Learning to Eat Again

Last summer I returned to the U.S. with a little bit of extra weight–and I don’t just mean excess baggage. A year of crafting (all the while drinking tea and eating baked goods!) and little to no exercise will do that to you. Within the first week back I had started CrossFit and then slowly started working towards healthy eating. Baked goods were the first to go. Then I started making healthy meals (many inspired by Skinnytase.com) and eventually ended up eating a more Paleo-style diet. I say Paleo-style since I never could get on board with the whole eating-like-our-primal-ancestors philosophy, but a lot of the concepts like eating real food with minimal to no preservatives or additives I am definitely on board with. In May I started the Whole Life Challenge and refined my diet to the point where I stopped adding milk and Splenda to my morning coffee, avoided things like olives and Peperoncini at the salad bar because they MIGHT have an artificial ingredient added, and passed on every single work potluck (conveniently hosted in the cubicle next to mine). And, I guess I’ll add that all of that did work. I went back to my pre-crafting pant size, maybe even a bit smaller.

But this isn’t a post about weight loss (or the dangers of all crafting and no exercise). This is a post about how hard it is to maintain your eating habits in a new country where you don’t speak the language.

At first it’s all fun and adventure, and you’re on vacation and you’ll eat anything!

My very first meal in Budapest! Grilled pork medallions and some kind of sour cream sauce with pumpkin seed oil (which apparently is a delicacy here).

But then at some stage you’re ready to settle into a routine and start cooking for yourself again. Which means you’re going to have to go to the grocery store.

And that’s where things get tricky.

I know, I know. Going to the grocery store while you are traveling is so much fun! You get to discover strange local products, see what the local are filling their carts with, pick up fun little goodies for a picnic lunch in the park. (Christine at Almost Fearless had a post about this exact thing today!) But when you are permanently living in a place, it’s a little bit of a different thing. This weird little grocery store is now my grocery store. The novelty wears off pretty quickly.

Reading labels is the first thing to go out the window. Not only can I not find fancy Whole Foods-type products with all organic and natural ingredients, but I couldn’t read the labels if I tried as they are all in Hungarian.

The first trip to the grocery store is a little overwhelming: trying to figure out what everything is, observing all the unique local products, trying to figure out where the baskets are (why aren’t they by the entrance??), and of course, on top of all that, what to cook for dinner in your new apartment with bare cabinets and an empty fridge.

I’m not sure my first trip to the grocery store actually yielded much in the way of a meal.
IMAG0198And then there’s the fun of trying to figure out the look-alikes at the store. Oh, good, here’s the butter! Wait, what if it’s margarine?? How can I tell the difference?
Here are a few interesting things I found at the grocery store this week:

Lots of packaged mystery meat

Lots of packaged pork and mystery meat in tubes


Looks like cat food, but it is indeed human food


Some interesting beige and brown offerings from the deli


The most horrifying food I have ever seen in a deli case. I’m not sure I want to know what this is!

I would be remiss if I didn't point out a small portion of the sour cream selection at the store.
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out (a small portion of ) the sour cream selection at the store.
So my strategy for navigating this all is just to stick to what I know in the beginning and make those old standbys that are easy for me to cook–without taking into account “eating clean” or Paleo or any other healthy eating style. The first week before I actually got to cooking was a lot of cheese, salami, and Caprese salad (they sell the packaged, fresh mozzarella balls here just like in Italy!). And when I finally did get around to cooking . . . pasta, risotto, stir-fry.

A recent dinner at home

A recent dinner at home

This past weekend I went to the fancy import grocer and got a couple of fun items. I spent a lot, but it was nice shopping in a store with nice presentation and someone who bagged my groceries! It’s also comforting to know that you can get some of those things that you are really missing when you want them. (Hi, Frank’s Red Hot!) Interestingly enough, some of my purchases were not even American (tuna from Italy, Crème fraîche from England).
IMAG0269And so, learning to eat again . . . For now I’m just eating what’s convenient. As I settle into a routine here and learn my way around the grocery store I’ll start to get back to my old, healthier eating habits, instead of eating in (what I’ve been calling) “survival mode.”

I’ll probably even learn a few new tricks in the kitchen. Tonight I stopped at the store for chicken on the way home and picked up a small jar of paprika; not the dried spice, but a jar like tomato paste. I had imagined it to be like red pepper paste I had once bought back home, but it was much spicier and more textured. Without even tasting it, I stirred a few spoonfuls into my chicken and veggie stir fry and it was amazing. I’m not quite sure how many kinds of paprika there are or what the intended use of this jar of paprika paste is, but it was really good. Who knows, maybe when I leave Hungary it will be my new favorite thing that I’m buying in bulk on Amazon and shipping to my new teaching destination.

Linked to the My Global Life Link-Up at SmallPlanetStudio.com

9 Comments on “Learning to Eat Again

    • Yes, but the biggest grocery store near me has a terrible selection! There is a fruit/veggie place nearby that I need to check out soon!

  1. Maybe you could hit up a grocery store with someone from your Box (that’s the Crossfit lingo, right?) and find out what THEY cook with?

  2. I love that the photograph of the HUGE selection of sour cream was merely a small part of what was really on offer 🙂 I ate in survival mode in Japan and it was so fun. Not sure I could do that for longer than a week or two though.

  3. I’m intrigued by the pumpkin seed oil… Also: I love that you managed chocolate bars in both grocery runs, and I agree, that mystery food in the deli case looked positively frightening.

    Your stories remind me of the time when Ted and I went into one of the bigger grocery stores there in Beirut at nearly the end of our stay: we found Tom’s toothpaste and thought we were in heaven after all of the other random products we’d seen since home.

    I’ll be interested to hear when you settle on your favorite grocery shopping routines. Do you find much in the open air markets?

  4. Food is such an adventure! Are there fresh markets year-round? I am glad that chocolate makes the grocery list frequently. 🙂

  5. I’m not the only one who takes grocery store pics, I see! One of the reasons I love getting an apartment when I travel is so I can go grocery shopping and try random things I find at the store. Not sure I’d try whatever is in that deli case photo, though!

    Thanks for participating in the #MyGlobalLife Link-Up!

  6. Pingback: The Beauty of the Second Year | The Present Perfect

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