Despite my lack of skills in the kitchen, I am fascinated by food and those who have mastered the art of creating it. And while I am unlikely to become a critic for a gourmet magazine, I look at what we eat as much more than just the fuel we need to live.
To me, food serves two additional purposes. On one hand, food creates opportunities for experimentation and exploration. On the other hand, food allows us to connect with our family, friends and culture in a unique way.
Living in California, we have access to some of America’s freshest produce as well as an exotic array of international foods. In San Mateo especially, we are fortunate to be a short drive or walk away from so many family-owned, traditional restaurants serving dishes from Asia, Europe and Central and South America.
It would be impossible to sample something from every restaurant in San Mateo, but I’ve had so much fun over the years trying new appetizers, entrees and desserts at my favorites. I’m not quite as daring as some, but having such a wealth of authentic and international foods makes it easy to have an adventure without traveling to another country.
Growing up, food has also played a special role in many of my memories with family.
At home, my family eats dinner together every night, and that time is often the only part of the day when we are all in the same place and focused on the same thing. I’m also incredibly lucky to have a mom who enjoys cooking at home. Home-cooked dinners are among my happiest memories, both for the taste and the experience of being with family.
But as fall moves closer and closer, I’m realizing that how I eat will undergo change. Once I start college on the East Coast, I’ll no longer have easy access to San Mateo’s finest local cuisine (unless Pancho Villa starts delivering via airplane). I’ll also no longer have a home-packed lunch every day and will be leaving an empty seat at my dinner table for a few months at a time.
Transitioning will take time. Obviously, I’ll miss the sushi place that practically knows my order when I walk in and I’ll miss my family’s ravioli night every Friday. But while I can do my best to enjoy the time I still have at home, there are several exciting aspects about leaving the comforting and familiar food from home.
Even though I long assumed no region could have better food than the Bay Area, I think it’s time to reconsider that idea. A major reason I opted to go to college on the East Coast was to experience something different from what I was accustomed to in San Mateo. In addition to experiencing snow for the first time, I can use this as an opportunity to try different foods. It shouldn’t be a competition or a comparison between the Bay Area and the East Coast. Different is an adventure; I can try new foods and then come back to San Mateo’s restaurants.
But while trying new restaurants will be exciting, I’ll still be eating most of my meals in the campus cafeteria. Fortunately, I’ll be surrounded by students who are also making the transition from home-cooked meals to college food. I foresee the dining hall being a place easy to find friends, making the shift to being at a new school easier. Being able to sit with friends and discuss what has happened that day will give me a similar sense of family to what I have at home.
When I come back to San Mateo after my first semester, I’ll undoubtedly find myself reuniting with my family and friends over something delicious. Imagine what exciting stories we’ll have to swap — at the dinner table.
Annika Ulrich is a senior at Aragon High School in San Mateo. Student News appears in the weekend edition. You can email Student News at firstname.lastname@example.org.