09 Oct Penguins


I happened by a Scottish bakery yesterday and popped in to see what sort of goodies they offered. Currant-filled eccles cakes, buttery shortbreads and various meat pies lined the display case. The woman in front of me had placed a very large order and was about to leave when she spotted something on the shelf above the counter.

“Are those Penguins?” she asked in a thick Scottish accent. I mistook the note of excitement in her voice to be a charming Celtic lilt.

“Yes, they are,” said the clerk in an equally thick brogue.

“How much?” The woman sounded positively eager.

“A pound thirty-five.” The clerk held up a bar the size of a family-sized Kit Kat. She pointed to the price printed on a corner of the bright blue package. “But here, they’re three ninety-five.”

“Ooooh… I’ll take three.”

The clerk lifted three floppy packages off the shelf. “Careful,” she said, handing the stack to the customer like Prince Charming presenting Cinderella with the glass slipper. “They’re worth gold.”

The woman left with her treasure. When it was my turn to order, I asked what Penguins were, anticipating a long, rapturous explanation. The clerk shrugged and said, “Chocolate biscuits, dear. Now, what’ll you have?”

Clearly, if I had to ask I wouldn’t understand.

I’ve no idea whether a McVitie’s Penguin is superior to other chocolate biscuits or not, but it was obvious this was a taste of home for these women. Having lived abroad, I know that what I missed most wasn’t always top-of-the-line cuisine. Why else would friends have mailed me Tim Hortons’ rims when I was studying in Australia?

So, set your food-snob preferences aside and tell me ― When you’re abroad what says “home” to you?

Photo © Steve Deger, published under a Creative Commons License.

No Comments
  • Dana McCauley
    Posted at 16:31h, 09 October Reply

    Good God, I’m relieved! When I saw the picture and the title I thought you were eating actual penguins – after your post yesterday about foie gras and veal being upsetting foods for you I was shocked on more than one level!

    Glad they turned out to be cookies. Did you buy some? Were they good?

    I’ve never lived abroad or traveled for more than a few weeks at a time but I always love coming home to my own kitchen.

    I think if I were away for a long time i would miss a lot of things like pure maple syrup and Oka cheese.

  • Christie's Corner
    Posted at 17:15h, 09 October Reply

    Dana, your response made me laugh out loud. No, I was not about to post a recipe for penguin. Those little birds eat nothing but fish so they stink to high heaven!!

    I briefly considered buying a package, but there were only two left. I clearly wasn’t going to appreciate them fully and didn’t want to deprive a homesick Brit of their biscuits.

    Maybe next time…

  • Anonymous
    Posted at 19:10h, 09 October Reply

    When I was travelling I really felt away from home when I couldn’t get ice in my cold drinks. Also, when I was in the USA I had to explain that when I ordered tea, it ment a hot pot of tea.
    Crazy but true.
    I agree with Dana that Maple Syrup says Canada to me.

  • C. Erickson
    Posted at 23:17h, 09 October Reply

    French Fries. When I was 11 years old and in Paris, it seemed so unfair that the pommes frites weren’t like real french fries at all.

    I was with my little brother’s cub scout troop, because Mother volunteered to chaperone (of course!). We had one day to experience Paris, and we spent at least an hour of it making our way (through the red-light district, no less) to the one and only McDonalds in the city.

    As if the poor state of the fries wasn’t bad enough, our chaperones would not let us stop and play any of the “video games” we saw the grown-ups dropping francs into. :) (They were actually girlie movies, lol!)

  • jodi
    Posted at 10:54h, 14 October Reply

    I’ve never been abroad, and just made my first foray into the US where I fell in love with Kansas City Style barbecue. But as a born-Newfoundlander, what I USED to miss here on the mainland were Purity peppermint knobs, bakeapple jam, and cod cheeks n tongues. No, not all together. The cheeks n tongues would be panfried with scruncheons (salt pork bits); the bakeapple jam would go on toast or biscuits; and the peppermint knobs were for anytime, of course.
    I can get all three of these now, thanks to Purity expanding its market, Pure Labrador putting out awesome sauces and spreads, and haunting the fishmonger at our local farm market. But still, they’re best enjoyed back on The Rock of My Heart.

  • Christie's Corner
    Posted at 11:16h, 14 October Reply

    Good point, Jodi. You don’t have to leave the country to miss a regional food. The jams sound wonderful, but I’m not sure I’m up for anything cooked in scruncheons (it goes against my no-pork policy).

    Carolyn, that’s one severe French fry addiction. But when the craving hits…

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