My well of wanderlust has always been deeper than my pocketbook. While there’s nothing I love more than traveling the globe, exploring far-flung places, the money I’ve had for these adventures has been more limited. I’ve done lots of traveling domestically and some internationally, but in my dreams for my life, I would have done considerably more globetrotting by now.
To feed the wanderer inside of me, I visit international grocery stores. I still remember going inside an Asian market for the first time at eleven or twelve. I was mesmerized by the colorful packages and candies that were unlike any I’d seen before. At the time I had a pen-pal in Japan, and I felt somehow closer to her there. In reality I was on the south side of Des Moines, Iowa, but I felt like I was getting a little touch into her world.
As I grew older, I had other pen pals, like my Iranian pen pal. When I moved to Los Angeles, I sought out Persian Square to put my hands on packages of rice printed in Farsi.
I trekked across Little Tokyo and Chinatown, hit up the British imports store for tea, and bought bags of dried peppers in Mexican markets. I paid regular visits to India Sweets & Spices to wander the rows full of amchoor, asafetida, and anise, and debated how many metal tiffins I could justify owning. (Probably just one more. Always just one more.)
Food is emotional for all of us, and not a small reason for this is that it reminds us of home. Sometimes home is the place of our childhood or the state where we grew up. It can be the town that we adopted as our own or the country that we visited and instantly felt like a part of us. So it makes sense that a simple visit to a grocery store with packages written in other languages seems somehow transportive. It takes us to the belly of someone else’s homeland.
While I travel the aisles instead of isles, I pick up souvenirs in the form of chopsticks and sauce dishes. I linger over rice noodles of varying widths, and grab a jar of thick, sweet soy sauce. In my mind I imagine a feast in the form of a bowlful of savory noodles topped with a hearty helping of vegetables and baked tofu. It’s topped with cilantro and dashes of Sriracha for an added kick. No new ink for my passport today, but you can’t beat the price of the ticket.
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