Dispatches from Belgrade: I Miss Taco Bell
“Do you miss anything from your home?” my Serbian friends often ask me.
I have been trying to relocate to Europe for so long that, when I’m here, I leave all thoughts of America behind to embrace the new culture I’m in. After all, most people don’t leave a place they love willingly. It feels counterintuitive to “miss” things, so I usually don’t.
I have one exception, however.
I miss Taco Bell.
Those who know about Taco Bell laugh at this response. Those who don’t are treated to my sense-memory performance starring seasoned minced beef, crunchy mass-produced tortilla shells, and oozing processed cheese that periodically enters my dreams.
More Homesick Than Usual
The truth is, however, I have found myself missing more than just the DoorDash delivery guy handing me my usual order of three Cheesy Gordita Crunches, one Nachos BellGrande, and a Baja Blast soda. I’ve been more homesick than usual while here, and even I’m surprised.
I’ve been washing cups of coffee in the shower. It gets old, trust me.
Moving abroad, knowing I'm here indefinitely, is much different than moving abroad temporarily. In a way, there’s more time and freedom to explore and get used to my surroundings. But at the same time, I find myself more culturally stunted than when I lived in London, Prague, and other places, where I was being educated, learning new languages, and even living with locals.
Because of COVID-19, everything in Belgrade, Serbia's capital city and my new home since the beginning of the year, closes early, sometimes at 8 p.m., sometimes, at 2 p.m. You never know until you walk up to a place and see a sign on the door with the new governmental decree.
A Lot of Nights Alone
I spend a lot of nights alone in my new apartment, which is still half renovated. It’s been the most frustrating part of my experience so far. Eighty-seven percent of my apartment was finished and gorgeous when I arrived in mid-January. The remaining 13 percent included the kitchen and bathroom cabinets and shelving, and installation of the sinks and dishwasher.
Cooking is part of my soul, and being able to cook is also a great stress reducer for me. I live near Kalenić green market, the best outdoor market in Belgrade, and I haven’t been able to take advantage of the fresh produce, local meats, herbs, spices, marinades, breads, and more, because I have no space to cook, and nowhere to clean my plates.
I’ve been washing cups of coffee in the shower, dumping the murky contents into the toilet to avoid more of a mess. It gets old, trust me.
I miss my neighborhood in Brooklyn. I miss my "Stoop Crew," the group of guys who have lived in Bed-Stuy for over 50 years, who were my stronghold when times got tough, always there with a plastic cup of ginger ale and a Stevie Wonder dance party.
I miss NYC pizza. I miss NYC bagels. I miss waking up and walking my dog and coming back to my kitchen to heat up leftover Taco Bell for breakfast.
My Future Is ... Cheesy
I miss my family, which is weird because I’m not totally a family person. I miss watching my brother use his smoker to hone his bbq skills. I miss watching historical fiction films with my dad. I miss tarot sessions with my sister. I miss my mom’s encouraging words (though we do keep in touch often over our mutual love of air fryers).
So when I speak about Taco Bell, it’s much more than just lauding a fast-food chain. It’s a summation of the things I left behind, because that’s the last place where it felt like home.
I know, eventually, my kitchen will get finished, and my apartment will be more organized, and I’ll have a proper shower curtain instead of a towel hanging over a dinky tension rod the previous tenant left behind. For now, I’m taking time to accept this surprisingly overwhelming sensation of homesickness. And you can bet once my kitchen is in order the first thing I’m going to attempt to make is a Cheesy Gordita Crunch.