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Eric Weld   Date: 10/24/08

Going Home Again, Through the Kitchen

It’s a way of visiting home. Students from countries abroad concoct their favorite recipes remembered from days in their youth spent with families, celebrating food, culture and togetherness. Memories abound, like cooking rice through the day in a massive pot over a steady fire, learning to roll sushi with the ideal shape and tautness.

View a photo gallery of IS Day 2008

Students offer recipes from lands afar on International Students Day.

It was the annual International Students Day (IS Day), a popular celebration of food and culture. More than 50 students representing 21 countries prepared 30 recipes for sale to the college community during the lunch hour. Hundreds ate well.

IS Day took place on October 24, during Family Weekend, as always, explained Hrayr Tamzarian, associate dean of international students. For his charges, the day stands as a sort of counterpart to other students’ family visits that weekend, he said. Instead of hosting their families (who don’t typically travel the great distance to visit that weekend) international students get together and visit home again through the emotive aromas and flavors, and their common reminiscences.

“When you’re far away from home, food is a very important reminder of where you came from,” said Shaharzad Akbar ’09, from Kabul, Afghanistan, as she chopped cilantro for a rich beef stew from her homeland, and cooked a dish called challow.

“It reminds me of home,” agreed her fellow Afghani cooking partner Roya Mohammadi ’10. “This is the closest we can get.”

Hrayr Tamzarian (on left) assists Ma Thida ’11 (center) and Pyae Naing ’10, of Myanmar, in making chicken curry.

As the students emphasized, however, cooking in a Smith kitchen, with its endless supply of utensils, high-tech gear and sometimes-processed ingredients, is a far cry from the way they prepared dishes growing up. And for that, they attest, their concoctions, while reminiscent, are not quite what their taste buds remember.

“Everything is different here,” said Pyae Naing ’10, a student from Myanmar (Burma), whose chicken curry steamed temptingly through the Morrow House kitchen. “Even onions are not the same.”

Still, said Ma Thida ’11, Naing’s cooking partner, as she made coconut rice, it’s the next best thing to visiting home. And according to the consensus among those participating in IS Day, cooking their favorite recipes with their international cohorts can go a long way to providing comfort here, oceans away from their families and thousands of miles from home.

“When I cook this food,” said Thida, “I want to go back home.”

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