Okay, so I’ve had a couple of friends ask me what kind of food they should/should not bring to the US, so here’s a list of common items we Malaysians typically cannot live without, and whether or not US Customs would suddenly decide they need a bottle of belacan.
1. Milo and Nescafe
JUST BRING. LIKE TWO PACKETS. I used up two large packets of Milo 3-in-1 in one semester (but that’s just me lah). Also, if you’re a hardcore Milo fan, invest in a couple of kg’s and take some along because a small tin of Milo can cost up to $7 in the US, depending on the region. If you’re a Nescafe enthusiast , don’t hesitate to invest in one or two packages. The United States simply does not have the variety of pre-mixed coffee that Malaysia does.
While IndoMee and cup ramen can be found in abundance in the Land of the Mee – I mean Free – there is simply nothing like a good, hot bowl of Maggi Kari to warm you up on an abysmal winter day. Also, you cannot find Maggi Kari here, so do bring your own personal supply along. Mind the chicken-flavored one, though. The rules are pretty blurry on this one, but if the Customs officer had a stressful day, he/she might just confiscate your Maggi Perisa Ayam.
3. Malaysian Spices and Condiments
I would strongly advise bringing a small supply of your own spices and curry powder (Babas, usually) until you can figure out where to buy decent Asian spices on the University campus. While there are at least three Asian marts selling a generous variety of powders and spices, a small stash may help you while you’re figuring out where to buy everything you need to make your Tok Ma’s rendang kambing. Besides that, things like kicap (soy sauce) and oyster sauce are totally fine, as long as you don’t bring along five bottles of each (that looks plain suspicious). Also make sure to wrap all glass bottles securely to prevent any breakage, because your luggage bag is going to be thrown about. ALSO BRING CHILLI SAUCE.
I have not yet entered an Asian mart on campus that sells belacan. That being said, the admissibility of belacan into the United States is pretty ambiguous. Sometimes it passes right through Customs with no problem, other times it gets confiscated. My opinion? Just bring it along. If it survives Border Protection, you can look forward to a nice plate of nasi lemak. On a side note, shrimp is also okay, as long as it’s dried, and does not come in insanely large quantities.
I will expand more on this later on, but for starters, make sure you have Panadol, prescription flu pills, Eno, and vitamin C chewables. The change in time zone and weather can affect some people pretty badly, so painkillers and vitamins will definitely help to ease any discomfort that you might be feeling.
With that said, I’d like to add that it’s advisable to label all food items clearly and concisely. I wrapped my medicines and any food products that might cause any confusion for the Customs officers in clear plastic bags, then labelled them with their names. For medicines, I added their purpose. For food, I listed their main ingredients.
The basic rule is just to bring along whatever you feel is necessary to help you acclimatize in a new environment. Don’t be too afraid of what may or may not get taken out of your luggage bag because honestly, it very much depends on your luck. And just in case you still have any doubts, head over here for more information of the US Customs and Border Protection website to find out!