I really love food. I enjoy trying foods for the first time and finding comfort in old favorites; I like learning about people through their favorite meals and catching up with old friends over a bowl of noodles on a Friday night; I love finding the best restaurants in every new city I go to and checking off at least one local food from among the museums and sites on my bucket list. After three and a half months of eating abroad, I have a lot to talk about, so here it is: an ode to food.
Burgers, fries, and PB&Js: When I came to Germany, I thought the food here would teach me a lot about the local culture. I was right, but what I failed to realize is that my own cravings while abroad would say a lot about myself too. What I learned from what I ate in the first month was this: I was stressed, a little overwhelmed, and despite loving Germany, I missed home. Within a week of exiting the plane I found myself frustrated with cravings for burgers, fries, and PB&Js. Something about transplanting 4000 miles across the ocean made me yearn for quintessential American comforts, and I was terrified of inhabiting an ugly American trope by eating at McDonald’s and shopping in the American foods aisle at the grocery store all the time. Thankfully my desire for fast food and elementary school cafeteria staples died down a bit, and in retrospect I appreciate all those burgers and PB&Js because they forced me to acknowledge a truth that seemed to have gotten lost in the fray: I was living in Germany and learning from this place and its people, but a piece of my heart will always belong to America, for better or for worse. I wanted to be a malleable world traveler who adapted seamlessly to any place I went, but our personal history will always be a shadow, and for good reason! If I could easily ignore everything I came to know and love growing up in America, then how could I expect to experience any lasting transformations from my semester abroad? I’ll gladly leave behind a piece of my heart in Freiburg and occasionally seek out a soft pretzel or doner kebab in the States.
Dumplings: One of the first friends I made in the IES program put me on yet another unexpected food trajectory when she mentioned her fruitless search for a local dumpling spot in Freiburg. I carry a deep love of certain foods, and something about tiny bite-sized pockets of meat and veggies really does it for me, so when Jessica mentioned dumplings, it was as if she had poked the bear, had woken it up from a deep slumber in the recesses of my mind. And so the hunt began. A quick search for “best dumplings in Germany” came up with LeDu Happy Dumplings in Munich, which is how the first of many weekend trips was planned. Inadvertently, a trend was started, and my friends and I sought dumplings in every new city we went to. Dumplings are apparently hard to come by, so we had to get a bit creative with the parameters of the word, and in some cases, get our hands dirty making our own. Since that fateful day in August when Jessica mentioned dumplings, I’ve tried gyoza in Freiburg, stuffed bao in Milan, and Tibetan momos in Strasbourg and Basel. Dumplings brought my friends and I together, pushed us to taste new foods and travel across Europe, and encouraged us to learn a recipe other than pasta and instant ramen. Not too bad for a plate of food!
Food maps: This ode to food from my time in Freiburg wouldn’t be complete without mentioning some of the German classics like flammkuchen, spaetzle, schnitzel, and of course those delicious pastries that are available on every street. I didn’t actually eat a lot of these because I don’t eat much meat and cheese, and that’s all right. The thing about food is that you don’t have to stick to the global map of local offerings when deciding what to eat, especially when the city you’ve chosen to study in has lots of international cuisine to offer. Instead, finding your favorite restaurants and trying some new foods along the way is a great way to quickly form your own map of the city. After all, a girl’s gotta eat! My map places all the important locations in relation to where I can grab lunch or a snack. There’s the chocolate shop near the tram stop and the cafeteria near the IES Abroad Center, my favorite grocery store near the library and the stand where I buy local apples in the old city, right next to the Cathedral that I love to sit in for a quiet moment. I returned to these spots again and again, each time seeing something new along the way, something I might never have seen if I weren’t drawn in that direction by the allure of European chocolate or the necessity of restocking my pantry. And when you are creating this map to frame your world while abroad, don’t forget to occasionally to leave the beaten path as so many world travelers do. Try a foreign food or visit a new restaurant with friends. Each time you’ll broaden your map and your understanding of the city along with it.
I hope you enjoyed this ode to food. Talking about food is the second-best thing to eating it. Hopefully you’ll get to try lots of delicious foods on your own study abroad adventure. I’ve included a list of the restaurants I mentioned in case you find yourself in one of the cities I visited, and if not, you can try my recipe for dumpling filling!
Strasbourg, France — Momos Tibetains
Basel, Switzerland — Mister Momo Dumplings
Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany — Jeju Korean Bistro (also good gyoza at Umami Ramen!)
Milan, Italy — Kung Fu Bao
Munich, Germany — LeDu Happy Dumplings
My favorite easy dumpling filling recipe:
- 6 cups roughly chopped bok choy
- 1.5 cups chopped shiitake mushrooms
- ¾ cups chopped scallions
- 1/3 cup chopped chives
- 1 tbsp oyster sauce
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1.5 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- 1 tbsp grated ginger
- 3 large cloves garlic minced
1. Heat sesame oil in a large pan over medium heat
2. Add garlic and ginger, cook for one minute
3. Add bok choy, 2 tbsp of water, and a pinch of sea salt, cook for 5 minutes
4. Add mushrooms and 1 tbsp water, cook for five minutes
5. Add scallions and chives, cook for one minute
6. Blend everything in food processor until desired consistency
7. Bundle up in a dumpling wrapper, cook, and enjoy : )
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Hi there! My name is Isabel Pineo and I am coming to you this semester from Freiburg im Breisgau, a charming city in the Black Forest of sunny southern Germany. The official reason I’m here: to learn about environmental studies in a culture and urban setting known for its emphasis on sustainability. Unofficial reason: to eat amazing food, go on lots of hikes, meet fascinating people both local and foreign, and to focus on putting my physical and mental health first. I guess you could say that I’m searching for answers to the question of what it means to live rightly in the world, for the Earth and for ourselves. Since most of us have been asking that question for a very long time, I’ll be sure to update you on all the answers I find as the semester progresses!