How Not to Starve in Spain (And Other Food Abroad Stories)

Keely Meyers is a student at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor and is an intern in Barcelona this spring. Read about her adventures with food in Spain and how it has unexpectedly impacted her intern abroad experience!

One of the things I was most excited about while traveling abroad was the food. I couldn’t wait to try new things, cook traditional meals, and learn more about the Spanish culture through something I already loved. Food has played an integral part in my experience abroad. All of my experiences surrounding food – the good, the bad, and the ugly – have taught me more about myself and my host culture. 

Chocolate con churros from Cafe de l’Opera
Chocolate con churros from Cafe de l’Opera

Cooking and Eating in Spain

Learning to cook Catalan food has been one of the best parts of enjoying food in Spain. I took a Catalan cooking class as part of the cultural activities through CISabroad and learned how to make traditional foods such as calçots and romesco sauce, artichokes, pan con tomate, paella, crema catalana, and tortilla española. I also got to keep the recipes to take home and impress my family and friends with my new skills and broadened palate.

The culture around food here is much different than it is at home. For example, meal times in Spain are not what I am used to. Here, locals eat a large lunch around two o’clock in the afternoon and take their time, similar to how many Americans eat dinner. The dinners here, on the other hand, are very small and eaten late at night – usually around 10 or 11 o’clock! It took a while to get used to the different eating schedule, but embracing the different mealtimes has made me feel more immersed in the local culture.

Also different from the U.S. is the amount of time devoted to cooking and enjoying food. Spaniards take a lot of pride in preparing their food from the freshest ingredients and enjoying the eating experience with family and friends. There are various mercats around the city – markets where you can find the freshest fruits, vegetables, meats, and seafoods – where locals buy ingredients to cook with. Cooking and eating meals are also much longer processes than they are back home, often lasting multiple hours.

Fresh fruits from Mercat de La Boqueria in Barcelona

Fresh fruits from Mercat de La Boqueria in Barcelona

Trying New Foods

Trying new foods is something that I definitely wanted to do while abroad. One of my rules while traveling has been to never say no to something I was offered – no matter how weird or scary it seemed. Because of my self-enforced rule, I have enjoyed culinary “delights” such as blood sausage, cow intestine, octopus, squid, and anchovies. Even if I hated them, I knew it was important to try new things and embrace local flavors. I have also gone out to new restaurants or been invited over to eat meals with new friends and tried foods I never would have back home, including pho from a traditional restaurant in Paris, authentic Chinese food from a local restaurant in Barcelona, and home-cooked Argentinian asado. I have found some surprising new favorite foods and learned that things I was too scared to eat weren’t actually so bad! (Except anchovies, those were about as bad as they sound.)

Some of my favorite local foods that I have tried have been the tapas. I have tried ham croquetas, pan con tomate, patatas bravas, and many more. I have also enjoyed cava, the Spanish version of champagne, and went on a cava tour with my site director to learn about the history and production process of this regional drink.

Another local eating experience I had here was taking part in a calçotada – a large feast centered around sweet onions called calçots. The process of eating calçots is both messy and fun, and is an important local tradition that I absolutely loved experiencing.

Tapas feast from my welcome lunch with CISabroad
Tapas feast from my welcome lunch with CISabroad

Grocery Shopping

Trying new foods has also come naturally because of the different selection in supermarkets in Barcelona. Brands and even types of food from home are not found here, which has forced me to push myself outside of my comfort zone, craft new recipes, and pick up local habits. When one of those habits includes picking up a fresh-baked baguette daily, I’m not one to complain!

Grocery shopping in Spain was definitely an experience the first time I went. For one thing, the grocery stores are all closed on Sundays and often close much earlier than American supermarkets on weeknights. As a result, my first Sunday in Barcelona also happened to be a very hungry day for me! When I did find an open grocery store the next day, it took a little getting used to. I vividly remember shopping with my roommate, who was searching for milk. Eventually, she had to ask a woman in the store where it was. The woman gave her a confused look and proceeded to point right next to the shelf where the two were standing, not understanding how we didn’t know to look for the milk on the shelf and not in the refrigerated section. Embarrassed, we thanked her and proceeded to the checkout. However, another thing we did not know about grocery shopping in Spain was that grocery bags were not free. We tried to save some money by carrying our groceries home in our arms, struggling and laughing the whole way home. We did not know at the time, but the bags were only 10 cents – definitely worth getting to avoid dropping your eggs on the city streets.

Food has been a huge part of my experience here in Barcelona and has been a way for me to challenge myself to try new things, learn about local customs and cuisine, and immerse myself in the daily life of a local. I have learned to be open to new things, try my hand at cooking once in a while (I’m not quite as terrible as I thought), and use food as a way to connect with people and cultures from around the world.

