New Cities, New Meals: Chapter 2 — Finding Home Through Food

When moving to London, you need to pack your favorite clothes, an adapter, and as many tortillas as your bag will fit. 

I left Chicago in 2019 to study at New York University, London. I had never crossed the ocean or left the continent, let alone leave the comfort of my mother’s home for more than two days. The thought of living with people I had never met terrified me, but I knew there was one way to bridge the gap between strangers —food. 

If you ever find yourself in London, just know you will hardly find Mexican food that resembles anything found in America. For one thing, the chicken is coated in cumin and cooked with bell peppers in a thick layer of pepper jack cheese —a sad attempt at the already untraditional “fajitas.” The tortillas are always made with flour, and if you ask for corn, you will be given a look of confusion before being told, “I’m sorry, what?” The sour cream is overly thick and tastes of nothing, and the salsa almost always contains random pieces of corn. You will walk away sad, disappointed, and missing home even more. As a word of advice, stick to Indian food instead. 

I could not accept that Mexican food, my food, was nearly impossible to find — so I made my own. Slightly untraditional? Yes. Hard to source? Yes. More expensive than Taco Bell? Yes, but the outcome was all that mattered. Over plates of chicken tacos I made with naan instead of tortillas, yellow rice, and beans that definitely had not been soaked long enough before cooking, the eight girls shoved into a small, university apartment with me spoke about the lives they left across the ocean. Other students in the building, probably enticed by the smell of garlic and freshly chopped cilantro, would knock on our room door, handing me £2 in exchange for a plate piled high with whatever I made that evening. Slowly, the strangers I was so nervous to meet became my new family, and together we marveled at the differences between home and our new lives. It was as though the family dinners I had almost 4,000 miles away followed me to Central London, teaching me to form my own community with those who now surrounded me. 

Korean fried chicken and dumplings from the local food market in London. Better than the Mexican food, and cheap!

After London, and after quarantine, I found myself repeating the cycle of using food as a means of unity in New York. Sitting on the floor of my new East Village apartment with shared bowls of expensive ramen from the restaurant downstairs, my roommates and I again told stories of our mothers’ cooking and spending summers in our grandparents’ homes. These conversations led to open dialogue, then to honest and vulnerable communication, and finally unity and trust — all while shoveling steamed dumplings in soy sauce and chili oil into our mouths. Like the weekly family dinners I had in Chicago, and the £2 meals I cooked for other students to enjoy in London, I formed a small, trusting relationship with my new roommates in the East Village by sharing a meal with them. Whether it’s a few pretzels, a plain bag of potato chips, or just a bite of a bacon, egg, and cheese bagel (the best are from Sunny & Annie’s on 6th St.), sharing food shows others you are willing to share yourself — your time, your stories, the things you enjoy. 

So, the next time you find yourself unaware of how to build a community, whether in your home or a faraway land, simply open up a bag of chips and offer to share — the conversation will start soon enough, maybe over a bowl of Gorin Ramen!

By: Allegra Ruiz

Allegra Ruiz is a junior at New York University and she is from Chicago. She studies English and is minoring in Creative Writing. In her free time, she enjoys journaling, reading books and essay collections, and cooking for her roommates. Currently, she lives quietly in New York. 

For over 20 years, the Campus Clipper has been offering awesome student discounts in NYC, from the East Side to Greenwich Village. Along with inspiration, the company offers students a special coupon booklet and the Official Student Guide, which encourages them to discover new places in the city and save money on food, clothing, and services.  

At the Campus Clipper, not only do we help our interns learn new skills, make money, and create wonderful e-books, we give them a platform to teach others. Check our website for more student savings and watch our YouTube video showing off some of New York City’s finest students during the Welcome Week of 2015.


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