Finding Authentic International Food, On- and Off-Campus

A woman picks up local beef at Lotte Mart in Seoul April 25, 2012. Two major South Korean retailers halted sales of U.S. beef after an outbreak of mad cow disease as the country's agriculture ministry looked set to move towards banning quarantine inspections, a move that would effectively end imports. Lotte Mart, a unit of Lotte Shopping Co., said it had suspended sales due to what it said was "customer concerns", as did Home Plus, a unit of Britain's Tesco PLC.

KoreanFoodEach year, thousands of international students come to the United States to complete their higher education. Leaving home and living abroad is a big major transition in life. And one of the first obstacles many of these students face is one of the most prominent: adapting to new food.

For many international students, it’s a struggle to find the food they grew up with while they study abroad, far away from their home country.

Se-Hoon Park, a student at Georgetown University, said that the only time he can eat authentic Korean food is when he goes back his family back home in Korea.

Nothing beats home cooked meals (even for American students). But many international students miss home cooked meals even more because of the stark difference between the food they’re used to eating and food in the U.S. Some international students say that they are not really used to American food, and that it is too greasy for their tastes.

“I miss my hometown cook,” said Zhou Shen, a student at Georgetown University.

Many international students complain that their school’s cafeterias don’t cater to international tastes with specific meals or dishes.

“I don’t have a chance to eat Korean food on the campus,” said Park. “Most cafeterias provide just simple food such as sandwiches and hamburgers, even though the owner of one of the school cafeterias [at Georgetown] is Korean.”

Many students try to satisfying their craving for authentic food from their homeland by venturing off-campus. But even at restaurants providing traditional countries’ menus, the food is often Americanized.

So instead, they head to supermarkets to try to cook the meals themselves.

“Usually most of Korean restaurants in D.C. don’t fulfill my appetite because it is American style Korean food,” said Park. “So, I and my friends sometimes cook Korean food together.”

Large grocery stores usually have a section of international food ingredients they can use to cook with – especially if the city has a large international population. And the chance to cook authentic food also gives them a chance to cook with friends and share part of their culture.

“I usually go to Whole Foods to get some ingredients,” said Shen. “It is near my house and I like to buy organic food instead of American junk food.”

Jeonghyun Kim is a VOA intern for the English web desk. She is from South Korea, and is currently pursuing her Masters in Professional Studies in Journalism at Georgetown University

Jeonghyun Kim

One comment

  1. Sometimes, wonderful opportunities exist within a problem. Se-Hoon’s group cooking solution has the potential to blossom into something amazing. I can see this being a fun club idea, where different ethnic cuisines are featured from time to time.

    In defense of the USA, America might be the best country in which to have this problem. Finding unique ingredients (even if through the internet) for a range of international cuisines is easier and cheaper in the US than in most other countries, I imagine. For example, it is very difficult for my American sister to find Mexican food ingredients in Japan; and if she does, it is usually very expensive.

    Interesting article, Jeonghyun! Thank you for sharing!

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