Many of us pride ourselves on being open-minded, and like to think of ourselves as people who enjoy experiencing places and people that are different from our own. I consider myself a very worldly person, though this is not due to the number of countries I have read about or even the number of people I have seen who come from nations less esteemed than these great United States. My profound understanding of other cultures is due solely to the experiences I have had with local restaurants.

It is easy to think of Iowa as a place without culture. While this is true, all hope is not lost. We can overcome the fact that we lack culture of any kind by making moderate efforts to gawk at people who are different than us and the things that they think represent culture. The owners of restaurants that showcase other cultures are keenly aware of this, and have created their businesses to allow people to do so without feeling nearly as awkward or being as inconvenient as actually placing oneself in a foreign environment.

Amazingly, and luckily for us as residents, Ames does not contain dining establishments that only represent the superior native cuisine of the rural Midwest. In fact, there are many eating options here that represent authentic foreign fare that are just waiting to be exploited for their cultural knowledge.

Because the restaurants in our humble town represent such a diversity, many times I have been saved the effort of making personal plans to travel across international borders. For example, I have never been to Mexico, but by going to local Mexican restaurants such as Taco Bell or Taco John’s, I feel that I have come quite close to the same experience of actually visiting and dining in that country. Learning about exquisite native dishes such as gorditas or Doritos Locos Tacos has given me a great understanding of the Mexican culture. I have even learned to speak Spanish to the servers by saying “gracias” after receiving my potato olés.

As anyone can plainly see, Taco Bell and Taco John’s are excellent dining establishments that allow any American to be fully immersed in the Mexican culture without the burden of having to leave the comfort of the United States. Many more local eateries can give us the experience of visiting even more distant lands, such as Mongolian Buffet, or even Panda Express. It is because of these restaurants that I personally understand many deeply ingrained ideals encompassed in Asian culture, such as the importance of receiving life advice from hollow cookies that contain messages so important they are often regarded as fortune-telling. It is amazing that we can take a trip to the East Asian highlands or mainland China without leaving this moderately-sized college town. Why take a trip to the middle of Asia if the exact same adventure awaits you at places that are within a fifteen minute drive?

Another restaurant we as Ames residents are blessed to have the ability to enjoy is Fazoli’s. This establishment has been willing in the past to admit that it offers a genuine Italian experience, including adopting the slogan “Real Italian. Real Fast.” Accordingly, this slogan also highlights the wonderful fact that we are able to get a taste of foreign culture without making any serious time commitments.

By utilizing our local dining resources, we can have experiences that allow us to completely understand other countries and cultures in a way that also saves us time and money, even when regarding places within our own country. This is the reason I recently canceled a trip to Texas upon learning that Texas Roadhouse was opening here in Ames. I now fully understand Texan culture, without taking an extensive trip to actually visit Texas itself. Hopefully we continue to make such progress in bringing the world to Ames, and someday will have every country and every culture in the world within reasonable driving distance.

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