Eating Internationally with Friends
I grew up in a blended ethnicity family, third or fourth generation in the United States, with not much of our original ethnic connection left. My grandmother made Polish sausage for the holidays, but after she left that went away. I am not sure if it is missing those iconic ethnic food connections I grew up with or just my overall passion for food and its roots, but when someone cooks and teaches me about their “home food,” I am humbled.
To feed (literally and figuratively) my food curiosity I belong to a “Foodies” group – people who love to eat, cook and share food, try new recipes and socially talk the same language as me, the language of food. Recently I was honored to be invited to a couple of events where two members of our group cooked their native food.
Marilou is my friend from the Philippines and has shared many individual dishes from her home in the past, but this time we experienced a whole meal of Filipino food. It was a thank you from her and her nephew for helping him after the terrible tsunami a couple years ago in the Philippines. I won’t do justice to properly naming all of the dishes, but as you can see from the pictures we had delicious pork belly, shrimp and whole fish, an amazing ceviche (cold raw fish dish cured in citrus juices), noodles, paella (rice dish with meats, seafood and sausages), and Halo Halo. I remember the name Halo Halo because, well, it’s easy to remember but mostly because it means “mix mix.” Halo Halo is an ice cold, sweet dessert made using crushed ice, ice cream, candied fruits and beans, flan, coconut, sweet sauces, jams and the list goes on. All this is put into a parfait-like glass and layered in a specific manner. Then, you’re given a long spoon and “mix mix,” combining all of this sweet goodness into an ice cold treat like none I’ve ever tasted. There are lots of recipes online to make Halo Halo, but don’t get discouraged if you see many ingredients you’ve never heard of or feel you could never find. If you have an Asian grocery, they are very helpful and can help you find ingredients, or you can substitute sweet and candied fruits and jams you can find in the grocery store.
Haresh is my friend from India, and like Marilou he has shared many individual dishes in the past. This time he did a whole meal as a teaching and eating event where us “Foodies” helped cook and learned from his expertise. Indian cooking is so fascinating and mysterious to me. The way they use spices is personalized to each family’s recipes, much like how in Mexico a family’s Mole has the personality of the family who makes it. Garam Masala is a spice blend you will see in many Indian dishes, but families make and blend their Garam Masala to their taste. Curry is not a yellow stew-like dish that always has the same flavor. There are many, many curries, and in my simplest terms, curry is like a stew seasoned with a variety of spice combinations. Again, I would not do the traditional names justice, but in the photos you can see that we tried Paneer, which is made using an Indian cheese. We had some amazing grilled chicken skewers where Haresh not only used spices for marinating but also used yogurt. He sprouted his own mung beans, and he used them in a Warm Carrot and Bean Sprout salad. To make the flavors that are so distinct in Indain food we toasted spices, caramelized onions and layered flavors on top of each other. Haresh made it look so easy, but the flavors were quite complicated.
I am not sure if I was more impressed by the amazing food Marilou and Haresh made for us or just the pride they had sharing their country’s and family’s food. One thing I do know is that I want to cook more of it. I already have an idea for a fusion taco using Marilou’s pork belly, sauce and green mango salad. And I want to make a dish that requires Garam Masala so I can make it over and over until I have my family’s recipe. Oh, and next for the “Foodies,” we are going to cook with monks. I will let you all know how that goes.