You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Thrifty Travel Mama | Expat Life - American FoodEdit August 16, 2011: I’ve explored more stores and online expat forums and become good friends with my German/English dictionary.  I’ve edited the list below to reflect new finds.

I’m approaching meal plan burnout.  I only brought a handful of recipes from my US collection, and I think all boys (big & small) are a little sick of having pizza, spaghetti, lentil soup, and lemon chicken in the rotation. We miss Morningstar Farms Black Bean Burgers and Alexia Spicy Sweet Potato Fries (the onion rings are delish too).

I spent some time this weekend searching for new recipes, especially slow cooker/CrockPot ones.  I was frustrated after only like ten minutes.  I quickly realized my problem: a variety of ingredients and the extreme lack thereof.

I found so many recipes that called for things like a can of this or a can of that, refried beans, baked beans, cheddar cheese, cream-of-something soup, ricotta cheese, a box of cake mix, a box of cornbread mix, a bottle of BBQ sauce, sweet potatoes, a whole chicken, chicken thighs, chicken wings, chicken quarters, chicken brains (just kidding), etc.  This really limits my options.  Like really.  Like totally.

I should also add that we don’t eat pork, sausage, or really any other kind of meat except chicken, beef, and turkey (no weird parts either, please).  That’s about half of Aldi right there.

Since I often get asked by super great friends and family what they can send me that I can’t get here (and for super great readers that are just curious), I thought I’d compile a list.  Then instead of fumbling for ideas off the top of my head (which I am, uh, uh, um, terrible at), I can just politely thank them and refer them here.

Some items I’m going to list below can be obtained in Germany but are included because they are either (1) eye-popping expensive or (2) Sherlock-Holmes-grade difficult to find.  Or the store is on the other side of town nowhere near anywhere I might possibly need or want to go.  Or it tastes so incredibly different from the original that it doesn’t even count as the same (black beans with sugar, anyone?).

(side note: I discovered that has food for sale just like have a look around and let your own eyes bug out at the prices!)

And, yes, I am a do-it-yourself-er and often make things on my own.  But, I now have three nights per week where I need something that is fast (as in 20 mins or less, start to finish) or can be made ahead in the CrockPot.  My freezer is hilariously small and cannot hold more than one frozen pizza or one bag of French Fries, but not both.  Edit: I have a new fridge/freezer now!

  • Goldfish crackers
  • Nature Valley – style crunchy granola bars
  • Graham Crackers
  • Molasses (I hear it exists but have never seen it)
  • BBQ Sauce (expensive; only at certain stores)
  • Ranch Dressing (liquid & seasoning packets for things like fries, dips, etc)
  • Yellow Mustard (such as French’s)
  • Peanut Butter (just peanuts & salt)
  • Mac & Cheese (instant) – Rewe carries the boxed stuff for 2,50
  • Stuffing Mix
  • Whoppers
  • Reese’s / any other peanut butter candy
  • Jelly Beans / Peeps / other American-style holiday candy
  • Refried Beans – Rewe carries Refried Beans for 2,00 per can
  • Black Beans (dried or canned – that taste like real black beans) – Found at a Portuguese store
  • Jalapenos (raw) – Found jarred jalapenos for salsa at Rewe and an Asian ethnic food store
  • Tortillas – Aldi and Lidl carry flour tortillas during American weeks
  • Salsa!
  • Tortilla Chips that taste like tortilla chips
  • Taco / Fajita seasoning – Rewe carries Old El Paso brand but it is almost 2 euro per packet
  • Spices (we have salt, pepper, garlic powder, curry, paprika, and cinnamon – everything else is €€€)
  • Hominy
  • Corn tortillas
  • Other Mexican / Tex-Mex ingredients (chiles, cumin, chipotle powder, etc)
  • Cheddar Cheese (only at certain stores – from Ireland) – Lidl regularly carries sliced cheddar
  • Ricotta Cheese (actually found this today – but only one kind, full-fat)
  • Greens (like spinach and kale – I have seen spinach but it is sold in a huuuuge bag, dirty, and rare)
  • Sweet Potatoes – Rewe stocks sweet potatoes and I have seen them at Real-
  • Brown sugar (the soft kind – we only have the crunchy crystal kind)
  • Chocolate Chips / White Chocolate Chips / Peanut Butter Chips
  • Vanilla Extract
  • Cream of Tartar
  • Cool Whip
  • Chocolate Syrup
  • Pancake Mix
  • Canned Pumpkin
  • Bagels – Lidl and Aldi offer these during some American weeks
  • Breakfast Cereal (we have some kinds of Kelloggs cereals, but that’s about it / definitely nothing high-fiber!) – Found bran flakes at Lidl
  • Dr. Pepper / Root Beer / Cream Soda
  • Almond Milk (soy is everywhere but anything else is hard to find)
  • Gatorade / Powerade
  • Unsweetened cranberry juice
  • Turkey Bacon
  • Salmon (something similar is sold but it’s not the same)
  • Edamame
  • Frozen French-Style Green Beans
  • Vital wheat gluten (for homemade wheat bread)
  • Ziploc-style bags (not food but expensive and hard to find)

