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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Word Of Mouth And The Expat Pipeline!

The Expat community is a group of loosely connected people that basically have only 2 things in common. One commonality is that they are foreign born, not native to the country that they are living in. An exception would be, they have lived so long elsewhere that they now consider themselves strangers to their birthplace. The second uniting factor in an Expat community is that they live in the same country you have also chosen to live in.

I really don't like the word Expat which is short for Expatriate. It sounds so Anti country and radical but it doesn't mean that at all. The word is taken from Latin origins, and it only means: ex (out of) and patria (country/Fatherland). There are many reasons to be living outside of your birthplace whether temporarily or permanently. Jobs, Schooling, circumstances and personal choice all can be a factor. Wally and I have chosen to retire outside of the country where we were raised. We have been an "Expat" on several other occasions by living at one time in Germany and another time in Portugal. I'd like to include Guam in the list as it was a pretty different living experience, however it was a territory of the USA so I can't count that as an expat experience.

The phenomenon of people living outside of their native country is growing hence there are many expat communities in many different countries. Why do I call these group of strangers a community? For the same reason there is a "Little Italy" and a "China town" in almost every major city like NYC, LA, San Francisco etc... And several Spanish barrios in the USA and in every country for that matter.. The shared experience of facing a new and foreign (to you) culture with different customs and language can be daunting! The process of immigration to a country is remarkably similar however. The same paperwork, the same fact finding process, and the same general life challenges can all be made much easier by asking questions of those who have done it before you.

The first thing to do before moving to a new country is research. This can be through acquaintances, family and friends who have been there, to online resources, like web sites and blogs like ours!  Surprisingly, the local embassy in your country is probably not as knowledgeable as someone actually living in the other country might be. We have heard of many times when an Embassy said "Sure you can import your car!" When every Expat would have told you "No way!" and been right! Of course, you need to get proper visas and other paperwork from your local embassies but to learn practical applications on how to import your dog to shipping issues, an Expat can really help guide you.

All of the above information is a long winded background to help you understand why most Expats immediately seek out other expats when they arrive and join a online forum, a virtual community, in the new country they have moved to. We joined one called Southron started just 4 1/2 years ago here in Uruguay. It's free and you never really have to meet the other Expats but you can write to them and ask questions. Usually there is a group that meets from once a month to once a week at some restaurant. It's a loose standing arrangement for whoever wants to meet face to face. People pass out their e-mails and phone numbers (if they wish).

It was through Candy, writing on the forum board that we learned about a new Mexican Restaurant in a town nearby. Now this is vital information because our group of expats knows that food is a very important issue. Uruguayan food is Great! Your basic meat and potatoes. Yes, potatoes not rice. This is not your typical spicy Latin, beans and rice type of place, that's Californian /Mexican fare. While Uruguayans eat good food it soon begins to become rather monotonous. Bland and mild tasting. Uruguayans don't eat spicy foods! Most restaurants here serve the exact same meals. Loosely adapted from an Italian heritage but now a watered down version. Pizza (not Chicago or NYC style, too bad!) lasagna that has slightly transformed and Milanese (thin breaded fried chicken or other meat). About 10 standard items can be found at every eating establishment here in addition to the asado ( slow roasted barbecue meats). Now the food is pleasant just never changing. The USA being the Ultimate Expat location in the past for immigrants from around the world has spoiled us eating wise. In any given week I would go to "Panda Express " for pseudo Chinese/Teriyaki food to "Vince's Italian  restaurant" truly flavorful Italian food, to any number of Greek, Thai, Armenian, etc.... You get the picture now and Expats do too!

Wally and I rushed out to check out the new Mexican Restaurant in Las Toscas a little town past Atlántida, about 7 kilometers away from us. We found the restaurant easily enough. Uruguay is a small place. The first thing I found amusing is that since this was the 29th of the month despite the sign saying it was a Mexican restaurant they were advertising "Hoy Noquis" or Today Noquis. Click on the highlighted 29th and you'll be reminded of what Noqui day is.

