The other day I drove to the mighty Drakensberg (mountains of the dragon) that snake down South Africa from the Limpopo province, through Mpumalanga, into the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal, and end up in the landlocked mountain country of Lesotho. This gave me ample time to think about one of my favourite topics – food.
All of the writers of this blog have lived in multiple countries, so I started wondering what they missed when they moved from one country to another. I can remember when I first went to live in the States being amazed that some of my staple foods were not available there. In retrospect, it was a strange collection of edibles.
Not being able to find biltong in the States in 1971, I immediately brought some back from South Africa on my next trip. To my chagrin, it was confiscated at customs for being a threat to American security. I wasn’t convinced of that reason though, because the customs officer had started to drool the moment I mentioned I had biltong in my luggage. To this day, 40 years after my first visit, I am often asked as I step off the direct Delta flight from Johannesburg “Do you have any biltong?”
Biltong is best savoured with a glass of cold beer, but is also served as a snack in its own right, or as a topping to a salad. There are now so many South Africans living in North America that several South African shops have opened offering biltong – made in the USA, of course. It’s not quite the same – probably due to the Federal Food and Drug Administration’s ban on blue-bottle flies in food.
Another surprise on setting foot in the States was how unpleasant I found the chocolate. After each Hersheys I consumed, I felt a residue coating my mouth. It felt like a wax of some sort. So, of course, chocolate was added to my hamper, usually Cadbury’s – at least until I discovered some of the wonderful Swiss (Lindor – sigh) and Belgian chocolates. In addition there were two chocolate bars that I found nowhere other than South Africa, so they too accompanied me on my flights. The first was Peppermint Aero – soft peppermint with pockets of air, covered with milk chocolate. The second was Rowntree’s Peppermint Crisp – my favourite (now produced by Nestlé). This is a bar of crystalline peppermint (hence the ‘crisp’) coated with milk chocolate. Fortunately neither of these was a threat to American security.
Of course there are other foods that wandering South Africans hanker for, but the ones above are those I most frequently carried from one continent to another. But I did leave out zoo biscuits (cookies) – not the boring ones found in the States, but rather heavy icing-covered ones with an animal vaguely outlined in icing of a different colour. These are best eaten by gnawing off the biscuit from under the icing, leaving only the icing, which is then nibbled so as to leave only the animal. The final stage of this gastronomic event is chomping off the head of the animal, followed by the swallowing of the body. I think I last did this when I was 53.
And I did leave out South African wines – even today selling for less than US$10 per excellent bottle. I have been known to carry over two dozen bottles on flights from Johannesburg to the States – a case of hand luggage weighing more than checked! Of course, this is no longer possible, for which my back thanks George Bush.
Anyway, I better go and have some breakfast. My tummy is rumbling noisily.
I’d be interested in hearing about the foods you ex-pats miss as you travel in either direction from your various abodes.
Stan – Thursday
PS. I am delighted to see that Tim’s political non-party IXNAY has been joined by a well-known US Senator.
Thank You So Much, Mr. President!
2 days ago