Seven International Foods (and Drinks) I Miss

I love food. All of it. Or at least almost all of it. There are very few things my mouth has met that it has not liked. Many of those foods are foods I’ve first tried in foreign countries and immediately fallen in love with. Sometimes I can find those foods (or close replicas of them) at home. Sometimes, no matter how hard I try, I come up short. The dishes simply cannot be replicated. Though this list contains only seven international food and drinks that I miss, I’m sure it could be longer. I know it could be longer. But in contrast to what I do when I’m eating, I showed restraint. I didn’t include foods that I’ve found pretty good versions of at home–like some of my favorite Thai and Indian dishes–and I eventually quit thinking about it, because seriously, my stomach is about to eat itself. Oh how, I wish my lunch contained the following seven items.

1. Fanta Passion

We discovered Fanta Passion in Uganda, which unfortunately was too  late, though we didn’t know it then. This passion-flavored soft drink is simply awesome. Sweet and tart and fizzy all at the same time. It blows away all other Fanta flavors, but for some reason it is available in only a very limited sphere, and the United States is not part of it. To our great dismay, Americans do not share our love affair with passion fruit, that funny fruit full of seeds and oh-so-yummy juice. Not only can we not get Fanta Passion here, simply trying to find passion fruit anything is nearly impossible (unless you want it mixed with other tropical fruits), which means that passion fruit lemonade and passion fruit shakes–ubiquitous in much of the world–are also out of the question. After a long, hard, sweaty (okay, not really) search, I did manage to locate passion fruit syrup, which we mix with fizzy water and drink, all the while longing for a cold Fanta Passion, straight from the bottle.

2. Gallo Pinto
So, yes, gallo pinto is in fact about the most basic food in the world. Nicaragua’s national dish, gallo pinto is simply rice and beans. I swear, however, that they do something special to it there that transforms it from one of the world’s simplest dishes into something that is crave inducing. I will admit that while there I did, sometimes, get tired of big plates of gallo pinto, but man just thinking about it right now is making my mouth water.

3. Cambodian Barbecue
While in Siem Reap, our friend Maryann, who lives and works there, lead us across the bridge, away from the touristy Tex-Mex and Italian restaurants to a local barbecue joint filled with nothing but long plain tables and plastic chairs. She ordered a plate of beef with a pepper lemon (or maybe lime?) sauce. The meat was cut into tiny pieces that you dunked into the sauce and then popped into your mouth. It was heaven. I think we ended up ordering another plate at least three times, and when it was all gone, I was very tempted to lick the plate and bowl clean. At this moment, I wish I had.

4. Fresh Mangoes
Except for in Hawaii, it’s practically impossible to get a good mango in the United States. They’re picked green and hard and shipped across the country, ripening on the shelf. If you’re lucky, they sort of resemble this tastiest of tropical fruits. In tropical parts of the world, they’re picked plump and juicy from the tree at the peak of ripeness and transferred directly into your mouth. Though Kota Kinabalu on Malaysian Borneo doesn’t have a lot to recommend it in my opinion, I still dream of the mangoes I bought in the market there. The flesh was the perfect yellow-orange, and by the time I finished eating my half of one, I had juice all over my face and running down my arms. I was a hot sticky mess, but I was oh so happy.

5. Cao Lau Noodles
There is one place and one place only where you can get proper Cao Lau noodles and that is the Vietnam city of Hoi An. This dish of thick rice noodles topped with grilled pork, bean sprouts, greens, and rice paper croutons that give it a satisfying crunch can only be made with water from one special well and lye from trees that grow only in Hoi An. It’s completely unfair, because these noodles beat out pho as my absolutely favorite Vietnamese dish. Though I ate them every single day we were in Hoi An, it was definitely not enough. Must return soon.

6. Coco con Dulce de Leche Gelato

Thank god we walked so much on our trip or we might have gained a lot of weight, in Argentina especially. While there, we partook in their Italian style gelato literally every single day. Though we tried all kinds of flavors, one hands-down favorite, for Jeff especially, was the Coco con Dulce de Leche. If that was on the menu, that is what he was having. And though we have an ice cream maker and I found a recipe for Coco con Dulce de Leche ice cream, and though it came out pretty darn good, it’s just not the same as a huge scoop from Volta in Buenos Aires. We just can’t seem to make the dulce de leche stay creamy or get it to distribute itself in ribbons rather than chunks (suggestions, anyone?), but until we get back to beautiful Argentina, it will have to do.

7. Gyros
Sure, I hear you saying that you can find gyros all over the United States, but I’m telling you, friend, they’re just not the same as they are right off the spit in Greece (and they never put French fries inside the gyro here in the U.S.!). For the year I taught in Athens, I lived right across the street from a gyro stand. I probably ate there three times a week. Why I didn’t eat there seven times I week I don’t know. In retrospect, I should have. The gyros were awesome and so ridiculously cheap. Though there is much I love about Greece, I would be 100 percent happy to return and do nothing but eat–gyros, moussaka, patitsio, proper feta, awesome olives, tatziki, proper Greek salads, saganaki, tyropita, spanakopita, gigantes, fassolakia, loukaniko…

What about you? What’s your favorite international dish that you just can’t seem to find at home? Make me hungry.

(Apologies for the lack of mouth-watering photos. We’re absolute failures at taking photos of food. We always start shoveling it into our mouths the second it ends up on the table!)