The Science-Backed Secret to Enjoying Any Meal More

Eating spaghetti and meatballs as your main dish? You might want to start with egg drop soup.


The days of Italian wedding soup followed by pasta carbonara and a tiramisu for dessert are about to be long gone. In this multicultural world, your cuisines no longer have to match, and in fact, that’s what makes them more enjoyable, according to a new study from Drexel University.

“I was at a very nice restaurant and I remember really enjoying the first course, but being underwhelmed with the second,” says study co-author Jacob Lahne, PhD, an assistant professor and food researcher at Drexel University. “It was this really weird experience because objectively it was really good, but it was kind of boring, so I wanted to know why this occurred.”

Lahne’s study looked at whether the disparity in how much we like certain courses could be lessened or completely eliminated by serving up a mismatch of cuisine, instead of say, all French, or all Chinese. In the study, nearly 150 study participants were served a two-course meal featuring an appetizer of either Thai tom kha soup or Italian minestrone, followed by a main dish of Italian “pasta aglio e oilio” (pasta with garlic and oil). The researchers added another nuance by also serving both “good” and “mediocre” versions of each soup to test subtle differences.

As the research team expected, participants who were served the Thai tom kha soup—either the tasty or mediocre versions—liked the Italian main dish equally, meaning that the quality of the soup didn’t impact their enjoyment of the meal overall. Among participants who were served the Italian minestrone appetizer, those who started with the mediocre soup enjoyed the overall meal more than those who started with the tastier minestrone soup. Researchers believe this is because “we would compare the main course to the appetizer and think, ‘wow, this entree is disappointing compared to the appetizer,”‘ says study co-author Debra Zellner, PhD, professor of psychology at Montclair State University, but that doesn’t happen when the appetizer wasn’t so great.

So what does this mean for you? Whether you’re dining out or looking to cook something new, you’ll enjoy your meal a lot more if you mismatch your cuisine types. If you want Indian chicken tikka masala for your main course, why not try a Greek appetizer or a French dessert? Or how about adding a Morrocan soup or Mexican side salad to go with your Italian entree? Mismatching your cuisine should be fun. “The idea is that they should not go together so that each course is a separate experience,” Dr. Zellner says.

You might try this out on friends at family at this year’s Thanksgiving dinner. Just make sure to check out the answers to the 20 most-asked Thanksgiving questions first!

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest