New Food & New Friends in Luxembourg

The automatic doors slowly part to reveal the same tiled opening I’ve seen countless times before. I walk in, greeting the cashier with a jovial “Moïen!” as usual. I grab my cart, the kind you drag behind you on one pair of wheels. These would always annoy me because I constantly kicked them as I walked, but I’ve gotten so used to them now that I almost prefer them over the cart you push in front of you. I need ingredients for fajitas, the crowd favorite dinner.

I pull my cart around behind me to get to the vegetable section, towards the front of the store. I grab the peppers and onions for the fajitas, but I also pick up some carrots for a little snack later. Jeez, who have I become? You couldn’t pay me eat carrots before, yet here I am, seeking out the little orange devils. I guess I have Steffi to blame for that. Whenever our little house family would have tea, she’d always peel carrots for us to snack on. We thought it was kind of weird at first. We even asked her why she chose carrots, to which she shrugged and said, “Why not?” Chatting, joking, and gnawing on carrots. I was a regular Bugs Bunny.

Marco Leon

That reminds me, I need more black tea.

I throw the carrots into the cart and go towards the tea section.

Hmm… I guess I could try green tea instead. Who recommended it to me? I can’t remember, but I do remember promptly ignoring them because tea is gross.

Er, at least it was. I developed a taste for the stuff here in Luxembourg. I basically had to; our house family would usually use tea time as our excuse to drop whatever we were doing and hang out in the kitchen. It seems like I need it every day now. Weird. Is that some form of Stockholm syndrome?

There’s a store worker in the tea aisle, so I swing around to the next aisle and nearly knock over a carton of eggs. The corner of the carton hovers over the rest of the stack, but it stays in place. I sigh in relief. Oh wait, I do need eggs. I pick up a carton to inspect the eggs. No cracks. I can definitely fry these and serve them with avocado slices on toast like I used to do for me and Cas. We used to love eating that for breakfast.

I guess I could also try to make a Spanish omelette, but I never did get the recipe from Cas. Probably because we couldn’t stop arguing over what defined a “tortilla.” Whatever, I’m sure it can’t be that hard to make. It’s pretty hard to mess up eggs anyways.

Marco Leon

Yeesh. My dad would be so confused hearing that. I didn’t even like eggs until I came to Luxembourg and realized you could do so much with them. Now I eat them almost every day. It pains me to imagine all of the egg-based dishes I’ve missed out on in the 23 years leading up to my egg-piphany.

Eh, I’ll figure out what to do with them later. I lay the eggs in my cart and go into the next aisle. Conveniently, I find the grains here. I’m pretty sure I’m out of bulgar, so I grab a bag and toss it in.

I stare at the pouch full of tiny yellow beads splayed over the carton of eggs. What even is this stuff? Kind of like couscous, but better; at least, that’s how Angie explained it. Mix it with some avocado and spices and you got yourself a healthy, tasty side dish. I would know; Angie has made it for nearly every international dinner we’ve hosted. I’m not complaining, though. Her vegan ways were tainting my burger-loving American diet, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

I know I don’t need pasta. Fra has her own surplus in the kitchen. Nearly an entire cupboard just overflowing with pasta. I didn’t even know they made so many different kinds! I only ever made spaghetti, usually with some veggies, tomato sauce, and chicken. Sounds good, right? That’s because it is! Fra was not impressed, though; she chewed me out the first time she saw me make it.
“Oh, sure, just throw in chicken. You want some vegetables, too? Why not some wine on top?! Throw in whatever, it’s a party! A PARTY, I TELL YOU!”

Apparently, this is not what they do in Italy. I was made well-aware of this fact.

Hmm. Maybe I should pick up some extra chicken for spaghetti.

I need chicken for the fajitas anyways, so I swing my cart around and head for the meats. The entire back wall of the store is fridges and freezers, and this is where I find the chicken. I pick out two packs of chicken breasts to examine them. Hmm…They look pretty small. I don’t think these will be enough. I reach back into the fridge, but the pack of chicken slips from my hands and lodges itself into one of the lower shelves. I bend down to pick it up and notice a glimmering silver package underneath the chicken. It’s a pack of single-serving microwave lasagna.

Oh. Wow. Okay. Um. Yeah.

I’m well-acquainted with this lasagna. It’s not very good, but I used to eat it for almost every meal. When I first arrived in Luxembourg, it was the only food I felt confident preparing. This was before Steffi. Before Cas, Angie, and Fra. Before our little family and our international dinners. Before I knew how to cook.

In the reflection of that silver packaging, I see myself hunched over the microwave, ashamed of the frequency of my lasagna meals but too stubborn to ask for help making anything else. I see myself eating alone in my room, knowing how the lack of variety in my diet is hurting me but not wanting to accept it. I see the blood rush to my face as my dad asks if I’ve been eating well and I force myself to lie to him. I see me, alone, struggling, too proud and afraid to ask for help.

My eyes start to water. I blink. I stand up and turn to my cart.

Marco Leon

In that motley of food, I find the first time Steffi offered me some of her dinner and I timidly accepted. I find the first time Cas, Fra, and I managed to make a half-decent meal together and how proud we were of it. I find the first time Angie made an all-vegan meal and how baffled I was that I actually loved it. I find me, confused by my luck in finding such selfless, loving, and open people. I find my international family, helping me to survive. Helping me grow. Helping me learn. And most importantly, helping me cook.

I chuckle to myself, wiping a tear from my eye. When did I become so sentimental?

I think this chicken will be just fine. We can always make something else if it’s not enough.

I toss the chicken into the cart. As I do, I get a text from Steffi to our group message: “When are we going to start cooking?” Cas replies, “I’m on my way home, baby!” Not long after, Fra chimes in, “YEAH! Let’s get this party started!” Angie follows with, “Oh shoot, I just woke up,” with a tiny picture of a turtle attached. Heh. What a bunch of nerds. I reply, “Just got some supplies for fajitas. Be home soon, lovelies!”

I grab my cart and rush to the cashier. Once I pay, we exchange the usual “Äddi!” and I start walking home. Bags bouncing in my hands, I begin to laugh and pick up the pace. I need to get home soon. We’ve got guests coming, and they’re going to be hungry.

Marco Leon is a 2017-2018 American Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Luxembourg. A recent graduate of Ball State University, he is spending the academic year teaching English at the Ecole Internationale de Differdange. Articles are written by Fulbright grantees and do not reflect the opinions of the Fulbright Commission, the grantees’ host institutions, or the U.S. Department of State.