A Review of Junior Year Abroad: Food Edition

Last year I was blessed with the opportunity to study abroad for the year at the University of St Andrews in St Andrews, Scotland with nineteen other fabulous individuals from Holy Cross. Living in a brand new country on my own for the year involved its fair share of ups and downs, but I would not trade a minute of it for anything else. One of the biggest upsides of living abroad in my opinion, given that I am a major foodie, was the ability to visit so many different countries and sample all the delicious local dishes. Because I traveled to thirteen countries during my time abroad, here are thirteen food-related highlights from the year, one from each of the places I visited. 

1. Scotland

Obviously this is the first place I ‘visited’ abroad since I lived in St Andrews all year. Scottish food is definitely not my favorite cuisine, but the Scots do have a few standout dishes. They are known for haggis, black pudding, scones, porridge, and smoked salmon, to name a few. Though all of these foods are great, my absolute favorite meal in Scotland was the granola with fruit and yogurt at the Cottage Kitchen in St Andrews. I consider myself a granola connoisseur, and theirs was hands-down the best I’ve ever tested. Baked in-house everyday with a combination of nuts and dried fruit included in the mix and then topped with Greek yogurt and homemade fruit compote, this dish is truly happiness in a bowl. 

2. Switzerland 

Switzerland was the first country I traveled to after arriving in Scotland, and although the trip itself was quite a challenging one, the food was spectacular. My friends and I sampled lots of yummy dishes including a plethora of pastries, cheese fondue, and Swiss chocolate, but my number one pick was the dark chocolate fondue we had at Au Petit Chalet in Geneva. The fondue was sweet yet slightly bitter, absolutely decadent, and very creamy, and it came with diced bananas, strawberries, kiwi, oranges, pineapple, and melon. A 10 out of 10 in my book! 

3. The Netherlands 

The Netherlands completely took me by surprise. I had a very specific idea of what Amsterdam and its atmosphere would be like and that mindset was completely disproven, for the better. Amsterdam is a charming, clean, and super easy-to-navigate city filled with tons of cute boutiques and fantastic restaurants. On this trip my friends and I definitely had our share of food experiences, trying chocolate dipped waffles, frites, Dutch apple pie, and stroopwafel McFlurries. Yet the dish that stood out the most to me was the Belgian Pancake at The Pancake Bakery. Studded with apples, raisins, and sugar nuts and topped with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, and a drizzle of maple syrup, it was a breakfast turned dessert turned heaven on Earth. 

4. England 

England is one of only three countries I traveled to this past year where I truly fell in love with the culture, people, and food. With so much to do, see, and eat in the fabulous city of London, there were plenty of opportunities for me to be wowed food-wise. I loved having tea at Harrods, sampling various ethnic offerings at Borough Market, and indulging in some seriously decadent cookies at Covent Garden, buy my top choice has to be the hot chocolate and dark chocolate fondue at Choccywoccydoodah. The hot chocolate arrives topped with a generous dollop of homemade whipped cream, several large pink marshmallows, and a sprinkling of cocoa while the fondue is served alongside strawberries, honeycomb, chocolate dipping sticks, fudge, and various homemade baked goods. To say I finished that meal with a sugar high is an understatement, more like chocolate wasted to be exact. 

5. Denmark 

My entire family came to visit me for winter break, and we were able to spend Christmas in Copenhagen. What made the trip so special for me was not Copenhagen itself but creating all these memories with my family. We biked around the entire city on Christmas morning, explored Tivoli Gardens and Nyhavn, and visited Frederiksborg Castle and Rosenborg Castle. However, my favorite part of the trip was our Christmas Eve dinner, which was made adhering to traditional Danish culinary customs. We had roast duck, boiled potatoes, red cabbage, and gravy and then ended the meal with ris à l’amande, the star of the meal in my opinion. Ris à l’amande is cold rice pudding served with whipped cream, vanilla, almonds, and hot cherry sauce; it was an impeccable dish to end the night.

6. France 

As I mentioned before, there were only three countries that I truly fell in love with while abroad, and France is the second of the three. Everything about France spoke to me as a person: the architecture, the fashion, the food, the museums and art- the list could go on and on. During my time abroad I was lucky enough to visit multiple cities within France including Paris, Nice, Antibes, and Èze, but Paris was both my all time favorite city within France and my favorite place I’ve traveled to thus far in my lifetime. It’s extremely hard to define my best culinary experience in France, because there were too  many mind-blowing dishes to count, but the macaroons at Pierre Hermé probably took the cake. My sister and I sampled a selection including raspberry, vanilla, and pistachio, but the top contender was the passion fruit and milk chocolate macaroon. Yes, that’s correct, a macaroon that combines both fruit and chocolate, in essence the best of both worlds. 