As you can see, trying to be creative in meal planning without standard staple ingredients you are used to week after week can get older than the annual Christmas fruitcake.  You eat it ‘cuz you have to, not ‘cuz you want to.

Do you have any fresh quick-to-fix dinner ideas?  I would love to hear them!  Even links to great websites with fast, healthy recipes would be greatly appreciated.  Now, go make some chicken nuggets, mac & cheese, and Frenchy green beans and think of me.

Oh and if you happen to stop by this blog, live in Germany, and know where I can find these things – I’d love for you to leave a comment!

8 thoughts on “You Can’t Always Get What You Want

  1. I live in Mainz and shop locally…I’ve found spinach at the local hof in my dorf. I can also get the ingredients for homemade salsa from there too, even the peppers. Much cheaper at times than buying at Lidl, although I do like their organic produce at times. I’ve only now found your blog…Do you live somewhere close to local farms?

    • Hi Melody! How awesome that you can get everything for salsa – I’m jealous! I’ve seen spinach (fresh) from time to time at the discounters (like Lidl), and sometimes the baby spinach at Rewe but it is not cheap. Unfortunately, we don’t live near any local farms. My neighbor used to subscribe to a “Gemuse Kiste” from a local seller, but I’m not very good at cooking spontaneously so it didn’t work for me to get a surprise veggie delivery every week.

      • The produce deliveries were popular in our area in Japan too. I think I’ve seen a couple of our older neighbors get it too, but I think it’s because they are a lot older and it’s harder for them to go to the stores even a few minutes’ walk away. We’re a few minutes outside Mainz so all there is behind our home is vineyards and produce fields. It’s lovely really and I’m sure that’s why our produce is so cheap. I know folks who’ll come into the icy for market days. Can I ask which town you’re near?

  2. Zuckerrübensirup is a great substitute for Molasses. Has worked perfectly for me in things like gingerbread cookies. I also use it to make brown sugar. Just mix it with plain white sugar. Approximately 2 tbsp per 1 c sugar, but its really just add some until its the right darkness if you want light or dark. Mix well with a fork. This will also give you a great arm workout as it takes a bit of effort to really get it mixed well! I make a big batch and just store it in a tupperware. Some Rewe’s have a Mexican line called Fuego that includes refried beans and black beans (although its not with the international foods for some reason). In one Rewe it was by the chips and in another just on a random endcap). Tegut also has taco seasoning.

  3. I live in the west part of Germany and I completely understand your frustration. I miss America and it is definitely hard to find ingredients that you need to make your recipes. Luckily I live near Aachen. A lot of the items on your list can be found at Real- and Kaufland. Real- has a Getränkemarkt that carries Dr. Pepper, Schwepps, Coke, Sprite, and Fanta. If you know any U.S. military people near you, then they can take you shopping on base at the commissary. Oriental and other ethnic stores may offer other food items that you can’t normally find at German chain stores. Unfortunately, it’s hard to get fresh vegetables year round unless it’s during their growing season. The towns or cities usually have a fresh market on certain days of the month. You won’t find some food or drink items from America because EU has banned them due to their ingredients. I’ve read that Gatorade and Powerade were on that EU banned list. I hope that this was a little useful to you.

  4. I had the same problem when we first moved here – almost all of my go-to recipes were useless. I’m slowly learning how to make some German dishes, since those are the ingredients that I can usually get. But you’re right, we just have to gradually figure out where we can buy stuff and what we can do without. 🙂

    • Yes, it can be pretty frustrating when all your recipes call for at least one thing that is nonexistent, difficult to find, or super expensive. I forced myself to try new ingredients and experiment with new recipes and make the things from scratch that I really wanted to eat. Now I have a whole new set of go to recipes that don’t require much of anything processed or packaged – win! 🙂

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