Expat Life: Why to Get Intimate with Foreigners

by missfootloose on July 2, 2011 · 21 comments

in Expat foodie, Food, Moldova, shopping

Is this me? I wish.

When you really want something, there is sometimes an unpleasant price to pay, not necessarily involving money.  I really wanted something today, here in Moldova, the small country where I now live.  Actually, I’ve wanted it for a while and found it not achievable so far, not at any price, no matter how nice I smiled and batted my eyelashes. Sometimes as a new expat in a foreign country, smiling and batting eyelashes is all you’ve got.

Today I am trying again. Perhaps things have changed. Perhaps today I will find what I crave to have.

I can’t breathe. They’re too close, all these bodies, faces, arms, hips, elbows, legs and feet. I push myself through the mass of bodies, looking around with eager anticipation, hoping to see what I came for.

True, this physical intimacy does not involve a bed, a couch, or an office desk.  Instead I’m schlepping my body through a large open market along with a multitude of other prowlers, and all the touching of various body parts is not what you’d call arousing.  It’s downright uncomfortable.  But.

I want.

I need.

Greens.

Anything leafy and fresh and crisp.

Now, I love open markets and I’ve seen a few around the world, so I was looking forward to going on an exploration of the market in Chisinau when I first arrived in Moldova in April.  The market is large, and it looks like just about anything China and Turkey grow and produce is available there.  Clothing, plastic ware, cleaning products, household goods, bedding, toys, canned goods. In shops and stands you can find local fresh meat, sausages, fish, cheese, honey, you name it.

And then there’s the produce.

Beet greens

My first time in the market here, in April, I was on a quest for greens, anything fresh and leafy.  I found a cornucopia of cabbage, old onions, soft potatoes and muddy carrots.  The imported produce looked better –tomatoes, apples, oranges, bananas, pineapples and so on. I did not find kale, escarole, watercress, spinach, or anything else leafy except some limp lettuce.

Being a rather rabbit-like consumer of green leafy vegetables, I was heartbroken and worried about my intake of vitamin K. (You know how important vitamin K is, don’t you?) I didn’t particularly care about escarole or watercress persé, just any facsimile or local variety would be just fine, but it appears the Moldovans don’t go for the green leafy stuff. Even in a restaurant when ordering a “green salad” you often get a mostly red mix of tomatoes, cucumber, sweet pepper and onion and a leaf or two of lettuce thrown in as decoration.

Now that it is July, the produce section of the market is a festival of peaches, cherries, new potatoes, peas, beans and various herbs. The place is redolent with the scent of ripe raspberries and peaches. It’s a joy to behold, even as my feet are getting stepped on, my ribs poked by elbows and my arms stroked by other arms. It’s a veritable orgy of fruit lovers here.

But where are the leafy green vegetables?  Escarole, spinach, kale, turnip greens, mustard greens?  Nowhere, is where.  There is now a decent supply of green and red lettuce, and so I procure these.  I find some beets with the leaves in edible shape, and I buy these. I ache for some Swiss chard or baby spinach, but alas, I find them nowhere.

So, again, my hunting and gathering efforts are not successful when it comes to other green, leafy legume, not even now that it is spring, the season of leafy green everything.  I have to console myself with raspberries for just over one US dollar a pound (1,65 euro per kilo), sweet cherries and peaches, equally cheap, and fresh peas and beans.

My exotic Moldovan cherries from the market. Only they turned out to be lilliputian plums . . .

So, watch me now as I am happily messing in my kitchen, washing cherries and shelling peas, and tell me, with nothing more than beet greens to show for my vitamin K quest, was getting intimate with strangers too high a price to pay?

* * *

What foods have you searched for in foreign countries? What price did you pay or try to pay to get them?  I know of a person who carried fresh shrimp on ice in her suitcase to a shell-fish free country.  Are you reading this L. P.?

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Turkey's For Life July 2, 2011 at 9:05 pm

Ohhh, have you got any space in your apartment (maybe a balcony?) for growing some greens? I never used to be particularly bothered about my greens till I came here and now, when we got back to the UK for a visit, I get upset by the lack of choice. It never bothered me previously. Errrm, my dad has been known to sneak some pork sausages from our old local butcher in England into his suitcase when he comes over to see us. Naughty BLISS!! 🙂
Julia

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missfootloose July 6, 2011 at 7:42 am

Yes, I am growing a few greens in containers, but they need space, and I don’t have much in my tiny garden full of shade. Sausage in your dad’s suitcase, I can see that! Maybe some good English cheddar as well?

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Janet | expatsisterhood.com July 2, 2011 at 11:01 pm

Your post reminds me of life in India. Vegetables were cooked beyond recognition (for health reasons). I ate a lot of sautéed broccoli.

