It's nearly 5:30 on a Sunday evening, and in the Harris Center the smell of Ecuadorian patacones, Ghanaian waaky, and Malaysian sambal tumis udang mingle with those of dishes from a slew of other countries. Students put the finishing touches on their creations while ‘celebrity heat meters’ Houston Dougharty and Hanna Langley roam the room tasting them all and rating them according to relative spiciness. When all is ready, the doors open and the crowd rushes in to enjoy this year's International Student Organization (ISO) food bazaar.
The ISO food bazaar, a decades-old tradition at Grinnell, is hosted by students from around the world who share traditional recipes from their homes or travels with the larger Grinnell community.
With nearly 50 different dishes from the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Africa, the event has something for nearly any taste. The menu includes many vegetarian and some vegan dishes, as well as dishes with various meats, poultry, and seafood.
Planning begins months earlier, when student organizers sit down with a planning document and staff from the Office of International Student Affairs (OISA). OISA helps students with logistics, travel, and food safety, but students are responsible for the bulk of the work—recruiting cooks, gathering recipes, shopping, and repacking and distributing the ingredients to the cooks. Cooks then spread out to kitchens across Grinnell to prepare the dishes—in residence halls, the Rosenfield Center's multicultural kitchen, host family and friends' houses and, for a lucky few, in their own apartments. Everything comes together in the Harris Center, where about 300 diners enjoyed the results.
The cooks select the dishes they want to make, so each year's food bazaar is unique and reflects the personal experiences of the participants.
Many used the opportunity to share a taste of home, often recruiting friends to help. For example, this year Nikeisha Sewell ’12 encouraged her fellow Jamaicans to turn out in force. The small island nation was represented by an amazing selection of appetizers, entrees, and desserts: cocktail patties, frittes, curried goat, rice and peas, pumpkin rice, orange and ginger chicken, jerked pork, and plantain tarts.
Other students, like Anuraag Bhadana ’11 and Shirlie Yang ’13, shared foods from regions they have traveled. Bhandana, an Indian who studied abroad in Nantes, made French crepes. Yang, from China, was an exchange student in Denmark before coming to Grinnell. She joined Karen Edwards, one of the staff who helped plan the event, in serving Danish aebleskiver.
The ISO, true to its name, is open to all students, so it's perhaps no surprise that the menu also included a few traditional American favorites, including home-made macaroni and cheese.
Sometimes cooking traditional dishes can be a challenge. Students may find themselves without the tools or pans they are used to. Some ingredients require trips to specialty groceries in Des Moines and Iowa City. And some foods common elsewhere are harder to find in Iowa—goat meat, for example.
The cooks overcame these challenges, and went out of their way to ensure all participants enjoyed the meal. For example, Ami Shrestha ’13 and Prashana Tiwaree ’14, who served Nepalese momos, were among several chefs who provided both vegetarian and meat versions of their dishes.
All the hard work paid off in the end, with many satisfied diners. And those who missed the bazaar this year—the event always sells out—can try again next fall.