Eating My Way Through Europe

Eating My Way Through Europe

I recently got back the evaluation of my second year interview with the Doctoral School. The committee gave me a good note and stated that “the student shows a very good attitude towards the difficulties associated with the realization of a European industrial doctorate”. I took this as a great compliment and a correct analysis of the situation. Despite my supervisors positive words about my progress I currently feel like I am dragging myself through mud.

I will not bore you with the scientific, personal, experimental, administrative, time-consuming difficulties of a European industrial PhD, but focus on a less acknowledged but equally important issue one encounters when moving between different cultures, namely the eating habits.

I am from Sweden, a country not shying for three hot meals a day. We find the southern habits of only a croissant with coffee in the morning an insult and the coffees are anyways always too small. I suffered caffeine abstinence the first few week upon arrival in Girona. Then I got myself a French press and yes, throughout my stay there I did self-import my favorite “Swedish” coffee to at least get my ratio in the morning.

I also remember being concerned about the surprising amount of sugar, white bread and fried food the Mediterranean diet turned out to consist of. Going out for dinner and only eat deep fried calamares and potatoes just didn’t feel like riktig mat, real food, an important concept in Sweden.
There we learn from early age that each meal should contain one part vegetables, one part carbohydrates (preferably whole grain varieties) and one part protein, a system referred to as tallriksmodellen. Processed meat, sugar and white bread has especially in recent years been seen as very unhealthy indeed, but I have to say that after a year of fuet and even starting taking sugar in my coffee I haven’t noticed any significant health changes so maybe it is not so dangerous after all.

In Belgium, a constant struggle is to get any food at all, since many shops close already at 6pm. Also, here many people just eat some bread or a soup for lunch which again is not converging with Swedish standards for a proper meal. On the heavier side are of course the fries with mayonnaise and meat stews prepared with beer which come in many delicious varieties. Actually Antwerp has a very good range of restaurants and if you keep to southern dinner times you have no problem getting a table without booking although you might end up without desert as the kitchens promptly closes at 10pm.