It’s just past the one-year anniversary of when we moved to Switzerland, so we’re taking a look at some of the foods we miss from the US. There are actually a lot more than 10! In fact, we miss entire food groups – like good Mexican food – but the 10 items that made our list are either basic ingredients, staples, or “comfort foods” that are difficult to find or completely absent in Switzerland.
In no particular order, here are the 10.
1. Cheddar Cheese
We especially miss Tillamook or Bandon cheddar, made on the Oregon coast and oh, so scrumptious. My absolute favorite are Tillamook’s Squeaky Cheese Curds, which actually squeak when you chew them. Spear a couple of them and toast them in your campfire for the ultimate down-home delicacy. I certainly didn’t expect cheddar to end up topping the list of things we miss. After a recent trip to Migros, one of the biggest supermarkets here, we finally found a block of cheddar at the deli and splurged for a tiny wedge. Even though it was sharper and drier than what we prefer and it doesn’t melt well, we’ll keep buying it because it’s the only cheddar we’ve found. Chedda’s just betta!
2. Chocolate Chips
Apart from a bag of Hershey’s chocolate chips our friend Rana brought back from Lebanon and gave us, we’ve gone without for a year. Hershey’s, Guittard, Nestlé, Ghirardelli’s – white, milk, semi-sweet, toffee, peanut butter, dark, mint, bittersweet, M&M, butterscotch….. How I miss you, sweet little morsels. Interestingly enough, did you know that when Nestlé wanted to add Ruth Wakefield’s recipe to their packages of Tollhouse chocolate chips in 1939, all she asked for in return was a lifetime supply of chocolate? Pretty good trade!
3. Asiago Cheese Bagels
These were my favorite bagels from our local grocery store, but I miss bagels in general. Options in the Switz are limited to unappetizing grocery store packages of 2 or 4 plain bagels, hardly the same as ones fresh from the bakery and loaded with berries, sesame seeds, or jalapeños. Monday through Friday, I used to toast a bagel for breakfast and eat it on the way to work. Now I just have toast, the poor man’s bagel.
It’s absent from the pastry shops, and the limited supermarket versions lack flavor, texture, and substance. In other words, it’s not cheesecake. If it’s not packed with eggs, heavy cream, sugar, and either cream cheese or ricotta cheese, don’t waste my time. Homemade graham-cracker crust? Now you’re talkin’! Folks outside Oregon might not know this, but the best cheesecake in the world is actually made at Sweet Life Patisserie in Eugene. If you pass through and don’t stop, you’re committing a crime. And remember, “No bake” does not a cheesecake make.
5. Tater Tots
Tater tots actually do exist here, but I’m not sure they’re even made from real potatoes, which is ironic considering the US’s reputation for eating too much unhealthy, over-processed food (which we do). With a slightly artificial flavor and a pasty texture that makes me think the ingredients have been blended before compacting them into tater tot blobs, we just won’t eat them. The outside should cook to a lovely golden brown and the inside should be actual chunks of potato, ideally with onions and peppers as well. Do you want those tots cajunized? Do one-legged ducks swim in circles? Um, yeah.
6. Miracle Whip
Like our favorite brand of onion tater tots (Ore Ida), this little jar of white gold is made by food giant, Kraft. How to explain the flavor of Miracle Whip to someone who’s never had it? Like mayo but with more flavor? Sweeter? Tangier? Tastier? Ok, maybe not that last one – to each his own. But making pastrami sandwiches, deviled eggs, and potato salad is a bit sad without it. They actually market it in Germany as Miracel Whip, so next time we’re thataway, we’ll def pick some up.
7. Brown Sugar, American-Made
I’ve whined about this before and I’ll whine again – baking is tough without brown sugar. While I’ve been able to use something similar I found in Germany, some recipes stay sandwiched between the dark folds of my cookbook until I get around to making our own brown sugar with real molasses. Or perhaps we’ll find the real deal during our travels outside Switzerland.
This might be a bit of a dark horse and I have to admit, I’m not sure I’ve ever made Jell-O in my life without adding alcohol, but when you need 200 Jell-O shots for a river float or backyard bbq, suddenly you realize what a superb invention it was. For less than 50 cents at WINCO, you can buy a package of Jell-O, which is just a sweetened, flavored powder with gelatin in it. Add boiling water, stir, and pour into any mold, cup, or shape you want. After a few hours in the fridge, you have a tasty, cool, fruity summer snack.
Replace some of that water with rum or vodka (my preference), and you have magic, people. The ones above are some we made for a bbq in the US using orange and raspberry Jello-O, orange fruit, and flavored vodka (whipped cream vodka is excellent with these). In lieu of Jell-O brand, we tried making them here with a powdered substitute, which didn’t set up at all with alcohol added, and also using agar, which just had an unpleasant texture. I wonder if the company would send us a few packages if we wrote to them??
9. Black Olives
Wait, what? The land of chocolate and wine doesn’t have black olives? Yes, they do! But they’re really not great. We’ve tried about 10 different brands of black olives from all different stores, pit in and pit out, and they’re either so fatty they coat your mouth with lard or they taste like soap. Mmmmm, soap… Perhaps the fermentation process of European olives adds a flavor that doesn’t appeal to us, or the oxidation process in California olives infuses scrumptiousness. I dunno, but this is one time two Idahoans give two solid thumbs up to our sunny neighbor to the south.
Way to go, California!
10. Root Beer
I can understand the scarcity of sarsaparilla, but it never occurred to me that root beer is possibly even more of a North American phenomenon.
As a kid, I grew up with the best root beer available – my mom’s homemade brew. In the summer, she’d mix up a huge batch of the sweet, thick beverage. By huge, I mean her “mixer” was a brand new plastic garbage bin! She would brew ingredients like sassafras, cherry flavoring, vanilla, licorice root, sugar, and yeast, then pour it into old-fashioned glass soda jars, using what is now an antique capper to firmly affix metal lids to each jar. Then, we’d impatiently wait for weeks, periodically checking on the stacks of crated bottles outside, anxiously willing the little yeasties to do their job and ferment our favorite summer drink.
Every once in a while, a bottle would build up too much pressure and explode. Once it was ready, we’d put them in the fridge and have a nice supply of the best soda on earth. I guess Switzerland doesn’t need to sell it; my mom just needs to send us a few cases!
I have no doubt that as soon as we leave Switzerland, I’ll be blogging the “10 Foods We Miss From Switzerland”, but for now, the next time you eat any of these things, think of us. Let us be the reason you’re eating for two!