Want to learn more about how you can have an amazing experience in Spain? It’s easy with CISabroad! 

A Vegetarian's Worst Nightmare

Madlyn is a featured blogger and is currently studying abroad in Florence, Italy. Remember being little & thinking it was so strange to see your teacher outside of school? Like they weren’t suppose to have a life outside the classroom or something. Yeah, well try running into your professor in Italy at a club. Me: “Ciao! How did I do on that test today?” Professor: “Oh great, can I get you a drink?” Me: “Oh, no. Please don’t look over here at me while I dance on the couches.” Strange doesn’t begin to explain that situation. But anyway, last week I went on a day trip to Panzano in Chianti town where I met Dario Cecchini. He is what L.A. Times calls, “the world’s most famous butcher.” To me, he was more just like a man slicing up meat while wearing crocs and a bandana. I’m no vegetarian, but I’ve always wanted to be, especially after that day. I love nothing more than a good juicy burger and all, but walking into that deli and seeing all the meat hung everywhere to be sliced looked like something out of a horror film to me. We started off at the first of his two restaurants where we had the typical unsalted bread, meats and wine. There was some sort of spread that we could put on the bread that looked appealing until I asked what it was…. lard. As you can guess, I politely declined.

Lunch was served at the second restaurant. It was every carnivore’s dream come true. There were about seven different platters of meat options to choose from, which would have been great and all if I didn’t just see the brother or sister to what was sitting on a platter in front of me, being sliced up across the street right before. I will say though that in that one meal, I had more meat than I have had in all of my time in Italy, and probably a year.

Chianti region is known for, as you can guess, Chianti wine. From lunch, we went to visit the Cantine di Montefioralle vineyard. The owner’s name is Fernando Sieni and he was the cutest little old Italian man I’ve ever seen. We drank glass after glass of a variety of wines while listening to him tell love stories and talk about the different wines. Vineyards are some of the prettiest places I’ve seen — rolling green hills with trees scattered that grow the magic juice known as wine. Everyone may have been in a meat coma after lunch, but one wouldn’t have known after seeing us eat yet more food. Because you know, it’s not polite and Italians don’t take no very well when it comes to food. Seriously though, never come to Italy unless you plan on gaining 50 lbs, becoming a lush, & consuming carbs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Good thing I warned everyone I’d be a little meatball when I returned. Have you ever explored an Italian vineyard? Leave a comment below!

Nine Foods to Try in New Zealand

This post was contributed by Amanda Zetah – student at Colorado State University, world-traveler and travel writer.

While studying abroad, I encountered many cultures and was excited to learn about each and every one of them. When I got back to the United States, I was a little heartbroken that everyone talked and looked the same as I did. That’s why I decided to be an exchange mentor for a student that was coming to study abroad at my university. I have been mentoring Rebecca, who goes by Beks, for a few months now. She’s taught me more than I ever thought possible about the culture of New Zealand, being that she is a native of Christchurch.

She always raves to me about how much she misses the food back home. She complains that our milk and bread in America tastes weird and that she would be ecstatic if she could find a store that sold tim-tams or pineapple lumps that she could munch on while studying. If I ever find myself in New Zealand, I’ll be sure to try these nine foods, because she can’t seem to stop talking about them:

1. Tim-Tams

According to Beks, tim-tams are a heavenly treat best served with a side of hot chocolate. She explained that a tim-tam consists of two chocolate biscuits separated by chocolate filling and coated in even more chocolate. Beks told me that dipping the tim-tam in hot chocolate loosens up and melts some of the chocolate, making it absolutely delicious. At first, it sounded to me like a complete chocolate overload. But, she made her mom mail us some and I got to try it — needless to say, I’ve found my new favorite dessert!


2. Afghans

Because she is living in the dorms while studying abroad, Beks always asks to borrow my kitchen. Last time she came over, she whipped up these cookies called Afghans and they were to die for. Afghans consist of double chocolate cookies with corn flakes mixed in, topped with chocolate icing. I would have never thought to include corn flakes into my cookie batter, but it was a nice touch and added the perfect crunch every time I took a bite.

3. Pineapple Lumps

The name caught me off guard with these ones and I was hesitant to try some. Beks had her friends mail us some and she begged me to try just one. I took my first bite of the chewy pineapple lump coated in chocolate and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Pineapple lumps come in a bag, similar to a bag of gummy bears, but they are coated in chocolate. The sour and sweet made for a delicious combination.


