Amanda Richard, a culinary management major, is spending the first semester of her senior year in a country known internationally for its cuisine. While she has not had the opportunity to cook in her host family’s kitchen, she experiences Italian homecooked dinners five nights a week and has sampled other foods around Europe.
In Italy, meals are separated into four courses There’s antipasto, first course, second course and dessert. “The antipasti section almost always features bruschetta and a meat and cheese board with prosciutto and Tuscan salami,” Richard said. “The first course consists of pasta dishes, soups and salads, and the second course is protein based.”
One of Richard’s favorite antipastos is tomato bruschetta. “The tomatoes here have so much more flavor than the ones in America, and when they are drizzled in a high-quality olive oil, tossed with fresh basil, and topped on toasted Tuscan bread it is fabulous,” she said. She also learned she likes chicken liver pate, which has a pasty texture.
Her favorite pasta dish in Italy so far has been a freshly made pici pasta drizzled with high-quality extra virgin olive oil. “The flavor of the oil really highlighted the dish and was refreshing, slightly spicy and herbaceous,” Richard said. “I was not expecting something so “plain” to be full of flavor—but hey, this is Italy!” Her host mother always has dinner ready at 8:30 p.m., a typical time for Italians to eat. Lunch happens between 2-3 p.m.
The typical meal her host mother prepares for her consists three quarters of vegetables and starch or grains and one quarter protein, which abides by the Mediterranean diet. One meal her host mother makes that she enjoys is zucchini frittata.
Richard is completely gluten free at home, but she has successfully eaten sandwiches, pizza and pasta in Italy with only three minor reactions this semester. While she still carefully limits how much gluten she consumes, she is able to eat more products in Italy than she is in the U.S. because the food is less processed.
As opposed to bread in the U.S., which is made with all-purpose white flour, “breads in Italy are produced with many different flour blends with varying gluten levels, so most of the bread that I eat has significantly less gluten than the bread in America,” according to Richard.
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s) are illegal in Italy, and the use of pesticides are uncommon, making the quality of food better in Italy than in the U.S., according to Richard. Products from independent farms are typically sold in farmers markets in Florence. “It is also much more flavorful and less expensive because the food does not have to travel far to its destination,” Richard said.
While in Europe, Richard had the opportunity to travel to Germany, the Netherlands and Ireland where she indulged in traditional food and drink in each place. She experienced the authentic cuisine because she visited people she knew in each location.
She went on two trips to Germany, the first to attend Oktoberfest and the second to visit her grandmother. At Oktoberfest, Richard had a wurst and a pretzel that paired well with the beer she was drinking. “The beers at the festival were some of the best beers I have ever had,” she said.
With her grandmother, Richard experienced a raclette-style meal, “which consists of a hot stone placed in the center of the table in which individual portions are cooked by each member participating in the meal.” This meal, which is actually a Swiss tradition, also involves vegetables and cheese and is “meant to be enjoyed with the family over a long period of time,” Richard said.
In the Netherlands, while visiting her best friend’s sister, Richard sampled cheese and ate a pannekeok. “The ones [cheese] that stick out most in my mind were the flavored goat cheeses. I tried coconut goat cheese, pesto goat cheese, red pepper goat cheese and lavender goat cheese, which I loved so much I bought,” Richard said. A pannekoek, or Dutch pancake, “is like an American pancake combined with a French crepe, and the result is this thin, yet fluffy Dutch delight.” She ate hers with banana, apples, cinnamon and house made molasses syrup.
While in Ireland, Richard tried Irish dark beers including Guinness, Murphy’s and Beamish, although her favorite drink was an Irish coffee. “It is made with hot coffee, brown sugar, Irish whiskey, and topped with fresh whipped heavy cream,” Richard said.
Sometimes selecting a restaurant in an unfamiliar location may be difficult, but Richard suggests looking restaurants up online on Instagram, Trip Advisor and Yelp. “Personally, I never read any reviews,” according to the culinary major. “I only look at the pictures of the food. If it looks good, then I feel confident about going to that restaurant.” She also pays attention to the restaurant’s atmosphere and whether many people are eating there.
One thing to note when visiting an Italian restaurant is that the servers are not involved in the dining experience and often add a service charge to the bill, making tipping unnecessary. “The servers are very uninvolved and only go to the table if absolutely necessary,” Richard said. “They also do not bring the check automatically after dinner or dessert. They only bring the check when it is requested by the customer.”
Despite the culture shock Richard experienced when she first embarked on her study abroad journey, emerging herself into a completely new culture. “I am glad I did it because it has been very educational. I was able to learn a lot about food culture and language through my host family.” Richard said. “I am living a reality that most people dream about and I am thankful being able to do and see so many things I never thought I would.”