7. Belgium 

My experience in Belgium completely lived up to my very high expectations, as it is a friendly, quaint yet still cosmopolitan country filled with all things sweet and savory. Although I did sample quite a few sweet treats, the dish that sealed the deal for me was savory. My friend and I shared a great dinner our last night in Brussels at this local restaurant that specialized in mussels, my favorite seafood. I had the mussels topped with curry sauce, and it was a spicy, slightly salty, fragrant food moment. The mussels were served with lots of diced onions and parsley, making for a soul warming, hunger appeasing pot of yumminess. 

8. Sweden 

Sweden is a country whose lifestyle, people, and overall essence is equal to that of a modern day fairytale. Everyone I encountered in Stockholm was friendly and approachable not to mention extremely photogenic; the food was healthy, yummy, and completely satisfying; and the city seemed to run with an effortless efficiency in which transportation arrived exactly on time and the streets were immaculate. The dishes I tried varied from chia pudding to homemade, organic gummy bears, but the meal that clinched the top spot for me was the burrata salad at Pascal Café. Filled with lots of yummy components such as roasted peppers and onions, micro greens, and a big ball of burrata, the salad was topped with a drizzle of homemade pesto, cementing it as one of the best salads I have ever had. 

9. Italy 

I could be here all day raving about the various delicacies I enjoyed in Italy. To say I ate my way through Italy is an understatement, but when in Italy right? I visited Pisa, Florence, and Bologna, and each city had a different cultural and culinary vibe. I liked each place for different reasons, but the overriding factor in all three locations was the food. I sampled gluten-free pizza, seafood platters, cured meats, homemade cheeses, and of course, loads of gelato. Surprisingly, the dish I enjoyed the most in each city always remained the same: pistachio gelato. This dessert was nutty, slightly sweet, and super creamy, all of which combined each time to form a fabulous dessert. 

10. Germany 

Berlin is a highly underrated city. It has an absolutely crazy nightlife, stunning museums, super cool street art, a huge variety of world cuisines, and a fascinating history, among other things. I myself am not the biggest fan of potatoes and red meat, so a lot of the traditional German food was not exactly up my ally, but their ethnic food, on the other hand, was to die for. Over the course of the trip I had vegetable curry, chicken tikka masala, sushi, and Vietnamese spring rolls, but the top contender was the vegetable pad thai. Being able to try such different world cuisines while in one city was a really cool experience and definitely cemented Berlin as the third of the three countries I fell in love with.

11. Czech Republic 

Prague is a very charming city with a strong Eastern European influence present in the architecture and culinary and arts scene. The absolute best dish I had while in Prague was the trdelnik at the Good Food Café and Bakery, which is a cinnamon- flavored, deep-fried dough cone built to hold oozing amounts of nutella, mulled berries, stewed apples, whipped cream, and vanilla ice cream. Because I am gluten intolerant I had to forgo the churro cone, but even the vanilla ice cream served in a dish with apples, berries, and a swirl of whipped cream was fabulous, and as all my friends loudly proclaimed, the churro cone was fantastic so just imagine how good it is when everything comes together.

12. Spain 

Spain was a truly stunning country. I was only there for a few days, and I was overwhelmed, in the best way possible, by its beauty, size, and culture. In regards to the food scene in Barcelona, I was in awe of all the awesome dishes I tried. The offerings ranged from octopus with sautéed potatoes and capers to a Spanish omelet with ham to chocolate sorbet with olive oil and sea salt. Each was wonderful in its own right, but my personal favorite was the fruit salad and smoothie served in a carved-out pineapple at Brunch and Cake. It was super refreshing, healthy, and filling. All in all, it was the best way to start the day. 

13. Morocco 

Obviously, in comparison to all the other countries I visited during my year abroad, Morocco stands out in more ways than one. It was a complete culture shock riding in a pre-Cold war era taxi next to a man plodding along on a camel while on a two-lane highway surrounded by palm trees on one side and the Alger mountains on the other. Ending my year abroad in Morocco was the best decision I made as it reminded me of how much more I have to see in the world. Moroccan food as a whole is neither the most exciting nor diverse cuisine, but the chicken tagine I had while camping in the Sahara desert was spectacular. The chicken was tender and succulent and when paired with lots of roasted vegetables, rice, and a flavorful broth, it morphed into quite the meal.