Going to a college hours away from home where you know no one can be scary. But what is even scarier is finding someone to live with for a year, one that's a complete stranger. I've heard many roommate horror stories, but I am one of the lucky ones, as you could call it. 

Flashback to Freshman Year

I remember finding my freshman roommate, Gaby, on my class' Facebook group prior to summer orientation. Besides our mutual love for Alabama Shakes, her and I both seemed to love food, and I was intrigued because she said she was from Spain. We decided to be roommates out of pure fear that we'd be roommate-less and thankfully from the moment we moved in together, we have been best friends. Now, she feels more like a sister to me. 

Enough with me professing my love for her (she is pretty incredible), in the past two years I have had the honor to not only get to know Gaby, but also her family and their Spanish culture. I grew up in a household with deep Italian American roots (from my Dad) and deep Southern roots (from my Mom). Food has always been important in my house, and I'm so grateful for that, but it has been so cool to see the differences and similarities from how I grew up to Gaby's Spanish culture and customs surrounding food. 

Since I am from Kentucky, and Gaby grew up mainly in New Jersey, I tend to spend the shorter holiday breaks with her and her family. In the past two years, I have had my fair share of delicious tapas and table side conversation. Some of my favorite moments from college have been shared with my Spanish family and they have taught me just a few things about the power of food. 

1. Sharing Is Caring

Nikki D'Ambrosio

Personally, I love sharing food. Whenever going to a restaurant with people, it logically makes sense to order a plethora of dishes and share. That's how you get to try more of the menu. Tapas, which are essentially small shared plates, are one of the biggest aspects of Spanish eating culture. Not only does sharing bring a sense of community, but the small plates allow you to try more foods without being completely stuffed.

2. Always Try Something New

Nikki D'Ambrosio

Way back when, I used to be a picky eater. That was until my Dad basically forced me to try new foods (thank you, Dad!). In any culture, really, it's a sign of respect to try new foods even if they completely freak you out. I have had so much fun trying new Spanish dishes that usually would be so far out of my comfort zone–like the one pictured above, hongos silvestres con manchego, aka creamy mushrooms with a runny egg on top. SO GOOD.

3. The secret to a good meal is to take your time

Nikki D'Ambrosio

So you know how I mentioned that you can eat more food when there are smaller plates? You'll still get full, and fast, especially if you fill up on meats and cheese at the beginning of the meal. One of the hardest and most important lessons I have learned when it comes to Spanish meals is to pace yourself. I have taken this advice with me, and with all of my meals, slowing down and enjoying not only the food but the company around has helped me be present and not feel so stuffed after every meal. It's a win for me!

4. Love is shown through food

Nikki D'Ambrosio

I learned that love is shown through food at an early age, and it really is true. I've noticed this in the little things, like how Gaby's mom always sends back tuna empanadillas (did you know in Spain, an empanada is huuuge and the little ones that we typially have in the States are known as empanadillas?) for all of our roommates. Or all sitting down to eat breakfast in the morning. Also the not so visible things like the amount of love that is put into each dish. Trust me, it tastes better with all of that in there. 

5. Food is a universal language

Nikki D'Ambrosio

I think one of the reasons I love food so much and am so interested in learning about other cultures and they're food is because it is all so intertwined. No matter what culture, food is a means of love and connection. In Spanish culture, meals tend to last hours upon hours–it's not just about eating, but about spending time with loved ones.

I think we can all take something from the Spanish and European culture in general, slow down and enjoy the food. Food is more than just something you're putting in your body. It is a way to take a step into the lives of the ones around us. I have been so lucky to be welcomed in to such an amazing family and learn more about a culture that I am slowly becoming obsessed with (Spanish food is seriously underrated, people!). Lots of love to my Spanish family, you all are incredible! Also love to my real family too, because you all are the reason I fell in love with food in the first place.