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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