My first trip to the grocery store in East Africa was….overwhelming. When I got home, tears.
Maybe it was worse because I didn’t expect grocery shopping to be a source of stress.
My friend had been raving about how she loved this grocery store. And I was excited to finally dive in to cooking for my family and not relying on the kindness of other members of our expat community for meals. I wanted to do life in Uganda and do it well.
But there I was, exhausted and ugly-crying.
My Rookie-Year Grocery Store Chain of Thought
A few examples of my train of thought–many of which may seem lame, but made sense in my culture shock:
- That’s 18,000 shillings. And the exchange rate to the dollar is… So that makes that…
- Whoa. That means that’s a lot for American ketchup. Do we need ketchup?
- I don’t know. Maybe I should see if there are hot dogs.
- There aren’t any hot dogs in the cold section. Should I be looking in the freezer section? Do hot dogs exist here?
- Is it easy to make hot dogs here?
- Speaking of hot…there’s no air in here. And these aisles are the size of two people without their carts…”Excuse me. Pardon me. Thank you!”
- Ew. Wonder what’s in these remarkably hot-pink hot dogs.
- Should I be eating hot dogs here? Will I be cooking more like locals do? I want to feed my kids something healthy…but it would be really nice to have something to eat that isn’t from scratch, or something a babysitter can make.
- I don’t use ketchup, but my husband and kids do…is it worth paying more?
- Traffic is a bear. Am I going to want to come back here if I make the wrong ketchup decision?
Grocery Store Train of Thought, Continued
- That misogynistic rap music on the speakers is REALLY LOUD. Note to self when I bring my children with me. (“Mommy, what’s that word mean?”).
- Wonder what’s happening with my kids and that person I barely know who’s watching them?
- Next on the list: sugar. And…it’s not in the baking aisle. Where else would sugar be?
- Answer, after squeezing down in every row: The tea aisle.
- I guess if I have hot dogs, I should have buns. Do they sell hot dog buns in a country that doesn’t eat hot dogs?
- Oh, shoot. These have mold on them. How do I kindly let them know? Or should I?
- Note to self: This place doesn’t have anything remotely resembling onion powder. (….At least in the spices section.) Put that on the list for mom’s next care package.
- Yikes. Their produce is priced so much higher than the open-air market. Guess I’m hitting the market after this.
Getting the idea? Now, I’ve both heard and experienced that the longer you’re in a country, the more you find you can do without, or know how to locate, or the country starts importing.
Get Ready for a little home cookin’.
You may not find taco seasoning or pancake mix or tortillas, or find them inexpensively.
But you can make a lot foods even cheaper than you could buy it in your home country. Produce, in particular, can be much cheaper in some countries, which means you eat healthier.
All of these recipes are subject to the availability of ingredients in your host country–but at least you’ll get the idea, and can start looking for recipes that work for your own family’s needs.
If you like this, consider a cookbook like More-with-Less, which tells you how to make everything from fudgsicles to crackers.
Click on the recipe’s title for a sample recipe.
What recipes work for you? Tell us in the comments section!
Basic Pancake Mix.
Multiply this recipe (I usually made at least six batches), dry ingredients only, then write on a piece of tape on the lid the additional “wet” ingredients needed for one recipe’s worth (and how much of the dry mix you’ll need for that amount). Takes a little math, but you can do this!
You can also make your own fresh-fruit syrup with leftover fruit. (We loved a mango-pineapple version).
Cream of Mushroom Soup.
(Note: Chicken bouillon was available where we stayed, but I brought my own chicken soup base over to avoid MSG.)
Quick, 3-ingredient Jam.
Don’t worry about canning; I put mine in a plastic container. It didn’t last long anyway! This is another great solution for leftover fruit.
Quick Pizza Dough.
Vinegar or citric acid may also work, or you may not need an acid if your milk is already going bad. This was a valuable recipe for me since the expiry dates on milk…or a sudden power outage…often left me with spoiled milk. But a lot of recipes use ricotta–and you can use it with jam on toast, as the “white sauce” in lasagna (this recipe is also great for that purpose), or in a ricotta pasta like this one.
This recipe is one made without tahini–a sesame seed paste–but you may be able to find tahini where you’re located.
Want to add chocolate chips, but your country doesn’t have any? Chop up chocolate bars.
Granola. Think of this recipe as fluid; add nuts and dried fruit your country has available.
Power Bars. If these recipes aren’t doable for you, a simple Google search may turn up other ideas.
I’ve used walnuts and even almonds in place of pine nuts. (Don’t tell.)
Try Ranch (Buttermilk = 1 T vinegar + 1 C milk; wait 5 minutes), Thousand Island, Catalina, Italian, and other family favorites.
Again, sooooo much easier than they sound, and no canning necessary. (My son would beg for these pickles!)
(What? Did you not used to buy this? I just got a hankering for a Reuben this one time.) Use the whey from your ricotta or a container of yogurt; you only need a little.
Bonus: Not easy, but doable:
Help us out.
What from-scratch recipes have helped you bring tastes of home to your new home?
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