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Westerner in Asia: Cooking

post #1 of 5
Thread Starter 

I'm curious to know if anyone else on the boards here has relocated themselves to a place that is ethnically very foreign, specifically Asia, I guess. 

I love the food here, and I embrace cultures and speak the language and know how to make some of the local food and love to eat it, blah blah. But it's readily apparent that only specialty stores carry certain Western ingredients because they'd never leave the shelves in the typical grocery stores here. Most grocery stores here (in Taiwan) don't have mayonnaise, (real) cheese, very little milk or cream, very few fresh green leafy vegetables that would be identifiable to most Westerners (we do have like, mustard greens, sweet potato greens, and some other things, but nothing that's eaten without boiling or frying the crap out of it), and the way they name some things is very ambiguous. Sometimes when you see "lime" on label, it's actually a lime; others, it's a green lemon. It's nearly impossible to find anything but horrible, eggy, starchy, sweet Asian wannabe brioche bread made with soymilk, usually containing raisins or pork fiber or red beans. It's difficult to find most juices here, and the selection of fresh fruits (aside from the local ones that aren't used in any kind of Western cooking) doesn't go beyond the fruits you'd see in an alphabetic coloring book for a four year old. 

That said, there are still times when I can work with what I've got. It does demand creativity, but a large number of the recipes I look up online are no good to me because I don't have an oven or half the ingredients or the money to pay for them here if I could find them. You can't have everything, obviously, but I am wondering if there's anyone else that's in a similar situation and has any advice or tips for these kinds of cooking restraints based on your geography. 


post #2 of 5

I have lived in the Middle East and the Far East (Singapore and Malaysia) - as well as various European countries.  Unlike you, though, I always had a Western style kitchen - so that helped immensely!


We were also part of a large expat group, so shopping was made easier as there were people who could explain strange foodstuffs - and more importantly - how to cook them!  We also had access to good 'Western' style foods, too.  I always made my own breads and cakes, simply because I didn't like the locally produced stuff in the far east - but great breads were available locally in the ME.



post #3 of 5
Thread Starter 
I lived in Europe a while and lived in Hong Kong before moving here. I speak fluent Chinese and that helps me tremendously, being able to ask the locals what something is or if it's fresh or how to use it. I've learned some new techniques and ingredients this way, and I feel it's my responsibility to embrace and learn about the culture here.
That does not say, however, that their breads are any good for a grilled cheese sandwich to pair with a bowl of tomato soup; forget about finding a good loaf of sourdough or anything western without commuting halfway across town and paying a fortune for it.
My friend and I have already planned a trip out to the nice, more western grocery stores to take an inventory of what we can actually get, but it adds an interesting challenge to what would otherwise.... Not be as challenging, I guess.
Ishbel: did or do you speak the local language(s) in the places you lived?
Singapore and Malaysia both boast far more international influence than Taiwan, IMO, but we do get some Japanese and Korean influence. It's still hard to find stuff here, and if I only had an oven... I might be moving outside of Taipei soon, where the rent is cheaper, and a real (almost-) normal kitchen will be at the top of my list!
post #4 of 5

No, I never spoke any of the languages, there was little need to learn as English was the lingua franca amongst most expats and most locals also spoke fluent English.  We often lived an insular life as many expats do.


post #5 of 5

I have spent quite a bit of time living in the Middle East and Asia over the last few years.  I spent a year in South Korea, and a year jumping from Iraq to Kuwait to Qutar.  I've spent a short bit of time in Japan, as well as a month living in Sweden.  I love travelling and tasting new foods, and learning how to cook them.


In my experience in South Korea, it was easier for me to simply adapt my diet to what was locally available rather than try to continue cooking Western foods who's ingredients were difficult to find.  I enjoyed the experience, and learned many new cooking techniques and flavor combinations I would not have otherwise been exposed to.


I had a harder time cooking while in the Middle East, and most of the time ended up eating in local restaurants or government-provided dining facilities.  I did find some local grocery stores, and was able to make some basic things, but it was difficult without a proper kitchen.  I found it much more enjoyable to simply visit a local restaurant and enjoy their cooking.  The same can be said for my trips to Japan and Sweden, where my food was either provided by friends (local foods made to their tastes) or restaurants.

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