An organic farm in Piemonte, Italy, where I ate some of the best Brazilian food I’ve ever had.
While my most meaningful cross-cultural experiences while studying in Italy came from making, sharing, and eating food, this story has very little to do with a typical Italian culinary love-affair. Sure, I ate pasta every day and am still trying to work off the gelato weight, but the only very “Italian” aspect of my most meaningful experiences was that they took place while I was living in Trieste, in the far-east corner of the bel paese.
My German friend, Markus, teaching me how to say “hedgehog” in Italian at an osmiza.
Osmiza is a very Slovenian tradition, so I had several opportunities to experience it just outside the border-town of Trieste. An osmiza is kind of like a restaurant, except it’s only open weekends at mid-day during the spring, everyone eats together outside at big wooden picnic tables, and the menu consists exclusively of house-made wines, cheese, bread and cured meats. A typical meal will last for at least three hours, and though the food is delicious an afternoon at osmiza is never just a meal. The times I was able to go we played cards, celebrated anniversaries and birthdays with total strangers, sang songs, and had conversations that I will never forget, including one with my Iranian friend Farid that changed everything I thought I knew about love, peace and hospitality.
I’m not sure how, but we always managed to find enough plates for everyone.
Studying abroad was a great way for me to get immersed in Italian culture, but I also often found myself in the company of other exchange students from all over Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. We made friends and fought off homesickness by hosting dinners on a regular basis. We took turns sharing comfort food from home and our big, loud, international family food-fests included Mákos Tészta from Hungary, Halušky from Slovakia, Carpaccio and french fries from France, and Sebze Mucveri from Turkey, among other delicious dishes. My proficiency in Italian definitely improved, but now I can also say “cheers” in twelve languages.
Pan and Lyes (from Cyprus and France,
respectively) deemed “Carlie Fried”
chicken superior to “Kentucky Fried.”
When it was my turn to share my favorite food, it was hard to find something quintessentially “American.” Most of the things I eat on a regular basis in the U.S. are either adaptations of dishes from other cultures or call for ingredients that are difficult to find in Italy. But when I found out that none of my friends knew anything about southern cooking outside of a KFC, I had to teach them my mom’s recipes for BBQ sauce and fried chicken.
My friend and fellow U student was studying in Oviedo, Spain, and for spring break she came to visit me. Showing her the sights around town made Trieste feel more like home than ever, but not as much as taking her to my favorite café for a capo in b, Trieste’s signature coffee drink. We traveled by train together through France where we couch-surfed and ate caneles with a family in Bordeaux, then back to Oviedo, where she got to share some of her host culture with me via cheese, chorizo, and a big bowl of fabada.