As a child there was nothing more magical for me than the sound of the ice cream man playing in the distance, the gentle jingle getting louder as he approached my street. My brother and I would run inside to ransack purses and beg and plead to scrape together enough change to buy a ’99’ each and we’d run back outside clutching the coins in our clammy hands and join the excited queue of neighbourhood children. The anticipation of getting that cone in our hands, of hungrily licking the soft ice cream and biting into that chocolate flake. The summers of my childhood.
That was the image invoked when I opened the package sent to me by the British Corner Shop (BCS) and I pulled out a pack of Cadbury’s Flakes. (*I received a free hamper of British goodies from the British Corner Shop in exchange for writing a blog post. All product links are links to BCS*).
When you are an expat food takes on an unusual ability to evoke a sense of home, to stir up memories long forgotten, to instil a feeling of familiarity and comfort. Food from your ‘home’ country becomes more than just food; it prompts emotions.
Take the Pot Noodle Chicken and Mushroom nestled in the hamper sent to me by the British Corner Shop. Personally I don’t eat Pot Noodles, I’m not sure I ever have but the picture of a kettle on the pot (the one meaning you just need to add boiling water to the pot) made me giggle. Why on earth is that I hear you ask…. well it evokes a memory stored deep in my data banks, one from the time I attended university.
I have a friend, who will remain nameless (but you know who you are) who fancied a spot of Ambrosia rice pudding whilst in his halls of residence room. He wanted hot Ambrosia rice pudding. So he heated it up in his kettle. Needless to say he needed to invest in a new kettle and he never got to enjoy that particular tin of rice pudding. Three words: rice pudding explosion. It’s hard looking at a tin of rice pudding, or the picture of a kettle on a Pot Noodle, even twenty years on without thinking of him.
And talking of Pot Noodles, as I was, the Pot Noodle in the hamper did not go to waste. My Dutch husband took it to work for his lunch. His verdict? “Best wel lekker!” A Pot Noodle convert.
The box also contained goodies that took me back to my early expat days – the days when the only flavour crisps you could get here in the Netherlands comprised paprika and ready salted. Crisps were a standard part of my shopping list when I went back to England: notably prawn cocktail and salt and vinegar flavours for my Dutch husband who had quickly picked up a British crisp taste too.
Oxo Beef Stock Cubes were also a standard part of my expat shopping list – there was something about the way they crumble, which Dutch stock ‘rectangles’ don’t do. And of course the nostalgia of Lynda Bellingham as the Oxo mum during the 1980s. There’s that too.
Food when you are an expat takes on a whole new meaning. It’s not just a stock cube, a bag of crisps or a stick of chocolate – it’s a short trip down memory lane, a few fleeting seconds back in your childhood, a comforting reminder of a country you no longer live in.