What’s in an Expat Fridge?

“Drink from the cup of life, you will be fulfilled.
drink from the milk container in the fridge,
and your wife will make you wish that you had drunk from the cup of life.”
― Anthony T. Hincks

I am on a housesitter’s forum on Facebook because it helps me get contacts for good housesitters. Also, as a homeowner, we sometimes get trashed on these sites because housesitters complain that our homes are too dirty, or our fridges are full of rotten, moldy food, or our pillows are too soft or too hard, etc. Sometimes I feel like I have to defend the homeowners.

A housesitter posted a list of questions she asked prospective owners. Most of the questions were reasonable like, “How many pets do you have? Are they up-to-date on their vaccinations? Is the closest town within walking distance?”

But then I read this, “Post a photo of the inside of your refrigerator.”

Hmmm…So I asked why. And she responded,

It’s something we ask after getting surprised one too many times with refrigerators not sanitary in any way, shape, or form. We’re not looking to see what you have per say, as much as the condition you keep your fridge because we’ve found that to be a good indicator as to how clean you keep your home as well. It really sucks when the first thing you have to do upon arrival to a home is spending 4-6 hours cleaning the fridge just to make sure you don’t get food poisoning. Not to mention, quite often the rest of the home is just as dirty. And we aren’t there to be your house cleaners. After experiencing three like that in a row, we now ask to see what the fridge looks like. 

I thanked her for her response and checked her off my list as a potential housesitter.

Although this post isn’t about housesitters, I became curious to know what is inside expat fridges because they do represent a different way of eating and storing food, especially in the tropics.

So, here is a picture of what’s inside my fridge. Notice, it is clean, no rotten food, no mold, nothing that would cause food poisoning. Although, I have to admit that were notorious for keeping some moldy leftovers in our fridge in the states.  But, living on a tropical island has changed our fridge contents and our respect for food drastically. Let me explain why.

1. Sanitary conditions

 Living in the tropics, nothing is sacred to the infestation of bugs that swarm annually. Everything must be sealed tightly and even then, the tiny insects can always find a way to ruin your prized pumpernickel bread you found at La Colonia. All perishables go into the fridge or freezer.

Currently we have an infestation of tiny book lice. Fortunately they don’t like my food, but they are building nests inside my Kindle. ( And yes, they are really called book lice! ) Their only entrance is through my charger hole, so I had to find a way to deter them. After shaking hundreds of tiny book lice gently out the charger hole, I discovered that a drop of neem oil around the charger hole keeps them at bay.

Things rot quickly in the tropics. We experimented keeping our tomatoes out of the fridge or inside. They rotted within two days outside the fridge, and stayed rock hard inside the fridge. Nicaragua doesn’t have a good selection of tomatoes anyway, so we chose to refrigerate them so they would last longer.

All fruit is either refrigerated, processed and frozen, or canned. We freeze mangoes, water apples, Jackfruit, and Suriname cherries from our trees and bushes. We used to make mango jam and salsa and can it, but unless we started at 4 am, the day was too hot to keep the water boiling on the stove for canning.

Milk comes in cardboard containers and when we open it, the container goes into the fridge. We keep our eggs in the fridge, too. I know that is not custom here, but if we don’t put them in the fridge, we need a safe spot so our kitties won’t swipe them onto the floor. They are little rascals like that! 

2. Special Food Items

Don’t dare touch my Ghirardelli chocolate bars, my 10 pound bag of chocolate chips, my licorice, jelly beans, or the real bags of powdered sugar and brown sugar tucked into my small freezer! I either carried them back from the states, or made a long trip to Managua to get these items.

Expats always have cravings for food from home. I am no different. If I find dill pickles, Snyders Honey Mustard pretzel pieces, or Dove chocolate bars in our local grocery stores, I hoard them because you never know when you will find them again.

Right now, I have those little wax coke bottles filled with sugar-water in my fridge. I found them in the Remember This section in Food Lion in the states. I remember buying those little wax coke bottles on our way to visit my Grandma when I was little. They probably won’t taste at all like I remember, but it is a friendly reminder of my Grandma every time I open my fridge.

