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May 16, 2019 10:41 AM   Subscribe

We asked ambassadors where they eat when they’re homesick. We did not expect Taco Bell and Ikea. Secret Mongolian menus, Candy Saturdays, and a mother's love: the Washington Post is on the case.
posted by duffell (28 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
“The Mongolian barbecue you know is not the same in Mongolia. So not that. Thai Eatery, which is owned by Mongolians and has a menu just for Mongolians. It’s weird. They have buuz, Mongolian steamed dumplings. We have these at Lunar New Year. They’re great especially on rainy days or cold days. But you can eat them anytime in Washington because a cold day in Washington is not that cold for Mongolians.”
Who else plans to go to Thai Eatery next time they're in D.C. and ask if they can order off of the Mongolian menu?

What is up with Cactus Cantina? That place seems like the dictionary definition of "nothing special," plus it's super loud.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:53 AM on May 16 [3 favorites]

I like Cactus Cantina, but I haven't been since we lived right around the corner.

My favorites are the people homesick for places other than they country they're from: the Portuguese ambassador going for mussels because he used to live in Brussels or the Colombian ambassador getting fajitas and Taco Bell because he ate that in college. I also like the idea of the Indian ambassador either going to Rasika or going out to Langley Park to go to a place in a shopping center (but both are good!)
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:00 AM on May 16 [7 favorites]

What is up with Cactus Cantina? That place seems like the dictionary definition of "nothing special," plus it's super loud.

Stick around long enough and you automatically get locals’ loyalty in DC—I think Cactus has been around since the early 90s. So maybe someone recommended it to him as *the* Tex-Mex place in town? (The correct answer is Guapo’s!!!)
posted by sallybrown at 11:03 AM on May 16 [3 favorites]

"As part of fredagsmys [cozy Fridays] in Sweden, we have tacoskväll [taco night]"

Today I learned that my wife and I may be Swedes
posted by timdiggerm at 11:06 AM on May 16 [12 favorites]

Canada just doesn't count.
posted by Cosine at 11:17 AM on May 16 [3 favorites]

"As part of fredagsmys [cozy Fridays] in Sweden, we have tacoskväll [taco night]"

Today I learned that my wife and I may be Swedes

And candy Saturdays!!!
posted by rocket88 at 11:41 AM on May 16 [2 favorites]

"Even though it’s a chain, I like the lentil soup at Lebanese Taverna. They make it with spinach and lemon, exactly like in Azerbaijan. I got the whole embassy into it, and they tell me they love it, which I hope is true and not just because I am the ambassador."

The ambassador from Azerbaijan made me LOL
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:52 AM on May 16 [28 favorites]

"As part of fredagsmys [cozy Fridays] in Sweden, we have tacoskväll [taco night]"

Today I learned that my wife and I may be Swedes

Unfortunately the Swedish taco night food is very far from genuine Mexican food... Can be quite tasty still, but should be it's own category :)
posted by rpn at 12:00 PM on May 16 [3 favorites]

I'm not Swedish, but if I lived closer to an Ikea, I'd eat there pretty often and probably go home with those gummy horses. Great article, thanks, duffell.
posted by theora55 at 12:07 PM on May 16

This is extremely charming (someone should do a similar piece for NYC consuls and/or UN staff) except now I'm hungry for both pupusas and khatchapuri and I don't have time today for the subway ride necessary to acquire either of those things.

During my years living abroad I didn't often miss what you'd think of as "standard" American dishes so much as I did just the access to a wide variety of cuisines available in most sizeable U.S. cities. That said, there was an incident in Istanbul where I was part of an international group of scholars participating in an urban studies conference and we went on a tour of sorts to look at new construction in the outlying districts on the Asian side, and ended up stopping at this shopping mall that turned out to have a Popeyes in the food court. I'm afraid the three or four Americans in the group made rather a spectacle of ourselves but I had no regrets; it had been years.
posted by karayel at 12:30 PM on May 16 [11 favorites]

This made me so happy to read. Sometimes when I am eating something new - like a terrific Burmese restaurant that opened near us that blew my mind - I try to stop and have a Kurt Vonnegut "If this isn't nice, I don't know what is" moment. Access to world cuisine is such an immense privilege.

