Eating local produce, staying healthy and budgeting on your year abroad
Market in Nice, Côte d'Azur by Luca Nebuloni
I am one of those people who live to eat, not eat to live. Seriously, I love everything about food – cooking, buying, trying new things... but mostly eating! So, when I arrived in Nice last September for my year abroad, a huge part of my excitement of being in France was the different food on offer. The differences between what we can buy in a supermarket here, compared to Tesco and Sainsbury’s in the UK is amazing, and we are only a few miles across the channel! With some imagination, you can easily embrace the change to eat healthy, exciting, new, regional food without breaking the bank (or the scales!) while on your year abroad.
From beans on toast to le croque monsieurRegardless of where you are, once in a while you will find yourself having cravings for certain ‘British’ staples such as baked beans or even golden syrup (I recently discovered I apparently have a massive craving for that gorgeous golden stuff – who’d have known!) International sections of supermarkets can come in handy for when you can just no longer hold out for that bar of Dairy Milk.
Eating like a local
However, your year abroad is such a great opportunity to widen your knowledge of your adoptive country’s culture, including what they eat. Embrace the fact that sliced bread is not commonplace, and act like a local - buy a baguette from your local boulangerie, leave your British bangers and mash and wander to your nearest carnicería to pick up some chorizo and make yourself some patatas bravas. Visiting your local market holders, bakers or butchers is also great speaking practice. In Nice’s bars it’s common to accompany your aperitif with varieties of tapenade and baguette. This will be sorely missed when I am back in the UK after my year abroad. Eating locally produced food, or regional specialities means that your produce hasn’t been frozen and flown for miles, losing freshness and taste in the process.
Eating good food on a student budgetUnlike the UK, many countries on the continent still have a big market culture, although it pays to avoid the tourist traps and head to the proper locals market. In Nice, there is a huge farmers market 6 days a week (we’re talking 30+ stalls!) However, due to the products coming direct from the farms, there is no middle man – cheap and fresh produce all year round. No wonder the markets are still buzzing here, you can buy quality, fresh, seasonal fruit and vegetables as well as local cheeses and preserves for about half the price as you would find similar products in a UK farmers market.
Take your time
In many European countries, lunch is a BIG thing. The Niçoise are notorious for having 3 hour lunch breaks when it’s sunny. You should take a leaf out of their book though - lunchtime deals in restaurants are much cheaper than in the evening, allowing you to eat a local speciality at a bargain price and have a good old catch up with some friends or a cheeky people watch!
Organising dinner parties with friends is a great way to save money whilst still eating tasty food. Have a French cheese, saucisson and wine party for example; or set a ‘regional speciality’ theme and get everyone to bring a dish to share. Everyone gets a taste of a local speciality and it’s a good excuse to have a bit of a party!
Keeping healthyThose of you who are on your year abroad in colder regions of the world, or when feeling the needs of home comforts could find yourself turning to the wonders of macaroni cheese, hot chocolates, and other stodgy, calorie-laden and often vegetable-deprived (yet oh so delicious and comforting!) food during the winter months. Eaten in moderation, these meals do the job. Nonetheless, there are plenty of healthy, seasonal meals that will fill you to the brim will wintery comfort! Salads with roasted winter vegetables such as butternut squash, parsnips and carrots, when combined with a tin of lentils, some spinach and a sprinkling of feta cheese make the most satisfying, balanced meals without reaching for the pie and mashed potato. Look in your local market to see what seasonal vegetables are on offer, have a Google for recipe inspiration and get cooking.
Prepare for funny looks and take a dictionary into the supermarket on your first big shop – I ended up buying a melon instead of a squash a few months ago... This will help you understand the nutritional value of produce and decode and subsequently avoid any nasty ingredients there may be lurking in your cereal and jars of jam. Furthermore, be cautious of sell by dates. Certain countries have less strict regulations than the UK and some produce will only have the ‘date of production’ labelled.
Sports and exercise
Your year abroad is the perfect way to start learning a new sport. Take advantage of that nearby ski resort and have a weekend away, or take to the sea and get swimming.
There is no excuse not to have your healthiest, tastiest year yet!