Do you love really good bread, the crusty variety? Me too. While we live in foreign countries, most of us expats learn to enjoy some of the food that is on offer in our new habitats. Not all the food, mind you. In Ghana, West Africa, I found it a challenge to eat snail stew. Snails the size of Italian salamis are for sale in the markets and by the road from vendors with large head pans full of the squirming gastropods.
Still, no matter how well we foreigners in alien lands adapt, most of us will continue to have cravings for foods we grew up with, like sauerkraut, Marmite, Twinkies, cow foot soup, and other culinary delights. (Cow feet soup? Yes, I have eaten it). Having grown up in rainy Holland, I crave good sharp cheese and crusty bread. When my American prince and I first arrived in Ghana, this kind of bread was not easy to find. The story below recounts my efforts to obtain my daily fix of good bread. And if you wonder about the photo, yes, I baked that bread. In some places, baking your own bread is the best way to go.
Miss Footloose and her Daily Fix
Without bread, all is misery. – William Cobbett
Ghana has lots of wonderful food, but the local bread is not a prize winner. Many Ghanaians favor the airy, anemic white bread. They sell it everywhere, including by the side of the road. In some places, stall after stall is stacked high with identical big loaves of nutritionless fluff bread. Vendors will jump in front of your car and wave a loaf at you as if you hadn’t noticed them from half a mile away.
Newly arrived in the country, I was not charmed by this bread. I did find shops in Accra selling Middle Eastern flat breads such as pita and lavash because of the big Lebanese population that has lived in Ghana for a number of generations. Delicious, flavorful bread, but it wasn’t the comfort food from my own European cultural heritage.
What I really craved was the heavy crusty bread made with whole grain flours. One of my first missions upon arrival in a new land is to locate a reliable source. In Accra at the time of this story, this was the German Bakery, as I soon found out after moving into our new house. (Now good bread is widely available and supermarkets are filled with foreign imported foods.)
Map in hand, I struggled through narrow, potholed streets and managed to find the modest establishment. However, I did not find bread. The friendly Ghanaian baker of German bread explained to me that the bread was baked but not sold on the premises. Every morning the lot was sent fresh from the oven to the local supermarket, Ghana Groceries, not far away.
This was not good news
My heart sank! (Yes, I know this is a cliché, but I felt it drop!) The good crusty bread of my dreams was sitting in a verboten grocery store. A verboten grocery story, you ask? Yes. I never imagined politics would come between me and my bread, but there it was: Ghana Groceries was owned or part-owned by Libyans and Libyans were, at the time, Bad Guys. The United States had not yet lifted the trade embargo on Libya and all expatriate Americans in, or connected to, government service were instructed not to spend their money in businesses owned by Libyans. My intimate relationship with such an American obligated me to honor that directive as well, which generally was no hardship except when you get between me and my bread.
Desperate, I offered up a pitiful look
I told the Ghanaian baker of German bread my plight. He sighed sympathetically. I was not the first person to tell him this sorry tale, but fortunately he knew the solution. I could place an order any day and pick up the loaves fresh early the next morning right there at his politically correct bakery.
So this is what I did and it worked well. I’d buy a number of loaves at a time and freeze them in my big American freezer. They would still be warm when I picked them up and if only you could have smelled my car. I could get high on the fragrance of warm bread.
Then one Saturday morning, a dusty harmattan morning when the sun was barely visible through the haze of Sahara sand, my American prince and I were a little late and the baker had taken our bread along with the rest to Ghana Groceries. I tried not to let the panic take over and dragged in a deep, calming breath, inhaling, no doubt, millions of Sahara sand particles. What to do?
To my great relief, our friendly Ghanaian baker of German bread came up with the solution: He would go and rescue our bread for us himself.
Just like in the movies
So we piled in our little Kia and he directed us the convoluted back way to the Bad Guy store (avoiding the main road) and instructed us to park in a cluttered alley behind the building and stay put. This so no person from the American Embassy snooping around the neighborhood would spot us. The baker slipped out, furtively looked left and right like a bad actor in a cheap spy movie, and rushed into the back door of the shop in search of our fix of Country Wheat, Sour Dough Rye and Mixed Seed. We stayed obediently in the car, out of sight.
My man and I looked at each other.
“Good God,” he muttered, “you’d think we’re doing a drug deal.”
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What do you crave when you’re away from home? To what lengths have you gone to acquire it? What’s in your suitcase you can’t live without?