Food and the World – A Concept of Home Constructed by Food – by Cassie Mahlberg. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports
[Midnight noodle soup; Kässpatzen and fried onions]
The last time I sat down to write about my trip, I wrote about the bittersweet-ness of leaving behind friends-turned-family in Germany and the importance of reconnecting with my time there through cooking in my new flat. Things have changed so much between my first meal and where I am now, already halfway through my study abroad program. However, one thing remains constant in my journey to find comfort in Norway and that is, of course, food.
When I realized that I was going to be sharing a flat with six other people, complete strangers, I thought I was going to have a heart attack (anxious thoughts jumped straight to the worst case scenario). The design of my apartment is really weird, it is more like a small dormitory: one hallway with doors to each of the bedrooms and the bathroom, and the kitchen at the end of the hall. There isn’t really a common area outside of the kitchen which is not very convenient, but it means that most of the interactions between my roommates and I happen over food. Typically we encounter each other while trying to get a coveted spot on one of the four burners on the stove-top while we each cook our own individual meals. Then we can sit together, each eating our own different plates of food which look totally different from one another, while discussing how our days were. These daily interactions somehow managed to forge friendships that I am incredibly grateful for and not to mention, a really interesting cooking rivalry.
[Making homemade noodles]
One of our roommates, Giorgia, who finished her internship in September and had to return to Italy right away, truly valued the idea of sharing a meal with friends. She planned a time and we all got together, the seven of us and two more guests in our little kitchen to have a meal together. We had spaghetti with homemade sauce and a couple other sides. It is harder than you would imagine to fit nine plates of pasta on a table and squeeze nine people together around the table. It was even difficult to get us all into the pictures we were taking. That night was one of my favorite nights though, crowded as it was, because we got to share our time, laughter, and food together. A couple weeks after that we had one last meal all together with Giorgia before she went home. My roommate Amber from the Netherlands decided she would cook that meal and we had the Dutch version of a pancake (which is similar to a French crepe except a bit more buttery). Once again, we all gathered around the table, pancake toppings laid out and we had another meal together full of joy, good food, and teasing about who gets to claim the role of “master chef” in our flat.
[Annika’s birthday celebration; Little fajita dinner]
The next time I shared a meal with someone, it was with a friend from my class. She was having some issues with her flatmates and forgot to buy food on Saturday (all the stores are closed on Sunday), so I invited her over so I could cook for her. I made chicken fajitas and we sat in the kitchen, eating and talking about our experiences so far. A couple of my roommates were also cooking or snacking and taking part in the conversation. The kitchen is always communal and it is always a place of comfort. I sent my friend home with the leftovers so she could eat them for lunch the next day and she was really excited. I love that food can be such a source of happiness for so many different reasons.
Probably the biggest group meal we’ve done was for my roommate Annika’s birthday. Her boyfriend hadn’t yet arrived from Germany, so we wanted to give her a nice celebration. We made pizzas. With dough from the store, we rolled out five sheet pan pizzas with a lot of different toppings. Amber only likes meat, cheese, and sauce on her pizza, but Annika is a vegetarian and eats a pretty wide variety of toppings which was fun for me to experiment with. We did the typical veggies like onions, peppers, and mushrooms, but for the last veggie pizza, I cut and towel-dried zucchini slices (so the water wouldn’t destroy the pizza) and it was really delicious. One of the last pizzas made was ham and salami, but my roommate Paul (who proudly claims he is the master chef) decided he needed pineapple on top of his pieces too, which made a lot of us wonder how his taste buds were formed. Then one of our other friends brought dessert and really ended the evening perfectly. You can never go wrong with warm brownies and vanilla ice cream.
[Pasta night; Dutch pancakes]
The last couple of group meals I’ve had were just with a couple roommates at a time. Annika and her boyfriend Fabi have certainly done most of the hard work, so I am always thrilled to be included. We made a southern German specialty dish called kässpatzen with homemade noodles and cheese which was a lot of fun! Cutting the noodles by hand like a Youtube grandma was neat. They said that at home they have a special tool to do it instead, but since our flat doesn’t have that, we had to improvise. It is a time-consuming process, but it is a good time with friends. The next meal we had together was after a party, a little after midnight and they made an instant noodle soup, but added onion, zucchini, and egg, which was really nice. Fabi told me that usually after you cook something like that after a party you either sit around a table together, or eat it in bed, but our table was occupied, so we did the latter, heading our separate ways for the night. It was the perfect meal to warm up before bed.
A couple weeks ago, my French roommates Charlotte and Lise made crepes a few times and were kind enough to share with me. I always like to eat them because they are the polar opposite of the American pancake. Thin and without sugar, crepes are perfect for whatever toppings you desire, savory or sweet, much like the Dutch pancakes Amber made. I think it is interesting that most cultures have their own style of pancake and/or a particular way of eating them. Because of the differences, my roommates and I have decided to have a friendly apartment pancake competition before the end of the semester (this might also have something to do with our master chef joke).
The point of all this food, time spent in the kitchen, and our ongoing master chef contest is not just to fill our stomachs (or our egos), but also to fill our souls. Togetherness with food has made an otherwise hollow flat into our home.
Cassie serves as a special correspondent for NSR.
