Tag Archives: food

French Food and Adapting to Culture: A Rollercoaster Experience

 “The meaning of food is an exploration of culture through food. What we consume, how we acquire it, who prepares it, who’s at the table, and who eats first is a form of communication that is rich with meaning.” (PBS, The Meaning of Food, 2005)

One of the first blog posts I wrote during this experience shared that I had many preconceptions about France, its people, and its culture. I feared an ability to relate to my host country and wondered whether I’d ever assimilate. Turns out, a major foundation of French culture includes food, one of my favorite topics and parts of exploring different cultures! After all, “the meaning of food is an exploration of culture through food.”  While I had heard a lot about popular French foods like escargot (snails), des cuisses de grenouille (frog legs), and foie gras (fattened goose liver), these seemed to repulse me. I was quite excited to come and explore the wide variety of French wine and cheese, two of its most famed cultural staples. Before studying abroad, French food seemed to be just alright – not perfect, but not horrible, so I have to say how surprised I am that I feel much differently now.

 

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One of my favorite things in France is café culture. I stopped in Paris during my sightseeing to enjoy this beautiful lunch of a chevre chaud (warm goat cheese) salad.

 

My first night in Reims, I went out for the meal that would set up my obsession with exploring French cuisine. I ate at a café called Le Gaulois, located in the city center. My first meal was a linguine pasta with duck, in a rich creamy peanut sauce. My friend Nick insisted I indulge in a glass of champagne from the region, its dryness perfectly complementing the rich sauce of the duck. For dessert, we shared chocolate mousse and ice cream with traditional cookies, and I made it my goal then and there to try as much French cuisine as I could. Nick and his mother ordered foie gras and chevre, two specialties they had me try then and there. Although foie gras wasn’t a big deal to me, it wasn’t gross like I expected. The chevre (goat cheese, this time prepared warm with honey) was immaculate. I began to understand why UNESCO protects French food under world heritage – it is an experience of sorts that everyone should have if they travel to France.

 

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Amazing appetizers from Le Café Gaulois in Place d’Erlon. On the left, we have cooked foie gras on a bed of toast and lettuce, drenched in sweet and salty honey-balsamic sauce. On the right, we have snails (!) in an herb sauce with a regional name.

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Magret canard, which is a style of duck, in a very delicious savory sauce with cooked black peppercorns and pasta on the side. (Le Café Gaulois)

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One of my favorite meals: a salad with chevre chaud (warm goat cheese). I love this particular restaurant because of its elaborate salads. This one includes jambon pays (the country’s shredded ham) and potatoes lightly fried. (Le Café Gaulois)

 

It’s been exactly two months and 11 days since that first meal, and since then I’ve propelled myself into French food culture. Despite my homesickness for New York City and all the available cuisines there, I’ve found it comforting to adapt to French culture via food. Bakeries are a huge deal here, and the freshness of the bread and pastries makes my mornings and/or lunches. Even the “fast food” options here (which consist of Arab kebabs and European pizza among other things) have special tastes that I feel I will remember when I go back home.

 

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From Hanny Kebab, a staple in my life here since my first week. Kebabs traditionally include meat, red onions, tomatoes, lettuce, and sauces of your choice. My favorite is sauce blanche (white sauce).

 

On the nights where I decide to splurge and explore the city as well as some restaurants, I like to eat lavish meals complete with dessert and drinks to try new things. Through this exploration, I’ve developed a serious affinity towards stinky cheeses, weirdly prepared meats like tartare (completely raw meat!), and large salads with French lardon and chevre.

 

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Beef tartare served with dried fungus (mushrooms) and a savory cream and pepper sauce.

 

The majority of my new friends here are fellow exchange students, and many of them share similar sentiments as me. Most of us terribly miss our lives back home, and for us, we remember our foods back home as staples of our culture. However, all of us have been rather excited to explore French cuisine and make a steady effort to both cook dishes that mean something to us back home as well as participate in French food culture. In order to do so, some of my close friends and I have formed a dinner group, something I would sincerely recommend to other students studying abroad. In our group of friends, we have a variety of nationalities present. We are American (Northern, Midwest, and Southern), Mexican, German, New Zealanders, and Lebanese, just to name a few. Every week we dine together at someone’s home, and one of us makes a cuisine of their culture to share with the others. Besides this, we’ve held “French” nights where we gather to eat baguettes and cheese, or go out to explore the local food. These meetings have become quintessential.