3. How our food prep has changed

Our son’s friends always teased us about finding moldy leftovers in our fridge. When we lived in the states, we were always in such a hurry. We ate out a lot, and the leftovers were forgotten in the fridge. We bought so much junk food impulsively.

Living on a tropical island now, we grow veggies like sweet potatoes, eggplant, okra, foot long green beans, and have abundant patches of oregano, basil, and other herbs. Our 15 varieties of fruit trees constantly supply us with fruit and depending on the season, we always have some fruit dropping to the ground.

Presently we have giant Jackfruit, grapefruit, papaya, and nancites. Soon we will have bushels of sweet lemons. We are going to buy a juicer and make lemon ice cubes to freeze and use them in soups, casseroles, and other lemony delights.

In addition, we rarely eat out. Ron is the cook and I am the pastry chef. We both enjoy creating different culinary delights with the abundance we have on our small finca. Plus, we have all the time in the world.

Our fridge is never full, because we plan and prepare food daily with what we have available. Ron’s Jackfruit pulled-pork tasting barbecue sandwiches are to die for!
And we are so much healthier because we aren’t eating fast food.

So, now that you’ve had a peek inside my fridge, what is in your fridge and have your eating habits changed if you live abroad?  



12 thoughts on “What’s in an Expat Fridge?

  1. When we are not traveling we eat home so often that our food is rotated pretty fast.
    We too had to get used to the milk in a carton thing. The first few months here in Boquete we were buying low-fat fresh milk that only lasted about 3 days in the refrigerator. Threw more out than we consumed and fresh milk is twice as expensive as the box milk.
    Our eating habits are much better than the US. ( Not that they were bad) We are in the produce/fruit bread basket of Panama surrounded by many farms and green houses and have a wealth of fresh veggies and fruit available to us at incredible prices
    One big thing we noticed is the fresh fruit and veggies last a lot longer in our refrigerator here than in the US. Especially lettuce!
    Eggs actually taste like eggs and the chicken is the best. You would have to go out of your way not to be eating healthy here!

    • Oh my gosh! The chicken in Central America is the best, isn’t it? And the fresh eggs with bright yellow yolks? When we do find leaf lettuce, we clean it and refrigerate it immediately. It is hard to find here, and even harder to grow. Last night, we made taco salad with the gorgeous head of leafy lettuce we found at Pali’s. Ron bought a bag of Snyder’s tortilla chips to put in the taco salad, but something was horribly wrong with them. He checked the date and it had expired in April. We think it might have been the rancid oil used to make the chips. So, we had to pick out all the chips in the taco salad. Now, we have to check the dates on everything we buy. Who know chips could go bad? Lesson learned!

  2. Hi…
    I didn’t think about housesitter’s habits when I wrote my quote, so I thank you for giving me yet another perspective.

    All the best.
    Anthony T. Hincks

  3. When we moved into our Las Cuevas house, we bought a normal sized GE fridge. We soon found, that with my nearly endless, ambitious cooking projects, that it was not large enough. Our then neighbor, Larry, allowed us to pack surplus food in his normal sized over-the fridge-freezer. That was inconvenient, to say the least.

    So, after about 5 years here, I bought a gleaming, stainless steel clad Frigidaire and sometime along there, a 15 cubic foot chest freezer. We had to put the chest freezer in the second bedroom/office. I wasn’t going to subject it to wind, rain and dust out in the zaguan/”porch”.

    I now have adequate cold storage, at least, most of the time. Vigilance and space management are necessary, especially in the fridge, to optimize the space and not let it be wasted with careless use.

    At least once a week, I perform “triage” on the contents of the fridge. There are disgusting leftover bits that must be tossed in the trash. Other larger storage containers are often repacked into smaller ones. (I no longer have a scarcity of food storage containers, having bought three, yes 3 sets of Snap Ware plastic storage containers. I love these, and have to be restrained from buying more. I have dedicated commercial shelving in the hallway for empty containers that await the call of duty.

