Around the world in 20 foods

Sofia Rada, Blogger

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The other day, I was talking to someone who had just come back from studying abroad. She told me one of the things she surprisingly missed most while away was peanut butter. She discovered that something so commonplace here was so rare in Europe. When she finally found a jar, she finished it in three days.

Food from home is one of the things we miss most when we’re away.

However, what many people find when they go abroad is that even when they do find their national food, it isn’t quite the same.

In China, for example, if you’re looking for good ol’ fried chicken you may be surprised. You go to KFC and find that one of the menu options is the Dragon Twister, a wrap that includes fried chicken, cucumbers, scallions and duck sauce.

A Japanese person in Mexico may be shocked to see that you can order sushi stuffed with beef from a meat spin, manchego cheese, avocado, chives, and chipotle sauce that is fried to a crisp. 

My Indian friends here have made it clear to me over and over that saying “chai tea” is redundant. Huh? Apparently, the word chai comes from the Hindi word for tea. So saying “chai tea” is basically saying “tea tea.” Interesting. What we really should be saying is “masala chai.” Or, if anything, masala tea.

Another misconception is the idea of “French fries.” This universally popular take on potatoes, now a staple side in many American classics, actually originated in Belgium. If you want to eat true pommes frites, you should be dipping them in mayonnaise. They should be at least 10 millimeters, thick, freshly cut, irregularly shaped, fried twice, fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside with a distinct potato flavor and preferably served in a paper cone. You got all that down?

Though the Dragon Twister may be a weird Chinese take on American fast food, Chinese food is also an entirely different experience here. Fortune cookies, which many consider a guarantee when ordering Chinese food, are actually not Chinese at all. They were invented here. Some people also argue that chop suey was first created here.

The list goes on and on. Pizza here is nothing like pizza in Italy. Burritos break the silent rule in Mexico that rice should be kept well outside of the tortilla (and don’t even get me started on how tequila is actually supposed to be enjoyed). Gyros are actually considered junk food in Greece.

What is interesting about these realities is the underlying truth that our world has shrunk. My dad told me that the first time he had sushi he was in his thirties, and now my cousins make plans to get sushi like it’s no big deal. The love for Nutella seems universal, but this magical creation was only imported to the U.S. from Italy 25 years ago. If you think about seemingly simple features of our lives, they can reveal a world of ideas.

Alright, I’ll shut up now. Go get some food.

Email: sofiarada@u.northwestern.edu

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