Ethnic food and ingredients

As you all probably know, I miss the diversity of foods in the US. Having come from the Washington DC area where you can find a restaurant or foods from every nation on earth due to the diplomatic community. It’s hard to transition to a place like Umbria. Here people are super set in their ways and foods are Umbrian and that’s all.

So if we want something different it’s on me to figure out how to make it here. My top go to foods to make are from the Southwestern US. Chili is one that, in winter, we really enjoy. Everything that goes into it comes from here except the chili powder and Chipotle peppers in adobo. Both of those must be imported from the US when we go.

We also love Chicken Fajitas. Grilled peppers and onions and chicken breast meat from here. I can find flour and (sometimes) corn tortillas here.

I add the marinade of chili powder, cumin, garlic etc. I only need to import the chili powder. Black bean chili and soup is also another favorite. Black beans are found in cans here but not dried, commonly. I buy the dried from Amazon in Germany (really). Or I ask my friends who are coming to bring them 🙂.

Amazon in German had these. I’ve asked many friends to schlep these but now that I’ve found a source I’m all set.

These I find here. I prefer the dried because cans hold such small amounts.

Other favorites are an Egyptian spiced chicken on skewers which uses African spice I bring from the US. There are African, Chinese, and Moroccan shops around if you search and they have many hard-to-find ingredients. The whole thing takes a lot of time. If I find something I’ve not seen before, I buy it.

Here are many of my ingredients that I’ve scrounged here and there as I find them.

I found a bourbon BBQ sauce recently. Really!

We also love Thai food with coconut milk. Interestingly that’s something I’ve found here and there and snatch up when I see it. Of course there are the really obscure ingredients like Kafir lime leaves and lemon grass that I have to forgo. My friend Ely grew lemon grass in her garden this past year. She gave me some 🙂

In summer I make slow grilled BBQ ribs which are popular with the Italians. I do rub them with chili and spices. I grill them on my Weber kettle grill (which we bought here) and I use soaked mesquite chips, which I found here in one, not convenient, place. But they last a while.

I also make Mexican foods. Mole is a favorite and I have to import the dried peppers, like Anaheims and Poblanos that I use as well as the chili powder. The chocolate is from here, of course. I can find avocados, papayas, etc in some stores but not reliably. Cilantro is super scarce here. People say, grow your own, but it is hard to grow. Our Moroccan store occasionally has it but you have to go in and ask.

We love Indian foods. I did a lunch for our friends of Tandoori chicken, lamb curry, eggplant, rice, cucumber salad which was fun. Another one was Lamb, scampi, eggplant, salad, Naan, rice pudding. I had to make the Naan. Not terribly difficult, and yummy.

Just a few of my spices.

Speaking of that, many things you can make yourself. You can make sour cream and buttermilk, which are hard to find. Vanilla extract is practically non-existent. When we first came I made it by steeping vanilla beans in vodka. Now I have an ample stash from friends. When in doubt I google how to make something. Or for substitutes. Cheddar is hard to find here so we bring it back from the US or Britain. Sometimes specialty grocers will have it. I’ve not been lucky enough to find any though.

Last week we bought a duck. Luther really likes duck any way. I thought it might be fun to try to make Peking duck. It came out pretty good. I found a recipe to slow cook the duck at low heat in the oven for 7 hours. Nothing to do but let it cook, and the house smelled fantastic! When it’s done you can shred it. I also made the pancakes to wrap the meat in. That was a bit tedious but with the duck and cucumbers and onions (spring onions are not common here so used red) it was tasty. Next time I’ll try more spices and will make the plum sauce.

Most recently I did a Cajun lunch for an adventurous Italian family. Gumbo, deviled eggs, quiche, bread pudding. I had to bring the file powder from the US. Also, vanilla extract in the pudding. It was a hit.


So, we make do here, with the ethnic foods we can recreate at home. And, as you can see, it is not easy to pull it off. My pantry is full of imported dried chili peppers like Anaheims and Poblanos, spicy hot sauces (I made an order from Amazon in the US, last trip, for $76 worth of hot sauces!), dried Pozole or hominy, dried black beans, dried black eyed peas, canned chipotle chilis in adobo, chili powders of various heats, file for gumbos, grits (yep for low country cooking), etc.

Just some of the hot sauces!

The only spicy thing the Umbrians use regularly is the spice Peperoncino. You can buy them whole and dried or powdered or in flakes like pepper flakes. It is super spicy and is added to things like Pasta Arribbiata or angry pasta.

