After the first initial thrust to the gut of culture shock wore off and my study abroad group landed in Bologna Airport, the primary thing that everyone in the group wanted was to find one thing: food. A main aspect of traveling or studying abroad is trying and experimenting with local, authentic cuisine, something that is unique to the area and hardly found anywhere else. For example, where I come from, Huntingdon, Pa. The area is Amish country, so our it’s known for its Whoopee Pies and homemade potato salad. Philadelphia has Philly Cheese Steaks. Chicago has its pizza. Almost every area has its own specialty plate, something culturally and demographically, that I find not only interesting, but peculiar.
My first day in Bologna was not only the first day to try authentic Italian food, but to search for a sense of familiarity, of home. To start, our study abroad group, running on five hours of sleep and now six hours ahead of our original time clock, stopped at a little restaurant right around the corner from our hotel named Snoopy 2. Tired and ravishing for a taste of Italy, the group ordered traditional Italian pizza, using hand motions and exhausted smiles as forms of communication with the Italian waiter who spoke little English. Being lactose intolerant, I settled down and ordered what was called a seafood salad, said to contain prawns, clams, octopus, oysters and shrimp.
When the food came out it was as if a million dollars had been thrown into the air and scattered around us broke college kids. The smell of the freshly baked pizza, loaded with thick and thin slices of spicy salami and mortadella that sizzled among the melting aroma of the mozzarella cheese. Another pizza pie was garnished with large pieces of spinach and basil, sprinkled with slices of provolone cheese and a white sauce. The pizzas were not cut when brought out, something that I thought was irregular and odd. I guess they thought we could just pick it up and eat it like taco.
Then my salad came out. One fact that I must mention is that in Italy salad dressings are not a common amenity. Olive oil, balsamic vinaigrette and a red, spicy oil are the three basic dressings or condiments that any Italian restaurant will have. When I first glanced at it, I can’t say that I wasn’t a bit terrified. Clams, prawns and shrimp I knew I could tolerate because I actually liked them. However, the oysters and the octopus definitely had me second guessing why I would even want to try to eat an eight-tentacled creature that could probably kill me if it wasn’t chopped up into little pieces and grilled in olive oil.
Surprisingly, it turns out that I am a huge fan of octopus. Oysters are a small clump of black goo that with extra olive oil dressing I was able to swallow down. Octopus is a bright purple color, hindering to the stereotypical purple octopi in children’s coloring books. It is also very chewy, almost the consistency of a steak but more along the lines of cooked salmon. Yes, it was very weird to eat and looking at the little suckers as you would call them was sort of disconcerting, but overall, on my next trip to Red Lobster, I will be looking for a dish including octopus.
All in all: Octopus wasn’t the only entrée that I tried and discovered that I liked on the first day there. At a local grocery store, where I found not only familiar items such as Coca Cola, ketchup packets and isles and isles of authentic cheeses, meats and wines, I also found pear juice. There was pineapple, mango, apple, tomato, orange and even peach juice but the one that intrigued me the most was pear. It is a thick consistency but oh so very sweet. For the next two weeks, I was craving pear juice and octopus grilled in olive oil; what a weird combination but, hey, you’re only in Italy once right? I’d say that it was a great first taste of Bologna and that I readily embraced and accepted the new foods within the culture. And it was only day one.
(Kayla Handy is a Clarion University student contributor to VenangoExtra.com & ClarionExtra.com. Email Kayla at email@example.com.)