A Picky Eater’s Guide to Adjusting to a New Cuisine

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I have always been a picky eater. As long as I can remember, there have always been certain textures and food groups that I cannot learn to love. I’ve always found it hard to explain my dietary preferences in settings like restaurants or cook outs, not wanting to offend whoever is cooking my food. For many, food ultimately is an expression of love and a manner to build community. It is a tie to culture and identity that is tangible and easily shareable. How do you explain to someone that you’re not interested in trying their cultural dish? When applying to my study abroad program and selecting the homestay option, I was nervous about having someone else decide what I eat on a daily basis and having to explain my bizarre list of foods that are off limits. Somehow, this idea was a lot scarier than the idea of getting on a plane and crossing the Atlantic ocean, but I decided it would be the perfect opportunity to force myself to try new foods.
During these past six weeks, I’ve had a wonderful experience comparing and contrasting Spanish cuisine to my own Mexican and American cuisine, but this has also been met with roadblocks along the way. My very first meal with my host family involved diced mushrooms, a food that I decided to give a try but ultimately was not very fond of. This is a process that I have gone through multiple times: stare at a new food, convince myself to try it, and let myself be taken aback by new flavors. At times, I’ve been pleasantly surprised, while at others it felt like I should have listened to my gut. The biggest challenge, one that I didn’t anticipate at all, was adjusting to meal times and portion sizes. As someone who has had lunch around noon and dinner anywhere from 5:30-7:30pm for the past 15 years, adjusting to 3pm lunch and 9:30pm dinner was tough. During those first few days, I was constantly starving but too scared to say so, not wanting to be disruptive to the already established norms. I was sneaking snacks here and there, not wanting to make it obvious that I was having a hard time adjusting. Soon enough, I realized that there was absolutely no need to do so, and instead of hiding, I communicated my preferences so my host family could help me adjust during the first few weeks. Though my portions are still way too big for me to eat, I am now no longer starving thanks to the snacks that are picked with love every week by my host family.
When thinking about studying abroad, it’s hard to remember that your food can make or break your study abroad experience. Even though you’re here to try new foods and immerse yourself in a new culture, one day you’ll realize that the thing you crave most is a cheeseburger from In N Out or a home cooked meal of chicken and rice just like your parents make it. There is no shame in indulging in the comfort of familiar foods after pushing your limits with new cuisine. I know I have indulged in local Mexican restaurants, burger and pizza joints, and I even went to Burger King, as much as I regretted it afterwards. Every picky eater has a different experience, but overall, the greatest risks sometimes do come with the greatest rewards. You never know when you’ll find your new favorite meal to take back home.
Pictured below: Petisú con Solomillo al Whiskey y patatas; Croquetas de Pollo