I recently returned back to the United States after spending ten months studying abroad in Leuven, Belgium, a small college town right outside of Brussels. During this time, I had the opportunity to travel to (AKA eat my way through) 13 different countries. I was able to meet people from all over the world, see different cultures and ways of living, and get a grasp on what it means to be me.

I have always known how important food means to me. Coming from an Italian-American family and my careful vetting process for restaurants, it is pretty obvious that my world revolves around food. But, being abroad, and being introduced to so many different cultures, I realized that food is at the core of everything. 

Nikki D'Ambrosio

Food is Love

Despite language barriers or cultural differences, food is a language we can all understand. Each place that I visited continued to show me how food is love. When I visited my friends family in Greece, we were greeted with a full spread of homemade food for lunch. My friend's great-aunt had prepared a three-course lunch with traditional Greek cheese pies, rice and chicken, and fresh tomatoes and cucumbers. While we could not directly communicate (because I don't know Greek), I could clearly see how honored and excited she was to host her niece's friends. I expressed my gratitude by enjoying the food (a no brainer) and communicating non-verbally.  Similar to this situation, in several restaurants in many countries I visited, I was graciously given extra dishes out of the kindness of the kitchen. This showed me that the barriers in language can be bonded by the appreciation of food. Food is a way of showing love and expressing gratitude.

Nikki D'Ambrosio

Food is Connection

Adding on to the idea of food is love, food is also a form of connection. In an unfamiliar country with people I had never met, I found it easier to connect with people through a shared interest in food. One of my best friends, who I met in Belgium, shared similar interests in cooking and trying new restaurants as I do. Our friendship grew each week as we would come together to try restaurants that appealed to our appetite. We both have food Instagram accounts and always laughed at how neither of us batted an eye at letting our "phone eat first" and spending a good 20 minutes photographing the food. She once told me, "All of my friends get so annoyed waiting to eat, but it's so great to have someone who shares the same love and passion for sharing food!" This sharing of food with someone is an intimate experience; I even wrote a paper on it for one of my classes abroad. When we spend a meal together, we take time to be present with those in front of us. For me, the foodie, food is definitely my love language.

Nikki D'Ambrosio

Food is a way to understand a culture

I'm not saying I only traveled to try the food in each country but that was definitely a priority. This is what I researched most before getting on the plane or train to visit said country. Some people travel for history, others travel for art, but I travel for food. For me, food is a way to get a peek into the culture of the country you are visiting. When I traveled to Bologna, Italy for my birthday, I booked a pasta cooking class and ended up in a former chef's apartment kitchen with two other people learning how to make more than five different types of egg pasta. I was able to get a first-hand look at the culture by speaking to and learning from the chef but also by honoring the traditions of Italian cooking that had been passed down for hundreds of years. By looking at the restaurants, you can see the types of people that have immigrated or how traditional or progressive the country is. I always enjoyed trying the local delicacies of each place I visited–I asked locals where to dine and what dishes to each because that's how I felt most integrated into the culture.

Yeah, we get it, food is important. I think the moral of my story here is that we often take for granted food. It gets boring. Or we don't have time. But just something as simple as homemade cookies as a gift for your best friend who just went through a breakup or a simple charcuterie board for girls night can bring connection. As humans, we often seem to be focused on these extraordinary measures and things in our lives but something as simple as food can help us return to those core values of love, connection, and being seen.