A few months ago, many international students around the world realised that we were going to remain in Canada for the foreseeable future, with no idea when we might go back home to see our families. This was news that I, personally, was expecting for a while. It felt like an expected consequence of the pandemic. I started to feel a powerful return of the homesickness that I had not felt since my initial weeks at university. The reality is that for many of us at university, feeling homesick is a completely normal reaction to being away from the familiarity of the place that we grew up in, regardless of whether it is a few hours or a couple of flights away. This becomes especially impactful with the uncertainty of the future and the discomfort of not knowing when things will get better.
One of the best ways to find the comfort of home is through food. It is the feeling of smelling a very specific spice and being reminded of a dinner table you love, or biting into a fruit that instantly transports you to a moment in time from your childhood. There is no wrong way to achieve this. You can get takeout from your favourite local restaurant or learn to cook the meals that you grew up with. Over time, all of us find what works best for us based on our skill level and how much we can spend.
Look for local restaurants around you on a map.
This is the first step I took a few weeks into my first year when the novelty of being at university wore off and the homesickness settled in. I say this while being completely aware that I was extremely lucky to have a semblance of Indian food at UBCO, and that a lot of other cuisines are difficult to access, especially in a car-based city like Kelowna.
This is why it is helpful to use a map first, rather than checking food delivery services like SkiptheDishes or Doordash. Check for how accessible restaurants are by bus or a really long walk (depending on how intense your cravings are), since it is usually much more cost effective to pick up your food than have it delivered. However, remember to always wear a mask and stay safe. Opt for a contactless process as often as possible.
Remember to look at the reviews left by past patrons and learn to weed out the comments that seem like personal attacks based on anecdotal experience. These usually do not describe the reality of the restaurant’s service.
How much will you spend? Is it worth it?
One of the most important elements when choosing the right places to get food from is whether the food is worth the price you are paying. If the authenticity and the taste of the food you got feels proportionate to how much you paid for the meal, congratulations! This might be your spot, the one you return to years later saying, “I used to come here all the time!” Ordering the same items off a different menu somewhere else in the world, or getting the same meal cooked back home with family will always remind you of your spot. This is how traditions are created in a new home.
Did you instead feel guilty for ordering that food because of how small the serving was, or how much the taste of the food was not worth the price tag? Shake it off and try a different restaurant. Sometimes, the way that you grew up eating a specific meal is not the same way everyone cooks it. The process of finding the best spot for food that you love is one of continuous trial and error.
Cooking is always an option
Okay, hear me out. Even without the academic component, university is a learning curve. You have to learn how to do your own laundry, pay your own phone bills and health insurance, and you have to feed yourself. There is only so much your wallet can handle when you buy food every single day. Like many first years, I lived in the Similkameen building and did not have access to my own kitchen, forcing me to spend a lot of money on food that I did not necessarily enjoy. However, my second year living in the Lower Cascades with a kitchen, an oven, and a full sized fridge, made sure I got to eat food that made me happy on the inside.
If you are lucky enough to have access to a stove, try to learn how to cook the simple dishes first. Ask for recipes from the people you know make these dishes the best, or use the internet to find recipes that you can improve upon and edit to your own liking. Learning to cook is an asset that will save you for the rest of your life. I asked for recipes from my parents and other friends who had already begun cooking Indian food, but watching videos of people cooking for comfort and using methods that they grew up around to later personalise their dishes can be really inspiring.
So while we spend this time distanced from the people we love, use the food you love to take you back home, even for a few moments. Let the scents of the ingredients waft around you and bring you memories that you remember fondly. Embrace the nostalgia you feel with each bite as the food gives you a big, warm hug, letting you know that in this moment, you are doing alright.