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15 responses to “Food and the World – A Concept of Home Constructed by Food – by Cassie Mahlberg. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports”
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Reading about your awesome experience truly made my stomach growl from hunger. The food all sounds amazing. I also really enjoyed all the pictures you shared, it made reading your story even more interesting. I am an extremely picky eater, but I also love the concept that every culture seems to have some sort of pancake of their own. When I have eaten crepes, I have had them thin, rolled up, and with sugar or fruit on them. The dish you made called Kässpatzen, with homemade noodles and cheese sounds delicious, and I love how you refer to the “YouTube Grandma” cutting her homemade noodles. All of your experiences sound like one of a kind treats. I hope your study abroad keeps going exceptionally and you continue to make these soul filling memories with your new found friends.
Thank you for the great read!
Traveling abroad is exciting! There are so many things that are different among US culture and European culture. Food, being the obvious category, is a commonality of all people. My family has always had dinner at a table. It was not till middle school that I realized that not every family did this, and it was not till late high-school/ early college that I realized that it could be argued uncommon. There is a difference when you eat by yourself, versus eating collectively. Sharing food is often viewed as a negative, but in a deeper sense giving is a key element in kindness. In short, do not share to help others; share to help yourself. Your work is well written and you do a fine job conveying these ideas.
This article caught my I because of the images. I really appreciate that you were comfortable enough to show us real pictures, I think it helped me connect to the article. Also I was surprised to see how much you actually cooked. I can hardly find the time to cook but that is awesome you can. Has it been fun trying traditional food from around the world? Are there any countries that have similar cooking styles to American cuisine?
Your stories of sharing and kindness through food are so heartwarming and wholesome. You seem like such a loving person, and you truly seem to enjoy cooking. I loved these perspectives on giving and compassion. Thank you for sharing!
Thank you for sharing your experience abroad with us. It sounds like you are having a blast. You are lucky that you can have this experience. I think cooking a good way of showing your culture. It has to be fun and interesting getting to try new friends that are from other countries. It has to be cool living with so many roommates who are from different places. The stories you can share have to be amazing. The kitchen is a great place to have a meal and have a large conversation. Thank you for sharing your experience. Hope you have a great rest of your semester abroad.
What an interesting article. What are you in Norway for? (What program) I think it is amazing how food can bring us together and I find that one of the best parts of traveling is trying new foods and then having new recipe ideas to make when you are home. Then you have a variety of meals and can somewhat “relive” your travel experiences and bring up wonderful memories again and again regarding the people you were with, where you made it and what you learned. I thought it was especially interesting when you stated that each country seems to have their own version of the pancake. In the US ours are known to be light and fluffy. The french crepes as you said are light and thin and can be topped with basically anything. There are dutch pancakes, Norwegian pancakes, Swedish pancakes and when I was in Finland this past summer they also have their own version. It would be interesting to travel all around the world trying their version of a pancake and comparing them.
Thank you for sharing this part of your adventure abroad in Germany. I am planning on studying in Ecuador this upcoming semester, so I always enjoy reading how people are enjoying their semesters abroad. I always find it so interesting how food can be a tool to bring people together. The way in which you described fighting over the burners reminded me of me and my 5 roommates when its time to cook dinner, its that sort of subtle annoyance that is both enjoyable and chaotic at the same time.
Thanks for sharing this story Cassie
Thank you for sharing your experience with food and how it connected you to the people around you. Isn’t it interesting that such a basic component of our lives can connect us to people all around the world. It also helps us to form bonds with people that you may have never have done so be for. Amazing! I also think that it is super important to eat with the people around you. Some reason it makes me feel more connected and comfortable with the people I eat around. I think that it was great that you got to try so many great new foods and were able to adapt to everyones lifestyles.
This is such a great post! It is so fun to read about the different dishes that you cook with your friends. It sounds like such a great experience. It is interesting to read about how food connects people from so many different cultures.
Thank you for sharing your story!
Good to hear that youre having such a great time there! I love that the way you connected with these people is through food experiences and not just-food. The cooking contest, the cooking invitation, the shared meal. It was all about the connection that food brought about. Thank you so much for sharing your experience!
So glad to hear an update on how your study abroad experience is going! Have you been sharing any typical “American” foods with your roommates in return, have they even been interested in that? All of the foods you’ve cooked together sound delicious. I love crepes, so I am jealous, and the pizza night sounds pretty great too! It must be really nice to come home and cook and eat with everyone, although I can imagine it gets a bit crowded in the kitchen. Thank you for sharing this and for including all of the pictures too!
This reminds me so much of my current living situation. I share a house with four other people and we all love to cook. Tiny kitchen, five people, four burners and tons of food. We share recipes with one another and join each other in making desserts for the entire house. I plan on moving to Europe next year and hope that I will be able to bring some recipes from home to share with new friends.
Thank you for your article, it made me hungry! Studying abroad is such a special experience and I am glad you are finding cultural aspects like food to enhance your trip. I can relate to your hectic experience cooking in your flat with all your roommates. My house has six girls total that all decide to cook at the exact same time, so it gets pretty crazy as well. I am sure you are learning so many new recipes and food combinations that you’ll bring back to the United States. Food is a great way to bring people together and I always make sure to appreciate meal times with family and friends. You said it perfectly, food fills the soul!
I love your depiction of a kitchen as a place where love, friendship, and memories can grow. I too love my family’s kitchen back home. It is small and can barely fit my mom, my dad, and I, but it is probably the most used place in our apartment. Amazing memories have been created there from cooking together, to sharing a meal, and even sharing stories. All of those beautiful moments where there is human connection are probably one of the most important to me because I strongly believe in love and the sharing of love. And that’s exactly what happens in those moments in places such as the kitchen. Thank you for sharing your story with us.