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US Expat in Sydney; hard time finding US foods in markets!

I'm originally from New Orleans, Louisiana via Dallas, Texas, and have found a hell of a time finding foods I am used to in markets around Sydney. Things like...

Yellow Wisconsin-style cheddar (NOT processed cheese-food...I will kiss any Aussie who knows the distinction, because I cannot find anyone who understands that cheddar is sometimes yellow and not because there's fake stuff in it! I'm a pretty cute lady too, so this is an incentive.)

Pepper jack cheese

Monterrey Jack cheese

Cotija cheese

Poblano, Serrano, jalapeño peppers, and even chipotle peppers

Okra

Latin spices such as Sazón and Adobo

Freshwater catfish, and other things.

I come from a Southern Louisiana background and am Puerto Rican in my ethnicity, and love to cook Southern US dishes in addition to Mexican and Latin (Puerto Rican and Cuban, primarily) dishes.

I have been able to find some odds and ends at Martelli's (things like plantain bananas) and some things at Asian markets in the CBD (black beans), but I thought perhaps I am missing a key market or two that a local or a fellow expat could clue me into.

Any help is much appreciated! I will happily travel where ever to find these things.

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  1. P.S. I know I can find some things online, but shipping is expensive and waiting is a pain in the butt. Being part of the tail end of Generation X, I like instant gratification. ;)

    1. Okra is used in India.

      Isn't there a Greek cheese that is dry and salty?

      3 Replies
      1. re: paulj

        Okra is also used in a lot of Southern US dishes; today I would have liked some to make a gumbo but am having to settle just for the "holy trinity" instead, which is green capsicum, celery, and onion. I also enjoy it fried and in a bunch of other dishes that have nothing to do with India. Knowing this, though, may make it easier to find. I'll scour some Indian markets and see what's available.

        Without knowing what Greek cheese this is, I don't know. Feta is crumbly and salty but does not impart the same flavor as Cotija, plus Cotija is much more mild and creamier than Feta.

        1. re: diaphainein

          Paul probably meant as Okra is a really common ingredient you can get plenty of fresh Okra in Indian food stores - I used to head out to Seven Hills but that is a long way from the CBD.

          Herbies Spices may carry the dried chillies - I think they are online as well a their shop. Essential Ingredient is good in Rozelle so maybe give them a call. Anticos in Northbridge used to have a good wide selection of fresh chillies including some scotch bonnets - not certain about how many Mexican ones though.

          As an expat who has lived in lots of countries I understand the craving but Sunshines advice is good. Try the local produce and go native. Lots of US produce simply won't get to Aus because of lack of demand and quarantine (so beware of mail order foods - you may get fined)

          1. re: PhilD

            For the chillies, you might do better at a chillie specialist like Fireworks Foods

      2. Bega cheeses are most similar to North American varieties, in my observation. I recall there was a smooth yellow cheddar.

        1. the essential ingredient in rozelle sells chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.

          they have other mexican ingredients too, like masa harina

          1. You have hit on several things that I have found to be most difficult to get in Sydney. I make gumbo and jambalaya occasionally and have always substituted smoked chorizo and kransky sausage for andouille since I've never seen it here. One of these days I might get around to trying to make it myself.

            I've heard stories that US cheeses, including jack cheese, can be found at Costco, but I haven't made it out there myself yet to see for sure. You might have to make do with Cracker Barrel from the supermarkets until you can check it out. Cotija cheese is probably going to be hard to come by - I can't remember seeing it. Maybe try calling Agave restaurant on Crown St Surry Hills and see if they know where to source it - I haven't been in a while, but I remember them having some authentic ingredients on their dishes.

            Jalapenos are usually available at Woolworths - at least they are at the Surry Hills and CBD (George St) ones. Serranos and Poblanos are more of a problem. Harris Farm Markets (locations all over) often has something like bullhorn chilies or banana chilies, which might be a good enough substitute. For dried chilies and spices, Fiji Market in Newtown is a great place to look. They definitely have canned, and I think also dried, chipotles as well as a good selection of other dried chilies and canned Goya products. I've seen them selling plantains there too. Thomas Dux usually has canned chipotles, too (and canned black beans, I believe).

