I am often asked what I miss the most in terms of food from Italy: is it the pasta, is it the coffee, is it the meat, is the pastries? I don't miss any of these things. You can find most of them abroad (and surprisingly, you can find more GOOD Italian things in Chicago than in Belgium: cheese, cookies...). And those that you can't find, I can probably make. Of course there is going to be the odd thing that I can't make nor can I find it (budini di riso? Sfogliatelle alla ricotta? Spuma?), but there is nothing that I really crave that I can't find or replicate abroad.
With one remarkable exception: the concept of the "bar".
I missed the bar experience when I was in Brussels, and I still miss it here: a bar is a place where you go to have a quick bite. Most of the times, you will have a coffee or a drink while standing at the counter, and you will pick a pastry or (my favorite) a tramezzino, a soft sandwich made with a special white bread, normally filled with tomatoes, tuna, or cheese or ham.
What's all the fuss, you may say? You can have a coffee and a sandwich everywhere in the world. Yes, but the concept of the Italian bar is missing. It pissed me off like a lion the fact that in Belgium there was NO WAY to have a quick coffee at a counter: you order the coffee, you drink it standing in two minutes, and off you go. Nope: you have to sit down, wait ten minutes before the waiter decides you are worth of taking an order from (service in Belgium is the worst you will find in the whole freaking world). Then another ten minutes to get the coffee. Then ten minutes to wait for the bill. All in all a good 30 minutes wasted for a (shitty) coffee.
In Chicago things are different, but still not quite there: Starbuck's was obviously built with the Italian bars in mind, but although I like it very much, it is a different experience. I found one bar which is very similar to the Italian thing in Streeterville, a nehighborhood in Chicago. But it is still not the same.
So yes, what do I miss as an expat? A bar.
How about you?