Exploring life's passions

What can you not live without?

An almost-empty packet of drop.

An almost-empty packet of drop.

There is a story that when Dutch people go on their summer camping holiday to France and Germany they take their potatoes and cheese with them. It’s like they’re worried they won’t be able to buy cheese and potatoes in those countries. Or, at least, not the right ones.

A lot of people pack those one or two little things that they’d rather not be without when they travel for work or go on holiday. Leonie takes her drop (liquorice). Her Portuguese colleague told us recently that she always takes a small bottle of olive oil.

That’s fine when you go away for a few weeks or even a month or two. It’s more difficult if you’re away from your home country for longer. Then you have to find a way to get those familiar treats on a regular basis. Or live without.

When I first lived in the Netherlands I would go to the one particular shop in the Leidsestraat in Amsterdam to stock up on Irn Bru, and I taught myself to make a pretty good potato scone. I could get bacon, but not the proper smoked back bacon stuff, and making my own square sausage was a step too far.

For anything else, I’d ask people who were coming to visit to bring stuff. That could include haggis, Viz and tea bags.

You still can’t get decent tea bags in the Netherlands, except in the two Marks and Spencers in the country, but they were closed for a good few years and have only recently opened again. You can get haggis there, but it’s in plastic, not the sheep’s stomach, and you can – I can – taste the plastic. I can. Don’t even try to tell me otherwise.

That’s all easy enough. Amsterdam is a big international city and not too far from Scotland. When we visit friends who live farther away, maybe in smaller towns – like Petra in Italy, Marlies in Bolivia and Gary in Thailand – they don’t always have the same opportunities. They have to live without their favourites most of the time and are then very grateful when visitors appear with bags of hagelslag, appelstroop or a couple of smoked sausage suppers.

irn-bruBut even that’s getting easier. I used to take typical Dutch treats to Scotland when I visited, like stroopwafels, but now you can buy them in pretty much any supermarket in Britain. And there are more shops in the Netherlands that sell Irn Bru these days.

After a while though, your tastes and habits change. I rarely, if ever, bought the full sugar Irn Bru in the Netherlands. So much sickly sweetness is a lot to take as an adult. And I can’t remember the last time I had a fry up at home. I leave that now as a special treat when I go back to Scotland.

Now there are a few others things I make sure I pack whenever we go away.

We rarely stay in hotels and there isn’t always a coffee machine in the apartment. Living in the Netherlands got me out of the habit of drinking instant coffee, so now we take a little funnel thing for the coffee filters (see picture). You can buy filters pretty much anywhere, and coffee is everywhere. I still like to have that caffeine now that I don’t drink so much Irn Bru.

stafmixerWe also pack a hand mixer, especially when we go to countries like Cabo Verde where fruit is relatively cheap and there’s lots of it. A couple of bananas, some milk, a load of cocoa powder and a quick buzz and you never need to buy Irn Bru again.

Then, after all that coffee, cocoa and banana energy, I like to have a sleepy tea at night. That’s become more of a ritual though than a taste I enjoy. It’s a moment at the end of the day when we stop if we’re working late, where we take a half hour to unwind, maybe settle down to watch an episode of our latest binge series.

So the stuff I crave has changed over the years, mainly because I haven’t lived in Scotland for so long and because I’m getting older.

I also think that part of it has to do with the fact that we now have much better access to food and drink from all over the world. That might be one advantage of globalisation. (Or is that homogeneity of culture?)

Scottish people are now just as likely to take a packet of stroopwafels with them when they go on holiday. And there’s a good chance these days that Dutch people pack their favourite Indonesian spices when they go camping (as well as the potatoes and cheese).

Maybe our tastes in general are changing, but I think we’ll always have those few things we just can’t miss from home.

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