 

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Photo taken in my apartment, when my friends and I gathered after our morning classes to make an elaborate brunch. We combined yummy French foods like baguettes and comte with and avocado spread and lightly fried eggs.

 

 

To give some more insight on the positives and negatives of adapting to a culture through food and drink, I’ve asked some of my friends to describe their experiences with French food and its culture. My friend Anna, like me, loves the bakeries. She says, “their pastries and baguettes are the best. No comparison to what I have had in New York.” Very often, Anna and I go grocery shopping together. She’s discovered that “the groceries (except for meat) are much cheaper.” When asked to comment on specifics, she said that meat here is super expensive but I am content with this because I would much rather have responsibly grown expensive meat than what we have in the United States.” Additionally, “most of the groceries here are also more fresh than the U.S.” Because Anna and I have a Caribbean background, there are some things that we can agree on that the French could do better to adapt to. Maybe this is because we are from NYC, one of the most diverse places in the world, but Anna noted that “the French have no sense of diverse food. What they believe to be diverse are cultural stereotypes,” something that we’ve seen a bit in even our own friends group. We made a joke that on the night our friend from Mexico City was to host dinner, everyone expected tacos for ‘Taco Tuesday,’ even though what she (and our other Mexican friends) made was impressive and delicious, to say the least. Anna went on to discuss seasoning, expressing sincere happiness that her mother remembered to pack her Dominican sázon, which she could not find here. On the overall experience, she writes that it is “difficult being accustomed to having different cultural experiences with food.” Anna and I are very similar as New Yorkers having to adapt to French tastes and culture, but the respect for the food system in France is immense from both of us.

 

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Some of my and Anna’s favorite pastries from a bakery near our school. The cake pictured above is a lovely creamy and flaky cake, served with almonds and powdered sugar on top. The two little tarlettes are lemon meringue and fruit (left to right). We hope to continue spoiling ourselves like this as much as we can while here!

 

Our friend Rea, unlike Anna, was not too shocked with French food or quality. “French food was not much of a cultural shock for me because I am Lebanese and French food and culture is embedded in Beirut. I learned, ate, and read French which still living in a conventional Lebanese cultural setting. I think the French influence is a big positive add-on to the life of the Lebanese.” Rea recommends to try cultural mixing, by dipping a French baguette in traditional Lebanese hummus.

One student here from Australia, Claudia, is living with a homestay family, something not common in our group of friends. In fact, she is the only one (that I know of) in my program who took the homestay option. Most of us have our own apartments with or without roommates, or live in student housing. Claudia’s experience with French food and culture have thus been a bit more intimate. She says that “from my point of view, the meals I share with my host family are as close as I will ever get to French culture.” She enlightens me on the true meaning of French food in culture by saying that “it’s more than just the classic baguette with cheese and good wine…in fact, it doesn’t really have a lot to do with what you’re eating, as long as you can talk about how good it is.”

I absolutely agree with Claudia in the fact that the French take immense pride in the small pleasures of life, including food. A well-prepared shared meal is an excuse to hang out and have good experiences. This is something I notice especially when I go out to eat, and unlike in NYC, staff do not seem to rush your dining experience at all. You are asked whether you want more time in between courses, and waitstaff do not come to your table repeatedly to ask if you need anything, are finished, or need the check. This is something to note – it is not rude to not be hyper-attentive to a table… rather, it is seen as a sign of respect that the people dining want to take their time and enjoy their experience.

Coming back to Claudia’s family, she tells me that “they are a very traditional Catholic family, who eat a big Sunday lunch every week. It’s often roasts with veggies, or something similar, and last for hours… it always involves more than one course.” Although Claudia says she doesn’t go out to eat much, I feel her experience with a traditional French family perfectly showcases the importance of intimate meals with those you care about.

