Grocery Shopping and Cooking Abroad: What's it Really Like?

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Whether you're a seasoned pro or somewhat of a novice in the kitchen, the experience of grocery shopping and cooking abroad can present its own unique challenges. It's a great example of how something seemingly basic (dare we say, boring) can take on new life when you study abroad. While you're translating ingredients, remembering to bring reusable bags, or finding out that food spoils more quickly than you're used to, this previously boring task is suddenly new and interesting (challenge accepted!). We asked our IES Abroad Student Ambassadors for advice on navigating shopping and cooking abroad.


"The stores were smaller, but the stores offered what I needed."

"British food expires quicker than American food, so you should go shopping more frequently and buy less stuff every time. Cooking will save you a lot of money, but you should still go out to eat sometimes to experience new foods. Have some quick things to make, like chicken nuggets, for busy days, and take lunch with you to save money." 

Kristen Kolodzik (IES Abroad London, Spring 2018 | Indiana University)


"The stores and set up made me feel like it was just a regular grocery store, just in Spanish."

"If you’re in the position where you will be cooking for yourself rather than a host family cooking for you, I would say it’s pretty easy. This is because they use the US dollar in Ecuador and their prices are pretty good. My only advice would be to be conscious of what foods are good to eat or not towards the beginning of your trip when you might still be adjusting to the altitude." 

Talia Adams (IES Abroad Quito, Spring 2018 | University of Redlands)


"One thing that surprised me was how cheap everything was."

"I could get my favorite French cheese (Boursin) in France for €2. In the United States, it's $5.99. My go-to meal to cook was a "Boursin chicken", which was a Boursin and white wine cream sauce with mushrooms. I would make it with a side of rice or mashed potatoes. I made it for my host mom one night and she said it was delicious and asked me for the recipe. It was super simple and easy to make and incorporated French flavors."

Emily Wascura (IES Abroad Paris BIA, Spring 2018 | The University of Vermont)


"I really enjoyed cooking for myself. It helped me grow into my independence."

"It surprised me to see the kind of products that the supermarkets have in Siena, like fresh and locally produced cheese, bread, and milk. Also, you have to pay for plastic bags which motivates people to have reusable fabric bags for shopping. My go-to meals to cook for myself were pasta with broccoli and chicken soup."

Araceli Gonzalez (IES Abroad Siena, Fall 2018 | University of Rochester)


"Make sure to bring an empty backpack when grocery shopping because they don't provide bags."

"Grocery stores in Vienna don't have any bags available at all! So you either bring your own bag(s), stuff it all in your backpack, or are stuck carrying it the whole way home! Since you also won't have a car, you will be walking home, which means getting less stuff every time and shopping more frequently because you can only carry so much."

Emily Peterson (IES Abroad Vienna, Spring 2018 | University of North Texas)


"I would definitely throw in some Tim Tams on every trip!"

When it comes to cooking and grocery shopping, I didn’t find it much different than back home. When I went shopping, I went with my roommates and friends and we usually bought stuff as a group because we planned on cooking our meals together, which made it a bit easier and we split the cost betwen us. I would definitely throw in some Tim Tams on every trip! They come in lots of different flavors and are incredibly addicting."

Rachel Usen (IES Abroad Sydney, Summer 2018 | Rutgers University)


"I quickly learned to buy a reusable tote to bring with me to get my weekly items."

"Don't be afraid to go around the city to multiple shops. While Lidl has cheap basics, it may be necessary to go into the city centre to Dunnes or Marks & Spencer for more variety and options. The Liberties neighborhood also has a small shop called Norton's which has fresh produce for cheap. Be sure to ask for a student discount!"

Marita Coyle (IES Abroad Dublin, Fall 2018 | Indiana University)

Do you have more questions about what to expect when you study abroad? Then contact one of our Student Ambassadors today!

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