I grew up in New Zealand. I lived in the same house from the day I was born until I left to go to University. From the age of around 8 good family friends of ours had an avocado orchard so we always had boxes of avocados in our pantry. Whenever we were hungry my mother told us to have avocado on Vogel’s. Vogel’s is a delicious mixed grain bread that is a NZ staple. My mother was really onto something. My 3 siblings and I were fed avocado on toast at every opportunity, well before hipsters in fancy cafes hooked onto it. If we were ‘starving’ she would tell us to put a few slices of tomato on top.
As a result avocado on Vogel’s toast is more than just comfort food. The simplicity of flavors and good ingredients, the crunch of the warm toast, the creamy coolness of the avocado, a sprinkle of salt. It tastes like home, my home. I close my eyes and it tastes like my house on my street. It tastes like 1985. You can really only have it in NZ because you can only get Vogel’s in NZ. Avocado on toast is good, but it’s not avocado on Vogel’s. Whenever I am back to NZ I get my fill of it. It solves most of my problems and makes everything seem right with the world.
I now have three children of my own and we have a comfort food problem. First of all, my husband is from Mississippi and he talks about sweet ice tea (disgusting) and sausage and biscuits (delicious). But for my children, who are living in their third country and have never spent huge amounts of time in either New Zealand or the US, what will home taste like?
It is a particular problem for my 11 year old. Up until about 6 months ago, he had lived his whole life in the UAE and Qatar. His comfort food is shawarma. Chicken shawarma with garlic sauce to be exact. Shawarma is a delicious sandwich recipe made with thinly sliced seasoned chicken from a vertical spit, shredded lettuce, finely diced tomatoes, french fries and garlic or tahini sauce wrapped in thin Arabic bread. People have quite strong feelings about their shawarma, and usually have one place that is more than their favourite, it is a place to which one shows allegiance. The type of bread, the seasoning of the chicken, the sauce, how the meat is sliced from the spit can all lead to arguments. The favourite places are usually a hole in the wall, street side places. You can see the big spit of meat, usually one chicken and one “meat”, you can see the sandwiches being made step by step. My son’s favourite shawarma came from a tiny shop next to Al Rawniq in the fabric Souq in Qatar. Therein lies the problem.
We will not be returning to the Gulf periodically as we do to our ‘home countries’. It’s unlikely we will even be passing through the airports that often and, even if we do, the shawarma you get on the side of the road is not something that is sold in airports. We have some great Arabic restaurants here in Germany, with the big shawarma spits rotating slowly behind the counter. They make a good sandwich, but its not my son’s sandwich, with a specific french fry to chicken ratio, sauce with just the right garlicness and wrapped in a specific way in white paper. For him, what will be his comfort food, what will taste so right that it makes problems go away? Will anything taste like home?
But to be honest, I probably can’t really understand what home will mean to him in 30 years.
Rachel Nelson is a New Zealand expat who has lived and worked in the US, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the UAE, Qatar and Germany.