One of the things that immigrants worry about when moving to another country is whether they will be able to find their favorite foods.
When I first started grocery shopping here in La Ceiba, Honduras, El Jefe would drop me off and come back a couple of hours later and I'd still only be half-way through the store. There were so many new and strange things. Many had labels in Spanish and I'd struggle to read them and wonder how I would use it or whether I would like it. It was fun, though El Jefe thought I was nuts.
The meats were mostly unidentifiable with names that I didn't recognize, like mano de piedra (hand of rock? or was that mano de pierna - hand of leg?), and cuts that I still don't recognize. Trips to the store were often frustrating because I never seemed to accomplish the list even when visiting both of the large grocery stores. Oddly enough, sometimes both stores would be out of exotic items like sugar, flour, lemons, tea bags, or our Honduran brand of coffee.
But the surprising thing to me is that a lot of the things that I thought I would miss, I really don't. Maybe I did at first, I can't remember now. Some essential things, like good bread, Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream, and good yogurt, I now make my own or at least a close approximation.
Just as you can find Asian or Latino markets in much of the US, we have our own import stores here in La Ceiba. Fiesta and D'Todo carry a lot of gringo favorites Both stores have expanded recently so I guess there is a big market for that kind of thing. The shoppers are not only gringos, that's for sure.
Some of the missed things may surprise you
I'll sheepishly admit that I've always been a McDonald's quarter-pounder fan. La Ceiba doesn't have a McDonald's and I felt deprived. On the rare occasions that we went to San Pedro Sula, we HAD to go to McDonald's. Sadly, either Honduran McDonalds are not up-to-snuff or my tastes have changed. It was so disappointing that we don't even bother to go there any more.
Some of the things that I missed in the beginning are the strangest things − foods that most people would never think about missing. I never thought I would miss them but I did.
Tuna sandwiches and dill relish. Oh, we have tuna here but for the first 4 years all I could find was tuna mush packed in oil. I'm a tunafish snob and have to have solid white tuna packed in water. I tried to adapt and tried some of the cheaper ones. Yuck. I told El Jefe they looked like pre-chewed tuna.
After a few years, one of the gas stations started sporadically selling the 'good' tuna. We would feel like we'd struck gold and stock up buying 8 or 10 cans at a time. The price was like gold, too. Now, seven years later, good tuna can be found most of the time and I've lost interest. Don't need it anymore. Baleadas are the new tuna sandwiches for me.
Dill relish is a rarity in La Ceiba. A variety of brands of sweet relish can always be had. In the first 5 years, I found dill relish twice (an apparent ordering error on the part of the store owners) and foolishly did not stock up. Now it is a permanent entry on my San Pedro shopping list, where dill relish apparently is not outlawed. I don't use a lot of relish (tartar sauce, hot dogs, and tuna sandwiches), so 2 or 3 jars usually last a year.
When you finally find it
Since the CAFTA treaty was signed (whether this is a coincidence or not, I really don't know), we began seeing more US food products. That's nice, but sometimes they just seem so expensive that I don't buy them. Other times I'm happy to see whatever it is and buy it, but it isn't like I've been pining away for it.
But when you finally find something you missed − MmmMmmMmm − it is better than ever! You enjoy it all that much more.
We make the occasional trip to San Pedro Sula and Pricesmart where we are able to find tender steaks and a larger variety of spices. We've found a meat market in La Ceiba (Piara) which has better meat and will cut to order. We also occasionally ask a friend to bring some spices or other things that would be nice to have.
I'm sitting here trying to think of what food items I really, really miss and oddly, I can't think of anything right now.