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Like language, fashion, or music, food is a way in which people express
their culture. Italy is famous for their pasta, Australia is known for vegemite
and Ireland is all about the beer. Countries, regions and cities are home to
flavors that help them define what makes them distinct. Tasting local cuisine
is not only one of the most exciting parts of international travel, but you can
sure learn a lot about a country by eating the way locals eat.
The best way to understand local flavor is to eat it! Go ahead, try that
hole-in-the wall a few blocks off of the main street! You should expect to
experience authentic flavors otherwise masked by the touristy area of a city. Also,
keep an eye out for street food. This is a great, inexpensive way to sample unique
flavors of a city. Picture those hotdog carts famous to New York selling
falafel in the busy streets of Tel Aviv. Just use your judgment as to whether
the food is hot and fresh, and go wherever the line is longest.
Before you head abroad, make of list of all of the food you’re itching
to try. I added foods like Vegemite, kangaroo meat, and Tim Tams to my list prior
to heading abroad to Australia. I tried Vegemite on toast my second day there,
and tried it only once more in my five month stay. It was salty, thick, and
smelled like a combination of soy sauce and beef bouillon. Gross, I know. I
couldn’t understand why the Aussies craved this condiment – must have been an
acquired taste. It’s okay to hate a local favorite dish. Reaching beyond the
boundaries and trying something new is what studying abroad is all about!
I also tried kangaroo meat, despite the fact that I’m a vegetarian. I
had to try it, right? After only one bite of the extremely tender, juicy,
melt-in-your mouth kangaroo meat, I had enough. Oh, and Tim-Tams, a favorite Australian
cookie, were fully stocked in my room at all times. They came in a variety of
flavors from Double-Coat to Rum Raisin, and I enjoyed every single bite of
every single cookie. Eating what and how the locals do will give you a feel for
how people in a different country live, think, and interact with the world
Don’t over look the beverages of a foreign
country either! Pub culture lends itself well to creating strong international
friendships as Sourabh Chakraborty experienced in his semester abroad in
Ireland. For him, the local corner pubs were a place where wonderful conversations,
cultural knowledge, and friendships blossomed. Although an American outsider,
the locals welcomed him as they “explained everything about local ales and how
the culture revolved around it…Ireland is definitely a place for social
drinking.” As a way to break the language gap, going to a pub was “my way of
striking up a conversation or friendship with these people.” Sourabh vividly remembers
one of his favorite professors from late night pub chats, where he actually
“got the best feedback” for his course.
There are many ways to expose yourself to
local cuisine without blowing your budget. Take a stroll through the
supermarket: compare prices to back home, check to see how many flavors of
cereal they have, or if they refrigerate their eggs. (Note: they do not
refrigerate eggs in Australia – just goes to show how farm fresh they are). I
always find it really interesting to check out the candy isle. Seeing how
foreigners enjoy their chocolate is fascinating. I bet it will be a challenge
to find a Hershey bar!
It’s the ingredients, spices, and
preparations which make international cuisine different from what you’re used
to. Looking for foods from back home is far less satisfying than exploring
local foods. Skip over the McDonald’s in the center of the city, and ditch the
Starbucks abroad – go for local! You’ll be surprised as to what foods and
eating habits become routine if you give them a chance.
Looking for more information? Check out our study abroad student guide to learn more.
Lauren R. Alexander studied abroad in Melbourne, Australia in 2011. She
is currently working towards a BA in Communication and Theater at American
University in Washington, DC.
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