As a Canadian abroad, here’s what I long for.
In no particular order…
All-day breakfast. I really missed this in Japan. Places stop serving breakfast at 11 am (even McDonald’s!).
My Japanese friend said “If you want breakfast so badly, can’t you just go there at breakfast time?” (I know some stand-up comedian has covered this as well, but I can’t remember which one.)
And my answer is: Nope. I need more time. And what about when I want breakfast food for lunch or dinner? (I think this says something about why I could never live in Japan long-term.)
Fortunately, I’m now in Bali, where 8 am to 6 pm breakfast menus are the norm.
Poutine. I hardly ever eat poutine, but people keep bringing it up because I’m from Canada and it’s the only Canadian thing they’ve heard of. (Well, that and the Raptors winning the championships this year.) My pick for the best poutine: the original at La Banquise, Montreal. Smoke’s Poutinerie in Toronto is an acceptable substitute, though.
Italian breakfast sausages. I like them all burnt and crispy from being roasted in the oven.
Aged white cheddar. Particularly a hefty slice of Balderson 2-year-old Royal Canadian white cheddar on top of one of Mary’s Organic Original Crackers (both found at Costco). Or broken off in chunks and eaten inside a fresh ACE baguette with thinly sliced black forest ham. (From Metro grocery stores; or in Quebec, inside a Premier Moisson baguette with President’s Choice Stone-Roasted Ham, from Provigo.)
Microwave popcorn!!! The only place I’ve seen this is Rimping Market, a fancy grocery store in the basement of Maya Mall in Chiang Mai. Buttery microwave popcorn is one of the first things I’m having when I get back home. In Japan, people only ever eat pre-popped popcorn in bags (like bags of chips). It’s stale, room temperature popcorn—deeply unsatisfying.
Lindt sea salt 70% dark chocolate bars. Okay, you can find these around, but they cost double the price as back home.
Key lime pie gelato (from Hollywood Gelato in Toronto). I will never not miss this item. It’s literally the best thing I’ve ever tasted.
Cherries. July and August is cherry season in eastern Canada, and I missed it this year! You can get them in Asia, but they are, of course, wildly expensive.
Pizza by the slice. I’ve managed to find excellent pizza in every city I’ve been to, but it’s always the kind where you have to order an entire pizza and wait 20 min for it to be prepared. This is inconvenient for those times when you don’t want a whole pizza and have nowhere to store the leftovers (because you’re staying in a hostel). What I crave: freshly baked pepperoni pizza from Pizza Pizza, C$5 for two slices.
Good bacon. I learned to stop ordering bacon cheeseburgers in Thailand because it’s often disgustingly undercooked. In Japan, the bacon is okay as long as you train yourself to expect a slab of fatty ham, rather than delicious crispy streaky bacon. I will say the bacon in Luang Prabang and Bali has been much closer to ideal. Still, I can’t wait to microwave a whole package of bacon to perfection when I get home. (I also miss Canadian bacon, but that’s a different food altogether.)
Plain steamed vegetables. I buy the frozen bags of cauliflower, broccoli, and carrots from Costco and eat them every day back home (alternating with peas, zucchini, green beans, sweetcorn, and frozen Asian-style vegetables when I get bored).
Raw baby carrots. A great snack with hummus.
Roast broccoli, asparagus, mushrooms, brussels sprouts, and zucchini (with grated parmesan, butter, and/or bacon…). I’ve largely had to do without these in Asia. I’m not a fan of limp Chinese broccoli drowning in oyster sauce, so I just try to order salads now and then.
Montreal bagels with cream cheese and smoked salmon. I don’t trust the smoked salmon anywhere inland in Asia. The cream cheese is strange, not the dense, creamy blocks of goodness like back home. The bagels are just doughnut-shaped bread, with no sourdough tang to them at all :(. (By the way, my favorite Montreal-style bagels aren’t actually from Montreal… they’re from The Bagel House in Toronto. Blasphemy, I know.)
