Growing up in rural Northern England was a charmed childhood in many ways; beautiful countryside, fresh air, friends who lived on farms where we would play in hay barns and collect eggs, my grandmother nearby with her battered copy of The 1959 Good Housekeeping Baker’s Book, full of recipes that we would try together.
But was it adventurous on the food front? No. There was a provincial Chinese restaurant, the (still outstanding) Corbridge Tandoori for a ‘take out’ where you would have to go in to place your order, then sit eating poppadoms, looking at the tank of goldfish while they cooked it, and Pizza Pizza, which was next to the bus stop in the closest ‘big’ town, and was more about late night cravings than authentic Italian. I think I had sushi for the first time when I was about 25, and tried hummus when I first moved to Dubai.
As for more exotic cuisines? It has been in the last few years, through travel and friends from all over the world, and the amazing range of restaurants here in the city. My kids? Well, they’re another matter altogether. Growing up here, they have school pals whose passports span the globe, so snack time means they see more than cheese and crackers, and on International Day, their little brains and taste buds explode. If we go out for brunch they can try sushi (approximately 21 years earlier than I did…), curries, fresh pasta and seafood, a trip to the supermarket means cheese manakish with za’atar to keep them quiet, they love tacos, spring rolls and chicken adobo, cooked by our nanny Loreta.
Don’t get me wrong, they also love chicken nuggets, potato smileys, pesto pasta and – when all else fails – toast. It’s not like they say “Mama, can we go back to that Ethiopian restaurant again? I loved the injera!” but I’m very grateful that they have access to cuisines, dishes and people who will introduce them to food I couldn’t conceive of until recently. The other major perk of living in Dubai is the travel – we’re bang in the middle of Europe and Asia, and while I don’t relish flying with a four-year-old and a nearly two-year-old, at least when we have arrived in Portugal, Sri Lanka, or Bali, or Oman, we’re exposed to even more food.
A far cry from the weekends in a caravan in the Lake District or camping in France that I had as a child, when a baguette was treated with suspicion. The worst thing we can do as expats is create a little bubble, or being friends with only people with the same passport, of seeking out oh-so-familiar foods all the time, of giving in to the ‘freezer tapas’ of beige every night. We have shops full of inspiration, and cafés waiting to delight, so explore. You’re doing your kids a massive favour.