Homesickness can manifest itself in diverse ways. It could be a longing for a place, a group of people, a culture, or a community or all of them together. I bet we have all experienced it at varying degrees during times of extended separation from the people and environments we feel closest to. It can strongly affect our emotional health when adapting to an unusual environment –such as university- for lengthy periods of time (Van Tilburg, Vingerhoets & Van Heck, 2022). As an international student, one of the impacts of homesickness for me has been sudden, strong cravings for ‘home-made’ dishes (pun intended). The memory of happily sharing a plate of steamed cassava and a jug of homemade sorrel juice with family and friends back home would result in me craving those dishes, and the lack of access to it would feed into a homesickness cycle. In this blogpost, my hope is to share with you the things I have learned about the process of turning that craving into an actual dish, from ingredient (or restaurant) selection to your dinner table.
Before I dive into the meat of the matter (again, pun intended), I would like to point out that while food does help with homesickness, it is no substitute for a good emotional support. Food might help temporarily alleviate the feeling of homesickness, but it is no cure. If you are having overwhelming feelings of homesickness, it might be helpful to talk to a professional about the ways these feelings are affecting other aspects of life such as your wellbeing and academic success. As a UBC student, you are automatically enrolled in the AMS/GSS Health and Dental insurance plan that covers up to $1500 yearly for visits to a licensed psychologist, registered clinical counsellor, or a therapist with a Master’s degree in Social Work.
Let’s get started exploring two ways of satisfying food cravings: home-cooking and takeout.
For Kitchen Lovers
The most important part of cooking a meal is finding the right recipe. The difference between an awesome meal and a mediocre one often is not the quality of the ingredients but how they are brought together. Before I start planning my cooking session and buying ingredients, I reach out to the person who cooks the best version of the meal I am craving and ask for those secret family recipes. This is also my favorite way of kickstarting my meal prep because those recipes always end up exceeding my expectations.
Another great place to look for recipes is the Internet. Despite their annoyingly long back-stories, you can find instructions for almost every meal on cooking blogs. My favorite cooking blog for West-African cuisine is Chef Ola’s Kitchen. Her Chicken Yassa, Peanut butter soup and Okra soup recipes take me right back to my mother’s kitchen. YouTube is also a great tool for visual learners because of its cooking videos and step-by-step instructions. The main advantage of using the internet, I find, is substitutions for many ingredients you might not have access to.
One challenge of home-cooking is finding ingredients not common to Canada. In my first year at UBC, I quickly realized that finding red palm oil and plantain bananas (which are both indispensable in my home-country’s cuisine) at the local Save-On-Foods was extremely unlikely. To find special ingredients like these, I go to specialized cultural markets. There are a few throughout Vancouver and they are often cheaper than shipping things overseas. I found many of my favorite African shops through a kind woman who had been living in Vancouver for close to a decade. Sadly, none of these places appear in a simple google search! This is why asking people in the community in person is the best bet at finding those hidden gems. Additionally, having these conversations is a great way to make meaningful connections and create memories. One of my favorite memories from my first year at UBC was spending an afternoon visiting shops and restaurants with that same kind woman who generously showed me around.
However, the internet can still be useful when looking for cultural shops. It is also advantageous for checking item availability and planning out shopping trips. I have found that looking up shops on google maps and calling them to check item availability has saved me time by helping me plan my shopping effectively. Additionally, there are many cultural shops on Etsy that sell items that aren’t common to Canada. With Etsy, I can get them delivered right to my door. However, be cautious when ordering food items online and make sure to double check the quality and purity of the items to avoid food poisoning. My advice is to contact the sellers about the source of the items prior to purchasing. Additionally, spending some time reading the reviews and identifying common complaints can provide information on the quality of the items. Lastly, inspecting the items on arrival for proper packaging, tampering and impurities is good practice for double checking their quality.
Once I assemble all the ingredients I find I am ready to start cooking and have fun! I enjoy calling a family member or a good friend while I am cooking to catch up. Often, I find myself calling my mother and having her guide me through the cooking process, which helps with alleviating homesickness. Another way to make the experience enjoyable is to invite people to commune together and create memories. In my experience, food is a great unifier and community builder. When sharing it with people from the same culture or friends from diverse cultures, I find I am guaranteed to create memories and connections that will help replace the ones I was longing and homesick for. When I am looking for some alone time, I find I can still make the experience enjoyable by playing some music, sipping some juice, and watching my favorite show. I also always recommend cooking big portions. I love enjoying the leftovers for weeks after a cooking session!
For Fine-Dining or Takeout Lovers
Eating out is one of my favorite self-care activities when homesickness creeps in. There are many restaurants in Vancouver specializing in different cuisines. Personally, I have found that looking up a specific cuisine and making a list of potential restaurants is a good place to start. The key to choosing the best restaurant is to always read reviews online before deciding. The best reviews I find are recommendations from other people I know; usually when my friends recommend a restaurant to me, I really enjoy it. Once I have chosen the perfect restaurant and planned my visit, I recommend including other things to make the experience special. I personally like to dress nicer whether I am taking myself out on a date or inviting friends along to share a good meal. Some of my favorite restaurants in Vancouver are: Jambo Grill, Simba’s Grill, and the Delhi-6 Indian Bistro.
Another alternative to fine dining is takeout; especially in times of high academic stress where there aren’t the hours to spend at a restaurant. Thankfully, apps like UberEATS, Skipthedishes and DoorDash don’t need an introduction. Their extensive restaurant selection enables everyone to have access to their favorite cuisine. Despite the hefty delivery and service fees, they are perfect for cozy nights when we all need a little taste of home.
I hope you enjoyed reading about my experiences cooking to alleviate homesickness as much as I enjoyed writing it. I am always looking for new recipes, so share your favorite ones down below!