At this time of the year, many of us are finally returning home for the summer. Emily L. Cristobal writes about how hard it can be to eat well away from home and discusses what she's missed the most about her home state of Hawai'i: the food!
Being thousands of miles away at university, we miss family and friends, the simple familiarity of everything. But having just finished my first year at uni, I realized that the one thing I missed the most was the food: good food, food made with love, food from home.
When you are living with your parents, you don’t really appreciate the luxury of having a meal ready when you get home, or food stocked in the fridge and in the cupboards. But once you are away at uni, you realize that you must now fend for yourself. Your only options become going to the dining hall, eating bad junk food, or spending money on groceries and putting aside time to actually cook something.
Usually, students opt for the dining hall, but if you attend a school like mine, dining hall food isn’t the best. From various incidents of uncooked meat, caterpillars and laxatives in the salad, hard, uncooked rice, and other dining hall horror stories, you don’t want to eat there, but you feel like you have to because it’s part of the meal plan you paid for and you don’t want to waste money. However, at a certain point, you just can’t bring yourself to go to the dining hall anymore and you start to explore other options to sustain yourself. You begin spending the little money you have as a broke uni student to buy ingredients to make sandwiches and pasta for the occasional meal prep.
As I, myself, embarked on this new college lifestyle of eating at the dining hall and cooking food with limited spices, I began having dreams of food from home. I would wake up with my stomach growling and my mouth watering, imagining tables overflowing with my favorite foods: bowls of steaming hot sticky rice, containers of poke (raw fish marinated in soy sauce, sesame oil, etc.), saimin (similar to ramen), Hawaiian food (kalua pork, lau lau, loco moco, etc.), and my mom’s cooking.
Having grown up with these foods and not being able to find any place that has them in Boston was heartbreaking. I missed eating rice in particular because rice is such a staple in Hawai‘i. We have it with almost every meal, and not being able to eat it always made me feel unsatisfied. It actually got to the point where I asked my parents to mail me rice from Hawai‘i to Boston, just so I could have a little piece of home.
What made it especially difficult to find a taste of home on the mainland was that food from Hawai‘i is uniquely its own and hard to replicate. Because of Hawai‘i’s diverse history, a lot of its food is a combination of many different cultures, with influences from China, Japan, the Philippines, and Portugal.
Whenever I take a bite of food from Hawai‘i, it brings me back home. It reminds me of childhood memories, big family parties outside, sunny days at the beach, the waves crashing in the background, birthdays, graduations, my family and friends, my island.
Thinking about all the food I missed always made me a little homesick, but in my heart, I knew that I’d be home soon. And now that I’m back for the summer, you bet I will be eating at every chance that I can get.
You may be familiar with the phrase: “Freshman 15”, which means to gain 15 pounds when you go to university. But the more that I think about it, I feel like the 15 pounds actually start piling on when you come home, as you try to eat all the foods that you missed before leaving for another year of college.