There are many times and different ways that living abroad challenges you. Quite often, these have to do with food.
Today, all I wanted was a damn sandwich.
Sounds simple, right? Right! So off the local Fresh Price grocery store I went, to stock up on the old essentials. This was gonna be good…
Right! So immediately upon entry, I found myself in the bread “section.” I insert the quotes only because Singaporeans don’t like bread that much. But still, off to a great start! My eyes quickly perused the smallish but tempting selection—nope, don’t want that one, it’s got green coloring, and that one red. That bread’s sweet, and that one has a funny swirl. The Mediterranean Panini flatbread, despite its seemingly confused ethnic/national lineage is tempting, but really all I wanted was a long, crusty French bread. Voila! Okay, this loaf may not be crunchy, but this long loaf does indeed carry the nom de plume of the Françoise. One in a row, I’m on a roll! Well, it was more of a baguette, but the “roll” pun was still intended.
Just past the bread was the cheese “section.” I insert the quotes only because Singaporeans, while liking cheese to a fair degree, eat shitty cheese. A few grated ones, a few block ones, but why oh why do even the Colby’s appear to be an off-white or yellow color?!? Where the HELL are the orange colored cheeses?!? Argh!!!!! This is getting frustrating. Patience, glasshoppa. All right, cream-colored Aussie sliced cheese it is. Note to self: please do not let this be the “kangaroo cheese” you read about on the internet.
Okay! Let’s let bygone cheeses be bygones. Next I passed through the vegetable area. Selecting from the four heads of “US Iceberg” was easy—simply select the one with the least slimy, brown, near-translucent leaves—quite simple! I briefly wondered why they didn’t refrigerate these beauties of U.S. agriculture (even if they came from Vietnam), but beggars can’t be choosers, right? Unfortunately, it often seems even choosers cannot be choosers.
All right, what else…onions! Can’t have a killer sammy without ‘em! Red or white….hmmm…quick check for Vidalias…nope…so red or white…well, the white bag seemed to emit a smaller poof of tiny flying bugs when I picked ‘em up, so white it is.
Now to grab some tasty cold cuts that will really blow this sandwich up and send it right off the hook. As I looked to the end of the aisle, there they were—a whole end cap! Damn……or……rather…….Ham. Breakfast ham. Ham with herbs. Picnic ham (HOW THE HEAVENS is that different than ham ham?). Honey baked ham. Where the F is the turkey!! For Sneaky Pete’s sake. All this fly-by-not snake oil seller of cheap dreams had was six different kinds of friggin’ ham. What in the world is with Singaporeans apparent obsession with ham, and their apparent hatred for all other lunch meats?? Thank goodness me and ham, we’re okay.
At this point, I’m losing the sandwich faith. But still soldiered on.
What’s next? Oh yeah, mayonnaise, the freakiest of all dressings. At the local Fresh Price, this came down to the unusually large selection of a random looking Australian brand, the “Fair Price” store’s own, and one single, solitary, seemingly lonely bottle of Kraft Mayo. Well I don’t know about you, but I don’t trust the damned Aussies when it comes to egg-based emulsions, and I am definitely not going generic on this one. I blew the dust off that Kraft and man, I was back in business. Ooh! Thousand Island is “in da house.” That’d be a nice compliment. Goin’ generic on that one.
At this point I knew I’d be pushing my luck with pepperoncini peppers (and indeed, I was), but perhaps some pickles would add that extra little “somethin’ somethin’” and give me a true taste of home. Hmm…of the two bottles on the shelf, what would be best, sweet gherkins or ‘standard’ burger slices. Gotta be the latter. Damn, what I wouldn’t give for a hot pepper that wasn’t in the “Asian Death Pepper” family, or a non-sweet but still intact pickle. Note to self: smuggle in massive amounts of peppers and pickles on next trip back home.
It was at this time I realized it is indeed Christmas season all over the world. I’m not sure if the insane time difference between this, my adopted home, and that, my literal one, was so large that Christmas no longer seemed Christmas, but I guess it all just comes down to what I like to now call the December 25 factor. As evidence that there is only one holly jolly holiday, a suitably goofy Asian rendition of “Rockin’ Round the Christmas Tree” came over the Fresh Price’s not-to-up-to-par P.A. system.
“Funny,” I thought, as I came upon the tuna fish section (no, I wasn’t making a tuna fish sandwich, but with a spare baguette, overly ample supply of Mediterranean Panini bread, plus surplus pickle juice and mayo this seemed a no brainer) “that’s so American.” Never mind that Christmas does not literally equal America—I’m a damn transplant living in the godforsaken jungle of Singapore—I make my own cultural norms!
Surely, this one would be simple. Fair Price tuna, or other weird tuna company. Okay, can do (or in Singapore speak, “Can Can”)—no matter which. But variety, yes, that will matter. Let’s see. Tuna with chili. Black pepper tuna. Tuna flakes—Brine. Tuna flakes—olive oil. Tuna chunks in soya oil. Oh, for heaven’s sake. Really? Then, it was like the tuna fish seas parted, revealing that which I sought…tuna…chunk…water. Three simple words, one (hopefully) great taste.
Well I got all my stuff, eagerly limped home and made a sandwich.
How was it you ask?
How was it you ask?
Average. Below, pictures of the “masterpiece” and of Lin laughing her ass off hearing me tell the story of my sandwich making afternoon. So supportive.
Postscript: A word on Potato Chips
While ingredient shopping for my ‘wich, I rightfully thought, “What better to pair up with a cold cut sammy than some good old fashioned potato chippers?” That’s right, nothing. Reaching the appropriate aisle, and moving past the vast reserves of prawn crackers, I found the mother lode. Fair Price brand? Not feelin’ it. Lays? Well, yeah of course they’re good and definitely “homey” but the bag was kind of big and I wasn’t looking to live at home, just to visit it vicariously through greasy taters hittin’ my taste buds. That left me with the Japanese ‘Calbee” brand, which offered a wide variety, low price point, and fairly small packages. They also offered the only “ridges” option—and those of you that know me well know that I love me some rockin’ ridges. So I bought ‘em.
Big mistake. It turns out “original” means pretty-damn-cheesy flavor. Ugh. It wouldn’t be so bad, if they didn’t have “Spud,” the Calbee tater chip mascot, lookin’ all American in his county fair get up (see picture below)! Is it me, or do his miniaturized potato sash, pilgrim shoes, and barbershop quartet hat SCREAM Americana?!? Keep it original, Spud! Dang.
Here’s the thing, Asia. Sometimes it’s best to keep things simple. Like a pizza, or a sandwich, or a can of tuna fish. And we should all remember to keep our originals separate, ideologically, philosophically, and physically, away from our new originals and better than evers.