On Sunday a friend asked a group of us, “If there was anything you could change about yourself, what would it be?”
There was a variety of answers, many having to do with a desire for musical talents or athletic abilities. One longed for the skill to blow up balloons, while another wished simply that he could open bags of deli meat without ripping them to shreds. The discussion brought me back to a similar train of thought I had hopped on the day before, while walking around the International Fiesta on campus. It was there I thought it might be helpful to be a cow.
Perhaps I should clarify. There was no cud for sale, nor have I ever been one to chew anything – gum, tobacco or otherwise - for any length of time. It was not that I wanted my own personal milk supply, because that would require other significant changes as well. I just wanted more than one stomach. (And I’m not referring to multiple love handles – that wouldn’t require much change, I’m afraid.) There were just so many intriguing foods being offered by all the different international student organizations, and I only had so much room in my one pitiful stomach. But despite my human limitations, I gave it my best shot and tried as many as I could.
We had recently enjoyed a full-on Turkish dinner prepared by some friends of ours, so we knew we could count on something tasty at the Turkish table. At the same time, we were trying to pace ourselves, so we settled on two items to get us started. First was a mini kabob of some sort, which seemed to be a meatball wrapped in a thin slice of eggplant, topped with a bit of tomato. Dessert was next (because I am a grown-up and I knew it would not ruin the rest of my lunch). The sign said “birds nest”, and it was similar to baklava in texture and flavor, but shaped like a birds’ nest and stuffed (where the eggs would be) with chopped pistachios. I was very disappointed when I went back at the end of the day to snag some more and they were gone. Disappointed, but not surprised.
The Pakistani table had both familiar and new items for tasting. Chicken Biryani was on the menu there, which I had tasted before, though I confess I thought it was an Iraqi dish. I guess biryani crosses borders without a passport, and I’m glad it has made it to America. This may have been the wife’s favorite dish of the day. As a side dish, I got a potato cutlus, which was a fried potato cake mixed with onion, corn, and finely chopped herbs. It had plenty of flavor on its own, but was still simple enough to play well against the spicy biryani.
Next up was the Chinese table. They had a grill going and some little kabobs that they were calling Mongolian barbecue. I’ve been to a Mongolian barbecue restaurant before – this was vastly different, yet still interestingly spiced. But the most interesting item of the day was on the other end of the table, and when I first approached, there was no visible sign to identify the food. At first I thought I was seeing some sort of large brown nut with a split shell, but it turned out to be boiled eggs marinated in something…brown. I could identify what I thought was star anise scattered amongst the eggs, and some kind of leaf, but the enthusiastic servers could only tell me it was a very special egg. I decided to go for it, and was pleasantly relieved to find it delicious. It had a much milder flavor than the dark color and big spices suggested. Later I went back to seek out the name, and they found the sign which had been inadvertently hidden – I had eaten a Tsingtao Beer Egg. A definite first for this foodie.
As we began getting full and ready to round out the day, we did a whirlwind tasting tour of the rest of the world. Momo from Nepal was new – dumplings made with ground turkey, served with a mildly spicy sauce. For a plate of familiarity we grazed from the Arab offerings of falafel, hummus, pita and stuffed grape leaves. A fitting final course was a piece of Native American frybread, sprinkled with powdered sugar and dipped in sorghum molasses (my choice.) There’s no better way to close out a day at a festival than to savor something fried.
Jay Reed is a local foodie and pharmacist. The culinary tastes expressed here are his and do not necessarily reflect the appetites of the Starkville Daily News or individual members of its staff. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org .