Studying abroad is an experience like no other for many reasons; complete immersion in a foreign city, learning a new language, befriending people you would never have crossed paths with otherwise, traveling with ease to neighboring countries, and my personal favorite: the food.
Europe is filled to the brim with dozens of cultures, all with rich histories wrapped up in one continent. When I decided to study in Rome, Italy, I was very excited to try “real Italian food.” What I didn’t expect was how Americanized my understanding of Italian food was. There are no pizzas overflowing with toppings, with stuffed crust or ranch dip. The Italians are experts in creating delicious meals with as few ingredients as possible. When it comes to pizza, it is always thin crust, with either red or white base and two toppings at most. The pasta is always served al dente, never too saucy, and with bread to clean the plate of any remaining sauce. It’s even unusual to go out to dinner without a glass of wine or an Aperol spritz.
Thankfully, my foodie enlightenment did not end with Italy. My roommates and I made it a point to try at least one staple dish from every country we visited. In Amsterdam, we tried stroopwafel: a delicious dessert made of two thin waffle wafers pressed together with a layer of caramel. They come made-to-order—fresh, with your choices of toppings, like chocolate, nuts, or even KitKat crumbles.
Greece saw us trying traditional gyros—a hearty dish of rotisserie-cooked pork or chicken stuffed into a pita, usually with tomato, onion, fried potatoes, and tzatziki. At the restaurant we chose in Athens, they served us deconstructed chicken gyros with paprika sprinkled over the whole plate. We paired this with the (in)famous Greek aperitif “ouzo.” Ouzo is an anise-flavored liqueur somewhat similar to sambuca. Our waiter actually warned us before serving it; “it will really sneak up on you! It is about 50% alcohol, but you cannot leave Greece without trying it.”
Prague, Czech Republic, presented us with a challenge. Traditional Czech dishes include pork knuckle, pork knee, goulash, and schnitzel. We were a little more hesitant, but luckily, a friend who grew up in Prague eased our concerns and encouraged us to try. They were delicious! My favorite was “Svíčková na smetaně”—translated to English, this would be “beef sirloin in cream sauce.” The sauce is made from root vegetables thickened with roux and softened with cream. It includes that slow-braised beef and is usually accompanied by cranberry sauce and bread dumplings. We actually ordered this dish several times in different restaurants, and to our surprise, they all came served with whipped cream! It was a strange combination of flavors, but undoubtedly delicious.
Europe’s history includes a rich tapestry of flavors that I had never considered. I have tried more food in these three months than I have in my whole life, and it has been so much fun. I was somewhat of a picky eater before jumping the pond, but I vowed not to limit myself while studying abroad. I am so glad I did, or I never would have experienced the delicious tastes of Europe.
Carly is a Fall 2021 Rome student from the University of South Carolina.