4. Savory Pies

Beks became excited when I mentioned that there are loads of different pies at the bakeries in town. She said in her town of Christchurch, people eat pies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That confused me a bit, because I only eat pumpkin pie once a year at Thanksgiving. After explaining to her that we only have sugary, sweet pies, she became deflated. She said that there is a pie shop back home in New Zealand that has over 500 varieties of pies — they stuff the pies with chicken, beef, pork, vegetables, etc. They treat it as a meal, instead of a holiday dessert.

5. Biscuits

When I think of biscuits, I think of Pillsbury Crescent Rolls at Thanksgiving dinner or at Christmas time. Biscuits, in New Zealand, are something completely different. Beks refers to cookies as “biscuits” and brings a sleeve of them whereever she goes. To me, they just seem like chocolate chip cookies, but to her, they remind her of home. Either way, I’ll be sure to try them when I make my way down to visit her.

6. Chips

Beks and I went out to dinner at a burger joint last Friday night. By no fault of her own, she asked the waitress for a tray of chips with salt and ketchup. After the waitress left, I asked Beks why she would ever put ketchup on potato chips and she looked confused. Apparently, chips are french fries in New Zealand. Before we could correct the mistake, the waitress brought out potato chips doused in ketchup. I feel like I would get confused too, especially if I ever go to New Zealand. Apparently, French fries are New Zealand chips and crisps are American chips. Makes total sense, right?

7. Wine 

I had no idea, but New Zealand is home to many great vineyards and they produce a great deal of delicious wines. Our personal favorite is Matawhero chardonnay. They also make a great merlot and an even better cabernet. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to go back to drinking California wine again.

8. Green-lipped mussels

New Zealand is separated into two islands: the North and South Islands. Both are bordered by water in some shape or form, so their seafood is absolutely to die for. Beks told me that the green-lipped mussels are the best — they are meaty and succulent and delicious if paired with the right sauce and spices. Being that we are land-locked in Colorado, she can’t seem to stop talking about the fresh seafood she gets to eat back home.


9. Marmite

On our last ski trip, Beks brought a can of Marmite along as a snack. She dared me to try some on my finger, but warned me not to take a lot. It was like eating a whole carton of salt and I only had a little bit! She said it’s perfect on toast and is definitely an acquired taste. It might take me a bit longer to get used to this one, but I’ll be sure to try it when I go to New Zealand.

Have you ever been to New Zealand? What was your favorite food over there? Leave a comment below! 

The Top 10 Things Every Foodie Should Do in Rome

There are places every foodie should visit, and Rome hosts so many of them! Here are the top 10 things I think every foodie should do in Rome. First of all, he/she needs to know how local people would call him/her: un amante della buona cucina (a good cuisine lover), un buongustaio, or una buona forchetta (a good fork, this is pretty informal though). The best is yet to come…

Samples of Supplì

Samples of Supplì

Supplì surprise

This will be the unexpected delicacy of Rome. Supplì are stuffed rice balls, filled with a ragù sauce and a lot of mozzarella. After a supplì is deep fried, the mozzarella core gets simply irresistible! You can have a supplì while walking through the streets of Rome or as an appetizer before you order a pizza or a calzone. But remember: you can only find it in Rome. Some of the best supplì can be found in the neighborhood of Trastevere – via di San Francesco a Ripa 137.

The Roman tradition: pasta alla gricia and coratella

You need to know that Roman cuisine has poor roots. This does not mean food has a lower quality or a bad taste. For more than a thousand years, the subjects of the Papal States were allowed no much more than the wastes of the higher food supplies, reserved for the papal court and the aristocracy. As a consequence, many of the recipes have ingredients such as cheek lard (pasta alla gricia), bacon (pasta alla carbonara), bacon rind (fagioli con le cotiche, a bean soup), tripe (trippa alla romana) as well as pork and lamb entrails. Coratella, a second course made with lamb heart and lungs, is a must: first taste it, it is definitely worth it! Good, typical Roman trattorie can be found in the neighborhoods of Garbatella (La Nuova Cantinetta), San Lorenzo (Trattoria da Marcello) and Trastevere (Trattoria da Augusto).

Jewish cuisine between artichokes and sweets

The Jewish neighborhood, formerly the Roman ghetto, still has a  strong cultural identity, which is obviously reflected in its food. Around the Portico di Ottavia, you can sit down and have a typical Roman Jewish meal. You don’t want to miss the carciofi alla giudia, deep fried artichokes made Jewish-Roman style. After lunch (or dinner, of course!), you might go for a walk throughout the ghetto, and have a biscuit or a slice of pie at Pasticceria Boccione (via del Portico d’Ottavia 1). At this shop, you will find out the secret Roman tradition in terms of sweets and learn about their old recipes that call for ricotta, nuts, honey, spices, jam, chocolate and sour cherries!

