According to "A Bite of China," a Chinese documentary series, strangers use food to shorten the distance between an alien land and their hometown .
"They have the most sensitive taste buds," according to the documentary. "For them, all can be compromised but the taste of home."
Despite different majors and nationalities, international students at IU are constantly on the quest for these tastes of home to feed their stomachs and their growing homesickness.
Jayati Dev, an IU informatics graduate student and a native of eastern India, said she finds it difficult to locate the flavor of her hometown in Bloomington.
She’s been to Taste of India, a local Indian restaurant in Bloomington, a couple times, but she said the food there wasn't quite what she was looking for.
“This is the problem with Indian food," she said. "We have different parts of India, and every part has a different cuisine. What Taste of India makes is more of a northern Indian cuisine, and I come from eastern part of India. So we have certain differences in the cuisine.”
In India, each region has its own style of spice mix.
“It’s not that the spices are different, but the mix of spices changes the flavor significantly,” Dev said.
Despite the fact that she doesn’t prefer one style of Indian food to another, the eastern flavor is just what she is used to. But people from the northern part of India, Dev said, will feel the food at Taste of India is accurate to their taste from back home.
The atmosphere there is authentic, Dev said, especially during special occasions, such as in Diwali, a traditional Hindu festival celebrated before Halloween.
“It’s really not that different from what we have in India,” Dev said. “Loud and crowded.”
Dev has never had her favorite dish, Biryani, in Bloomington, in the fear of spoiling it.
“I was scared," she said. "I don't know how it’s going to taste like.”
Some Chinese students at IU said it’s even harder to find the familiar taste.
“The Chinese restaurants here, in general, are greasier and spicier,” IU graduate Xinyuan Li said.
It is difficult to say if the food in Bloomington resembles the real Chinese food, depending on different dishes at different places, Li and her friend Yuhan Jin said.
“There’s no variety in styles and dishes here,” said Jin, an IU student from Jiangsu, China. “Almost all are similar to a modified version of Sichuan food or a mixture of Sichuan food and some others."
However, Chinese restaurants are still preferred by many students during festivals for their spacious room and Chinese atmosphere, surrounded by familiar language, scents and foods. Li and Jin went to Red, a local Chinese restaurant, with all the Chinese students in their department Feb.15, Chinese New Year’s Eve.
Taeyoung Lee, an IU student who is native to Seoul, South Korea, has been to almost all the Korean restaurants in Bloomington. She said the quality of the Korean food is not that good.
In Korea, rice usually comes with a lot of side dishes, which is called "banchan." But Lee said the quality of banchan in Bloomington is terrible, and the meal comes with fewer side dishes.
There are a lot of ways to make something delicious in Korea, but Lee said she believes here it's more common to use MSG to imitate the natural taste, which is why she said she prefers to cook her own Korean food.
“I am a very good cook, and I can make Korean food at home,” she said. “I go to Korean restaurants if there’s no way to heal my homesick, or if I have no time.”
However, Lee said she likes the inclusive menus in Bloomington restaurants.
In Korea, restaurants specialize in just meat or just stew. But in here, Lee said, almost all kinds of dishes are available in one place.
“Sometimes my husband and I thought, maybe we should open a Korean restaurant here in Bloomington,” Lee said.
Editor's note: Some of the reporting for this story was conducted in Chinese, and the interviews have been translated to English.
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