From Dubai to Ghana: the food
With our “Santa Fe Around the World” project, we want to give our customers the opportunity to tell us more about their moving experience. Because moving to a new place can be challenging, we wanted to capture our customers’ side of their journey with us. With this series, we will be discovering their expectations, feelings and fears.
More from Mariam and Martino who tell us about their experience with food in Africa and the adaption process as they moved from Dubai to Ghana.
Was it difficult adapting to a new cuisine?
Mariam: No, not at all! This is one of the parts that we love. We love to try and taste the new cuisine of the new country we move to. Ghana is the type of country that also caters to the Western palate and there are several restaurants and cafes available, so you have many options to eat when it comes to food.
We all have certain favourites. My kids love plantain; including plantain chips. Martino loves all the soups and broths like groundnut soup, whereas I love Jollof rice, because it suits my spicy Pakistani taste buds just fine!
Do you miss the food back home? What food do you miss the most?
Mariam: The thing about Martino and I is that while we both surely have our favourite dishes from home that we grew up on, we both share a love of exploring new dishes and cuisines from all over the world, not only our current host country. So yes, while the inevitable cravings for a childhood dish do hit ever once in a while, we are much more focused on exploring new things. Especially being long term expats, the ‘food from home’ thing has also gotten diluted somewhat by our globally mobile lifestyle, and also by our children, who have grown up differently from us, and after having spent 4 years of their life in the Middle East, they have frequent cravings for hummus and falafel. Home and ‘food from home’ means different things to different members of our family.
We both like to cook, also together as a family, so when the cravings hit, we enjoy bringing those memories alive together in the kitchen. Sometimes we also deliberately let the cravings linger and fester, so when we make a home leave trip, or either my parents or my in-laws come to visit us, we are not shy in requesting our favourite dishes from home.
Have you found anything similar to food from your home country?
Mariam: Actually, yes. At least once a month, our Ghanaian housekeeper, who really enjoys cooking, makes Jollof rice with chicken for us. It is a spicy one pot rice dish, and while flavours and ingredients are somewhat different, conceptually and also in term of ‘heat’, it is very similar to a biryani from South Asia, that I grew up on, and that Martino also really enjoys eating. It is very intriguing to find the familiar in the unknown, so we always look out for that, as it really helps settling into a foreign land more quickly. And just like biryani, jollof rice tastes even better reheated the next day, after the flavours have developed more overnight.
Being from Pakistan, I am a connoisseur of mangoes, especially since my grandparents owned some lands with mango farms, and we were always treated with the freshest mangoes during the season between May and July. Moving and travelling around the world, I have tried many mangoes, but none ever quite compared. When we moved into our new house in Accra, I was delighted to discover a big mango tree right in our backyard, and once its fruits were ripe, I was of course eager to harvest them and enjoy my own homegrown mangoes. Not knowing what to expect after the high expectation of the past, I could not believe it when I took a first taste…the mangoes were incredible, by far the best and juiciest and sweetest I have ever had since leaving Pakistan. It was quite surreal how I felt right transported back to my childhood, when I sat in my kitchen in my house in Accra, tasting a mango from our garden.
Have you been able to find some food that is very typical to your home country?
Mariam: Yes, we have found most food from our own countries, but it takes a while to figure out what to get form where. In essence, most things you need are available in Accra, you just need to know where to get it, and not necessarily everthing form the grocery store. You find out a lot through word of mouth, and a lot of expats and/or diaspora from certain countries (such as Indians or the large Lebanese community) have set up small business catering to importing specific (food) items from their respective home countries.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the majority of food items like this are imported and specifically catering towards expats, hence come with a significant price tag attached. In fact, I was about to swoon in the middle of one of Accra’s supermarkets on my orientation tour with Santa Fe when I checked out a small bottle of olive oil for the exorbitant price of USD 20!
We have learned with time to be street smart and compare prices (just like you would do anywhere in the world), but also to balance our diet with ‘things from home’ and local fare, which is obviously much more reasonable. That is not only good for our wallet, but also for our expat posting, as enjoying the local flavours as much as possible is a significant part of the experience. Also, whenever we fly to one of our homes (or my parents or in-laws come to visit us), we try to bring some supplies of favourite or expensive or hard to get items, except for a bottle of olive oil, which I have not yet dared to pack into a suitcase.
To read more from Mariam and Martino’s relocation journey: