Conquering Culinary Culture ShockAugust 13, 2018
-Words by Arizton Pamplona from VentureSeekr-
What to do when experiencing food culture shock
The sensation of a familiar flavor is enough to make your taste buds feel homesick. Most people experience a deep connection with food from their childhood or home country. Food takes us back to a different time and place. This combination is a great remedy for when you’re feeling homesick. It’s a big reason expats form tight-knit communities in a host country. A familiar meal can help international students relieve stress as well.
It’s easy to feel culture shock and homesickness in a new place. Even people with more adventurous appetites may experience culture shock when confronted with unfamiliar dishes. This also extends to other differences when eating in a new place. Food habits and customs can lead to frustration and uncomfortable situations. But eating is a big part of cultural exchange. Enjoying a meal in a foreign country is sometimes the most memorable part of an adventure. Here are some tips for surviving the symptoms of culture shock when eating a new meal abroad.
"I eat, therefore I am"
In this digital age, foreign food resources are only a few clicks away. Finding out about Lithuanian Spit Cake is a piece of cake (note: doesn’t contain spit)! And learning about possum pie is as easy as pie (note: doesn’t contain possum)! A bit of research before your adventure can help get you ready for your first few meals.
Personalized restaurant recommendations have also been super simplified. A lot of travelers readily share their meal recommendations online to apprehensive adventurers. This insight can help guide you to the perfect place for you, right down to the meal. Other adventurers can also share information beyond the plate: a crowded street market or a serene river-side café can’t be properly expressed in flavors and food pics.
Online adventurers are your best friends when planning a culinary itinerary. This is especially important for those with specific diets. Whether you adhere to a vegan, Halal, or Keto lifestyle, you can find which restaurants suit you best. Planning what to eat on your adventure has never been easier.
Going for Seconds
“What you eat in Vegas stays in Vegas”
Unless you decide to move there permanently, exploring a new place is a great time to eat things you normally wouldn’t. As with practicing a language, the first stage of cultural adjustment involves stepping out of your comfort zone. Even if you normally wouldn't eat durian or haggis, a unique dish can breathe new life into your experience. Eating unfamiliar foods is a great way to understand cultural differences.
In many ways, food is even more effective than a shared language when connecting with new friends. Eating usually has far less of a language barrier than speaking. There are few better ways to acclimate to foreign culture. You may even find yourself going through a honeymoon phase where you suddenly fall in love through new dishes. Good food paired with good people has a lasting impression. Perhaps you'll even experience reverse culture shock upon your return home.
Throwing in the Napkin
"You are what you eat"
When exploring a different country, adventurers are students of culture and traditions. However, not every adventure will be perfect, and not every meal will fit your palate 100% of the time. Even if you do enough research and keep an open mind, foreign foods may be hard to stomach. Perhaps a location may not have the right foods for your dietary needs. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by a new culture. When experiencing culture shock abroad, it’s okay to cope through familiar foods you know and love. You’ll find that a local grocery store is likely to carry common ingredients and recognizable brands. A well-stocked market is often enough for when you feel hungry and homesick.
While not ideal, comfort foods can also be a huge help. Some local restaurants are crafted for foreign palates. Most places also have instantly recognizable fast food chains as well. These establishments are like old friends for when you're having a hard time coping in a host culture. And remember, your loved ones are only a call or message away in this digital age. When dealing with cultural shock, have them prepare your favorite meal ahead of your return back.