Interview with Magda, creator of the food blog My Expat Little Kitchen
By Gina Tsilimpi
What were the circumstances of your life before leaving Greece?
I left Greece almost seven years ago, in 2007. I was living and working in Athens for a multinational company but had an itch to live and work abroad. I had never lived anywhere else but Athens and felt the need to explore life beyond the familiar. Thankfully, my partner had the same itch, so together we headed for the Netherlands. We left with the realization that circumstances in Greece were heading towards a bad direction in terms of the economy, even though at that point the crisis was not yet in its full-blown state. We suspected that things were going to get worse so the thought of moving to another country was appealing in more ways than one.
How did you end up in Τhe Hague?
It is where both my partner and I found work. The Hague has the largest international community in the Netherlands, contrary to popular belief. It houses most embassies and a multitude of international organizations and companies, making it a truly international city, very expat-friendly and easy to live in if you don’t speak the Dutch language.
Your impression about the city and its people.
The Hague is a beautiful, calm and relaxing city with things happening mostly behind closed doors rather than out in the open like in Amsterdam. You may be walking down a quiet street and suddenly turn your head and see a bar full of people being loud and having fun, but you’d never know that place was there if you hadn’t happen to walk down that street. You have to keep your eyes open and be open to explore and find things for yourself here.
The city’s architecture is interesting and different than that found in Amsterdam, which most people associate with Holland, and it’s a city full of green, trees, parks; a pleasure to bicycle and walk around in.
The people are friendly, polite and carefree but at the same time guarded and closed-off. The Dutch will give you a big smile when they meet you but will not invite you into their homes as readily. They are not spontaneous like Greeks.
What do you love the most about the Netherlands and something that you do not like.
There are many things I love about the Netherlands. The clean air and huge parks that give you the opportunity to have an active outdoors life, weather permitting of course; the tolerance and open-mindedness of people; the working conditions which are immeasurably better than those in Greece; the respect that the state has for its people, the elderly, the handicapped, those in need and the opportunities available for the creative people and artists.
I don’t like the weather, the lack of diversity in the landscape, and the food. The food is very bad here and the Dutch unfortunately don’t have a culinary tradition that is appealing to my Mediterranean palate.
What is exactly your relationship with cooking? What does it mean for you?
I am a home cook and I cook mostly to feed myself and my boyfriend. I love being in the kitchen, experimenting with ingredients and creating something out of nothing that it’s both delicious and pretty to look at. I love flavors, textures, aromas and all that they evoke; memories, feelings, images, cravings. Cooking for me is practical, in the sense that it satisfies my body’s need for nourishment, but it also satisfies my need for creativity. Cooking is my hobby which led to one of my great loves and passions, food blogging.
How easy it is cooking Greek recipes in a foreign country?
It is quite easy if you can source the ingredients. It took me years to discover the different places that sell for example good Greek phyllo dough, feta or olive oil, but lately I see more and more Greek products being sold in the Netherlands. I recently found Greek rice for gemista (traditional Greek dish of stuffed tomatoes and peppers) and I’m so excited! Greek cuisine is based on simple, fresh and good quality ingredients like vegetables, legumes, fish and meat and fortunately I can find all that here. Whatever I can’t find, I bring it back from Greece whenever I visit.
Your blog. The idea and its appeal.
I started My Little Expat Kitchen in 2009 out of nowhere. I wasn’t following any blogs and barely had an idea of what a blog was, I just wanted a place where I could write about and beyond food, share recipes and have an outlet for my creativity. I never thought that four and a half years later I would still be very much in love with blogging.
Having a food blog is not easy. I cook, I photograph, I write both in Greek and in English to be able to connect with a wider audience. All that takes time, effort, money and a lot of patience, but you get so much out of it. My blog has a worldwide appeal and it reaches people from many different countries. It makes me so happy and proud to know that I inspire others to get in the kitchen and cook, whether it’s Greek recipes or any other type of cuisine.
The Greek cuisine that is special to me is Politiki cuisine, the cuisine of the Greeks from Constantinople (Istanbul) where my mother was born. It’s a type of cooking influenced and shaped by the intermingling of the traditional Greek culinary customs and those of Asia Minor. The extensive use of spices, the utter importance of food in everyday life, the celebratory way of viewing food in general, are elements that are deeply rooted in my and my family’s culinary consciousness.
What do you do apart from cooking?
I work for an international organization, do volunteer work and I’m a musician.
What does homeland mean for you?
My family, my country, my roots, my culture, my history, my past, my future. I may be away from Greece, but I miss it all the time, even though I don’t see myself returning permanently due to the economic circumstances. But never say never, right?
How and where do you see yourself in the future?
I would like to do something involving food on a professional level, whether it being blogging professionally, offering cooking classes, working for a magazine, food styling or photography.
I don’t plan on staying in the Netherlands forever. I envision myself living in a different country sooner than later. The difficult part is always moving from your home country. When you manage to do that, the world is your oyster. I’m excited to see what the future holds.