One of the things I always like to do when visiting other countries is to wander through the local supermarkets. For me, a big part of knowing a culture lies in the knowledge of its eating habits. A supermarket paints the picture of the local diet and cuisine as you will easily be able to identify staples, find out likes and dislikes and get an understanding of how people cook.
In Sri Lanka, I immediately noticed the big range of spices, the size of the tea section as opposed to the size of the coffee section, and of course the piles of rice. Coming from a country with originally relatively bland food, coffee lovers and potatoes, this is quite the opposite.
Part of settling into a country is, therefore, finding your way around when it comes to groceries. You’ll have to find new favourite products, the best substitutes for things you can’t live without, and sometimes guess what’s inside from just the picture on the package. This difference in products that are readily available in supermarkets can be very interesting (What in the world is murukku? Hmm, let me try. Oh this is great!) and at times be trying.
For me, one of the products I can’t live without is plain, full fat, sour yoghurt. I eat litres of yoghurt a week. Yoghurt with crunchy muesli. For breakfast, as dessert, as a snack. I can eat yoghurt at any time of the day. Obviously, one of the first things I looked for here in the supermarket was yoghurt. And boy, was I happy to find plain yoghurt!
The next morning I got up, excited to have my bowl of yoghurt with the muesli I had found and that had cost me a fortune. That morning was also the morning I discovered that plain here means: maybe not a distinct flavour but at least it’s sweet! Luckily one of the other teachers told me that Colombo has an organic supermarket and that I should maybe try my luck there. I hopped in a tuk-tuk and went all the way to the city centre hoping to find actual plain, sour yoghurt there. They had yoghurt, and it said that it was unsweetened, so I brought it home. Well, I shouldn’t have trusted it. Soon after, I found my way to the dairy section of a different, bigger supermarket in yet another area of Colombo, yearning for a good tub of yoghurt. Another ill-fated trip.
Even though I hadn’t found any yoghurt to my liking yet, my hunt for it had brought me around town. It was great fun to see more of Colombo (and its supermarkets!) and I found out that there are many places waiting to be discovered.
You see, moving to a different country in some ways means giving up on things that are important for you. But you’ll get so much in return. Nothing beats the smiles of your students in the morning when you walk into the classroom. Or the moment you notice that your constant encouragement of your students actually improves their confidence and brings out the person they really are. It’s worth it.
In the meantime, I have found unsweetened yoghurt. It’s not as sour as back home but it will do for now. And it’s not full fat. But ok.