffing mix: Robertsons
chicken broth: Marks and Spencer
peanut butter: health food stores or Marks and Spencer (elsewhere but I prefer these two for health, crunch and price.)
pizza like you grew up with: Forty’s Pizza (American style crust)
soft sandwich bread: Warburtons brand was at Tesco for a blissful 9 months or so. Now they are not and going back to the old brands was NOT easy. Sob story done, sorry.
I asked my husband what the hard-to-find things were we’ve found and he said, “ESPN sports channel from the O2 cable package.” So for what it’s worth, even Monday night football is at our finger-tips. With a glass of milk and chocolate (chunk) cookies.