One of the hardest things about moving to Libya was the food. Okay, so the scenario with the goat in the basement, and the lack of a vehicle with a 2 year old and a three week old baby were a pain in the bum, but the goat disappeared and we eventually purchased a car. The food issue continued.
Don't get me wrong, I love humous and lamb, and one of my favourite dishes is Libyan soup, but in 2002 trying to buy a curry paste or a particular Asian cuisine was almost impossible. Our trips to Malta always involved a freezer bag and a extra suitcase that came home bulging with supplies.
We'd arrived in Libya after a long stint in Asia and in that time we'd become almost dependent on a weekly curry. We'd been incredibly spoilt to have the worlds best housekeeper while we lived in Jakarta. Yanti was a women who somehow managed to make Nasi Goreng appear out of nowhere, I swear our refrigerator could have a carrot and an onion and she would somehow manage to feed ten people. To this day I've never been able to recreate her Soto Ayam (Indonesian Chicken Soup).
I'd cheated in Kuala Lumpur by using the "Indofood" mix, but without the fresh supplies there was nothing available to me in Libya to recreate the flavour. My days of Soto Ayam appeared to be over. It wasn't that I mourned the food, I mourned the memory of it. In the same way that the smell of a tuna mornay can have me back sitting in my parent's lounge room in my netball uniform, watching an episode of Dallas. The smell of Soto Ayam will immediately take me back to Yanti standing in the kitchen with a mortar and pestle giggling away at the first little traveler and I playing a game of hide and seek. Soto Ayam had been a staple of my second pregnancy, I couldn't imagine not having it through my third. Ridiculous, I know.
From Libya we moved on to Calgary, two weeks on from our arrival we decided to go on a food hunt. The first stop was Chinatown - no luck. We then headed to the South East and found a strip mall with an Asian Grocer. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that when I found the box of Indofood there were tears. I stood looking at the packet and all of the familiar names that surrounded it. Nasi Goreng, Beef Rendang, Gado Gado - little flashes of familiar faces, dinners and friends flickered through my memory.
Last week as I wandered through Chinatown, I found myself searching through the boxes of Indofood. I wasn't having any luck and when the assistant walked by he was able to tell me they were out of Soto Ayam.
"Are you sure?" I was desperate, we're on our last packet in Doha.
A woman standing at the cash register took at look at my pitiful display and yelled across the supermarket "look in the box on the floor". There it was, at our feet, a entire box of Soto Ayam. The little travelers raced off to find clear noodles and fried onion, I said thank you to the woman at the cash register a few extra times more than were comfortable. I know this because the first little traveler told me to stop being so embarrassing.
One day I'll learn how to make a proper Soto Ayam without the help of Indofood, but in the meantime finding that yellow packet in supermarkets around the world is just enough to take me back. That familiar yellow packet can have me in a kitchen in Jakarta, a house in Malaysia, and standing with tears in my eyes in a supermarket in Calgary. Sometimes it has nothing to do with the actual food. It's about a time, a place and something you're just not ready to give up.
Do you have a dish or a type of food that you're not willing to let go? Something that triggers a memory of a time gone by?