Coming back to the quote that inspired this blog post: “what we consume, how we acquire it, who prepares it, who’s at the table, and who eats first is a form of communication that is rich with meaning.” Everything that I’ve learned about French cuisine and its preparation – a focus on sustainability, the international protection of its culinary customs through UNESCO, the different means of preparation for the thousands of varieties of cheese, wines, breads, and meats they have – has proven to me that the French have a deep connection with what they consume, and only enjoy the finest things. Even simple foods, like bread and cheese, have such rich flavors and come in a variety of options, that you can’t help but think the French are very deliberate with what and how they eat. In this culture, especially with the affordability of good cuisine and its wide availability with pastries and specialty food shops on nearly every corner, it is reasonable to say that everyone deserves to eat well. And any culture that has food so deeply embedded, and considers the pleasure of eating a necessity to life, is a culture that I would consider myself enamored with.

 

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Yummy Italian pizza from a restaurant I visited over spring break… my friend’s sister is a regular there, and I guess the chef adores them as much as I adore food!

 

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Filed under Tammie in France, Western Europe

Khalid Gives a Tour of China

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Filed under East Asia, Khalid in China

Adventurous Eats in South Korea

One of the best things about traveling and being in a foreign country is trying out new foods! Foods from around the world have become a big part of travel these days with unique cuisines or cultures around the world, and South Korea is quite unique itself. When one thinks of food from South Korea, the first thing that may come to mind is Korean barbecue or kimchi however there is so much more!

 

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Korean barbecue where you cook the meat and eat straight off the grill!

 

I’ve been studying abroad in South Korea for nearly 6 months now and have become accustomed to the cuisine here. Korean barbecue is perhaps the most common dish you’ll find served in Korea, among the popular dishes of samgyeopsal (pork) or bulgogi (marinated beef), and other types and cuts of meat available. Other very common meals are fried chicken which is often paired with beer, seafood of all sorts (which is very fresh because of location), and rice bowl type restaurants in which you get rice with a type of meat and some vegetables. While you are sure to run into these types of foods everywhere you turn, you can surely find just about any type of cuisine you are looking for especially if you visit Itaewon which is known for being the area with the most foreigners.

 

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Bibimbap is a bowl of rice with many vegetables, egg, and meat mixed together.

 

I enjoy seafood however, I usually stick to cooked dishes and a limited selection of common seafood such as crab, salmon, fish and shrimp. Since South Korea is right next to the ocean, the seafood is as fresh and diverse as you can get at the Noryangjin fish market. One thing I never thought I would try is live octopus. It is a very unusual and traditional dish in South Korea where tentacles are served still squirming on the plate. You dip it in a spicy type of oil and then eat it! The live octopus tasted pretty good actually, however the experience of having it squirming and stick to your mouth was really intense for me.

 

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Live octopus tentacles with sesame seeds. Definitely the strangest thing I’ve ever eaten!

 

The food I will miss the most when I return to the U.S. is gimbap. Gimbap is a simple, quick food which looks similar to sushi. It is usually some type of meat, tuna, or vegetables stuffed in rice and then rolled in a seaweed wrap. This quick food is nothing extravagant however the reason I will miss it is because of how easily available it is and it is quite healthy! At home in the U.S., if I wanted a quick bite to eat I usually resorted to fast food or heating up leftovers. With gimbap, I can usually find it fresh at any convenience store or one of the many food stalls or restaurants. It is easy to grab and go, or even take home. The best part is a roll of about 8-10 pieces costs around $1.20 USD!

 

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Gimbap is so cheap, delicious, and filling! With so many options you surely won’t get tired of it anytime soon!

 

I grew up in the United States and with a diverse population, so I have become accustomed to having a great variety of food available. I’ve also noticed that so many people including myself live busy lives in which they don’t have time to really enjoy a meal. There are so many times where I found myself grabbing a quick bite to eat and taking it home, or eating fast food in the car while on my way somewhere. In South Korea this is quite different. Eating in Korea is more of a social event and I see a lot less people eating alone. Usually friends or co-workers set up meeting times for lunch or dinner. Another difference is sharing food at the table! In the U.S. when I go out to eat with friends, everyone usually orders their own meals and sometimes we share an appetizer. In Korea, everyone agrees on a type of meat or food and places a large order that everyone shares straight from the pan it was cooked in! For instance, a restaurant I often go to with friends is a kind of fried rice place. You sit at a table with a large grill and pan in the middle and then choose a type of meat and any vegetables you want. They bring a large bowl of rice, vegetables, and meat, then cook it in the pan in front of you. When it is cooked, everyone takes from the pan onto their small plate.