    I could go on, but I’ll spare you.

    In regard to juicers, I just bought my fourth one. (Not counting the Turmix Commercial Juice Extractor; which I use less often than anticipated.)
    I described the Old Reliable Manual Squeezer, the Oster (a toy!) and the Cuisinart in a recent blog post; The Forum of the Three Squeezers http://mexkitchen.blogspot.mx/2017/07/the-forum-of-three-squeezers.html.

    While the Cuisinart is adequate and neat, it operates quite slowly. I decided to buy an Industrial grade, stainless steel juicer. It’s waiting for me to pick it up at a friend’s house in Morelia. I’m hoping that that will fulfill my serious orange juice needs. http://www.costco.com.mx/view/p/pdh-exprimidor-industrial-626290

    The challenge in the present season is to find decent, ripe (not gree) oranges to squeeze.

    Don Cuevas

  4. We also buy our milk in boxes and then refrigerate it after we open it. We still continue to refrigerate our eggs once we bring them home (after all the fridge has the perfect storage for them) even though they’re sold off the shelf. I think buying milk and eggs unrefrigerated was on our list of “hardest to get used to” after we left the US. I know what you mean about craving food from home and I had to laugh when I read about the chocolate chips. (Not that I’ve seen them in Portugal either!) Like you, we’ve gotten out of the fast food habit and, except when we’re traveling, rarely go out to eat. I remember all the great fruits (ahhh, mangoes and melons!) and veggies we ate in Central America and Portugal, too has farm-to-market fruits and veggies that are unbelievably cheap, plentiful and, best of all, are packed with flavor. One thing – that’s either a plus or minus depending on the day – is that European fridge/freezers are half the size of their US counterparts. We have to keep ours clean and organized or we couldn’t fit anything in it! Anita

    • I forgot to mention the size of the fridges. Thanks, Anita for the reminder! It took me a while to figure out how to arrange stuff in the fridge because the shelves were too low, and the space too tight. I finally took a shelf out so I could fit a bottle of wine in the bottom shelf.
      And the constant brownouts and blackouts kill fridges quickly. I am surprised that ours has lasted 8 years! We bought a special type of surge protector that regulates the brownouts, but shuts off the fridge for at least 3 minutes after a blackout.

  5. Does Ron cook the pork in a crockpot or slow barbque it for the pulled pork? The only barbque I have found in my travels is at Lago Atitlan in Guatemala, a Texan does it twice a week!

    • For our Tenth Anniversary in Las Cuevas International Fiesta last year, I cooked a pork roast in the conventional oven, then after “pulling” it, reheated it with the BBQ sauce in a crock pot.

      More recently, I bought an already cooked and pulled tray of pork at Costco. I’m not sure, but it might have been Curly’s brand. It comes without sauce, as sauce is such an opinionated topic amongst BBQ cooks. I thought the Costco product was pretty good, and convenient above all. But when I went to buy more, I couldn’t find it again. Typical of Costco.

      An aside: our Morelia Costco “Fuente de sodas”, what we call the snack bar, offers a pulled pork sandwich for $70 pesos mx. It’s not bad, but whoever developed this product doesn’t understand the concept. First of all, the pork is heaped on a fxking brioche bun. Too high falutin’. The portion of pork is generous, but the sauce is sweet and innocuous. Customers wanting more pizzaz on the sandwich can step over to the condiment station and crank out out some crisp slices of pickled jalapeños. The biggest flaw in the sandwich is the heap of purple cabbage slaw totally overwhelming the sandwich. It flows down the sides and furthermore, cools the meat. So, in the end, it’s not “bad” but it is not good, either.

      I wouldn’t dare try the Costco snack bar lasagna. What are those menu developers thinking?

      Don Cuevas

      • Mexico has the absolute best pulled pork sandwiches from the street vendors! My mouth is watering just recalling them. Dean, since we have pounds and pounds of Jackfruit, which kind of resembles Breadfruit, Ron has been making a vegan pulled pork sandwich with the fruit. Amazingly, it is difficult to tell that there is no meat in it.

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