Thursday, 26 January 2012

The Little Things: Food in America

For the most part life in California is pretty similar to life in Australia.
Culturally it's not that different, the climate is similar and, despite what some people may think, we speak the same language.

Most days I don't really feel like we're living in a foreign country but every now and then something little brings it home. For example, on the weekend we were up on the roof enjoying a lull in the rain and the brief burst of sunshine. I was looking out over the Berkeley hills when I spotted a flag on a building. For a brief moment I thought "Hmm, an American flag. How strange.". And then it hit me - we're not in Australia anymore.

It's mostly little things where I notice the difference. There's nowhere that the little differences are more apparent than food. Now I'm not talking about all those Australian foods that aren't readily available here like Tim Tams, Vegemite, Fruchocs and Balfours Frog Cakes. Most of those items, bar the Frog Cake, are available here if I'm willing to fork out the extra cash and they're not really items I eat regularly at home anyway - once again, bar the Frog Cake! It's the everyday foods where the differences are more apparent. Most food is pretty much the same here as what we're used to at home and even though America gets a bad rap for its food, most of it is actually pretty good. That could be down to our location though!

Two items we eat a lot of in our household are tinned tuna and yoghurt - not together of course! - and those two items are where I notice a lot of difference.

Australians tend to eat a lot of tinned tuna. The tinned tuna section in most Australian supermarkets is huge. Tinned tuna comes in so many different sizes and so many different flavours at home but here in California it's not so. Tuna here either comes in spring water or olive oil and that's about it. No small tins of flavoured tuna for lunches. No tuna in brine for making tuna mornay.  No snack sized containers of tuna with crackers. The variety of tuna here is different too. White albacore tuna seems to be the most common variety and, as the name would suggest, it's white. This makes for especially bland looking tuna mornay! And without the brine for extra flavour it makes for especially bland flavoured tuna mornay too. Ok, it's not that bland but it certainly doesn't have the strong flavour that I'm used to. And then there's how the word tuna is pronounced: toona!

Now onto yoghurt. First of all, it's spelled wrong here; yogurt. Where did the "h" go? What did they do with it? And what did they do with all the flavours? Yoghurt in Australia comes in a huge number of flavours from the more traditional strawberry, mango and vanilla through to the super sweet dessert flavours such as tiramisu and French cheesecake.  With all these flavours the yoghurt section in Australian supermarkets is also huge. Not so here. While there are quite a few different yoghurt brands they all pretty much make the same thing. Yoghurt seems to only come in vanilla, strawberry, banana, blueberry and plain Greek yoghurt. That said, it all tastes pretty good there's just not as much choice.

And then there are the foods that are common every day ingredients at home but just not quite the same here. Butter and cream are two such foods that I struggled with when we first arrived. The first time I bought butter it was white and sweet. What the? The next time I bought butter it was white and sweet. The next time I forked out the extra cash to buy butter imported from Ireland. It was yellow and tasted like butter. Success! Similarly cream is quite different here. There appears to be either really runny whipping cream or whipped cream in a can. Now I'm not sure that stuff in a can is really cream so I've avoided it! Going to the effort of whipping the really runny whipping cream to spread it on my toast with jam in the morning is just too much work so I've switched to creme fraiche. Success - sort of. At least it's the right consistency.

Many foods are seasonal here which is something that we don't really experience too much at home. Ava absolutely loves a particular pear juice sold at our local supermarket however now that Autumn is over and we're well into winter they don't sell it anymore. It will be back next Autumn and in the meantime Ava will have to ration out glasses from the 6 or so bottles that I have stashed away in the cupboard! Similarly pumpkin products appear everywhere in Autumn and disappear in Winter. I know it's best to eat fresh foods when they're in season but at home very few foods disappear off the shelf all together when they're not in season.

Speaking of fresh food, at home I buy all my fruit and vegetables from the green grocer and all my meat from the butcher shop.  I am yet to see either of these stores in Berkeley or San Francisco. That said, there are farmer's markets everywhere here so there is an alternative to the supermarket. The quality of fruit and vegetables at supermarkets here is much better than that at home. One particular supermarket in Berkeley (Berkeley Bowl) has such a large and varied fruit and vegetable section that it could almost compete with Central Markets in Adelaide for range.

There are so many little differences when it comes to food, I could go on and on, but overall most things are pretty much just like home. I'm going to try and post a little more often about life here in Berkeley so that those of you back home reading this (I'm sure there must be a few of you) have a little insight into our new life. Maybe next up I'll tackle the big one... coffee in America!

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