 

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Sharing a large pot of the traditional dish Army Stew. Ramen noodles with veggies and hot dogs!

 

Food in South Korea is unique with all it has to offer, and quite inexpensive as well. I believe my meals average anywhere between $2-6 and they are always delicious and  filling. When I return to the U.S., I will definitely try to incorporate some of the food cultures I’ve learned into my lifestyle at home.

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Filed under East Asia, Jeff in South Korea

7 Things To Do in Leuven

Hey guys! Now I’m more than halfway into the semester! Time has flown by and I can’t believe I only have 7ish weeks left in Belgium. From my study abroad experience here so far, I’ve created a list of 7 things you must do if you study in or travel to Leuven, Belgium:

1. Go to Oude Markt.

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Oude Markt.

Oude Markt, or Old Market, is the place to go to for a night out. With dozens of bars lining a main pathway on two sides, Oude Markt is the go to place for anyone looking to go dancing or catch some drinks with friends. Oude Markt is also just beautiful, both during the day and at night. The architecture is beautiful and it’s just a few steps away from the Old City Hall. During the day, the bars act as a place to grab a yummy lunch. At night it transforms into a lively place where thousands of people are strolling around dancing and socializing. It’s a MUST GO when visiting or studying at Leuven. Funny enough, at the end of Oude Markt there is a secondary school, so at 2 pm you’ll see hundreds of students pour out of the gates on their bikes riding through Oude Markt.

2. Go to Grote Markt.

Grote Markt, or Large Market, is a large plaza in front of the Old City Hall and stretches into a shopping center in central Leuven. Grote Markt has a large outdoor market every Saturday morning where you can buy fresh cheese, fruit, and other foods. You can also shop for some antiques at the Saturday market and other little knick-knacks at the surrounding stores. There are also a handful of food places you can grab a bite to eat at- either a quick on-the-go meal or a nice sit down meal. Also, the Old City Hall is also here. You can behold the beautiful building where thousands of hand-carved figures detail the structure. It’s always bustling in this area due to the fact that the market center leads into several main streets.

3. Visit the Stella Artois Brewery.

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At the Stella Artois tour with our vests.

Leuven is home to the original Stella Artois Brewery. You can take a tour through the brewery for as cheap as 7-8 euros and see the process of how the city’s famous beer is made. You also get a few goodies on the way out! It’s fun and you get to wear a neon orange vest when making your way throughout the factory. The people there are kind and are passionate about brewing quality beer and its really fun to see how much the beer means to them as a community.

4. Visit Museum M.

Museum M is a newer art museum that opened in 2009, but it is very popular and such a fun place to visit! Museum M is also where I do half of my internship but I’ll talk more about that in my next post! The people who work at the museum have worked very hard to make the museum a true community space where everyone is welcome. Even though most of the programming is in Dutch, they believe that art and creativity is a universal language that can be understood by all. If you have a Culture Card, which is usually connected to your student ID card, you can gain entry for only 3 euros! And if you buy a student member card for only 10 euros, you can get in as many times as you want for a year!

5. Visit OTHER Cities in Belgium.

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Me and the girls in Gent, a BEAUTIFUL city an hour and a half train ride away from Leuven.

Though Leuven is bustling with a lot to do, it’s also important to explore Belgium’s other cities. Brussels is only a 20 minute train ride away, and other popular cities like Ghent or Bruges is only an hour and half to two hours away by train. It’s definitely worth it to make day trips out there and see the beautiful cities Belgium has to offer. On the weekdays round-trip tickets are usually about 12 euros but on the weekends it’s significantly cheaper. Or you can buy a Go Pass for 50 euros and get 5 round trip tickets! It’s totally worth it! Those pictures you look up on Google about Belgium really do not do any justice to the reality. Every time I visit a new city, I just stand there in awe of the beauty of it all and feel so grateful and lucky to be able to study abroad.

6. EAT EAT EAT!

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Fries with Andalouse sauce!

