by STEPHEN GARMAN
1st year MM Bassoon
What a conundrum food is. Our appreciation for it spans artistry to oblivion, but still it is a source of constant repute for every culture. With admission decisions having finally been sent out, a large number of international students will be joining us in Boston, and now is a great opportunity to reflect on just how the local cuisine sits with newcomers to the U.S.
During this writer’s time living in Mountain Dew-less England, the biggest culture shocks were food and crossing streets. On the up side there were fish and chips (large fries), a pint of warmish flat ale, and Ethiopian and Indian restaurants on every corner. Foreigners would happily yodel any book of the bible in exchange for a Cadbury bar, a treat that puts Hershey’s to shame. On the downside was buying everything in either tiny quantities or bulk, and these culinary gems called “pasties,” which were similar to but more off-putting than the Jamaican beef patties at Symphony Market, if you can imagine. Then there were more familiar establishments, like McDonalds and Pizza Hut. When it came to meals on the go, their standards of food quality seemed to be much higher than ours, whether this was a result of labor laws or food safety. It would be interesting to hear from international students at NEC as to whether their experience with fast food chains is the same in their country (Swedes and their meatballs notwithstanding).
Where could an international student go nearby to get a taste unique to them? There is a very good Mediterranean shop opposite the Mass. Ave T-stop, and J’s Tomodachi, across from the Christian Science center, has great sushi and even better customer service. Drop into any bar for a Guinness and the Irish population is set. This writier has yet to visit China but has sampled several dishes in Chinatown, and no amount of Tsingtao can justify stinky tofu. But where does one pick up some good spaetzle, pickled cactus (like shrimp, the trick is to ignore the texture), or poutine in all of Boston? Instead, the most convenient things near to NEC are typical “American” foods like pizza, burgers, and hotdogs. Ah, hotdogs: the Swedish meatballs of America. (That was the last Swedish joke.)
What impressions of the US are international students leaving NEC with? Convenience? Comfort? How about quality and customer service? Urban settings like ours are a haven for the former two traits, but the last two too easily fall by the wayside. Not convinced? Ask to see the nutritional facts of just about any local restaurant’s menu. Sometimes though, ignorance is bliss (You know who you are, Panera…). Speaking from experience, it can be difficult for international students to venture much beyond a small bubble that surrounds their apartment or school. What you see around NEC is the ‘Murica they will remember.