I’ve always had a mild obsession with Italian cuisine. The food is relatively simple to make and only requires a few fundamental ingredients.

Olive oil? A kitchen staple. Garlic? The scent of the gods. Marinara, cheese and crispy bread? The trifecta and comfort food known as pizza.

Gif courtesy of getyarn.io

When I studied abroad in Torino, Italy last summer, finally being able to taste authentic Italian cooking was one of the first things I looked forward to on the trip. However, aside from the course I was taking, I learned several important lessons about the cuisine and the culture in general:

1. Don’t expect the best pizza and pasta ever.

Photo by Stephanie Dang

Unsurprisingly, one of my first meal in Torino was pizza. In true Italian fashion, I was served a whole pie and ate it with a fork and knife. It was delicious and there was nothing wrong with the pizza, but there was also nothing extraordinary. (Admittedly, the best pizza I’ve eaten was a 2 a.m. order from Domino’s.)

#SpoonTip: Be weary of eateries that cater towards tourists. They most likely won’t be one of the better places.

2. Grocery shop. And cook, if possible.

Photo courtesy of eataly.net.

By my third day, I quickly got into a carb funk, which isn’t as glorious as it sounds.

On the day our group finally made it to the convenience store, we discovered various meats, cheeses, fruits, vegetables and hot-prepared meals that the typical restaurant does not offer.

#SpoonTip: Plan accordingly. Many grocery stores close on or before 8 p.m. Will never take CVS for granted again.

3. Be open to new things.

Photo by Stephanie Dang

You’ve probably heard this motto millions of times but for good reason.

I could have ordered a cheese and basil pizza (margherita) at every meal, but I’m glad I didn’t, or else I never would have discovered fried rabbit with zucchini (Coniglio fritto e zucchini) or the amazingly sweet and salty combination of
canteloupe wrapped in Italian ham (proscuitto e melone)!

One of my best discoveries was 40 cent Euro espresso vending machines. The perfect pick-me-up and a great way to get rid of your loose change.

4. The food will only be as great as your experience.

Photo taken at Liceo Vito Scafidi on 6/2015

You can dine in the finest establishment in Italy but it will mean much more if you take the time to cherish the sights, surroundings and/or the people you’re with.