American Expats Obsession With Ranch (and Other Random Shit)


American Expats Obsession With Ranch (and Other Random Sh*t)

I am always so defensive of what others perceive Americans like to covet, buy and eat. Most of time people are right. Our cars are too big, the houses are ugly and we can't stop ourselves from buying sports apparel. But listen hands off out food! Food is a passion of mine. The anthropology and history of it, the issues with it like insecurity and sustainability as well as just enjoying it! I am a huge advocate of not judging people for their food choices. It irks me when Europeans claim Americans have a horrible diet. Most of them saying this have never been to America or befriended an American to actually know about our diets. Also those ranting and raving do not realize the Americas are two gigantic continents with multiple peoples, cultures and cuisines. So grouping everyone together when there are fascinating and faceted food histories in Mexico, Peru, Cuba etc it is extremely disappointing. The U.S.A. is a melting pot of many European, Asian and African people. So many of the popular foods are impressions or imitations of the above. I find that so many things Black and Southern folk alike are totally inspired by German old world dishes. So many of those traditional, fork mashable, one pot, comfort dishes are derivatives of all European cuisines. When someone insults us and claims all we eat are hot dogs, pancakes and donuts I rush to change the narrative. Then someone always manages to come in and ruin it with their fucking heimweh for ranch dressing. Then I give up on defending us. 
I understood full and well moving here there would be things I would never see again. Tide detergent, Cookout corn nuggets and Louisiana hot sauce. I demanded some things like being able to bring all my spices and have a German crock pot awaiting my arrival. And I will admit I wasn't  completely prepared for entering a store and seeing that cereals, bleach and hair products were not internationally universal. I had been disillusioned by France. In my opinion, there is simply nothing France doesn't have. Despite all the things I had been told, France not only had most everything but it all tasted so much better than back home but then I came here and ...

But I never had any meltdowns about the absence of ranch dressing

I think one day I had a craving for it and went to a local Rewe and realized this wasn't a thing. I opted for a knoblauch one which is exactly what I did in France. But the guilt free, yogurt based, mildly seasoned if any dressings were devoid of flavor. Germany is always overly excited about flavor and markets many products as tasty but good for you. Most of these things with weniger sugar or salt have other additives to simulate naturally good flavors like onion, garlic, soul and love. That day I went to the internet and found a plethora of recipes for a basic ranch dressing. I was shocked to see all ranch was comprised - mayonnaise, sour cream, garlic and milk. The rest of it if you desired was totally up to interpretation i.e. z.B. buttermilk, chives, onion powder etc. But that base set of ingredients always yielded a perfect homemade ranch that could be thinned, seasoned or whatever. I went to the expat and American groups with my new found discovery and I was bulldozed with angry comments about wanting to just go to a German grocery store and find proper ranch dressing. I immediately argued that France doesn't sell French dressing and Germany will never have ranches so therefore the absence of Hidden Valley. I dropped the base recipe anyways and people not only continued to argue with me but also told me ranch is so much more than that as if it was a national treasure. I mean it is sugar, salt and MSG too. I think the recipe provided was devoid of that and it would and could suffice. But no. I was a rotten person, a troll even, for telling my fellow Americans they couldn't have their preservative riddled, store bought ranch dressing. 

I didn't realize some people cannot survive without it

There are Americans who pour this crap into the Insta Pot with chicken and call it a night. I live to eat. I curate my meals and I do not just eat anything for the value or convenience. I stopped buying and consuming jarred and canned things so long ago to avoid synthetic ingredients, sugar and yeasts. Most times when I need a dressing or a vinaigrette I make it on my own. We keep good oils, vinegars on hand and not every creamy dressing has to be ranch. There is a killer maple chive mustard dressing I like from Gwyneth Paltrow's first cookbook. The Chef makes a thick basil and raspberry umami take on dressing. It is so easy to put egg and anchovies in a blender and have a fresh Ceasar dressing. These things take minutes to make. Most of the time I make these things by hand in a measuring cup with a whisk. I don't have a high end blender or mixer. Now that I know how to make ranch, I do make it sometimes and my in laws refer to it as my leckerer knoblauch soße. I don't correct them. I just make it and thin the hell out of with almond milk so there is enough to go around. I really do not encounter any Americans at least not to the extent that I would entertain them for dinner. But over the years I have pretty much found a substitute, replacement or the real thing for everything I miss from back home. There are only a few exceptions most of those being brand specific. But again my information falls on deaf ears when someone complains about not having Publix or a fucking Walmart in Köln.

German stores have 5000 items, American ones have 25,000+

For my husband a place like Publix or Walmart was simply intimidating. The convenience and variety is well noted but these concepts don't work here. I mean Walmart tried so now we have -Real which is trash. The concept of a big box with too many things collecting dust, spoiling and rottening because Germans are unsure about it or don't want to pay the import costs is futile. I pay 6€ for pop tarts because I have an obsession. I like French's mustard, Heinz sweet relish and Tito's vodka and I will always pay whatever they charge for them. My husband likes Frosted Flakes and Rice Krispies which can be 10€ in specialty stores. We seek these items out in those weird American sections in local stores, online and we sometimes go to The Netherlands which caters to those fun, novelty foods. One could say the stores in other countries within Europe do offer more than German stores. I find things I have been looking for in other places with such ease. I understand that not everyone has the time or means to do this. Right now we cannot just take a day trip to Aachen for proper Mexican ingredients or cross the border for boneless, skinless chicken thighs. We have to make due with what we have. So if we have the elements of things we miss why don't we just make the effort and re-create them. All you have to do is try. But I personally give up offering to help expats figure it out. Google and Pinterest it yourself. 