You’re in Belgium so eating some frites, waffles, and mussels is a must! But also eat the Speculoos gelato you can find at the numerous gelato shops around Leuven. You won’t be disappointed! Eat at Domus, which is a restaurant on Tiensestraat, right by the Grote Markt, which boasts authentic Belgian food. Taste the authentic Belgian beers with your meal and really indulge yourself in the food culture of Leuven. The food culture also involves stopping by Panos and getting a large sandwich on a baguette to go, or getting waffles slathered with chocolate sauce in between classes! Enjoy it!

Fun fact: a lot of Europeans call cream cheese “Philadelphia.”

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Eating some yummy gelato at Ostende, a coastal city in Belgium.

 

7. Indulge in the Culture of Others

Leuven is a huge international hub where students from all over the world come to study at KU (Katholieke Universiteit). Take advantage of that. Not only immerse yourself in Belgian culture, but also the culture of the other international students you will live with in dorms or have classes with. I’ve not only learned about the Belgian culture but I’ve also learned about Spanish, British, and German cultures because of my hall mates. It has been a really transformative experience and one I am so grateful for. Make sure to not stay in only your circles. Reach out and go to the events that KU provides and really try to meet new people. With them, you’ll learn and experience new things that you’ll never forget.

 

I hope this hopes anyone planning to study abroad in Leuven! I’ll check back in a few weeks to talk about my internship! Tot Ziens!!

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Filed under Nhi in Belgium, Western Europe

Tempus Fugit

Life is like a roller-coaster; the following is a peak-and-trough analysis of the past two weeks. My least favorite moment in Shanghai came when I said goodbye to some good friends I had made throughout the last two months. I am relocating to a second internship in Beijing. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, and sure enough, the next high would present itself with the long awaited arrival of my hén hǎo de péngyou, Terry. When I met Terry in Calculus class, I never would have expected that three years later I would be waiting for him at the airport in his native country.

 

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My best friend Terry.

 

In my previous posts, I talked about the meaning of food and how excited I was to try authentic Chinese cuisine. I did not fully comprehend how dangerous it would be to order my own meals. Most of the time it was hit or miss but more often than not I would regret it later when nature called. Eventually, I learned my lesson and started cooking my own meals, always alternating between McDonald’s and KFC for lunch, much to Terry’s dismay. Over a span of four days, Terry restored my faith in Chinese food as I tasted Shanghai with virgin lips.

Finally, it was time for us to leave for Chongqing where we would meet Terry’s family. Terry’s father and mother were very welcoming and showed incredible hospitality. They arranged superb accommodations and placed reservations at the finest restaurants in Chongqing. China’s economy has seen tremendous growth over the last few decades and as a self-made business man, Terry’s father offered me practical life advice. He asked me to call him shūshu (uncle) and showed me a glimpse of the luxurious life of the Chinese elite.

 

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Chongqing hotpot.

 

We toured the city, enjoyed bubble tea drinks at an exotic zoo-themed café and went to the most famous hot pot restaurant in the city. Chongqing is near Sichuan and boasts the spiciest food in the country. Naturally, they thought I couldn’t keep up. Dish after dish came and I proved I had a stomach of steel. At the culmination of the meal, Shūshu’s friend, who is the president of a university, presented a nice gift that featured original postage stamps from all over China.

Later we went to a famous night club and watched a performance from the number one DJ in China. This was one of the most memorable nights of my life. Chinese people are not known for being liberal dancers and I saw this an opportunity to share my culture. I jumped on the empty stage when the DJ started playing hip-hop music and soon I was lost in my own world. I opened my eyes only to be blinded by the spotlight. As I looked across the sea of people, I realized they were all frozen; a thousand eyes fixated on the Egyptian-American dancing wildly before them. At first, I was intimidated, but then I encouraged the spectators to come on stage and dance with me. One by one they came until the stage was filled with Chinese people dancing around Terry and myself.

The next morning, I felt excruciating pain as my stomach fought the side effects of the hot pot. I mustered up the last of my strength to attend the home cooked meal that Shūshu had prepared. Although I could not eat much, the food looked and smelled delicious. Afterward, we enjoyed a scenic view from his company office overlooking the famous Yangtze River. The following morning, they arranged a “goodbye” dinner with an assortment of Shūshu’s acquaintances. I did not know it at the time but I was sitting next to one of the most powerful men in China. We laughed and shared stories using Terry as a translator to overcome the language barrier. At the end of the meal, they poured their drinks into their baijiu wells, which is the highest honor you can give someone.