Carciofi alla Giudia

Carciofi alla Giudia

Gelato: not all that glitters is gold

It might shock some people realizing that there is a gelateria on nearly every block in Rome. I urge you to distrust the touristy shops – a good gelato has no shocking colors, and does not overflow the bowl! Suggestions? Fior di Luna (Trastevere), Gelateria del Teatro (by Piazza Navona), Fata Morgana (San Lorenzo), Danielgelo (by St.Paul’s Basilica).

Pizza al taglio at Forno Campo de’ Fiori

Hey, foodie! You still there? Go give a try to the pizza-to-go from the bakery shop (forno) of Campo de’ Fiori. Pizza rossa is the best kind and it includes tomato sauce and extra virgin olive oil – the simpler the better!

Sicilian sweets

Although this is not local, it definitely ends up being a top 10 treat for a reason! Sicilian pastry made with ingredients shipped everyday from Palermo and Catania: cannoli, cassate, and brioche. You should try them at Pasticceria Mizzica (La Sapienza university area – Piazza Bologna) or at I Dolci di Nonna Vincenza (city center).

Cassata siciliana

Cassata siciliana

Filetto di Baccalà

The original fried codfish is another must, and can be only found in Largo dei Librari (between Campo de’ Fiori and the Jewish neighborhood). I promise you won’t regret trying this delicious dish, it’s perfect for lunch or dinner.

Pizza (tonda) romana

Tonda means round, and you want to have it for dinner – just sit down at a pizzeria (Baffetto, Ivo a Trastevere, La Montecarlo). This Roman pizza is unlike Neapolitan pizza (and the Chicagoan one, of course!) because the crust is very thin. Fiori di zucca, margherita, and capricciosa are only some of the many you can sample.

1. The ultimate frontier: a couple of gourmet restaurants

Once you are done with all the rest, dear foodie, you might want to check out how tradition meets innovations at Ristorante Spirito Divino and Enoteca Ristorante Il Bacocco, both in the area of Trastevere. You will be able to try old tastes from the Roman age as well as new combinations you would have never imagined.

Have you ever been to Rome? What were your favorite foods while you were there? Leave a comment below!

Top Six Foods to Sample in Costa Rica

This post was contributed by Amanda Zetah – student at Colorado State University, world-traveler, and travel writer.

I was able to backpack around Costa Rica with my good friend Kara during my thanksgiving break and I was blown away by all of the authentic Costa Rican food that we were able to sample. We started in San Jose, then traveled to Ciudad de Colon, Monteverde, Arenal, and ended up in the small beach town of Tamarindo. Each city had new and interesting foods to try, but I’ve listed my absolute favorites below. Now that I am home in the United States, I find myself craving some arroz con leche or fresh ceviche. Guess I have to go back to Costa Rica sometime soon!

1. Arroz con leche

When it comes to desserts, I am an addict. I love anything sweet and savory and I’ll try anything and everything just once, especially if I am in a foreign country. I had the wonderful opportunity to try arroz con leche when I was in Costa Rica and I immediately fell in love. It reminds me of chai tea flavoring mixed with rice pudding. I’m well aware that that description doesn’t do this dessert justice. Imagine warm vanilla pudding, throw in some fresh cloves, a cinnamon stick, and some sweet rice, and you’ve got the perfect concoction! I dare you to only eat one bite (in reality, you’ll finish the whole cup before you realize it).

Costa Rican fruit

Costa Rican fruit

2. Gallo Pinto

Being a native of Colorado, with Mexico just a hop and a skip across the border, I am well acquainted with authentic Mexican food. Because of this very reason, I was impressed with the Costa Rican version of the simplistic rice and beans dish. For some reason, gallo pinto is way more addicting than plain rice and beans. I’m not sure if it’s the change in name or the unique history, but I found myself eating gallo pinto for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Gallo pinto, when directly translated, means “spotted rooster” because the beans and the rice mix just enough to give a speckled appearance, similar to that of the spots on a rooster. Don’t be deterred, it pairs well with some fresh huevos rancheros.