More times than you think there is something comparable (not just in food)

Bleach is carried in Turkish stores. Salami is pepperoni here. Asian markets always carry baking soda, cornstarch and brown sugar. Korean stores specifically will have good salt, proper rice, corn and rice syrups. Small mom & pop schribewarens have lined college and wide ruled paper and notebooks. Both DM and Rossman have excellent generic products that rival popular brands in the States. Budni offers a lot of American branded beauty products. Polish stores have smoked sausage. Italian stores have provolone and ricotta. Mexican stores have tortillas. The Metzgerei is your friend and he has ribs, turkeys and bone in hams. All the Backerei have fine breadcrumbs and classic white bread. Health food stores have all the different flours for your baking needs. Aldi is virtually the same as America down to the weekly ad. Imitation cheese slices, condensed milk, evaporated milk, proper macaroni elbows, XL eggs, cream cheese, sour cream, cranberry juice, cake flour, shortening and pie dough all exist in every grocery store. You can ask the apotheke for alcohol and peroxide. Top sheets and normal pillow cases are sold at Zara Home. Most sliced white cheese is Swiss but without holes. Sephora is here now and at least better than the J.C.Penny version. Taco Bell is The Netherlands and Spain. Google Translate isn't always accurate but there are similarities to elsewhere. Flours have numbers. Light blue is typically signifying light or lactose free. Typically whatever you are looking for is at least found in the same places in a store. Milk powders are near the cereals. It is always milk, cream, sour cream then yogurt. Packaged meats have a picture of that animal on it. The rare juices are typically in a glass bottle down at the end of the juice aisles. Most tampons with applicator are in a compact form near the OBs along with OTC feminine care because god forbid we touch our own vaginas. Tbh this is my best adopted German thing because who wants to fumble with plastic sticks while squatting over a public toilet in Köln. 

Now there are dealbreakers and lost causes 

There are no steel cut oats (hafer grütze is close), coffee creamers (evaporated milk in a box called kaffemilch isn't it) or grits (there's polenta but no). Germany doesn't have Hungarian paprika, Cool Whip, cream of tatar, all spice, savory pickles or Kool-Aid. Forget about saltines, oyster crackers or chicaronnes. The rainbow sprinkles or jimmies they sell here suck. Cake donuts do not exist. Birthday cake is devoid of sugar so must make your own. Germans don't know what pie is. Kale is not year round and other than the occasional mustard green at an Asian market there are no leafy greens outside of lettuce. So many fruits and vegetables are seasonal - spinach and asparagus (all colors) can just disappear. Do not expect to find a lot of lean cuts of bone-in meat. There are no chocolate chips. Peanut butter taste bad and so does Dr.Pepper, Sprite, Skittles and Ginger Ale. Not all the Powerade flavors are available same goes for cereals, M&Ms, types of potatoes, chilis or condiments ranch dressing included. You can befriend people on American military bases her and ask that they go to the PX for you. Just do not get caught being sneaky. You can smuggle things in after visits back home - I have smuggled many a can of Rotel. You have people send you things but then there's customs. Vanilla extract is expensive here. All the flavors of chips taste like weak BBQ. You may find things like grits online but they are typically out of date. Everyone knows Germany has no OTC drugs or anything for pain. So in most cases you just adapt and live without. Cold brew flavored tea makes great flavored water without diabetes. Cake suppliers sell all the things to make an American style cakes. Department stores will have sizes 46 -52 for women who aren't in dire need of true plus size clothes. More on that here

There may be a good reason for all of this

While I acknowledge for a lot of us the lack of some of this stuff is a problem. Therefore I am always searching for solutions. Thankfully, I have the means and the time to seek this all out. It is very rare now almost four years in that there is something I cannot get to fulfill these needs. I also do not feel the need to complain or argue about the lack in every forum, group and thread. To be honest, I see the same idiots doing this all the time and I am wondering when they are just gonna make it and be done with it. I don't see enough people asking where are the collard greens or the difference between paprikas and bell peppers. I do not see a lot of confusion or being lost in translation. I see an inability to adapt to a new and foreign land. We can live without so many of these convenience and processed items especially related to food. So many of these things are so riddled with artificial and synthetic ingredients they are simply banned in Europe. They aren't here because the government wishes to protect you from them. This can also include certain cleaning products, makeup cosmetics and  certain brands that don't fit EU regulations for safe use. When I found out about these specific brands that are not available for these reasons I was perfectly find with pivoting to something better for me. There are also plenty of international brands whose product lines are tailored to regulations here so maybe a certain color, flavor or scent isn't a thing here but there are alternatives. There are also situations where a manufacturer refuses to provide a product that won't be popular here in Germany. I don't like that my foundation color is a rare find here but there are more fair skinned people then people that have my complexion. This also goes for hair colors, hair and skin care lines and even the types of shoes offered. Germany is the land of ugly sandals but the market for sandals as a whole is small as the season is like two months top. I am obsessed with cute sandals as a former Floridian. I just switched to Birkenstocks. From Duke's mayo to Heinz. From Quarter Pounders to Royal Käse's. 

So just make the ranch.