(And I am 100% with the Colombian ambassador. Whenever I am in France, my first stop is at KFC for the #1 best sandwich in Europe. I'm sure all the drunken revelrous nights that I ate it in my youth have not influenced my judgment at all.)
posted by AgentRocket at 12:33 PM on May 16 [7 favorites]

Here's a similar piece from Chicago, dated 2004. Some of the places may or may not exist anymore, like Pad Thai in Wheaton has closed but the old owners came out of retirement and now run Choun's down the street.
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:44 PM on May 16

the Portuguese ambassador going for mussels because he used to live in Brussels

Was...was that Men at Work song literally true the whole time?
posted by Huffy Puffy at 12:57 PM on May 16 [18 favorites]

Belgium is mad for mussels. They're everywhere.
posted by Bee'sWing at 1:25 PM on May 16

Belgium is mad for mussels.

I blame Jean-Claude Van Damme.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:14 PM on May 16 [6 favorites]

Is Candy Saturday a thing or is the ambassador from Sweden pulling our leg?
posted by fiercekitten at 6:29 PM on May 16 [1 favorite]

Lördagsgodis. It’s a thing.

I used to live in Denmark, and yeah, last time I was at IKEA I definitely got some Nordic food. Knækbrød (well, the Swedish version, given it was Ikea) is fabulous and I don’t know where else to find it in Phoenix.

You live more than one place, you’re going to be missing food from somewhere (it wasn’t until my last year in Copenhagen that I finally found decent tacos..).
posted by nat at 6:47 PM on May 16

Mexican food seems to be a universal point of nostalgia for any of my American friends in Europe. Even the raw materials are tricky to find. (Judging from how we had to source many of the ingredients from Chinese markets in Berlin, I'm guessing that Asia might be more forgiving than capsicum-averse Northern Europe).

On a related note, I once missed a party while visiting Chișinău, because the birthday girl was at the OTHER "crappy Mexican restaurant."
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 7:55 PM on May 16 [3 favorites]

“Many kinds of leaves in the garden may be used to wrap and roll, such as guava leaves, fig leaves, lettuce, etc. These ingredients together make up a unique and interesting dish,” wrote Nguyen Thi Phuong Lien, the ambassador’s wife, in her recipe for fresh spring rolls that she shared with The Washington Post.
So is that the entire recipe or is WaPo holding out on us? Either way, I want more recipe.
posted by Margalo Epps at 10:55 PM on May 16 [2 favorites]

> Is Candy Saturday a thing

It is definitely a thing - and has been for so long that adults complain that "kids these days, when I was young my parents only bought us piles of candy on Saturdays..."

The bulk candy isles in Swedish supermarkets are extensive and omnipresent. Mix and match!
posted by anthill at 2:23 AM on May 17

Lördagsgodis has been a thing since the 1950s. In my brother's household the rule is that you (= little kids) get sweets according to age. My niece recently turned five, and she's so very pleased that she now gets to pick five pieces of candy. The idea that grandma would get SEVENTY-ONE regularly blows her mind.
posted by hannala at 5:17 AM on May 17 [2 favorites]

All these great restaurants, and when I went to DC I went to Shake Shack. (In fairness, I was sticking to my low-carb diet, and the Shack did a very good bunless burger, plus it was convenient to the places I wanted to see. But I'm starting to make a list for a return visit.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:33 AM on May 17

I did not think I really missed any American food, but now I live around the corner from a place that sells A&W Root Beer which is otherwise unobtainable here and ... well, OK, yeah.
posted by kyrademon at 7:57 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]

I did the same thing when I lived in Brussels- I would call up the embassy of whatever country whose food I missed/wanted to try. I found a tiny Mexican supermarket in someone's garage, Taiwanese food run by the most jolly old Taiwanese man, and strangely, the Thai embassy led me to a brothel (!) but no Thai food.
posted by JiffyQ at 9:04 AM on May 17 [2 favorites]

Nat: where were those tacos?

posted by Seeba at 9:43 AM on May 17

Sometimes people say you have to choose candy or healthy foods. This or that. No. I am a both person.

I also am a both person, Ambassador.
posted by rhiannonstone at 9:16 PM on May 17 [1 favorite]

The terrible and fascinating history behind Sweden’s Saturday candies: Vipeholm experiments (I was looking for evidence about involvement of dentists recommending restricting candy to one day a week).
posted by meijusa at 1:03 AM on May 18

Yes. Saturday candy is very much a Swedish thing. And yes, the rationale to limit candy consumption to one day came from the dentists.

Another dental tradition we had growing up in Swedish was “flour tanten” - flouride lady. Once a month a woman (usually) would come to our classroom and we would swill flouride to strengthen our teeth enamel.
posted by Rabarberofficer at 1:31 PM on May 18

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