For most international students, Big Red Weekend incites rather nostalgic and homesick feelings, as our parents in general are unable to come to Denison to visit us. However, thanks to the Big International Potluck Dinner, hosted by International Student Services (ISS), my quiet weekend was spiced up quite a bit. The idea was very simple: students signed up to cook and bring one dish of their choice to Curtis West Lounge on Saturday of Big Red Weekend. Everyone present would then share the dishes, simulating the concept of a family sharing food.
Some Vietnamese friends and I decided to try our cooking skills with the Vietnamese spring rolls (fun fact: it’s like the dish that every Vietnamese mother will teach their children to cook before they go abroad). We planned to meet up and cook on Saturday morning, so the dish would be available by the time of the potluck. We wanted to make the spring rolls a bit earlier so that if something went wrong, we had enough fixing time. We thought we were being overly cautious, but as it turned out, quite a few people shared the same idea. For example, the evening before the potluck, I already saw Moe Kyaw Thu, a freshman from Myanmar, practicing his Burmese chicken dish. I had nothing but respect for his careful preparation.
It took us half a morning and the entire afternoon (under the very skilled and careful guidance of Phuong Hoang ‘17, our delegated masterchef) to prepare the filling, wrap it into rolls and fry the spring rolls. While waiting for the dish to cook, we made the special fish sauce, which most of the time is a family recipe. It is an incredibly essential complementary spice – without good sauce, the spring rolls lose half of their appeal.
Fortunately, the first batch of spring rolls was ready just in time for the demonstration of dishes at the beginning of the potluck dinner. I was amazed at the plethora of food being displayed, most of them I have only heard the names of. It was kind of a moment of epiphany: I actually couldn’t believe that I was going to taste international dishes that I previously could only ogle on the Internet, like Gnocchi (Italian dumplings), Bulgogi (Korean beef dish) and Oishi (omelette rice).
Some parents visiting their children contributed dishes as well: Wit Yee Kyaw ‘18 brought various traditional Burmese dish that her mom made, and Emily Henson (Program Coordinator at CCCE) made the rice pudding and pasta salad with her mother.
After the cooks briefly introduced their dish, everyone dived in. I decided to leave for ten minutes to get the second batch of spring rolls. What a mistake. When I returned, everything was practically gone! That was the fastest rate of food consumption I’ve ever seen at Denison! Everyone kept telling me: “You should have tried the Paella, it was so good!,” “The cheesecake is phenomena,l” “I love the lemon cakes,” and so on. There were compliments for literally every dish, which did absolutely nothing to quench my regrets.
Fortunately for me and the fellow latecomers, new dishes kept coming in. Some dishes took a bit more time to make, and on top of that, most of us were not used to making food for so many people. I had the chance to witness the making and serving of Ban Mian, a kind of Chinese noodle and the Oishi (omelette rice) rice in the Curtis kitchens. We were also served straight-out-of-the-oven crunchy Burmese chicken, and matcha Boba tea towards the end of the potluck dinner.
As the dinner came to an end and everyone hung out in the Curtis West Lounge had the chance to interview several (very happy, filled and satisfied) people.
Tanvi Gupta ‘18, a first year from India, said. “I can’t believe everyone is such a good cook. Like, every dish I tasted is so good.”
“It took a lot of time to prepare, but I’m just so happy that people like the spring rolls. I miss home food so much, and so this is a really nice chance to just enjoy a little bit of home taste. And plus, I got to try so much other international food.” Phuong Hoang ‘17, a sophomore from Vietnam, also expressed her enthusiasm.
As a participant in the potluck dinner myself, I shared all of their happiness and gratefulness to ISS for organizing such a cozy and meaningful event. Now that school work is getting overwhelming and I miss home more and more, it’s nice to take a break, rebalance and know that I have a supportive and loving community around me.