A prerequisite to successful expat life is the ability to be flexible. So many aspects of your daily experiences abroad are different from what you're used to wherever you came from. Your choices in dealing with this truth are: 1) make yourself miserable by finding fault with the culture and the lack of availability of goods and services you previously took for granted, or 2) find joy in being creative and adaptable in your new surroundings.
I can think of no better example of all this than in food preparation. We live at 8400 feet here in Cuenca. At that high altitude it takes water forever to come to a boil because of the thin oxygen. Baking requires lots of adjustments both to the amount of ingredients (more flour, less leavening, less fat) and to the oven temperature. I've never seen french fries get too brown no matter how long I've left them in the oil.
Then there's the matter of what you have to choose from when you go to the grocery store. A restaurant owner may have come in before you and wiped out the whole inventory of broccoli or romaine lettuce. Lots of items you readers in the U.S. routinely purchase, particularly with ethnic foods, are not on our shelves ever at any price.
We arrived in 2010 with naive assumptions about learning to cook local dishes. When we discovered you can get all of the local cuisine you want at lunch around town every day for $3 per person that notion was quickly jettisoned in favor of figuring out how to make what we already know how to make with what's here.
I also love flipping through food magazines and looking at new recipes online. In every case the keepers are those that can prepared as shown or a "work around" can be devised.
I bumped into a knockoff recipe for P.F. Chang's lettuce wraps. Certainly better Chinese food can be found at other restaurants in the States but we really like that dish and Asian food here is, shall we say, a bit sketchy. So I decided to give it a go.
Two challenges. First, we don't have ground chicken or turkey in the supermarket. Betcha didn't know that. No problem--ground pork is a reasonable substitute. Next, those crunchy water chestnuts are MIA as well. What to do, what to do? My solution was finely chopped carrots. Same texture and more nutrition.
The result? Voila! Edd's knockoff-of-a-knockoff P.F. Chang lettuce wraps.
Are they any good? Do you think I would have written this blog if they weren't? Hell yeah, they're fantastic!