Saturday, 13 February 2010


Debby's last post has put me in a reflective mood. and after a long comment on her page I'm thinking about adding a few posts about cultural differences in food and eating between USA as I know it and New Zealand. We first travelled in USA in 2005 and I was very surprised to find that the food was very different to what I was used to. After all we are both countries that have a strong European influence, largely British but lots of German, Dutch and Italian as well. New Zealand is strongly influenced by trends in USA. Our TV programs are heavily weighted toward USA. The British influence is waning. Both countries have an abundance of Fast Food Franchises although this is still not as extensive in NZ as USA. Our total pop. is less than 5 million spread over an area aproximatly the same as Florida so not the same pop. base to make too many franchises viable. USA once had a rural pop and still today many people live in small communities and towns so I expected to find an appreciation of natural food. I was not surprised to find all the processed and convenience food in the shops. I was overwhelmed by the variety. On that first trip we took 7 weeks to drive from Miami to LA through 13 States. Everything was a novelty. We were often wide eyed, children from the sticks enjoying a different experience while feeling safe, not too often beyond our comfort Zone.The shops were just a huge extension of what our SuperMarkets do. We did struggle sometimes with the scale of things in the States. The most remarkable thing we noted during our first few days was the difference a large population makes in every area of life. It was a broadening experience for us.

Our very first meal in USA was at Max's, Union Square, San Francisco. I can't remember what we ate but I do remember embarrassing the waiter by asking what is an appropriate tip. He was very nice and not at all greedy or grasping as I thought a city waiter might be. There my love for the American people began to increase in leaps and bounds. I must admit tipping was always a struggle for us. New Zealanders generally consider tipping akin to begging. We don't understand an economy that considers tips a part of the wage structure.

TWJ has just found our travel diary and here is our first meal in USA. TWJ had a hot dog. I thought it was disappointing because there were only 3 mustard choices and fries. I'm not sure what I thought a hot dog is but maybe I expected to see some kind of sauce, we would definitely have served tomato sauce or ketchup, and other veges, maybe salad too. I had the ground sirloin beef with mashed potatoes, baby spinach and mushrooms. I was very hungry but I couldn't eat all of it. I remarked that the beef was as large as 3 hamburger patties. It took us a long time to appreciate the wonderfully generous, American understanding of a serving size. Occasionally we shared a meal but TWJ and I eat differently ... He kept making what to me were very unhealthy selections. Sometimes we got boxes but again because this was a foreign practice to us we found it weird and often it wasn't compatible with travelling.

There were 3 things that became negatives in our eating experience on that trip. After several hours in the car we would climb out and walk into a restaurant. We'd be barely seated before the waiter/waitress asked what we wanted to drink. I would politely ask about the choices then feel my eyes glaze over. By the time the list was complete I had forgotten the first. Most times I settled for iced water. The water would arrive, more ice than water. Now I like cool water but heavily iced ...no no no! On this last trip I finally learned to ask for small ice or ice on the side. New Zealanders would have 2 or 3 ice-blocks, (1"x2" is a large ice block) at most, especially if the water is already cool. We think it's a real cheat to fill the drinking container with ice then splash in a little Soda or whatever.

Choices. choices, choices. I'm starving and the wait person is asking innumerable questions about how I want the meal served, what kind of salad and do I want this or that on it and just when I was totally exhausted making all these so important decisions I would be asked what dressing and another loooong list reeled off. In New Zealand Sub-Way is the only place I know that does this. Most times we had climbed out of the car and immediately walked in. We were still trying to orientate ourselves when bombarded by. I didn't find it so difficult on this last trip but maybe we usually walked around a little bit before going into a restaurant, and we knew what to expect. The third thing was chili. We quite like a little spice, the occasional curry, lots of pepper and a little chili. But somewhere around our 3rd week we were both complaining of stomach pain and had to cut out chili.

air-boat ride after lunching on alligator bites and frog legs

I wanted to experience American food and we made some weird choices. I remember somewhere in the South having okra. It looked like slimey green stuff. The texture was awful. Once was enough. TWJ had fried frog legs and alligator bites at the Miccoskee Restaurant in Florida before we took off in an air-boat across the swamp. I had a nibble and found it was just like any fried food with a mild fishy taste. Although fried food, especially fish and chips, is a common takeaway food in NZ it's not something we eat often.

New Zealand.

Water is usually served in a jug or carafe on the table and we pour our own. There should be a slice of fresh lemon and some ice in the jug.

Servings are usually about 1/2 to 1/3rd of what we found in USA.

We have Take-aways, like burgher bars, MacDonalds, Chinese and other ethnic, and many non-franchise places. Eating out or fast rather than home-cooked is an increasing phenomena. The art of carrying a flask of hot tea and picnic lunch when travelling is dying out. Restaurants vary from Cafes where you order and pay at the counter and are given an order number before finding your own table. These places serve a range of food from muffins and cakes to toasted sandwiches, pasta, savoury pies and salads. They all serve a variety of espresso coffees but never the brewed coffee we found in the States, sometimes filter, a variety of teas and cold drinks but water usually has to be asked for unless there is a self serve fountain/tap. Restaurants are a little classier. You are seated by a waiter/waitress, a carafe of water is brought to the table and you order from a menu, paying as you leave. The variety of food is endless and there is a good range of restaurants in every town. Some bakery's have tables and serve food and coffee, Cafe style.

Today is an at-home day.

Breakfast. TWJ porridge made in the microwave with rolled oats and water, a pinch of salt. Served with brown sugar and whole milk. We grew up with fresh cow's milk which is nearly impossible to get now. We'd use organic except for the extra cost.

Me Smoothie made with frozen strawberries, 1/2 cup each of milk and water, plain yoghurt and 1 scoop of whey protein powder.

Lunch TWJ cheese and bacon toasted sandwich, cooked in a non-stick fry-pan with 2 large slices of bread buttered on the outside. He eats 2 of these.

Me salad made with iceberg lettuce, red capsicum,, grated carrot, finely sliced onion, parsley and 2 chicken sausages sliced, served with Paul Newman Light Balsamic Vinegar. The sausages are left over from last nights meal. This is not an exciting lunch but it will do.

Dinner Pork Stir-fry.

This is all pretty ordinary food. We are staring to run our of some things. I am working toward one shop per fortnight with only a small shop between for perishables.

I'm going to take a leaf out of so many other Blogs and set a day once a week to post about our take on food in USA and what we are eating. Since today is Saturday what better day to begin.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting read! I'm going to love hearing about your country, and your journey!

I'm at:


I know you came by once. :)

Take care!