The owner of the place is Philipe or Phil, he is Mexican and his wife is Uruguayan (that makes him an expat here in Uruguay) they have just opened in the town of Las Tocas. Which means that this place is much closer to us than going all the way to Piriápolis to another newly opened Mexican restaurant we reported on. Hey, what's up with the sudden interest in Mexican food? I'm glad that Uruguay is starting to be introduced to new foods. While I don't want the tiny influx of incoming expats to change Uruguay, variety is always nice. I won't say it's the spice of life because Uruguayans in general shy away from spice but I think they will enjoy it if given the chance!

We heard they stayed open until 11:00pm. We arrived at 10:30 and sure enough we could order. Inside looks like a little deli which we thought Oh no, it's selling the same Uruguayan menu. but Philipe is smart he did that as a backup plan and it worked because many people came in and out that night. He assured us the Mexican food was listed on the wall. He speaks Spanish of course being from Mexico and also speaks English. He freely conversed with his clients gently explaining to them what a chimichanga was and telling them yes it had meat in it a must for any Uruguayan. We had a beef one and it was good (chicken was also a choose)! I had some tasty Flautas with chicken inside. Wally had something called a Gringa, that was really a quesadilla (tortilla and cheese wrap, this one had chicken as well). We would have preferred something else. The salsa was good, the chimichangas were good and the flautas tasted good not exactly California crunchy but tasty. I would order them again! Next time we will try his burritos, tacos and nachos with the works! We took a picture after everything was already mostly eaten.

I know that this is a sad picture but shows it was good enough to eat! As a side note the nights have been lovely and warm with NO MOSQUITOS! to speak of so we sat outside at the last minute ripping open our "to go" packages and eating outside at 10:45 at night, a very Uruguayan meal time. Poor Wally puts up with my picture taking.  In the photo below, he is the one on the left. I just couldn't help seeing the humor in this picture. We ate a lot for a total of only $300 pesos ($15). We will be back to try other menu items. To Expat Candy: Thanks for sharing the news of this place.

Word of mouth is a powerful advertising means and expats know the value of information.



Geraldo said...

As a Mexican food lover, I never miss an enchilada. His menu certainly offers this option, doesn’t it?
The Mexican cuisine is absolutely one of the best in Latin America, known for its varied flavors and spices; it is a result of the Spanish conquistadores’ interaction with the Aztec culture.

Another Latin America cuisine that I love is Peruvian. Have you already tried it? I personally would place it above Mexican. Mexican food is great but Peruvian went beyond mixing prehispanic and spanish, they also assimilated African, Arab, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, and French elements from the immigrants that arrived for centuries. It is really unique!


Wally said...

Geraldo- sorry to say that enchiladas (my favorite) are not on the menu. They require corn tortillas, and the masa for corn tortillas require too much work. The production of masa in Mexico City (requiring use of caustic chemicals) has ruined the environment, with literally thousands of factories spewing out pollutants.

Haven't tried Peruvian, but will keep in eye out for it...

Alfonso said...

Being uruguayan myself, I have to say that not everything in Uruguay is meat, pasta, pizza and milanesas xD There are chinese, mexican and armenian restaurants out there (there must be other type of cuisines, but those are whar I know xD). Of course, all those restaurants are based mostly in Montevideo, that's one of the disadvantages of living in the "countryside" hehehe xD

Geraldo said...

Hello Alfonso!

I would not say countryside… it is not crowded compared to big cities but we are talking about the heart of the country’s coastline, between Montevideo and Punta del Este (St Tropez of South America)!

Everybody knows that Montevideo is a large and modern metropolitan area, with many restaurants, theatres, music, shopping centers etc. It is home for about 1.8 million people, which is more than half the country.

Uruguay is a charming country because of the quiet and peaceful lifestyle of its villages and towns. I personally dream of living there for small town rustic feel. I hope it will not be spoiled like countries such as Costa Rica and Panama.

Well… in terms of cuisine, Uruguayan traditional foods are just delicious: milenesa, pancho, chivito, asada… ah! and strudels!!! From time to time we travel 120km from Lille (France) to Antwerp (Belgium) just for that! There is an excellent Uruguayan restaurant there!



Anonymous said...

