A few weeks ago my mom took me out to a small, local, hole-in-the-wall German restaurant that recently opened up near our house. The quaint, dimly-lit cafe had only a handful of customers, and German /flags, posters with German sport teams, and traditional German clothing decorated the walls. The menu was full of all different types of wurst and schnitzel I had never seen before, so it took us a while to order. When our food arrived, a semester in Biochemistry told me that 80% of what was on my plate was carbohydrates and protein, with the leftover 20% being purple cabbage and its cousin, sauerkraut. I had a flashback to a summer in Spain where I found myself desperately ordering an “ensalada” to increase my fiber intake. But, to my dismay, the wilted lettuce was swimming in a dollop of mayonnaise when it came out. I remember that meal vividly, and often think back on it and laugh.
Last week, my Chinese teacher took our Chinese capstone class out to dinner at a Chinese restaurant. We all grasped our chopsticks with familiarity and fondness, remembering our experiences together as a class and recalling our highlights in China, as we indulged in a rich, albeit somewhat Americanized, Chinese feast. My Chinese teacher chimed in from the other end of the table, “Xuelian, hao chi ma?” I responded politely that the food was great — and it was! She responded that because the company is good, the food is good. I laughed, and then considered her comment more as I chomped down on my fried rice. Actually, the main reason I enjoy Chinese food is not the MSG, but because Chinese food embodies China–the people, the language, the scenery, the culture. So, in a sense, when I eat Chinese food, I get to re-live my experiences in China. Through the doorway of food, an entire culture is opened up.
Although I will admit that according to my grade book the European cuisine has not always earned straight A’s, I am eager to give it another chance as I look forward to studying abroad in Stuttgart for 6 weeks to learn German and to not just eat, but experience German food. While I was in Asia for 6 months, one of the main entries in my travel journal was “New Foods,” and each new food was tied to a memorable experience. This summer, I look forward to expanding that list –as well as my “globally engaged” palate. I anticipate that German food will become more appealing to me after I come back from six weeks of absorbing German culture and cuisine.