Food. This time of year seems to be chock full of it, which reminded me that food has a major role in studying abroad. No matter where you go the cuisine will be different from what you’re used to, your taste buds will alter and sometimes your intestinal tract will take a hit. But amongst all the new flavors, you may fall in love with items you never knew existed. Here are the foods from my travels that comforted me, became new favorites, were absolutely not for me, and those I miss dearly.
Let’s get the least favorite out of the way. Upon my arrival in the Netherlands, my roommate wasted no time introducing me to all things Dutch. She plopped me on a bicycle, we sped off into town traveling through narrow pedestrian-filled alleyways, until she stopped – with me trailing far behind – in front of a snack bar. She promptly ordered me a kroket, a meat-and-potatoes-and-ragout-filled bratwurst-shaped fried snack served on a bun.
I don’t know if it was just too soon into my already over stimulated first hours in this new land but I bit into it, and after the burning in my mouth subsided, I decided that this mystery meat in a thick whitish sauce was not for me. I filed my dislike under “it’s a texture thing.” I never did try another one.
Fortunately, I soon found a go-to lunch stop in Utrecht, though not traditional Dutch cuisine, it was so good I’ve tried replicating it. Pita Kaas met Salade en Patat Met. Translation: Cheese Pita with Salad and French fries with mayonnaise. So simple yet so hard to recreate; it’s tricky finding the right garlicky dressing for the salad of lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes, which is stuffed inside the warmed pita on top of the melted cheese. The fries and mayo are pretty self-explanatory but they do come with a mini pitchfork.
Another favorite meal served on a pita is the doner kebab I discovered in Holloway, London. Maybe it was his blue eyes. Maybe it was his charming smile. Whatever it was, the cute Turkish guy behind the counter at my local kebab shop was the garlic sauce to my chicken doner kebab. A fantastic cure for a hangover, these are best served with chips (aka fries). These made me feel like Homer staring at a donut or a Duff beer.
One cuisine I was introduced to abroad and now incorporate into my restaurant rotation is Indian. Living in London I did the obligatory trip to Brick Lane with the men on the streets trying to usher groups of potential customers into their restaurant with deals of a no-corking fee or free naan bread. It was in these restaurants that I discovered Chicken (or Lamb) Saag and garlic Naan.
After a not-so-tasty try of a standard curry, I was nervous about trying something new. Spinach seemed safe enough for me and it was a big hit. If I’m missing London, I’ll order up some Saag and be transported.
All these salty dishes need a balance from the sweet. My three favorite sweets from abroad are stroopwafels, hazelnut yogurt, and McVitie’s chocolate digestives. Stroopwafels are a Dutch treat of two very thin waffles sandwiched together with caramel. They are best when fresh or warmed up.
In Dublin, I came across hazelnut yogurt. It had a hint of hazelnut flavor with bits of hazelnuts throughout. I was not a yogurt person. The fruit bits always creeped me out – again it’s a texture thing. But I fell in love with this hazelnut yogurt. And, sadly, I have never been able to find it again.
Last, but certainly not least as I ate these the most of anything mentioned above, are McVitie’s chocolate digestives. Digestives are part of the biscuit/cookie family. They are tasty, addictive and perfect with tea. These are, fortunately, available at my local grocer in the international aisle and for a hefty price I can enjoy half a roll of my favorite treat.
Foreign foods can seem intimidating or down-right unappetizing at first. Be open-minded and give things a try. You never know what you might be missing out on.
**Update June 2016: Here is a great recipe for making your own digestives at home. I’ve made them twice already and they are better than the ones at the store.