Culinary Ambassadors: Desert-Island Pantry Staples

Serious Eats' Culinary Ambassadors check in from time to time with reports on food fare in their homeland or countries of residence. Here's the latest! (Find out more about CA or join here!) —The Mgmt.


[Photograph: Liz Hawthorne]

I'm all for eating both adventurously and locally, but sometimes all an American expatriate wants is a little taste of home. So what sort of pantry items are worth toting from the U.S.A. to South Africa? Here's my Top 10. I'm willing to bare my soul and withstand your mockery in the name of Culinary Ambassadorship.

1. Pepperoni: Although a few pizza places here offer a topping called "pepperoni", more often than not it turns out to be salami. Grrrr.

2. Ranch dressing mix: Nothing tastes more like America than a good smear of ranch dressing. The secret formula for replicating runny restaurant-style ranch at home? 2 parts milk to 1 part mayo and 1 part sour cream. You're welcome.

3. Corn tortillas: Dependably horrible African Mexican restaurants don't even know about the existence of corn tortillas. Order enchiladas, and they'll smile sweetly while serving you gummy flour tortillas.

4. Cheerios: I wouldn't bother bootlegging cereal around the world (especially since our local grocery carries both BooBerry AND FrankenBerry!), but we always tote some back for our friends with toddlers.

5. Grits: It seems crazy to import a ground corn product into a country where most of the population lives on, well, ground corn, but nobody does it like the quakers.

6. Sriracha: A Thai hot sauce invented by a Chinese-Vietnamese guy, produced in California and smuggled to Africa? Welcome to the global village, y'all!

7. McCormick Enchilada Sauce Mix: Trashy, but delicious. Don't judge until you've tried it.

8. Molly McButter Cheddar Flavor: Though I wouldn't advocate using this shockingly orange pseudo-cheese in recipes, it makes an awesome popcorn topper.

9. Chili powder: Every grocery store spice aisle I've checked out has its own version of "chili powder", and I've seen everything from egg-yellow to coal-black mixes. For the sake of making American recipes, I stick with the American kind.

10. Alka Seltzer: Hey, I'm living on diet of ranch dressing and powdered cheese.

Liz Hawthorne

To find out more about the Culinary Ambassadors initiative or sign up, see this SE Talk thread »