Paris, 1999. My husband and I are having dinner at Spoon, one of Alain Ducasse’s restaurants near the Champs Elysees. Tom has a big announcement to make and is clearly excited.
Tom: I got a job offer, you’ll never guess where!
(I never did so fast forward…)
Tom: Seoul, Korea!
Seoul, 2000. My first expat posting, my most challenging one. We left our jobs, our beautiful apartment in the 7th arrondissement and moved to Itaewon on a bleak and cold February day. I soon found out that the local supermarkets didn’t offer many imported products and if they did, the options were limited and pricey. You had to go to the five star hotels deli shops to get your fix of bread, cheese and Western delicacies. So gone were the pain au chocolat, goat cheese and other products I had consumed most of my entire (French) life. The good news? I dropped a few kilos, without even trying! Enter Mrs. Kim, our adjuma, who made the best kimbap (Korean sushi rolls) ever and who taught me a few things about Korean food. Once I knew how to say “I don’t eat meat” in Korean (thanks to my teacher, Mr. Lee), I explored the local food scene. Although most Korean dishes are meat-based, I soon developed a craving for kimchi, pajeon (savory pancakes) and doenjang jjigae (Korean soybean paste stew). Today, Tom and I go to Korea town in NYC once or twice a month to get our fix of delicious Korean food.
2005, Hong Kong. Tom’s job took us from Korea to my favorite destination in Asia, a foodie’s paradise. We said good bye to Mrs. Kim and Mr. Lee, packed and moved to Chung Hom Kok, south of Hong Kong Island, facing the South China sea. We spent four years exploring local Cantonese, Chinese, Asian and fusion cuisines in Honk Kong and all over Asia. Hot Sichuan dishes, yak butter tea, steamed dumplings, Pad Thai, Chow Mein noodles…I loved it. I even took some tea tasting classes and discovered white tea, Oolong tea and the (in)famous Pu’er ( a fermented tea most foreigners don’t like, due to its strong earthy taste). To this day, my favorite cuisines are Thai and Vietnamese. And we have excellent restaurants around the corner, on 3rd avenue.
2009, Riyadh. Leaving Hong Kong was a heartbreak but new adventures were ahead of us. We both studied Arabic, explored the kingdom’s desert and the region. Although we found Korean and Asian food stores and restaurants, the quality and authenticity were not attractive to us after nearly ten years in Asia. Enter Lebanese food. Delicious and vegetarian-friendly Lebanese food. You can’t go wrong with Lebanese food in Riyadh. It was everywhere, it was good and it was cheap. I would get hummus, stuffed wine leaves and tabouleh salad for dinner. Maamoul (pastry filled with dates and nuts, a calorie bomb!) became my Madeleine de Proust. It will always be associated to our desert outings. Paired with a cup of strong hot mint tea or Arabic coffee… what a treat!
2017, New York City. After 8 years in Saudi Arabia, it was time to move on. New York is not my favorite food scene, I find it less vibrant and outstanding than London, Hong Kong or Singapore, but I love how everything is available in the Big Apple. I buy my pain au chocolat around the corner, am a few subway stops away from Chinatown, Koreatown, Little Italy…I can eat vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, kosher, halal, Vietnamese or Turkish…you name it. And what I can’t find, I order it online.
When my son was small, I told him I would respect his taste in food but he had to try a new dish, otherwise he would never know if he liked it or not. He’s today an international foodie who enjoys pretty much everything (but he didn’t get my sweet tooth, good for him), with a strong preference in Asian food.
So be curious, go out, explore and taste, learn and be amazed!