Adapting to a new Food Culture: The first time I travelled to Germany

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My First Day in Berlin…

Whenever we move to a new country, the first day is the most memorable. And no matter how bad or good the first 24 hours are, it becomes one of your sweetest memories. You might not even remember your university days, but you will always remember that day. Those who have actually moved could very well relate to what I am saying, and for those who haven’t, you should experience this feeling at least once.

When I came to Berlin for the first time, everything was going smooth until I decided to charge my laptop’s battery. As I was inserting the wire, I realized that my original adapter was too big for the electric socket and I, of course, forgot to bring the universal adapter. So, I decided to buy one. According to my information, my apartment was supposed to be in a busy area, but to my surprise, it was so quiet outside that I could hear myself breathe. Everything was closed. I prayed that it better not be a zombie apocalypse. 

As I searched for ‘electronic stores nearby’ on the Internet, I realized that Germany and India are polar opposites. In India, the most amount of sales happens on Sundays, but in Germany, almost everything remains closed. I got so tense because my phone was about to die next. I didn’t know what to do then. I was a little anxious and scared as well. So ultimately, I decided to do the most obvious thing in this situation. Yes, I decided to eat something. Because why not!

I decided to play safe, that’s why I ate something that is not new to me. So I ordered a vegetarian wrap. Firstly, I paid €6 (INR 480) for something that costs not more than €2 (INR 160) back in India. Secondly, it had hummus. I don’t have any personal issues with that thing, but I didn’t even know what it was at that time. I didn’t throw it but I regretted buying it for sure.

This Feeling is not a Sickness, but Human Nature

The evening time was the hardest. I was alone in my room, it was cold as the heating was still switched off, it was too silent for me, and the sky was too beautiful. Funnily enough, I was not familiar with such a peaceful environment. I was a little scared and lonely. The term we use for this feeling is Homesickness

Homesickness is a flawed concept according to me. It categorizes us as homesick and not homesick. I believe that this feeling that we get is way more generic. It defines us as humans; not differentiates us from others. This is not a ‘sickness’ but human nature and this feeling is inevitable. If things tend to not go in a planned way, or we face difficulty, or if things get out of our control, or we are not in our comfort zone, this feeling ought to come.

Living without Indian food

My first 5-6 months were a nightmare. As you have some idea about how different Germany and India are, it was natural how long it took me to get used to the local food culture. One of the many things that bothered me was the prices. 

As the standard of living is higher in Germany than in India, so are the prices for everything. For instance, I ate at an Indian restaurant for the first time 8 months after I moved there. As a student, it is just too expensive. If I compare, I could cook meals for the whole day with the money that I would spend on a meal at a restaurant.

(Top-left to Bottom-right: Jeera Rice, Chapati, Pulses, Indian veggies, Rajma, Choley, Kadhi, Pani-puri and Aloo-Chana Chaat)

As I had my University, I could only manage to cook pretty basic Indian dishes like Jeera Rice (Cumin Rice), Chapati (Indian flatbread), boiled pulses and some vegetables. As I was not experienced, I didn’t have the skills or the speed to cook a variety of dishes.
I missed eating Rajma (Beans curry), Choley (Chickpea curry) and Kadhi (Gram flour curry), the most popular curries with rice in North India. I missed Indian street food: Pani-Puri, Aloo-Chana Chaat (Potato-Chickpea Chaat) and Momos (Tibetan Dumplings) with spicy sauce. I missed Aloo-Poori and Choley-Bhature, the world-famous Indian breakfast. I missed Gajar-ka-Halwa (Carrot Halwa) and Kheer (Indian Rice Pudding), my favourite Indian desserts. I missed those buttery-stuffed parathas. I missed the fragrance of Indian Ghee (clarified butter). But most importantly, I missed the taste and flavour of the food that my mother used to cook.

(Top-left to bottom-right: Momos, Aloo-Poori, Choley-Bhature, Gajar Halwa, Kheer, Stuffed Parantha, Indian Ghee, Namkeen and Maggi noodles.)

Indian stores saved my life. Though everything seemed expensive, I was able to manage the expenses quite well. I didn’t have to worry about finding Indian food to cook. Along with raw food like rice, flour, pulses and vegetables, the stores also offer many ready-to-eat Indian snacks, popularly known as Namkeen in Indian households. Lastly, one thing that every Indian traveller who is less than 30 years old will have in their suitcase. It is the most famous instant noodle in India – Maggi. I was surprised to see Maggi noodles in Germany. It was always at the top of my shopping list.

The worst part about living away from home

Everyone will tease you. This is so annoying. I still don’t get why teasing me with pictures of home-cooked and festival-special food, or street food is funny. A get-together, a birthday party or a vacation, I would receive tons of pictures. Initially, I felt left out. Of course, some people send pictures as they think that this will cheer me up. 

My mother used to send me pictures of the food she cooked. I remembered the taste of her food, I could see it, I could see my family eating it on a video call, but I can’t have it. I always got so emotional and jealous. 

With time, it didn’t bother me that much. Obviously, I blocked some relatives and turned off notifications for the others. Joking apart, it gradually stopped bothering me.

Indian Food never tasted like home

In Berlin, I have tried Indian food at more than 10 restaurants till now, but what fascinates me is the fact that none of them has the authentic Indian taste. The food is good for sure. But it never gives me a feeling that I am sitting in India. I always felt like I am not in India. This always reminds me of the saying that I learnt in my childhood in school – ‘Water water everywhere not a drop to drink’. You can say – ‘Indian Food everywhere but without the taste’. 

I never really understood why this happens. Indian stores are so developed that you will get anything you need. The food that my friends and I cook at home teleports me to India. It feels like I have finally eaten something. 

Then what was wrong with the food at the restaurants? Why does it not taste Indian?

Adaptation

When we migrate to a new country, we slowly become comfortable in the environment by adapting ourselves. As you would have noticed, in the beginning, I was very uncomfortable. As I was not able to cook properly for myself due to University, I gradually started eating local food. I remember when I tried Currywurst for the first time. Then, there was a second time and a third time. After a while, I started liking many local dishes. In fact, a few like Döners and Grilled Chicken are even a part of my occasional diet. But my love for Spätzle is irreplaceable.

(Top-left to bottom-right: Currywurst, Döners, Grilled Chicken, Spätzle.)

Similarly, in restaurants and marketplaces, Indian food has adapted itself according to the taste and preferences of Germans. For instance, Indian food is very high on spices, while German people don’t prefer spices. So, what happens in such cases? The restaurants alter their recipes just so the majority of people prefer their food. They have to adapt according to what people like as the competition is fierce as well. You don’t give people what they want and they have other places to go to. 

If we look at the other side of the coin, though changing the recipe is helping your business grow but it is depriving the Germans of the opportunity to try authentic Indian food as well. As an Indian, I know how to cook food the way it should be cooked. I was lucky enough to cook at home and enjoy myself. 
Check out EasyCookAsia Indian Recipe boxes below. Cook using what’s inside and let your Indian friends be the judge.

Improve your knowledge of what makes Indian food authentic and how you can do the same. 

The Art of adding the Indian Taste to Indian Food

My name is Akshit Gupta and this would be my last blog post. What you read just now is my story. When I started working at EasyCookAsia, I faced a few challenges. I didn’t know anyone and I was not familiar with the work culture. I realized that we are constantly adapting without even realizing it. In a few weeks, all the faces were familiar and I was comfortable. I had a blast working with them. Just like in the story, I adapted.

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