One of the best things about spending a substantial amount of time in one place is developing a relationship with the food. Often, at least in our youth, that means identifying “home” with the food from our mothers’ and grandmothers’ kitchens. But after living abroad, that also means associating your new home with new tastes and flavors.
Growing up in Texas, I most strongly associate my concept of “being at home” with Tex-Mex. My favorite from my childhood is a local restaurant icon, Joe T Garcia’s.
The food we connect with involves all our senses. In my case it’s the sounds of sizzling fajitas, the smell of roasting chiles, and the brightly-colored Mexican plates. All add up to the complete “I’m home” experience.
I recently returned from an extended professional stint outside Texas. It was wonderful to reconnect with old friends and family and see familiar sights but the homecoming wasn’t complete, though, until I had a chance to taste some of the foods of my childhood.
In Texas, Mexican food restaurants are everywhere. But after living in the Caribbean, and having no access to Mexican food at all, I noticed my idea of what defined home cooking changed.
The proximity to Venezuela and Columbia certainly brought a host of new flavors to connect with my new home. However the most memorable cuisine, and probably the one that I most associate with Curaçao, is the food of Suriname. If you are unfamiliar with that it is primarily based on Indonesian cuisine. And it is as ubiquitous in the Dutch Caribbean as Mexican is in Texas.
To an American, that may seem strange at first. But when you realize that Curaçao, Suriname, and Indonesia were all Dutch colonies at one point, it makes sense that the foods and flavors would mingle with local ingredients and techniques.
And now back in Texas, Surinamese food seems exotic. But when I return, it certainly won’t feel like being in my second home without stopping in one of my new favorite places. Ah, the taste of home.