            Fireworks Foods also has lots of Mexican ingredients. I think they're mostly an online business, but I believe they have a warehouse that you can actually go to to pick stuff up. USA Foods is another good website if you decide that going that route is worth it. I've seen gumbo file available there as well as some Paul Prudhomme seasonings.

            Harris Farm will probably also have okra - I don't think that's too hard to find, but it's generally not carried at the big supermarkets.

            Good luck finding catfish - I don't think I've ever seen it around. You could ask some of the places at the fish market in Pyrmont and see if they ever get it in. That would be the most likely place to find it, but I don't think it's that common. Barramundi would probably make a passable substitute for a local twist on southern classics.

            Hope that helps a bit. Good luck!

            6 Replies
            1. re: jdmetz

              They do have Monterey Jack at Costco, and some other American cheeses - there is a bag of something like mexican cheese which seems to be a mix of an orange one and a white one

              1. re: jdmetz

                seeing as in the US a lot of catfish is farm-raised in VN, it's not too difficult to imagine finding it in AUS.

                and why not call the US consulate or cultural affairs office? in Spain in the 80's, those State dep't folks were excellent on tips (and almost vehement on the subject of sourcing the familiar)

                1. re: hill food

                  Is Vietnamese catfish (basa) the same thing? If it is, it's at every fishmonger

                  1. re: mr_gimlet

                    I hear it's similar (but to be honest while I've seen it, I've never used it, I'm in catfish-central-country, so need for substitutes)

                    1. re: diaphainein

                      hope it helps, the reception and admin staff are usually local hires, but if you can get through to someone there who promotes US goods and culture...

                      the US also has a military (Navy and Air Force mostly IIRC) presence there, our nearby AFB proved to be a good resource for us - i.e. a whole bunch of ex-pat's looking for the same things.

                2. I've been searching for three years and while I keep my hopes alive, I've accepted the reality.

                  Your best bet for a Wisconsin type cheddar would be going to Formaggi Ocello in Surry Hills. While you might not be able to find an actual Wisconsin cheddar (maybe you can), you can find yellow cheddars there. Occasionally you can find Cabot cheeses (New Hampshire) in grocery stores and on menus (that one always makes me laugh). A real challenge is finding Wisconsin cheese curds. The real squeaky kind.

                  Mexican food is a tough one, despite the recent restaurant trend. Dried peppers you can sometimes find at David Jones Food Hall. But honestly, your best bet is planning ahead an ordering online, especially for things like Adobo or Achiote paste. That's the only way I've found to make sure I have all the ingredients at once, if I can even find them all online.

                  I had some homemade gardineria sent to me and was pretty surprised it got through customs. Outside of that batch, I've just learned to adjust recipes for what's available here and enjoy those food bits a bit more when I do make it back to the states.

                  1. Other than color what is special about a Wisconsin-style cheddar?

                    In the USA I buy New Zealand cheddar at Trader Joes, and occasionally an English or Irish cheddar if the price is good.

                    http://www.foodsubs.com/Chessoft.html
                    subs for Jack: Muenster OR Gouda OR Bel Paese OR Samsoe
                    subs for cotija: Parmesan OR Romano OR anejo cheese OR feta cheese

                    Mizithra is a hard dry crumbly Greek cheese

                    1. as one expat to another (I'm in France) --

                      first off, I totally *get* the cravings for things that are familiar -- when you're in another language (okay, you're not, but the accents can sound like it), another culture, and thousands of miles from friends and family, you *need* something familiar, especially on the days when things that are second-nature at home, like filling the gas tank or establishing phone service makes you feel like you've landed on another planet.

                      I'm not telling you that this is wrong or you shouldn't -- you need to do it to feel connected to home.

