Trials Of A Picky Eater Abroad

Trials Of A Picky Eater Abroad

And exploring the world on an empty stomach

If you're studying abroad, like I am right now, you know that everyone back home is living vicariously through you, and what they seem to care most about are the sights and the food. "Is the food amazing?" is often the first thing people ask after, "Have you gone to the Colosseum, yet?"

And it is amazing. The pasta has been perfect and the pizza is definitely the best I've ever had. The issue I find myself running into most is that I like my pizza without toppings and my pasta sauce-less, two things that are basically unheard of in Italy. I've only been in for Rome two weeks, and I've already encountered these six struggles any picky eater outside their home country knows well.

1. Your usual go-to foods are nowhere in sight.

Back in America, no matter the restaurant, you will probably be able to find something like a hamburger or chicken fingers. You might have to ask for the kids' menu to do it, but if you're really not feeling adventurous that night, it's easy enough to find something you like, or at least recognize. In other countries, they have an entirely different set of restaurant staples. Figuring out which ones you like requires trying them, something any picky eater is most likely trying to avoid.

2. You've just been introduced to an entirely new group of foods for people to try to convince you to try.

Without a doubt, one of the most annoying parts of being a picky eater is the people who keep insisting you try different foods despite knowing your eating habits. At home, at least your friends and family know the foods you're not willing to try, but every new country brings a mountain of new things you've never even heard of. This can become an even bigger problem when you're out with a more adventurous eater. People who love to eat anything and everything always seem to be the ones holding a fork across the table, saying, "Just taste it."

3. You risk having people think you're rude or didn't like your meal when you leave a pile of pieces of food you didn't want on the edge of your plate.

This is true anywhere, but especially in a different country. Basically, any picky eater has used the lip of their plate for foods they don't plan on eating, and knows that moment when they realize the pile has taken over half the plate. In Italy, they expect that you will finish all (or, at least, most) of the food they give you, so that growing pile becomes an even larger problem.

4. The waiters keep catching you staring down at the menu trying to find one thing you think you’ll like.

The fact that the menu is in a different language doesn't help. You've learned to read the menu by looking up the ingredients listed beneath each option in search of something you recognize or are willing to try. Sometimes, you'll find something that seems alright except one ingredient or two, but trying to work with the language barrier to communicate how you want you food is almost as impossible as choosing a dish in the first place.

5. You feel a rush just finding foods you recognize from back home at the grocery store.

I cannot tell you how happy I was to see Skippy Peanut Butter the other day. I don't even eat peanut butter back home, but I ended up making a peanut butter sandwich as soon as I got back to my apartment in Trastevere. My cabinets are filled with American cereals and snacks, specially chosen for those days when I can't seem to find any food that appeals to me. The idea that I might make it home without even once finding a restaurant that seems inviting while in the heart of Italy is astounding to some, but sometimes you just need something from home. Or, in my case, most days.

6. You have to get used to trying new things.

I know, it's any picky eater's worst nightmare. I've still only managed to make myself try two, maybe three new foods so far. Some ended in that pile at the edge of my plate taking over the entire dish, but other times have been (not-so-surprisingly, considering we're in Rome) very good. The temptation to order a plain, margherita pizza or a plate of pasta is just too strong some days, but on the days that I decide to take a chance, I have found foods that I will happily eat again in the coming months.

Getting used to trying new foods is undoubtably the answer to all of these problems, though not the one any picky eater is willing to hear. You don't necessarily have to become a full-on foodie, but traveling abroad can be a life-changing experience, and it shouldn't be one spent on an empty stomach. I'll probably spend the next few months picking my way through some dishes and devouring others, but at least I will be able to say I tried them. Or, at least, most of them.
Cover Image Credit: yeshotelrome

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