Wednesday, December 2, 2015

International Night Food Event Brings Us Together

Oriel Carey Shows off Indian dhokla and carrot halwa
Ninety-eight percent of Americans are descendants of immigrants.  Some can trace their family tree back to Colonial days.  Many came with the Germans and Irish at the turn of the 20th century. Changes in immigrations law in the last 30 years has meant more recent arrivals hail from around the globe and particularly, from Asian and Latin American countries.  Each wave has benefited the economy of the United States as well as the richness of our cultural weave.  And, they have brought their native foods, meaning it is no longer necessary to travel abroad to have a taste of foreign food, a benefit for all arm chair travelers.  This varied menu was on full display at the International Night at Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church in Paris, an event to raise money for the church’s food pantry. 

Homemade ethnic food from nineteen countries lined the walls with recent immigrants next to 4th generation cooks sharing old family recipes.  Nigerians in bright shirts and dashikis served pepper soup and moi moi made with black eye peas, a plentiful plant back home.   Luis Frick wore a Swiss flag t-shirt, representing his mother’s heritage while sharing a hardy barley soup from his father’s Lichtenstein.  Oriel Carey represented the growing Indian presence in Paris with popular dishes such as dhokla and carrot halwa.  And, Eddie Clement, the lone American entrant, gave out corny dogs, claiming they were the only food offered on a stick with at least two food families represented.  

I went quickly for Honduran food, having discovered their savory tamales years ago.  Native Daniela Leyva chose her selections carefully.  The nacatamales are a traditional Christmas food, made with a blend of Spanish and Native foods – corn, capers, olives, chickpeas all wrapped in fresh banana leaves purchased in Dallas.  An Honduran lasagna featured beans, fresh cheese and plantains, imported through Daniela’s employer, MIC Foods. 

Daniela and her husband, Carlos, moved to Lamar County from San Pedro Sula,  Honduras in 2012 for his job with Prime Harvest.  As an expert in aquaculture, Carlos assists with the company’s fish farm and Daniela works from home with occasional inspection trips to food processing plants in Latin America.   Their two youngest children graduated from North Lamar and joined an older sibling at UT Arlington.  The family has loved the ease of small town living and particularly enjoyed the friendliness of the community.  They were happy to share food from their home country which ran out quickly.
Offerings from the Phillipines

Lines rapidly formed for the large selection of Filipino offerings. Featured were   roasted Pig, sticky rice, egg rolls, as well as dinuguan, a pork specialty cooked slowly and served with rice cake.  (Don’t ask about the ingredients unless you really want to know.)  Since Paris now has over 30 families from the Philippines, many were dressed in costume and helped serve and explain the dishes.

More familiar were European offerings from Poland, France, Germany, Lichtenstein, Italy, and Czech Republic.  The classic boeuf bourguignon from France, Italian meatballs, and corned beef and sauerkraut were popular.  Freshly made chicken taco flautas and other Mexican favorites were available for the less adventuresome. 

Renee Iyaha stood ready to serve Diri Djon-Djon or Black Rice from her native Haiti.  Dark, dried mushrooms were soaked in water later used to cook the rice.  Other ingredients included shrimp, scallions, garlic, thyme, and parsley, used for flavoring.  Guests that evening probably didn’t realize they were sampling party food, served at Haitian family gatherings, weddings and funerals.  Rounding out the meal were fried plantains and grio or fried pork. 

Renee came to be in Paris via New York where she lived for 16 years.  Paris Regional Medical Center recruited her to work as an RN in the coronary care unit.  As she reads of early snows up north, she is grateful to be in Texas with no need of a snow shovel.  And despite being surprised at the early closings of stores, Renee has easily adjusted to small town living.  “No problem at all,” was her comment.  


And, it was no problem at all enjoying the rich selections from around the world.  A shared meal, especially one filled with homemade fare, brought us all together. And, in this world of fear and suspicion, we need more of these occasions to recognize our common humanity and the joy of cooking.




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