Hyde wrote a blog about this topic last year, but here are my thoughts…
I have been living in Germany most of my adult life, and for the most part, I have learned to move past the few foods that I really miss from the US and just simply live without them. I moved here in my early 20s, and to be honest, I really couldn’t cook. At that time, I missed things that I would hardly consider “real food” at this point in my life — things like Kraft macaroni & cheese, frozen ravioli, and Reese’s peanut butter cereal. I still miss the combination of peanut butter and chocolate, and I still crave proper tortilla chips and easy jarred salsa that isn’t full of sugar, but otherwise, I have learned to make do.
So when I am using my American cookbooks, I often have to either substitute or just not make certain recipes because the ingredients are non-existent or very hard to get. Most of these things are convenience foods, or at least canned foods. Here are a few, off the top of my head.
1. Frozen corn: I have only seen this in the Bioladen and that was just recently. There are all sorts of varieties of canned corn, but no frozen corn. You can get corn on the cob once in a while in its original state, but it doesn’t taste anywhere near as good as I remember it from the roadside stands in Michigan or from my grandma’s garden. I’ve even seen it vacuum packed in Aldi!
2. Canned black beans: I love black beans. They are really popular in vegan and vegetarian recipes, and of course, in Mexican ones. I have found them in the Bioladen in dried form, but the only canned ones I have seen are from that random German “Mexican” brand, El Fuego. They are sitting in some sort of chili sauce, and are simply just not the same. Break out the pressure cooker, people!
3. Cilantro/coriander: This is an ingredient that Jamie Oliver loves. My husband likes to cook alá Jamie, and whenever he asks for coriander, I cringe. Sometimes Rewe has it. Sometimes Lidl has it. But they never have it when we need it. It usually requires a trip to the Asian store. I have also tried to grow it, but it is somewhat sensitive, and I seem to always kill it.
4. Kale: Again, we have been trying to eat less meat. Lots of the usual vegan/vegetarian websites have lovely fall kale recipes, but it is hard to find. It seems to be a bit more common now than it was in the past decade, but it isn’t in the regular supermarket. I recently found it on the list for our CSA box. I have seen it frozen (Grünkohl).
5. Baby spinach: This one seems to be around more than it used to be, but again, I have only really seen it rarely at Aldi and more likely in the Bioladen or in those Grosshändler that my restaurant friends shop in. Regular spinach just isn’t as nice. But I do enjoy the frozen Rahmspinat, and amazingly, so do my kids.
6. Brown sugar: Granted, you can get something that is called brauner Zucker, but it isn’ t made with molasses and it certainly is much drier than American brown sugar. I have seen Cynthia Barcomi, an American cookbook author who has a cafe in Berlin, use Grafschafter Goldsaft in her recipes together with sugar to achieve the same results. Who would’ve thought!
7. Canned pumpkin: I have never seen this here. In recent years I have seen a lot of places carrying Hokkaido pumpkin. I have learned to just cook it and puree it myself. Of course it isn’t a quick process. I miss canned pumpkin.
8. Corn tortillas: Sometimes you can get these in the Old El Paso burrito packages, but I haven’t seen them on their own before.
9. And of course, the usual suspects: real bagels, American baking powder (double acting), molasses, graham crackers (although Butterkeks work in recipes), corn syrup, whole wheat pastry flour, proper english muffins, etc.