International students often wonder about whether or not they will be able to access the foods that they are accustomed to. Oberlin is a smaller town and there aren't a ton of exotic options, but there are more than you might expect because we are a pretty cosmopolitan campus with students and faculty from around the world. The dining halls actually have quite a few international choices, as do our ever-popular co-ops. In town, we have two Chinese restaurants plus an Asian fusion restaurant (created by an Oberlin alum, by the way). There are also a burrito bar and a small Mexican restaurant. The newest eating option in town is a deli with very tasty bagels. Just outside of town is a long-established family-run Italian restaurant. Finally, the local grocery store has a pretty strong selection of international ingredients for those of you who'd rather prepare your own.
However, what I really wanted to share with you is the multitude of options within about half an hour of campus. Without ANY planning on my part to "eat exotic," here is what my wife and I did to travel around the world just in the last 9 days.
Day 1 -- of the around the world adventure -- Italian. Saturday, we visited a local farmer's market in Westlake (about 25 minutes from campus), where we had a number of interesting options, including not only fresh produce and breads, but also a variety of pasta, meats, cheeses, and other tidbits. We bought veggies plus some fresh hand-made spinach gnocchi, some shitake mushrooms, and some fresh Italian sausage. We had friends over for an Italian dinner where I turned the mushrooms (along with some portobellos that I had on hand already) into a mushroom risotto, made some homemade pesto to serve over the gnocchi, and included some of the Italian sausage in a tomato sauce for pasta. By the way, there is a smaller farmer's market in Oberlin that has many of the same tasty foods as the larger market that we visited.
Day 2 -- India & the Mediterranean. On Sunday, Katya and I went to the shopping mall for something (I don't even remember what). Great Northern Mall is in North Olmstead (about 20 minutes from campus). We ate a couple blocks from the mall in a little Indian restaurant that we like. It has a lunch buffet every day (except Monday when they are closed). We had a nice assortment of dishes, but as usual we mostly ate Chicken Mahkani with rice and naan. After lunch we visited the local Mediterranean grocery store. We weren't planning to go home for a while so couldn't get any of the perishable items like feta cheese from Bulgaria (where it is called sirene) or any of the Halal meats that they sell. We did, however, pick up some spices, some canned humus and tabouli to try (can't recommend either and I think I'll continue to make my own), and some kind of fruit from a cactus!
Day 3 -- China. Joel Presti from our office, the counselor who will be visiting India and Pakistan in October, and I went to one of the local Oberlin Chinese restaurants for the lunch special. I opted for Yushan Pork with steamed rice and hot & sour soup ($5.25). Joel went for the Kung Pao Chicken with steamed rice and egg drop soup ($4.95).
Day 4 -- Bulgaria. My wife wanted one of her favorite dishes from her home country: kachamak. This is a lot like the Italian polenta or American cornmeal mush. In other words, it is ground corn cooked with water into a thick paste. In Bulgaria it is usually served with grated sirene and sometimes cooked with smoked pork bits. I faked that by just frying up some very nice German bacon that we had in the fridge from a whole foods store that we sometimes visit.
Day 5 -- I can't remember what I ate so probably wasn't anything special.
Day 6 -- Japan and the East generally. Thursday I had an eye doctor's appointment and afterward we tried a sushi restaurant that was new for us, but has been around for a while. This place is also near the Great Northern Mall. I like the plain nigri sushi and had magura (tuna), yellowtail, octopus, and surf clam. The fish and clam were raw, of course, but the octopus is cooked before being slapped on the rice wedge. Katya had two rolled sushi items. The predominant items in one, eel and avocado, the other was yellowtail and I don't remember what else. We both had the miso soup. After dinner we went next door to an Asian market run by a Korean family. I picked up a couple of packs of Asia noodles and some soy sauce derivative that is supposed to be a good base for soup with udon noodles. Katya went for the chestnuts. We got two types, some roasted ones in a foil pouch that we knew we both liked and some refrigerated ones in sweet syrup -- we didn't care much for those but I'm saving them to attempt a chestnut soufflé later today.
Day 7 -- Nothing of note. We did have some basil and Parmesan-crusted cod that was in our freezer. This had been purchased at some point in the past at Trader Joe's -- a pretty cool store that is right next to the farmer's market noted in Day 1.
Day 8 -- Mexico & China. Had lunch at Chipotle's. This is an interesting chain of burrito restaurants that is actually owned by McDonald's. Pretty tasty stuff although I suspect that most Mexicans wouldn't recognize this as Mexican food. There are a number of these within easy driving distance of Oberlin as well as a competing chain called Q'doba that we don't care for as much -- although lots of other people do. I had a burrito with black beans, shredded pork and shredded beef, cilantro-seasoned rice, and a couple of different fresh salsas. Katya went with the vegetarian burrito with grilled peppers and onions, rice, two salsas, and guacamole. For dinner, I made a Szechuan beef and eggplant dish.
Day 9 -- French? Well, now that I've finished this blog, I'm going to clean my messy office. Depending on how long that takes, I may give that chestnut soufflé a try.
All in all, a lot of interesting food options are available here in Northeast Ohio. With a little effort and a car, one can eat just about anything. Even within the small town of Oberlin you will find some pretty tasty options. So as the late Julia Child always used to say, "Bon Appétit!"