This post comes to us from API Global Leader Sam Orr from the University of Georgia. Sam studied abroad in Florence, Italy.
Two weeks into my fall semester in Florence, Italy, I walked through the famous Mercato Centrale with my roommate. We were on a mission to find some lunch before our Italian class. We came across a small shop selling lampredotto, a signature Florentine dish of cow stomach, herbs, and salsa verde on a roll. The slimy cow stomach wriggled unpleasantly in my mouth, and the salsa verde set my taste buds ablaze- about 40 degrees hotter than I would’ve preferred. In other words, I had had enough after my second bite. However, eating lampredotto that afternoon was one of the best dining decisions of my semester abroad. It was during that disagreeable meal on that September day that I fully understood the importance of stepping outside of your comfort zone to try something new.
Here are the three reasons why you have to try the signature dishes of your study abroad destination:
1. Experience The Culture
A fundamental, if not the fundamental, aspect of our study abroad experience is exposure to a culture different from our own. A significant part of any international destination’s culture is the cuisine of that culture. If you want to fully experience the culture of your destination, you have to experience the food. Try the grub! You don’t have to like it, but don’t miss out on all that your study abroad destination has to offer. What would Valencia be without paella? Buenos Aires without asado? Florence without chianti classico? Experience the world in a multitude of ways, but mostly through your taste buds.
2. You Might Love It
It’s easy to look at a new food and simply assume that you will not like it. It’s different, it looks gross, it smells funny. You don’t know what it is. Besides, if it’s so delicious, then why don’t we all eat it in America? Well, perhaps that’s because no one has given it a chance yet. With any new food, there’s always a strong possibility that whatever you eat might just be the best thing you’ve had in the last decade.
My all-time favorite food is guanciale, or Italian cured pork cheek. It’s a lot like bacon, except it’s about 10x better. The meat is primarily used in carbonara, a pasta dish originally from Rome. The pasta dish is a crowd favorite among the Fiorentini. So, I tried the pasta, and from that point on I enjoyed guanciale no less than twice a week. One would be hard-pressed to find this jowl of heaven in the States (however, it can be found). This is not because no one likes it, but rather people simply have no idea what they’re missing. So, go discover what YOU’VE been missing! Find your own guanciale.
3. It’s Cheaper
If you’re a real study abroad student, you’re ballin’ on a budget. A very, very tight budget. You’ll save some coins wherever you can. In almost every circumstance, your destination’s local cuisine will be cheaper than other options.
You will find that most places you travel to will have familiar, Americanized food options. Maybe it’s a French restaurant in Paris with English menus and a chicken finger option. Maybe it’s an American brand found in a grocery store in New Delhi. These options will be more expensive. Many restaurants target unsuspecting tourists by offering familiar options at an inflated price. American brand names must be imported and therefore cost substantially more. So, if you want to save money, eat as the locals eat.
If you choose to study abroad, you are adventurous. You seek extraordinary and unique opportunities that you may never get to experience again. You are, by no means, shy. So why shy away from the food?