Living abroad and food

Culinary conundrums

One of the very first things you need to do in your new country is to find food. You all have to eat! Food is spectacularly unique for each country in the world and although we may have lots of different nationality restaurants where we come from, actually living with someone else’s cuisine all the time can prove quite interesting.

There are many distinctions around food which are quite different from one country to the next, and at this time of year – when food is the focus of so many rituals – it seems to become more important.

Meal times

Eating abroad doesn’t mean eating at the same time. Meal times can vary wildly from country to country. For example in Spain they eat very late, often 10 or 11pm at night, whilst Australia and the UK the tendency is to eat much earlier, and America earlier again. It may seem like a small change on the surface but try telling that to a body clock which has been accustomed to something completely different.

If you are moving abroad with children then it’s a good idea to try get them accustomed to the differences before you leave so the transition isn’t quite so drastic.

Children and food

In some counties it’s deemed appropriate that children stay out very late and in other countries they ‘should be in bed early and not encroach on adult meal times’. Italy, Greece and Spain are famous for having children out very late, but in more northern European countries, children tend to go to bed earlier.

If you are moving abroad with your children, it’s best to explore some of the societal guidelines and etiquette around children and eating out at your destination so you don’t run into problems accidentally.

Young children thrive on routine, often to an intense degree – and this can be easily seen when it comes to food. If your child is a picky eater, you need to plan ahead to save the whole family from stress. Even if they’re not particularly fussy, don’t underestimate the comfort that familiar food brings them (and you, to be frank!). If you can, try to take some food with you when you first move which is familiar. Take food they are used to as part of their daily routine, cereals, for example, so when you arrive not everything is completely different and new. Whilst this may not be a long term solution, it does help settle them into their new life in the early, confusing stages. And encourage them to try local foods as soon as possible.

Shopping and supermarkets

Shop opening hours are very different wherever you go. Not only that but you need to learn the names of things you consider to be diet staples as well as learning what the locals consider to be staples! Can you imagine the fun I had when I first arrived in Japan just before Christmas? Not only was the local supermarket full of completely unfamiliar and unfathomable items, I couldn’t even begin to work out what the Japanese labels said. It was great fun experimenting though – but not always successful. Thankfully, my daughter was an adventurous eater.

Before your move, get the vocabulary together for the things that are really important to you and your family so when you get there you can find them easily. Write them down in a little notebook so you can refer to it during your shopping trips.

Do your research before you relocate. Acquaint yourself with the food and their names and do a little prep before you go.

Don’t assume you can find a turkey!

Not all countries celebrate Christmas, or Thanksgiving, for that matter. Not all countries have turkeys. Don’t assume you will simply be able to pop out and get one! You may get lucky, but you had better have a plan B, especially if you haven’t yet had chance to spend much time in your new country before these events.

We don’t eat turkey for Christmas, but I did want a nice piece of meat of some description for our first Christmas in Japan. However, meat isn’t really sold in great quantities in local supermarkets in Japan, and I didn’t want fish. I think we ended up with tiny steaks in the end.

Depending on where you are, you may find there is an international supermarket where celebration and other familiar food is sold, but expect to pay a premium for familiar items. International supermarkets only tend to exist in places where there is a large expat population, and therefore the demand is high.

Be adventurous

Do experience the local food – it’s an amazing experience. Fruits and vegetables in season, rather than forced all year round, taste incredible. Super fresh fish and shellfish when you live by the seas taste so different from inland supermarket fare.

The key with living abroad and handling any culinary differences is to do your research before you go so you anticipate any sudden changes in diet and to live there with an open mind. If you have a special diet, gluten free, vegan etc, or allergies, then this research is even more important as some countries aren’t as clued in as others.

If you live close to a city you could even explore before you go and find out about that cuisine in a restaurant or even find a shop or supermarket finding things sold from that country.

To get the most out of your experience, be open-minded and treat food with a sense of adventure.

Bon appétit!

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  1. So very true. We moved abroad with an 18 month old and travel internationally several times a year, so we’ve had a lot of experiences similar to yours. We’re also a family of celiacs living in a place where bread and sweets are part of every meal. We’re pretty adventurous, though, and love trying new things.

    What’s your favorite street food in Japan?

    1. That’s definitely tricky! And yes, being food-adventurous is vital to living overseas.

      It’s been a few years since we lived in Japan, but ALL the food was my favourite! Perhaps not such a fan of tofu, but everything else was amazing.

  2. We enjoy your site and blog. Moving abroad with kids can indeed be challenging, especially if all have to adapt to a new language and culture.
    Our free Gamesforlanguage games and courses can help, at least with the four languages we currently offer.

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