By Phoebe Lipkis
You’re over it. You’ve been here eight weeks and it’s already old. And you’ve probably gained weight, as expected.
This is when the complaints begin. "Do you think they might put something other than red pepper in the stir fry for once?" Or, "The frosting on this brownie peels off in one piece. Gross!"
It didn’t take long to discover that College 9/10 has the best food or that the stale cooking oils of College Eight’s dining hall will permeate your clothes if you’re there for too long. Perhaps you’ve figured this all out.
I feel for you. Really, I do.
But look on the bright side. At least you’re not expected to eat ham and cheese sandwiches for breakfast. A wide variety of cereal is at your fingertips, and not just from 7:30 to 9 a.m., but all day, so that if you’re sick of fries, don’t want a salad or soup, and the hamburger patty soaking in grease is too nauseating, you can always have Lucky Charms for lunch.
Food trends may inspire hyperventilation or panic attacks in students studying abroad. Burritos top the "What I’ll Miss" list during Education Abroad orientation. UCSC dining service generally does not.
But here I am at the University College Utrecht (UCU), an international school of 600 students located 20 minutes south of Amsterdam, missing the Porter Dining Hall.
That is not to say that Dutch food itself is all that bad. Stroopwafels, the overly sweet Dutch indulgence, is available fresh at tri-weekly outdoor markets in the center of town and come autumn, local bakers set up tents on the street to sell fresh doughnut-like oilebollen to passersby. There are definitely some good options out there.
UCU dining feels differently. Variety and flavor seem to be distinctly lacking in the menu that promises potatoes and rice day after day, week after week, usually accompanied by a soggy unidentifiable green vegetable lacking any nutritional value. The salad bar here boasts a small selection of fresh foods-generally cucumbers, grated carrots, and lettuce that leaves us with salads that, at home, might come as decoration on a plate of tacos.
Though we have unlimited access to the aforementioned foods, main dishes are diligently doled out in portions (and no, you cannot have seconds). Soups, desserts, starters (a.k.a. "the mayonnaise dish"), and fruit are all rationed according to a quintessentially Dutch complex point system that essentially boils down to "choose any two" and usually results in "put that back!" Drinks, other than coffee and water, cost extra.
How I miss the days of soft serve at every meal, unlimited access to fruit, soy milk, cereal, salads with organic lettuce and fresh vegetables, main courses, soda, chicken nuggets, omelets, smoothies, and oatmeal. Oh, the good old days.
Reminiscing about better food has become a dining hall pastime. Just as culture shock inevitably diminishes with time and active participation, it stands to reason that food shock will only go away by engaging with the culture. And so I’ve learned to deal with the muesli and plain yogurt every morning, eat salads without flavor, and pick through the pork and banana stew and I even tried a croquette once-a threatening grey meat pulp in an unidentified gelatin broth deep fried in bread crumbs.
Some barriers, however, cannot be crossed, and while we Americans enjoy our PB&J with milk, our Dutch friends eat white bread covered in chocolate paste and sprinkles with a cold glass of karnemelk (buttermilk) on the side.
Admittedly, though UCSC’s dining is greatly superior to what we’re served up here, Dutch culture makes up for it in other ways.
Located right above the dining hall on campus is a full-fledged bar, serving better beers and creative cocktails until four in the morning to those of us, who, in the United States, would be stuck at home counting down the days ’til we turn 21. And when it’s time for a dance break at 2 a.m., at least the packaged peanut M&M’s are guaranteed to taste good.