Waffle cones. Even when the ice cream or gelato is good, and served in a sugar or waffle cone (my favorite), it’s often ruined by the cone being stale. I think Canada and the US do cones better.
Sweet potato fries. I haven’t seen these anywhere! They’re usually a staple food for me. I chop sweet potatoes into cubes and roast them, or throw the frozen fries from Costco into the oven (when I’m lazy). At restaurants back home you can usually upgrade regular fries to sweet potato ones for $2 extra. I wish you could do that here, but I haven’t seen them anywhere! (The closest I came was at a Don Quijote in Japan—a random everything store, like Honest Ed’s in Toronto—where whole sweet potatoes were roasting on a grill near the checkout line. There was no other hot food available. The smell filled the whole checkout-line area. I found this bizarre, although my Japanese friend thought it unremarkable.)
Liberte lemon yogurt. Specifically the Greek yogurt that comes in a 4-pack of containers. These are great on their own, but even better if you bash up a digestive biscuit and sprinkle it in. Then it’s like a “healthy” lemon cheesecake… (I am fiercely loyal to Liberte, a Quebec dairy brand, when it comes to yogurt.)
Whisps. Another Costco staple when I’m in Ontario. These are addictive little parmesan crisp things. My mom is sometimes kind enough to buy separate bags for everyone in our family (“When they’re gone, they’re gone” she says, as she hands them out) because otherwise we’ll fight over them.
Buttermilk pancakes. I use this amazing recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction. Restaurant pancakes are never as good, sadly. The best they can do is mask the bland floury taste with whipped cream and lashings of coulis.
Honeycrisp apples with chunky peanut butter. The only kind of apple worth having.
Home-baked goods in general. Right now I want to make apple-cinnamon muffins, paleo pancakes (coconut and almond flours), lemon poppyseed cake, apple cider, blueberry pie, pecan pie, apple pie… I miss fall baking.
My mom’s carrot cake. She adds crushed pineapple and raisins and tops it with a ton of fresh cream cheese icing. Omg, my mouth is watering right now.
My mom’s lasagna. The best lasagna in the world. I stopped ordering lasagna at restaurants after being disappointed, one too many times, that it didn’t even come close to being as good as hers. (Well, I did enjoy the lasagna at Lola Rosa, a vegetarian chain in Montreal. But last time I was there they had changed it to a gross spinach version :(.) The same goes for my mom’s chicken parmesan.
Mashed potatoes. This is not a thing in Japan, where I spent the past six weeks. They were on the menu at Cloud 9 in Canggu, Bali, though, so I had some three days ago and can now cross this one off the list.
Things I surprisingly don’t miss
I thought I would miss these things, but was pleasantly surprised to find they’re readily available on this side of the world.
Good pepperoni pizza. Having done some extensive taste-testing, I can now tell you my picks for the top pizza in Asia:
Why Not? serves the best pizza in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Duke’s is a close second (a chain, but I visited the Maya Mall location; also has heavenly chocolate cheesecake). There are two more places I’ve heard have great pizza, but haven’t had a chance to try yet: Monday Sick Leave, and Adirak Pizza.
In Bangkok, I had a gourmet pizza experience at Pizza Pazza, Phra Arthit location (a surprisingly cute street near Khaosan Road): half smoked salmon, goat cheese, and arugula, and half prosciutto and parmesan. Yum.
Hanoi, Vietnam, is probably the only place I’ve visited and not had pizza. I really enjoyed the local food there. In Saigon, I wanted to try Pizza 4P’s, but it was always too busy or closed. I went to Italiani’s Homemade Pizza instead, which was really good!
Luang Prabang, Laos has the (no longer secret) Secret Pizza, but I didn’t make it there either. Out of the other pizzas I tried, Popolo’s was the best. They have really good salads and bread too—the free bread actually stood out to me more than the pizza. (Important to note that this says more about the greatness of the bread than anything else.)
