I’m afraid this is going to be my last contribution to WWN so I better make it as tasty as possible, no?
As it happens, food is one of my great passions in life; whether it is eating, feeding, making or simply looking at food. (Google Images is both a blessing and a curse, I tell you. All those amazing pictures and no hope whatsoever of ever seeing let alone tasting the dish in real life…). I am especially partial to baking: any form of bread or pastry or thing made from dough will immediately catch my eye. Those of you who hung out at Baxter last semester probably saw or at least smelled the fruits of my procrastination.
To sum up, food is good, food is lovely, and for once I have the permission to babble on about it, so here we go!
Having the multicultural background that I have, I grew up eating—well—everything. My mom has never been one to go for the “safe and familiar.” She would make and mix dishes from all around the world, inventing new ones on the go. I think the only “traditional Finnish foods” that have not been modified till this day are cowberry-porridge and strawberry-rhubarb-soup/pudding-thing.
Mom’s “if you use the ingredients that you like, you’ll most probably like the end result as well” – approach to cooking has quite obviously passed on to me as has the love for international flavors.
This being evident when looking at a description I gave of my kitchen a year ago:
My freezer is stocked with Russian pre-cooked foods such as pelmeni (a Slavic version of ravioli); my refrigerator is filled with Finnish style home-made jams and juices; my cupboard contains spices brought from all around the globe, including Indian masala and Ethiopian ber-ber; I always keep a pack of tortillas or pitas at hand, I have hidden away a few treasured packs of Jell-o, and I own twice as many pairs of chopsticks as I do forks.
And I tell you, when I return from this grand adventure of mine, I’m definitely going to expand my list of must-have ethnic ingredients even further. (Kaneko-commons how thou hath spoiled me…)
At the same time, from where I am standing now, I imagine that for a week or so after I get back to Finland I will refuse any dish more complex or more strongly seasoned than mac’n’cheese or toast. (I actually dreamed of toast last week. True story!). Because attending a rather small school in India has meant adjusting to pretty limited food sources.
Don’t get me wrong, the here food is good, even amazing at times, but it is also very very very repetitive. Every meal except for breakfast consists of rice, daal (or dhal, or dal, or whatever) and curry; sometimes meat but usually veggies. So, dear people complaining about Goudy, try eating the same food—with the exception of difference in the color of the veggies—twice a day for three months and I promise you’ll sing praises to the food you’ve had at Willamette…
The other major issue I’ve faced with the food here is the spiciness. You know, before coming here, I would simply avoid anything even moderately spicy. Yes, I like flavors – but chili, for example, is not a flavor – it is the thing that burns away your taste buds and makes you cry (literally). So imagine my horror when I saw locals crunching on green chilies as if they were carrots. Quite miraculously I got used to the amount of masala in the food pretty quickly and even learned to discern between tasty and less tasty Indian foods; as opposed to the ‘hot’, ‘too hot’ and ‘I’m never touching that again’ of the first week. I still get teary-eyed every once in a while but mostly I’m able to tuck in just like everyone else. (Not touching the chilies though. Not now, not ever. )
Despite the challenges, I really appreciate the food culture here. One of the aspects that I simply love is how food is shared.
“You don’t like the bone? Let’s trade.”
“Took too much? I’ll help.”
“Want a piece of my cake, or warapao or you-name-it-thing that I’m eating?”
Now, as I said, food is my thing. So it makes sense that food-sharing is my way of bonding. Finding a common language in the simple act of offering or accepting a biscuit has definitely helped fitting in. A lot. (And locals are having a blast observing my expressions every time I eat something new.)
Another thing that I really enjoy is eating with hands. I’ve always believed that food eaten with hands tastes better, I just used to limit it so solid and relatively dry foods. Now I use bare fingers to shovel up rice and “gravy”. It’s not a must—we do have spoons and forks—but it sure is fun. (And messy, which makes it even more fun.)
I could just keep on and on writing! There are so many hilarious experiences related to food that I could share; from India, from USA, from back home in Finland or Russia… (Like the first time I attempted to make mashed potatoes – the only inedible thing I’ve ever prepared. To my defense, I was nine). However, time is limited and remembering all the wonderful meals I’ve had in my life makes my current daal&rice diet seem even more bleak…
So then, dear Willamettians, before I conclude I want to challenge you – be more appreciative of the food you get, experiment more, and next time you don’t quite know how to start a conversation with your exchange student roommate/classmate simply smile and offer them a cookie.
I’ve had tons of fun writing for WWN even after I left and who knows, we might hear from each other again.
Oh yeah, and just to end on a cheerful note, check this out.