Then there are the things that you just plain miss or cannot get here…which I bring back when I go home. Or sometimes a friend will gift me some from the commissary in Germany! (thanks Joanne)

And it’s not that we don’t love the foods in the Umbrian restaurants too. It’s just that our American palates crave more variety now and then. I’ve seen many posts on forums that disparage a person for wanting the tastes of home. “Why move to Italy then?!” they say. But everyone craves the foods of home. And we can love both.😋

12 thoughts on “Ethnic food and ingredients

  1. Nancy Hampton Post author

    Hi Joe, great to meet you! Sounds like you found some of the best nearby places. We have a Moroccan store here with good spices and cheap legumes. We also have a fruttivendolo who routinely has cilantro also good avocados (quality around here can be sketchy) and good stuff like broccoli rabe and turnips not readily found. Make friends with one of these places and they will special order things for you. The Brit’s around here got a huge order of parsnips last Christmas 🙂 I use the Tante e Bene store in PG for Asian stuff. Some of the Iper markets have a decent international foods section so always check. And has alot of stuff too. I got all sorts of eqyptian stuff from there and an enormous bottle of Cayenne. And finally there are some Mexican folks in Bastia Umbra who make the best corn tortillas. Email me for the name. My email is on the contact page.

    I grow hot peppers and tomatillos. If I had room for sweet corn it would be a must! I miss it so! They don’t even have frozen here! ☹️ I bring seeds from the US. My local greenhouse has Thai basil plants and also all manner of hot pepper plants every spring. You can probably find those. Also lemongrass. One thing you won’t find is French tarragon. I had to have a friend bring a plant back from Germany. You can have a cutting if you like. anyway. Send an email so we can chat! I’m a cook, not a chef, but I speak chef 🙂
    PS Italian ingredients are the BEST. It is the olive harvest now and the new oil is here! So good!

  2. Joe Valeri

    Hi Nancy! We are in the process of moving to Montefalco from the DC area and my son and I are both Chefs. We have been compiling a list of items we need a we like the same foods you mention; Indian, Ethiopian, Mexican, etc… and can cook them if we have the ingredients. We have been able to find many spices at Drogheria in Perugia and Foligno and there is one South American and two very good Asian markets in Perugia (city) as well. Foligno has a Ukranian Market. We plan to grow cilantro, Thai basil, dill and a few other fresh herbs we can’t find.

    Have you found any ethnic markets? Perugia seems to be the only place that has any in Umbria.

  3. Tess Rae

    This reminds me of the scene between Claire and Brianna reminiscing about what they miss about the future in Outlander! any particular thing I can bring you?

  4. Joanne Qualey

    You are quite the inventive cook! I agree ingredients are hard to find. I always have two suitcases filled with stuff I can’t get here in Italy when I return from the US.

  5. Nancy Hampton Post author

    HI Wendy, I haven’t seen molasses here. I had a British friend bring some back from England for me so I have a stash. Yes, I too miss the immediately available abundance of ingredients in the supermarkets back home. But I wouldn’t trade my life here for that. Umbria is a little backwards so we lack good stores too. I travel to Arezzo to the Essalunga for my big grocery fix. 🙂

  6. wendy

    This is a common conversation at our house! Coming from Los Angeles, the kids and I constantly want a variety of foods. I have done the exact same thing, I now make so many things from scratch, including the vanilla extract! Have you ever found molasses? It is fun to do once in a while, but sometimes I miss the convenience of having so many ethnic ingredients available all the time at the store.

  7. Nancy Hampton Post author

    Hey Vic, yes, I can relate, although we can’t get a lot of stuff here I do know from experience that rural America is a lot like Umbria. Herbs!? What are those? We have a big store called Essalunga. It won third best grocery In the world after Wegmans and Whole Foods. It is about 45 minutes away but we go once a month or so to stock up on things. It’s a great, American style store. Sadly cilantro doesn’t keep so we make lots of stuff using it after a trip there.
    I am happy Myrtle beach is coming into modern America. And I wish you a Wegmans in your future!

  8. Nancy Hampton Post author

    Oh yes, Audrey, Chicken is not on any menu here. I make it often at home. Bring some basic spices when you come and have fun! Sicily has great food.

  9. Audrey

    I can totally understand that. We are going to traveling around Sicily for 3.5 weeks in May, but we are getting some Airbnb’s so I plan on going to the grocery store and cooking some days. That way I can make some fried chicken cutlets or something I dont normally see on the menus.

  10. Vicki Broderick

    Hey Nanc – I got a chuckle from your blog about ethnic food & ingredients! When we first moved to Myrtle Beach, I couldn’t believe how many things I couldn’t find-at times I felt like I was in a third world country😃. I remember having a hard time getting arugula and watercress! You know we LOVE Indian – that was a joke in SC. I got pissed one day when I couldn’t find Garam Marsala. We felt happy that we could usually find all ingredients for Southwestern food – Tommy has a wonderful array of dried chilies! Funny thing is when we go to Santa Fe, we buy LOTS of “fresh” dried beans – nothing like them anywhere!!! Thank goodness, things have changed quite a bit over the almost 10 yrs we’ve been here. I assume that’s because SO MANY northerners are moving here and there is a demand for these things…whatever the reason, it makes me happy…now if they would just build a Wegman’s😉

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