Almost 20 years ago, I took 2 years off from my normal life and served a full-time mission for my church. I abandoned the comforts of a dorm room with built in entertainment of every kind and a dining hall flush with food and headed off to Japan where I abstained from most forms of entertainment and cooked and cared entirely for myself. Most of my days were incredibly busy, and if they weren’t, we did everything we could to make them busy. Even so we always found time to talk about the things we missed–music, sports, movies, and of course girls. You would expect these things to be of particular interest to 19- and 20-year old boys, but you might be surprised that what we missed most often was food.
The foods we missed were simple things. We would have loved one of Dad’s steaks or Mom’s spaghetti, but those weren’t the things we talked about. We longed for simple staples of our daily lives: maple syrup, mayonnaise, peanut butter, black licorice, beef jerky and root beer. We missed them so much we learned how to make them ourselves. I still have the mayonnaise recipe from my Grandma, but ironically I now prefer Japanese mayonnaise. Maple syrup was probably the biggest reminder of home as we had pancakes every chance we could. Every week we made a batch. Maple syrup extract to missionaries was like cigarettes to prison inmates. Whenever someone would transfer into our area, we would make a quick inventory of his food. Few things would bring more relief than finding out the new guy had his own maple syrup extract and wouldn’t be draining our finite resources.
These comfort foods were so much a part of our palette and daily lives that we didnâ€™t expect to miss them. We always had these foods and expected to continue to have them wherever we were. It turned out the Japanese palette was significantly different. We had fun watching their faces as they tried to make it through a large spoonful of peanut butter or the spitting attack brought on by a bite of black licorice. Of course this was a two-way street and they had fun feeding us fermented soybeans, salted fish guts, or fish testicle soup. As the family gets ready for our big trip, we have talked about which foods will be our fermented soybeans or fish testicles. I recognize the world has become much smaller in the last 20 years. Foods have become much more global and fast food chains much more ubiquitous, but there will be foods for all of us that will be our maple syrup or mayonnaise. What will they be? And which will be the items we dislike at first, then learn to like and finally miss after we return. What will be our Japanese mayonnaise this time?