Hey There Wally, Denise
I'm an Uruguayan living in mexico for 4 years now. Thanks to your blog and other expats accounts, I feel in a way closer to my home country and I find humorous that things so common to Uruguayan are weird for you.
In some level, its the same with me here in mexico.
I guess I went with the same stages of adaptation, one of them is that I'm in contact and friend of several Uruguayos here in Monterrey the city I live in.

And let me be very clear, WE DONT like, NOR ENOJOY, Mexican spicy food. We dont need to be "introduced" like we are some aborigen people that has to be 'civiliced', I have found comments like those in several blogs or forums and Im bottered by them!

I know Uruguayos here living in mexico, that have kids, are retired, 30+ years living here, and still don't like chilli or any spice for that matter.
I know for YOUR PALATE or a Mexicans, Uruguayan food may seem bland, and that is nice and dandy for you, but for us it tastes great: I dont want to became like a mexican ,I often hear here the phrase "if it doesnt have spicy, it doesnt taste like anything!"

"What?? That is freaking lasagna you are eating!" (I usually think to myself). And if they don't coat it with chilly they said it taste like nothing? For me, I can taste pretty good all the flavors without adding anything. I can tell the difference between a good Pomarolla and bad Pomarolla without adding anything.

Of all the Uruguayan expats I have meet here in mexico I may have found 1 in 20 that took a taste to Mexican food at some extent, the rest?? the rest cook themselves classical Uru-food OR like me, buy tacos and ask no to add chile.

We like who we are, we are nOT mexicans, we are Uruguayos, and that comes with the good things and the bad things I guess.

In my case and my friend's case here, he HAVE been introduced to chili and spice, we just DONT like it.

And I believe we are entitled to that opinion without being labeled as closed minded, since we are all expats here and living the same adventure.

We are not the ones back home, with the mentality "es lo que hay". We wanted more of life, maybe, but in the end, we trasure that we are from Uruguay.

I live it daily, taking a bus, I'm the only one giving the seat to an old lady here or disabled, I ALWAYS, say thanks, have a nice day when purchasing. Little stuff, litte stuff I se my Uru friends doing here too. I guess, no matter how many years away, we all carrie that little thing that makes Uruguayos so speciall.

Sorry about the rant

and I hope I read you another year more!

M. Fernanda from Monterrey, Mexico

Wally said...

Anonymous- sorry that you got the impression that "introducing" foreign food to Uruguay meant that we thought of Uruguayans as aborigines. Not that there is anything wrong with aborigines. They have a perfectly satisfying way of life for them. We are entirely selfish in our desire for more "foreign" food sources. We are not hoping to change any Uruguayan food preferences. We like these foods for our own enjoyment.

We do love Uruguayan food, however, after having lived in several different countries, over the years, any cuisine would become boring (to us) after a while. So we welcome any changes.

Some Uruguayans do like spicy food. Some of our friends love Mexican food. Just like any country, there are many different types of tastes. However, you are correct, that most Uruguayans do not like "hot" food.

Even the Uruguayan version of pizza and lasagna, for our tastes, are not as enjoyable as other places we have lived. New York pizza (Ray's Pizza for example) is more to our taste. We didn't like pizza in Italy, either. Like yourself, we cook at home, so that we can eat the types and tastes of food we enjoy.

Just because local food may taste bland to us, doesn't mean it is better or worse, just different. Many people eat food that is way to spicy for us- some Thai food and some Korean food, for example. They would come to dinner at our house and complain that our food was too bland. Everybody has different tastes.

I think we were trying to make the point that foreigners coming to Uruguay might miss some of the things that they take for granted. But for us, we have been able to find the food we enjoy and know how to prepare it for ourselves. We are perfectly happy with the food we can get and welcome the occasional "change of pace" that a new restaurant provides.

Geraldo said...

Please, it is not my intention to enter into any polemic. However, I would like to mention the fact that one of my best friends is Mexican and I know many people from that wonderful country.
The Mexicans I know are all very sweet, kind and polite people!

Janet said...

Mexican food is not common here in the Maritimes of Canada and spicy food is not usual fare here either. I like to taste the flavour of the ingredients not just the spice. We spent a few months in New Mexico and I did not like the food at all!
Each to his own I think!