3. Fried plantains

I never thought I could love a dish as much as I love plantains. When I first purchased them from a street vendor in Monteverde, I was skeptical. I was told that it was similar to the bananas back home, so I gave it a go. They were completely wrong about the association to bananas. Plantains have a much tougher skin, but when deep fried and coupled with some brown sugar, it is absolute perfection. It can be coupled with most dishes at Costa Rican restaurants as a side entree.

photo (2)

Coffee Plantation

4. Costa Rican coffee

Central America is known for its amazing coffee, but Costa Rica has been my favorite so far. I was given the chance to visit some coffee plantations during my stay in Costa Rica and they gave us samples that were fresh off the farm. My favorite was the vanilla medium roast, but the dark roast smelled heavenly as well. The rich aroma, the nice woody flavor, and the variety of flavors make for the perfect cup of coffee. It pairs nicely with a breakfast of gallo pinto and fresh fruit.

5. Bueno bars

I was first introduced to Bueno bars during my study abroad experience in England, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that Costa Rican markets carried Bueno bars as well. My travel companion, Kara, had never tried one before so I got to watch her face light up as she took her first bite of the rich, chocolaty goodness. She was hooked from there on out and we spent our entire trip munching on these wonderful treats during long bus rides or stressful travel days.

A typical dinner

A typical Tico dinner

6. Ceviche

I’ve never experienced such fresh fish until I made my way down to the beaches in Tamarindo, Costa Rica. Kara encouraged me to try this beautiful mixture of raw white fish, raw shrimp, mango, lime juice, and cilantro. I was hesitant at first because she mentioned that the fish was raw, but the lime juice cooks the fish and shrimp just enough to make it safe to eat. The minute I scooped some onto my homemade tortilla chip and placed it in my mouth, I knew I was in love. I finished the entire bowl because I couldn’t get enough of the light, crisp flavor. Make sure to order some, I promise you won’t regret it!

What is your favorite food in Costa Rica or the one you miss most now that you are back home? Any advice about the best foods to try in Central America? Leave a comment below. 

English Food – It's Better Than You Think!

If you are planning on heading to England, one of the many things you should really start getting excited for is the food. Yes, the food.

By this point you’ve probably heard enough negative reviews about the British culinary scene that you are contemplating packing a couple pizzas and a box of frozen burgers in your suitcase. But before you begin squirrelling away pancakes and other comfort foods in your luggage, take some time to research what other foods Britain has to offer besides mushy peas and bile beans.

Start with breakfast and England’s most notable and straightforward named morning dish, the Full English Breakfast. A Full English Breakfast is a couple of eggs, ham (though the menu will say bacon!), sausage, toast, hashbrowns, grilled mushrooms and tomatoes, and beans. Beans for breakfast? YES! Before you judge, try some beans on buttered toast and tell us what you think. Think of a full English breakfast as healthier version of a Denny’s Grand Slam. More a fan of sweets in the morning? How about hot cross buns. This Easter treat originated in England. Think of them as the father of cinnamon buns.

Full English Breakfast

A Full English Breakfast – yummy!

Like here in the US, the Brits love their sandwiches around lunch time. In England, you find BLT’s, and ham and cheese. But a couple that you’ll be missing when you come home will be cheddar and chutney and a Ploughman’s Sandwich, which is pickles, onions, and cheese. As for iconic British lunch time food, don’t worry – meat pies haven’t gone anywhere. Sweeney Todd may have given these treats a bad rap, but meat pies come in various sizes and fillings. You can opt for a steak and kidney pie, or the ever popular beef and Guinness pie. For the really hungry there is always shepherd’s pie: beef, mashed potatoes, carrots, onions, corn, and peas.

While it’s hard to ignore Fish and Chips as a staple of the British diet, remember that England is an island and that cod and haddock aren’t the only fish in the sea. You’ll see seared salmon, lemon sole, and even shellfish for sale in any supermarket and on the menu at most restaurants. In the UK you’ll find prawns everywhere, from sandwiches fillers, to served with garlic and butter, to prawn curry. Actually, with such a large Indian population, it’s pretty difficult to not find a good curry. Chicken Tikka Masala is the most frequently order meal in the UK and many consider it as England’s unofficial national dish.

British food shepherd's pie

Shepherd’s pie

When it comes to dessert, again the United Kingdom is not lacking. Bread pudding and custard sauce is a popular post-meal treat. This treat is essentially a mixture of bread, sugar, milk, vanilla, and syrup covered in a bit more sugar, vanilla, and syrup. If you are a fan of chocolate, you’ll be happy to know Cadbury Chocolate began in England. Those mini creme eggs you see everywhere this time of year are in stock year-round across the pond.

Now, the myth about the weather? That one is true.

This post was contributed by guest author and CISabroad University Relations Coordinator (Mid-Atlantic Region), Tammen Nicholson.

If you’ve been to England, what’s your favorite dish? Do you agree with Tammen about English food not deserving its bad rap? Leave a comment below!