I didn’t have a single standout pizza experience in Tokyo, despite being there for six weeks! I think I got a bit sick of pizza after trying so hard to satisfy my crispy pepperoni craving in Chiang Mai. Of course, that’s not to say I didn’t have any pizza. The margherita at Saizerya (an Italian-themed chain seemingly aimed at children and the elderly) was passable. I usually had it with a side of green peas topped with bacon and a fried egg. (It comes with a poached egg, but these are invariably served cold, for some reason, so I always ask them for a fried egg instead.)
Maple syrup. I knew a guy from South Africa who said maple syrup was the thing he missed most in the world when he was over there, and that he always stocked up on cans of the stuff in Canada, so I was all set to miss it like crazy. Then I find it’s used everywhere over here! In Japan you can even get pancakes stuffed with margarine and maple syrup from 7-11. These are mega-convenient: you just microwave them for 10 seconds, cut into them, and have the perfect buttery-maple-y pancake right there. (The margarine part is surprisingly non-gross; I wonder what they did to get it to taste more like butter.) (Of course, these are merely the perfect convenient, store-bought pancake. They are, as mentioned above, nowhere near as good as a fresh buttermilk pancake, which is seemingly impossible to find.)
Savory crepes. I like a sweet crepe (bananas, strawberries and dark chocolate, mmm), but sometimes you want your spinach-chicken-pesto toppings on a robust savory crepe. Never attempt to get a savory crepe from a food truck or food court in Asia: I’ve tried it three times and they were all made with the same batter as the sweet ones, a disgusting combo. However, I’ve ordered savory crepes at sit-down restaurants in Luang Prabang, Tokyo, and Bali, and they were all as good or better than what you can get in Montreal! Better than Paris, even, since they were cheaper. (I do miss the special buckwheat crepe from my beloved Juliette et chocolat in Montreal, but what can you do.)
Thai food. Turns out I like American-style Thai food more than the real thing (so there’s another blasphemous admission for you). I found the pad thai and other noodle dishes in Thailand were often dried out and crusty, limp and greasy, or both. I like basil chicken, chicken satay with peanut sauce, pork omelettes with rice, and vegetable omelettes well enough, but I got bored of those after a week. In the end, my favorite Thai food was cheese toast from 7-11.
Foods I ate in Asia that I’m sure to miss when I get back home
Mango!!! In Luang Prabang, I got two freshly chopped mangoes from the market for 15 cents. I will never find mangoes as cheap, plentiful, or perfectly ripe in Canada :(.
Pineapple and watermelon. My favorite accompaniments to fresh mango.
Fried sun-dried beef from The Writer’s Club & Wine Bar in Chiang Mai. I’m told the “beef” in Chiang Mai is, more often than not, water buffalo. Nonetheless, this tastes like hot chewy beef jerky, and it’s delicious.
Bun cha from the alley next to The Burrow hostel in Hanoi. I was lucky enough to stay at a hostel in Hanoi that’s right next to THE BEST bun cha in the city. This is meatballs in a savoury broth, served with rice noodles and fresh greens. I will be going back to Vietnam for more.
Paysanne salad (from Le Benneton cafe in Luang Prabang). I already told you about this in my Luang Prabang post, but did I go into detail? No. So here you go: crispy lettuce, juicy sun-dried tomatoes, cubes of almost-caramelized bacon, perfectly poached eggs, and a red-wine-balsamic-vinegar dressing that complemented the whole thing. I will spend the next few months at home trying, and probably failing, to recreate this salad.
Chocolate croissants from 7-11 in Japan. I’m sure these are made with margarine and not butter, but they taste like the real thing! Especially if you give them 3 minutes in a toaster oven… so flaky, so chocolatey. I’m drooling again.
Cheese bread from Antendo bakery in Tokyo. I’ll have to tell you about this in my Tokyo post, but this will do for now as a description: mountain. of. cheese. inside. bowl. of. bread.
Strawberry cake from any Japanese bakery. This is basically white cake (something I usually look down upon as the inferior version of chocolate cake) in between layers of whipped cream, with a few strawberries in the middle and on top. But it’s really really good! Another thing Japan does well.