Food For Thought

So, I am in Italy, quite possibly the birthplace of amazing food. Amazing, expensive food. If you have 15-30 euros to spend on dinner every night (roughly $25-45), you will eat like a king. You will think that America has been tricking you for your entire life and that only now have you discovered what food is truly supposed to taste like– like Columbus or Marco Polo conquering a new world with the greatest food imaginable.  However, the criteria for me being able to indulge you with my stories is that I need to be a college student, and generally, a basic characteristic of any college student is being broke. So needless to say, I can’t eat like a king every night, but on the rare occasions that I have, my taste buds were taken to a place far surpassing any previous level of enjoyment and satisfaction– a place they still long for when I bite into my cold pizza left over from the night before.

I have needed to find new ways to feed myself while saving money and still enjoying eating some delicious food. So early on in my trip, I took a trip down to the supermarket and walked around indecisively, looking for food that I could cook with my extremely limited cooking skills. We’re talking microwave pizza limited… actually, we’re talking a stove or an oven might as well be alien technology limited… but anyway, I decided I had to learn, or I would be broke and starving on the street come December.  I had been longing for red meat since my pizza and pasta Italian diet left me with a big hole in my usual diet, so I got 2 packaged steaks and put them in my basket. I decided then that I would be a little adventurous and try to add some flavor to the steak, which turned out to be best served by a small bottle of soy sauce located in the corner of the grocery store. So I walked back, proud of myself, and excited to begin my experimental cooking. I met my friend in one of the communal kitchens in our dormitory and we both tried to decipher the stovetop. It was an electric induction stove (much safer for dorm rooms, no gas or fire) and it took us 10 minutes to figure out how to turn it on.  We had to ask an Italian girl across the way that after a strange look walked in, pressed one button, and walked away with heat emitting from the stove. “Grazie mille,” (“Thank you very much,”) we said as she left, probably adapting the old adage, “How many dumb Americans does it take to turn on a stove?”

Our excitement was short-lived when we discovered the pan we put on the stove was not getting hot. That led to another 20 minutes of confusion and stress, my stomach growling, and us stupidly pressing every button to make it work. The Italian girl was gone, so with no more help from her, we found a manual for the stove… written in Russian, and we had no experience with something like this before. Frustrated and hungry, on the verge of giving up, we were about to be saved. My friend’s Italian roommate and his girlfriend came in to cook and saw us struggling. He was confused at first too, but after diagnosing the problem, he told us in broken English that induction stoves need induction pots and pans to work (duh). He happened to have some in his room he would let us borrow, and the four of us cooked and enjoyed our meal, them teaching us some Italian, and us teaching them some English. My soy sauce steak was actually quite delicious.

Since that run-in, I have had some more cooking struggles, with every time being a learning episode, but I am slowly becoming a world-class chef (self-proclaimed). I am getting more daring with my recipes, trying new foods, and I know that stovetop like the back of my hand.  When cooking gets boring, or if I haven’t made a supermarket trip in a while, I enjoy getting a kebab from one of the many places around the city (basically gyro meat in a sandwich or wrap that is insanely good), a salamella con tutto (a sausage sandwich with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, ketchup and mayonnaise, which I am basically obsessed with at this point) for lunch from the sandwich cart in the middle of campus, or I will spring for a 3 dollar pizza from my favorite hole-in-the-wall place around the corner where they always greet me with a friendly “Ciao caro” (“Hello, dear”).

I have come to greatly enjoy the food here, made either by myself or by others. And when I have some money saved up, I can always treat myself to a delicious four- or  five-course meal in downtown Milan. Adapting to my situation wasn’t quite smooth, but very effective, so it is always important to stay open minded and versatile… so I guess that, right there, is a little food for thought.

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