                      But having said that -- don't spend so much time trying to recreate home that you miss out on all the great things that you have at your fingertips. Try local and regional foods -- try something you've never tried before -- embrace the things that would be foreign and strange to you in the US. The downside is that you'll miss those new things if and when you leave...but you'll be so much the richer for it.

                      Hard-core things like Thanksgiving? Fourth of July? yep, you *need* to do those -- they're our culture, and they're a part of us.

                      But by becoming an expat, you've already pushed the limits of your horizons....now stretch your wings and see what's there. See what locally available things you can adapt to the recipes you love...see what locally available things you just love.

                      And good luck....and don't forget to enjoy living abroad.

                      1. Seconding Herbies and Fiji Market as a source for Sazon, Adobo, and chipotles (the canned version). Fiji Market gets a lot of Mexican items, but I think they only get shipments so often, so it's best to stock up when they have stuff, because they often run out before the next shipment arrives. It's best to stop in there frequently and see what's in stock.

                        Fresh jalapenos are pretty widely available at supermarkets and greengrocers, but I find that the supply tends to be spotty-- sometimes they have them and sometimes they don't. Also, I often find that the Aussie jalapenos are much hotter than the US version, and vary quite a lot from one batch to another.

                        I have seen fresh okra at indian and some asian markets, and at David Jones food hall. It's also sold frozen at many of the larger asian supermarkets.

                        The plantains I find here are the Hawaiian variety, which have a slightly different texture/taste profile from the US/Latin American ones.

                        Can't help you on the cheese, as I'm lactose intolerant and can't eat it (though I was born in Wisconsin).

                        Overall, I find that you can find a lot of US- and latino-type ingredients, but just not in one place. Every so often I'll do a Mexican-themed dinner for friends, and it always involves shopping at half a dozen markets to get all the necessary ingredients.

                        1. Thanks for all the replies, everyone!

                          Firework Foods, CostCo (this tickles me so much because there is CostCo at home too), Fiji Market, and CBD markets are all on my list to hit up, in addition to other suggestions that have been made to me.

                          As for embracing local foods, I most definitely am. I love the suggestion to use Barramundi in place of catfish, I already love it and think it would go great in a cornmeal batter. I'll also try Vietnamese catfish and see if the texture is similar. I'll bet it is.

                          My want for finding these things is that I have a few go-to recipes and sometimes, substitutions change it so much that it just isn't as good. Plus, I want to be able to share foods I love with my Aussie family (in exchange for foods they love) and while they don't know the difference, *I* know the difference...does that make much sense?

                          I don't have a problem with substitutions however, just the other day we made corn dogs and used low-fat Aussie beef sausages. We did this not only because the sausages were of a healthier construction but also because we knew what was in them. The "American Hot Dogs" we found at Woolworth's were "70% Pork and other meat products" and were 4x the price of the sausages. Not a hard choice there! Plus, they were delicious as corn dogs. A different taste, sure, but they were awesome. Win.

                          I definitely am loving local food (especially seafood), and all of the fresh options in addition to new things I can experiment with. I love being able to easily find Asian ingredients, which is a huge change from Texas where I had to hunt and peck for things. I love the challenge of making things I could easily find in the freezer aisle at home (corn dogs, jalapeno poppers, taquitos...).

                          The thing I miss the most is the cheese, though, so I'll be taking a trip to CostCo, pronto. Is it membership based, like it is in the States?

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: diaphainein

                            Yes, it is membership based. $50/year or just ask around if someone you know has a membership. US cards are valid here as well

                            The freezer section has a lot of US products, I like the jalapeno poppers and crab cakes

                          2. ok I got the spot for you ....go to Kingsford ...if you go to the roundabout there is a video shop near the Kingsford post office in Garderners Rd ...you can't miss it...half the shop sells South American food stuff .....lots of chillis...dried , canned and ground....salsas..flours...heaps of other stuff....you'll love it....prices are ok for Australia .

                            as for catfish , cheese etc....good luck with that -you may need it...never seen it