The University of Iowa

Cooking Differences

How and what you cook abroad will be determined in large part by your specific situation. You may be living in an apartment with a stove top but no oven. You might live in a country where most ingredients are sold daily at a local outdoor market. You could find it almost impossible to find certain things that you are used to eating, like Ramen noodles, peanut butter, hamburger, and pizza, and if you find them, they might be incredibly expensive because they are considered exotic in your new location.

There are lots of variables, but the best advice we have is to observe what the local people eat, and learn how to make it. They will know what ingredients are in season and inexpensive. Find out what kinds of meat, fruit, vegetables, and grains are popular and easily available in your host country, and find some recipes that include those ingredients. In fact, some experienced travelers recommend making a trip to the local supermarket or grocery store with a local person, who can give you direct advice about what products are good, what are bad, what you simply have to try out, and what you can do without.

Beyond that, there are some differences you should expect to encounter when you cook abroad. There may not be supermarkets abroad; instead, you may find that you need to shop at a succession of small stores, each specializing in certain products, like bread, meat, fruits & vegetables, etc. Take advantage of this to get some exercise and to get some practice talking to local people.

There is a good chance that measurements in your host country will be metric, and that ingredients may be measured by weight instead of by volume. That is, if local people use measurements at all. In some cultures, cooking is passed down from generation to generation, and it looks more like an improvised pastime than our standard “by the book” methods. If you have access to an oven, its temperatures will likely read out in Celsius, not Fahrenheit. You may not have much room to store food in your kitchen, since refrigerators abroad are usually smaller than they are in the U.S., and sometimes do not contain freezers. Be prepared to adapt to the situation you find overseas. Ask local students and townspeople for tips and advice. You will learn a lot about the culture by learning about how they prepare food and eat.

My advice would be to pay attention to what you enjoy eating when you eat out to find things you would like to make in your student residence.

I had a hard time finding ingredients for things I thought were common, or I didn't like the Australian version of the food. For example, I love eating peanut butter toast with sliced apples on top in the morning and figured it would be an easy, cheap breakfast. Well, it was so hot in Australia (and no AC!) that my bread molded quickly and the peanut butter tasted bad as a spread (and produce was expensive!). I often stopped at a cafe below the building where my internship was to get coffee and a bite to eat where I found the most delicious thing in the world - Turkish toast with jelly. Turkish toast was sold in smaller quantities so I could eat it before it went bad and it was way more affordable.

I guess the moral of my story is that students should be flexible and try local foods that are similar to their favorite foods at home. Often it is really difficult to find the right local ingredients to make my favorite dishes from home.

–Sarah Hemann, Australia intern