A girlfriend from England did the following when she flew England to Delhi: On the way to the airport, she stopped at a local butcher to buy a suitcase full of beef. The suitcase was lined with cold presses- enough to keep the beef cool until it reached a cruising/freezing altitude if 33,000 feet. The cold packs were also enough to keep the meat chilled until it reached her freezer.

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missfootloose July 6, 2011 at 7:45 am

A suitcase full of beef! This is definitely an act of desperation! Just hope that suitcase never got delayed or derouted or lost!

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Darcey July 3, 2011 at 2:51 pm

I miss the leafy greens too – but here in Indian in monsoon season, we can get them… we just won’t risk it, the soaking in potassium permanganate tweaks the flavour a bit. So far, the biggest issue has been my Canadian husband’s addiction to Parmesan cheese and maple syrup. USD $15+ for 1/3 litre of the syrup, and the Kraft dried parmesan is about $8-10 for 500g. I miss my salmiakki (salt licorice) from Denmark/Sweden, and I’ve only been able to find them at IKEAs.

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missfootloose July 6, 2011 at 7:52 am

Oh yes, that poisonous purple potassium permanganate — we soaked all our produce in it when we lived in Ghana, West Africa. Hard to believe that stuff made your food safe to eat, but I wonder how much of the nutrition got soaked out of it at the same time, especially from things like salad.

I thought that salty licorice was a Dutch thing (salmiak drop). I love the stuff!

As for maple syrup and parmasan cheese, I’ve been known to carry that in my suitcase coming from the US.

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GutsyLiving July 3, 2011 at 6:38 pm

I know what you mean about lacking greens. In Belize, I craved salads, the way we are used to in the States. After we moved to a nicer island, Ambergris Caye, with a larger population of U.S. expats, we were able to get a bag of lettuce shipped in once a week on Wednesdays.

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missfootloose July 6, 2011 at 7:55 am

In Ghana when we lived there we had a weekly “veggi drop” from Holland brought in on a KLM flight. We paid for a head of lettuce what we paid for a huge basket full of local produce: pineapples, mangoes, papayas,bananas and so on. But hey, when you want your salad . . .

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Claire July 4, 2011 at 12:37 am

I have searched for McDonalds. Please do not judge me 😉

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missfootloose July 6, 2011 at 7:56 am

You’re asking a lot! 😉

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Kelly July 4, 2011 at 1:26 am

Country style breakfast sausage – like Jimmy Dean brand – and decent all beef hot dogs.

I understand your craving for greens – I hate to tell you I cut off the beet greens and give them to my rabbit!

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guyana gyal July 4, 2011 at 12:58 pm

I’m speechless. A greens-less place?

A greens-less place!

Claire made me laugh 🙂

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missfootloose July 6, 2011 at 7:57 am

But they do have cabbage . . .

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MaryWitzl July 4, 2011 at 3:57 pm

I sympathize! In Cyprus, it was sometimes hard to find leafy greens and I crave them too. When we did find them, they were filthy and had to be washed for ages. Which would have been fine, but water was also in short supply there. I had to recycle rice-washing water to wash my greens with — when I could get them.

In Japan, I yearned for fresh coriander; my husband dreamed of Brussels sprouts.

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missfootloose July 6, 2011 at 8:00 am

When water is in short supply you really are up the creek. I love brussels sprouts! But not the ones we once found in an old can up in the boonies of tropical West Africa!

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Madame DeFarge July 5, 2011 at 12:15 am

I tend to look for Tunnock’s Caramel Wafers. A great Scottish delicacy. Found them very easily in Iceland. I’d love that sales job.

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missfootloose July 6, 2011 at 8:02 am

Nice to know you have new career to aspire to! Try the US for a market. Anything new and sweet is always welcome there. Must look for those Tunnock Caramel Wafers some time. Maybe at Heathrow.

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Mara July 5, 2011 at 1:03 pm

Those raspberries are cheap! I pay about double that amount for about 100 grams!

I’ve once tried to find taragon in the UK. However, I only had a Dutch recipe and in Dutch taragon is dragon. So, I went to all these shops asking them whether they sold dragon. Needless to say they all thought I was barmy and I never got my dragon either!

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missfootloose July 6, 2011 at 8:05 am

Raspberries cost gold in the US too. It’s all in the price of labor and shelf life.

Always fun to entertain the locals with your “ignorance” when you’re a foreigner. 😉

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Welshcakes Limoncello July 5, 2011 at 7:30 pm

I’m speechless too! I start to feel bad if I don’t have green salad daily!

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missfootloose July 6, 2011 at 8:08 am

I imagine on Sicily you can grow just about anything green, not to speak of every other color of the rainbow.

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