I was sad to leave but at the same time, I was ecstatic to see my sister, Mel. I arrived in Beijing on my birthday and had dinner with Mel. Afterward, we met Val, my Russian friend, for a night on the town and celebrated my birthday in style. We made many new friends. My new co-workers here in Beijing are very kind and have gone to great lengths to welcome me to their city. I am excited to experience the rich history that Beijing has to offer. From the Great Wall to the Forbidden City, and the terracotta warriors in Xian—I want to see it all. With just under twenty days left in China, I cannot wait for the new adventures that await!

 

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Reunion with my sister.

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Highs and Lows

It’s really hard to believe that I’ve already lived in another country for almost 5 weeks now. I’d say time is flying but then again I really don’t want time to go any faster. It is truly amazing here. I feel as though every day I am learning something new. Not just in the classrooms but through the culture as well because there are just so many things to learn about and discover. Sometimes I take walks throughout the city and just relish in the moment, thinking about my first days here and where I am now. My experience here has definitely had a great number of highs, but there definitely are some lows too… Though they may not be considered lows for people not in Italy for a semester.

I’ll start with the lows .Water isn’t free. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve walked into a diner or a restaurant and sat down waiting for a glass of water. And with that, each restaurant has their own price of water, it’s not a standard amount. I’ve paid 2 euros for a pitcher of water at some places, and other places I’ve paid 6 euros. Also, the water in the apartments isn’t the cleanest and takes a long time to filter.

I wouldn’t really consider this a low, but one thing I haven’t gotten used to yet is the street signs. I tend to get lost more often than I would like, and the buildings honestly look a lot alike, so it’s hard to remember which direction I came from. I have an 8 am class on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays that is about 20-25 minutes away from my house, so getting lost sometimes on the way there is definitely a hassle. I am also trying to work on my Italian the best that I can, but when I can’t remember certain words, I resort to English for directions, and let’s say not everyone knows what I am talking about.

If I really had a true low, it would be the fact that I am not able to experience this with any of my close friends from back home. Yes, I am making new friends here who are really cool and interesting people. Yes, I am making new memories with people from around the whole world. But when I go to sleep at night, I can’t help but feel like sharing these experiences and memories with people who have been in my life for numerous years would make my time here 100x better. My time here has definitely made me value the friendships I have back home a whole lot more. I have been here for only a month, but I think I am starting to get a little homesick. But I am sure that will wear off sooner than later.

Now my highs certainly outweigh my lows.

I think I’ll start my highs off with this one: I spent and celebrated my 21st birthday in Munich, Germany, at the grand German festival known as Oktoberfest. The reason why I put this at the top of my list of highs is because how many people can say they spent their 21st birthday at Oktoberfest, surrounded by millions of different types of people, and when in my life would I be able to do this again? Chances are not so many, which is why it’s been one of my best and most exciting times here. Oh. Let’s not forget to mention that me and a friend who is studying in Spain this semester met up and wore dashikis to the festival. Yes. Out of the thousands and thousands of people there, we were probably the only two black students at the entire event, and we wore dashikis… and we got a lot of compliments on them too! The people there were so kind and giving, and the atmosphere was just full of life and joy. A table of lively Germans even invited us to sit with them at their table and just share laughs and music.

 

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Celebrating my birthday at Oktoberfest.

 

Another one of my highs here would all the different foods I have eaten and made. I have never cooked this much in my life. It doesn’t hurt that my roommate is a really good cook so I have learned a lot of different things from him as well. I’ve had a bunch of variations of pasta, different types and forms of chicken and other types of meat. One thing that is different is that here the food is not processed, which means I’m putting good things into my body. However at home I could leave chicken in the fridge or freezer for a few days to a week, and here the food, chicken especially, goes bad really fast. So if I spent my money on it, I’m going to cook it. And whenever I’m feeling a little homesick in terms of food, I have found a great place to get amazing pancakes or a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich. The food at restaurants and diners is also really good and different. They are really big on sandwiches here! There are lines as long as the whole block to try sandwiches at a lot of different spots. I’ve gotten really cool with the sandwich-maker at a spot really close to my apartment so he lets me skip the line all the time, another high for me.

 

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Pizza made with love.

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The BEST gelato ever.

