How to Maintain Balance while Experiencing Food
In my opinion, food is the best way to experience a culture. There is something amazing about wandering down forgotten roads in the day, where tourists don’t frequent, and stumbling upon a small restaurant with five tables. These spots are usually only known by locals, and the food is authentic and extraordinary.
Before leaving for Europe this August to study abroad, I was a bit worried. I still held onto many of my dietary fears, particularly sugar and its impact on the body. I wanted to feel free in Europe to explore different cultures and didn’t want to feel guilty every time I indulged. Shoving my fears aside, I made it my priority to eat amazing food. Knowing Copenhagen had some of the highest-rated restaurants (Noma was #1 in the world for a few years), I figured this was the perfect opportunity. I would probably also go bankrupt, but at least it would be worth it.
I spent my free time wandering through the city’s Glass Market, Paper Island, pop up Food Truck markets, and café-lined-streets. The Glass Market had Grød and gorgeous produce, while Paper Island’s Mediterranean wraps and freshly made pasta were to die for. I visited Kiin Kiin with my father and had an out-of-body experience with their food. I ate risotto from the world champion risotto maker’s stove. I fell in love with grilled goat cheese salads and drank Joe and the Juice way too much.
That being said, I was still cooking most of my meals. If anything, I would eat out or get take out 3 meals a week. I could have easily eaten out or ordered take-out a ton more, but with all the fresh produce available and how expensive restaurants were, it made the most sense for me to cook at home.
Because I took this leap, I was able to explore a whole different side of the culinary world. I learned how to meal prep for a week, how to spontaneously design dishes based off of what the vendors at farmer’s markets were selling, and how to make my apartment-mates jealous of my meals. Knowing exactly what I was eating and choosing food items that were both nourishing and delicious made all the difference on my mindset when I ate out. Back when I deprived myself of certain foods, I would always end up binging if I gave myself permission to “enjoy” them. When abroad, I always was able to take home leftovers if I was too full, so I didn’t have to feel guilty about wasting food. I was able to really practice listening to what my body craved, as there was such an incredible variety of food choices at my disposal.
The best part of all of this, however, was that I did it on my own. I travelled to anything from Michelin three-hour-long-meals restaurants to run-down cafes by myself, whenever I wanted, on my own time. There were no distractions from my time with the food. Instead of conversing, I was able to focus on the flavors in my mouth, the satiety of my palate. I didn't feel inclined to order a specific dish based on my peer's judgements. Everything became about me and my relationship with food, which was extraordinarily necessary at the time. I learned how to not only enjoy my independence, but also how to truly appreciate the culinary world.
When I tell people I travelled alone and ate meals by myself, they are pretty confused. They cannot imagine wandering foreign cities by themselves, let alone eating meals. I realized during my experiences that yes, it is scary and extremely lonely at times, but it also is quite freeing in a multitude of ways.
I understand that my experience was an incredibly fortunate one. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity I had to study abroad and for the funds I had to visit these restaurants and markets. But, regardless of your economic situation, branching out with food can be done at any time or any place. Whether you are traveling or at home, I really recommend taking the leap. Go to a restaurant with a cuisine you’ve never tried, and maybe even go by yourself. Try cooking something based on whatever the market has available that day, all by yourself. There is no better way to listen to your body than when you’re completely alone with food. Enjoy yourself, and enjoy your version of a balanced life.
Do you ever go to restaurants alone? What has been your favorite culinary adventure?