For the first time since arriving in January, I left Italy for the weekend with my friend Marissa – trading my familiar spaghetti and risotto for the exotic and unpronounceable dishes of Paris, France. As excited as I was to see the city of light I’ll admit I was concerned about the food, as my knowledge of French is limited to what I’ve learned from Beauty and the Beast and Les Miserables. Of course, the only thing I forgot to bring with me was the French phrase book that I bought before I left for the semester. Thankfully, Marissa had some friends studying in Nice that we had planned to meet up with and they served as our translators/lifelines/pronunciation teachers throughout the trip.
New cuisines have always been a forbidden fruit for me. A lack of understanding of traditional ingredients, preparation techniques, and the language barrier can make for a dangerous experience for those with food allergies. To complicate the situation, everything smelled tempting and amazing and different. The smell of homemade lasagna in Tuscany will still be one of the most incredible scents I’ve ever inhaled, but this French cuisine was completely unknown to me – and I wanted to try all of it. There’s no French equivalent of “Olive Garden” in America to give you at least a rough (and mostly inaccurate) idea of the country’s culinary offerings.
Although in most places the menus were in English and French, my knowledge of the cuisine was virtually nonexistent so the translations alone weren’t helpful withou descriptions. The first night, our friends from Nice suggested this Moroccan restaurant whose menu was even more of an enigma to me. I almost vetoed the choice for something more traditional, especially as a lot of entrees contained almonds, but I decided to take a chance (my allergist would probably faint if she read this). We had called ahead to ask about preparation methods, which the chef assured my friend were free of cross-contamination, and he was equally as helpful at the table in assisting me in choosing something safe to eat.
It was difficult for me to relinquish my ability to order for myself and explain my allergies in detail, as well as step out of my comfort zone, but in the end it was absolutely worth it. The fried cheese and pork pastries and savory stew with couscous were like nothing I had ever tasted before. Further culinary adventures followed, with our friends from Nice helping me navigate the menus, and among the dishes I tried were duck confit (tastes like chicken but a hundred times better) and real French Onion soup. By the end of the trip I was full of not only food but renewed confidence in my ability to experience the culinary culture of the places I was visiting.
However, my newly expanded palate didn’t keep me from getting a Caramel Frappuccino at the first Starbucks I saw after a three-month absence of the coffee chain in my life.
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<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Elizabeth Benz is a lifetime upstate New York resident who never takes the snow brush out of the back seat of her car. Originally from Buffalo, NY, she is a senior Music Education/Violin Performance major and Italian minor at Ithaca College. These three passions were intertwined on a life-changing trip in 2006 to the International Suzuki Method Conference in Turin, Italy, where she not only saw the communicative power of music across young artists from many nationalities, but also fell in love with the language and culture of the country. Eight years later she is fulfilling the promise she made to herself to return to Italy, after completing her senior student teaching practicum. She is particularly interested in observing the emphasis and importance placed on youth music and arts programs across Europe, and returning with ideas to inspire and support her own program at a future teaching job.</span></p>