International Dinner Party: Food from home

Fatima, an international student at the University of Bradford studies BEng (Hons) Biomedical Engineering and tells us about her international dinner party.

 Fatima Hayat, BEng (Hons) Biomedical Engineering

The second semester has begun and it has already started taking a toll on many students. It is a hard time, especially for International students, who are sometimes homesick and dearly miss the foods from their native countries.

Luckily, the University of Bradford is home to a diverse pool of students and since Bradford is the town for foodies, I decided to combine the two matters to add some ‘flavour’ to our lives. I organised a dinner party at my flat; through this eve I also wanted to pay homage to the many countries where such delicacies derive from.

Present at this dinner party were Aliza and Maria from Pakistan, Zia from India, Kinga and Monika from Poland, Faith who is French-Sri Lankan and Yiling from Shanghai, China.

Food from our cultures

Chicken Jalfrezi is a popular dish in Pakistan and one of my personal favourites. Using local spices and yoghurt to create a zesty marinade and coupled with crunchy sautéed peppers and onions topped with some home-made pickled mango Achaar.

Zia prepared Paneer, an Indian dish comprised of cheese cubes derived from curdled milk, bathed in thick creamy gravy. As is true for all Indian delicacies, she used an assortment of local spices and herbs and a marinade based in chicken tikka masala

Kinga and Monika made Pierogi, a central-European savoury composed of Polish cottage cheese, eggs and potatoes wrapped in unleavened dough, garnished with butter-fried onions.

Yiling presented her Fānqié Chǎo Dàn, stir-fried tomato and scrambled eggs, seasoned with garlic to suit her personal preferences, a dish popular among Chinese students for snacking due to its simplicity to prepare.

Food for thought

After a fulfilling feast, I served us all some freshly brewed Kashmiri chai, a popular tea originating from the Kashmir Valleys along with some eggless Nan Khatai biscuits.

As they munched on their biscuits and sipped their tea, I initiated the discussion by asking the following questions.

How often do you cook your native dishes – do you have them on an everyday basis or on special occasions?

Yiling: “I almost always cooked Chinese food back in Shanghai but for now I am trying out different kinds of food here in the UK. I was pleasantly surprised at the variety of different kinds of bread! I do cook Chinese food but that depends on my mood”

Faith: “I have yet to cook any Sri-Lankan food. As a pescatarian, my daily diet usually involves salmon, sardines and vegetables. It’s easy to prepare and thanks to Zia for helping me cook my dinner, I am starting to be a bit more creative with my recipes”

Thanks to the accessibility of ingredients from different countries, I have been trying to cook different kinds of cuisines- I am currently considering oriental cuisine and trying to perfect the Thai Green Curry.

What do you think is the fundamental part of the everyday food in your native countries?

Tegan: “Eggs, salt and…pepper”

Maria: “Flavor!”

Zia: “Definitely the assortment of spices and ingredients used; each of them adds a layer of flavour to our foods. Flavour is an integral part of our cultures. I think it’s also due to the fact that we add fats and oils to our food that makes our dishes more fulfilling”

Yiling: “We use different oriental herbs and sauces that I can easily find at the oriental convenience store just a few minutes away from the uni”

Kinga: Hmm, for Polish foods, meat and potatoes are one of the most fundamental and basic ingredients”

Do you normally have international food takeaways? How does it taste different to each respective dish served here?

Aliza: “I feel like international food takeaways have a certain ‘commercialized’ flavour whereas when you guys cook your own dishes, you can feel the distinct depth of flavour with each bite”

Monika: “I like to try out different cuisines; I am constantly surprised by the amount of flavour I find in different Indian restaurants”

How did you cope with food when you first arrived in Bradford?

Yiling: Ever since I arrived here, my life has been filled with bread, bread, and bread! I have recently taken up baking goodies like cinnamon rolls and toasts.

Monika: “There were plenty of Polish food takeaways and we were pleasantly surprised as their flavours were not much different to authentic Polish food and thanks to that I don’t feel that far away from home. But then again, I’m using the opportunity as an international student to explore the many kinds of cuisines from the cultures here.”

For me, there is a local Pakistani store just a few minutes away from my flat, and I was really surprised at the large availability of Halal meat. It’s really refreshing to have snacks back from Pakistan at times when I feel homesick.

What are your thoughts about this event?

Kinga: “This gave me and Monika an opportunity to cook food from our country. I’m also excited to try out more dishes from your countries.”

Faith: “I’m glad I attended this; I have learned so much about the different aspects of the foods from different countries which I might not have had a chance to had I not attended this uni. I would always think ingredients like soy sauces were an inseparable part of Chinese cuisine, however, today I tasted a Chinese dish completely different and unique from popular ‘mainstream’ Chinese cuisine like noodles and sweet chilli chicken”

Aliza: “I feel that I have tasted the ‘true’ essence of all the respective dishes- although you can find Chinese and Indian restaurants without much inconvenience, I feel like the flavours in those settings are much more commercialized unlike you peoples’ dishes that was prepared all from scratch, using techniques adapted from your cultures”

An international family

And so, the eve prolonged itself with us merrily talking about each other’s foods as the conversation started flowing to us talking about our lives in general- we shared insights about our identity, our cultures, our language, our way of life. Rather than establishing our differences, we talked about what was similar.

The realization soon hit me how we first met each other as strangers from completely different backgrounds, who flew a thousand miles away from home, and now within a span of just some mere months, we have become one family in Bradford.

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