 

One of the best parts about being here is just the ability to travel, and it is very inexpensive which makes it a high for me. When I think about how I was in the ancient city of Pompeii not so long ago, I almost don’t believe myself.  I’ve already booked trips this month to London, Amsterdam, and Barcelona. Next month I’m going to be going to Austria to visit a friend on a basketball team there and catch one of his games. I am also planning on visiting Greece, Paris, and Switzerland.  I booked my flight to London 3 weeks ago, and in the blink of an eye, I will be going there next weekend. It really is crazy how quickly time goes when you are exploring the world. I am just really excited to see new places and find new highs to add to my list.

 

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The ancient city of Pompeii.

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¡Buen provecho! A presentation of Ecuadorian food

Whether just to humor me or because you love food as much as this girl, imagine a lunch that somehow never ends, beginning with a fresh juice, then soup, followed by a plato fuerte, and all tied together with a sweet but small pastry. And to top it all off? Ecuadorian almuerzos (lunches) range from $2-4 and the city of Quito as well as Cumbayá, a small suburb where my host university is located. These cities are full of family-owned restaurants waiting to offer you traditional and delicious lunches. There really isn’t anything like it in the world.

 

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A sopa and plato fuerte at a restaurant near my school.

 

I find myself scrambling to find room for dinner after getting lunch with some friends, even after a few hours have passed. But alas, I find the space, not only to be polite and show my appreciation to my lovely host mother, but because the dinners she makes always have a rich and flavorful aroma unlike anything I have had the pleasure of smelling during a semester in college. (On a side note, University of Massachusetts was just ranked #1 for best campus food by the Princeton Review – go UMass! However, there is still nothing better than a home cooked meal, and I will always stick by that.)

 

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A dinner made by my lovely host mom! Llapingachos are a traditional Ecuadorian potato pancake, filled with cheese and butter – ¡que ricos son! They are traditionally served with a fried egg, sausages, and fresh avocado, as pictured above.

 

My host family here is a little different than a ‘traditional’ family. Since it is just me and my host mom, I have yet to truly experience the customs and expectations around a meal with Ecuadorian families. However, one aspect of the food culture here that I have learned is that Ecuadorians strongly believe that no one should eat alone. Even if my host mom has already eaten, she always accompanies me as well as anyone else who is over at the time while we eat.

 

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My host mom and I enjoying a Sunday in Nayon with some ice cream!

 

A few weekends ago I also had the pleasure of visiting Cayambe, a city that is not too far from Quito and is known for their bizcochos and homemade, fresh queso. Bizchocos are similar to biscotti and are usually served with fresh cheese and a coffee, tea, or hot chocolate. If you ever find yourself in Ecuador, specifically near Cayambe, I highly recommend you try this snack! You can even watch as they make the dough and tour the bizcocho ovens inside certain cafes in Cayambe.

 

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Bizcochos, chocolate caliente y queso, a delicious breakfast or snack for only $2.50!

 

Food is an essential aspect of the culture here in Ecuador. It is the perfect example of the country’s diversity and colorful personality. There are traditional foods that are specific to certain cities, celebrations, and communities that all create the welcoming and beautiful environment that is Ecuador. Even after a month of being here, I still have many different foods to try, such as the Andean delicacy cuy, or roasted guinea pig, ceviche, a traditional meal from the coast that consists of seafood that has been ‘cooked’ with lime juice, and cevichochos, a traditional Ecuadorian street food that is a mix of chochos, a white legume, small or large corn kernels, ceviche, plantain chips, salsa, aji pepper, and lime.

 

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Choclo y fritada (corn and fried pork) a must have during your time in Ecuador!

 

Although Ecuador’s official language is Spanish, there is a large population of Quechua speakers, an indigenous language and community who live in the Andes and the Amazon regions of Ecuador. The indigenous communities here have a large influence on Ecuador’s gastronomy as well as its younger generations who bring their cravings back from their travels abroad. Although everyday is full of new surprises and unexpected but exciting challenges here in Ecuador, one thing is for certain: food will always be an essential, and delicious, aspect of Ecuadorian culture that imperative to displaying the many diverse environments- agricultural, marine, and beyond- that create Ecuador’s renowned and unique identity that I have been able to enjoy and participate in, even as a gringa!

 

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