I’ve always thought it most bizarre that British people, when traveling outside of their sceptered isle, are given to filling their suitcases with things like PG Tips, Marmite, baked beans, and marmalade. You’d think that one of the greatest thrills of traveling and going on holiday is to sample the delights of the country that you are visiting. It may not always be to ones taste, and it may be a bit ‘foreign’ ‘fancy’ and ‘different’ but that’s all part and parcel of ones travel experience surely?
For some people, just moving to different parts of the UK can strike fear into their culinary hearts. Take Irishman’s Father for example. He moved for a period to the Isle of Wight and despite the fact that it is only 3 miles from the mainland, he was so convinced that he wouldn’t be able to find any marmalade there, that he took an entire suitcase of the stuff over with him lest he ran out of his favourite orange preserve.
Many moons ago, when I moved from Suffolk in the S.E of England, up to North Yorkshire, a concerned friend asked if I’d still be able to buy red peppers and aubergines – don’t laugh, she was being serious! Not convinced, the first time she visited us, she came armed with a carrier bag full of them.
Indeed Brits are so notorious for being culinary stick-in-the-muds and wanting only familiar condiments, teabags, sauces, jams and biscuits, that there are now dedicated sections in most large French and Spanish supermarkets to keep British visitors and expats happy. Here you will find everything your British heart can desire. Birds Custard, Bourbon biscuits, Branston Pickle, Baked Beans, Bisto. …Notice how everything starts with ‘B’? but then we move on to HP sauce, PG Tips teabags, Frank Cooper’s Marmalade, Lea and Perrins Worcestershire sauce. Of course we are addicted to Heinz Tomato Ketchup as well but that doesn’t really count because it’s an American invention and not ours.
For years I have turned up my nose at these gastronomically challenged folk, sneering at them as I watch them grab every last packet of custard creams off a French supermarket shelf, or demanding egg and chips with a large dollop of HP sauce in a Greek Taverna. I have sneered, and mocked and laughed at all of them, until…now.
Yes, I’m about to come clean to you and admit that just very recently, I too have joined the ranks of those sad Brits who cannot live without their favourite foodstuffs when living overseas. I can’t believe that I’m writing this, I cannot believe that I am fessing up to bringing tea back to Jakarta. TEA! I hear you all shout – Why the hell are you bringing tea back to a country that grows bloody tons of the stuff? Well, the answer my friends is that in 13 months of living here, I haven’t yet found one brand of tea that I like. I’ve tried packet after packet after packet of tea and no joy – it’s just not the same, please trust me on this if, like me you prefer what we refer to in the UK as Builder’s tea.
With that confession out of the way, next is Marmite. Marmite is a very British institution, and as they say in the adverts, ‘You either love it, or loathe it’. I love Marmite and the only yeast extract that I’ve been able to find to date is Vegemite which I’m sorry to those of you reading this from Down Under, but it’s just not the same. (Incidentally, when I was walking down Oxford Street in London a couple of weeks ago, the Christmas lights were up and rather bizarrely they were all Marmite pots, most peculiar. I haven’t got a clue what Marmite and Christmas have in common, but there you go)
Next up, is Bisto gravy granules. My darling Mother will be turning in her grave if she knows that I use them, let alone the shame she’d feel at her daughter bringing them back to Indonesia in her suitcase.
Carr’s table water biscuits – perfect smeared with Marmite and a bit of mature cheddar. Can’t find Mature Cheddar in Jakarta so it’s Dutch Gouda instead.
The truth of the matter is that however much I’ve wanted to stay on my culinary high horse and only eat native whilst living here, there comes a point when you really start to crave what Irishman and I now affectionately call Normal Food. In the past year I’ve shunned the imported sauces, snacks and treats that are available in the more western style supermarkets and opted instead for Indonesian brands, doing my best to use local fruit and veg, and experimenting with different herbs and spices. The result has been interesting, but not wholly satisfactory. In our last apartment I only had a 2 ring gas hob to work with so it was mostly stir-frys that we lived on. Now that we’ve moved into swanksville on the 12th floor our culinary horizons have opened up because these days we have a working oven. Shepherd’s pie, casseroles, Irish stews, lasagna, you name it, have all been lovingly made by Mrs Nev in her new kitchen.
Next time we go back to London, I shall be stocking up on other treats that we miss like Irishman’s favourite marmalade and my mint sauce, but for now just opening up the cupboard and seeing a jar of Marmite and a packet of Red label Sainsbury’s teabags on the shelf makes me inordinately happy.