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Flavors: Big Focus on Foods from Around the World

The 16th Annual International Food Fair at MSU Billings demonstrated how small can be big. Recently in the Rimrock Café, eleven countries from around the world served up food from their native lands representing the 75 students enrolled from outside the United States. For $12, attendees sampled generous servings cooked by the students with guidance from Executive Chef Marlo Spreng, head of the MSUB Dining Services. Though each country was represented by only a handful of representatives, everyone left fuller enriched with culture and flavor.

Dr. Paul Foster Executive Director from the Office of International Studies said, “We are always seeking ways to get our international students connected to the Billings community.” The food fair allowed the students to not only educate the palates of the university and our city, but also their peers. In the last two years, with collaboration from the Dining Services, attendance has increased along with the quality of the food. Most of the efforts in the past were executed by the staff and not entirely by the students.

Credit Stella Fong
Manal Khawar and Daniyal Aslam from Pakistan share her mother's recipe for Handi, an aromatic chicken dish made with spices and chilies.

Neil Beyer, the International Marketing and Outreach Specialist has made a tremendous effort to promote the event since joining the Office of International Studies five years ago. He said of inviting the students to participate in the event, “I actually got them to sign up on orientation. So when they first arrive on the first day, they’re signing up, they’re pulling out their immigration papers, they’re doing all that good stuff, I then pitch them to be involved in this amazing event.”

After being recruited by Beyer at registration, actual planning for the International food fare does not begin until spring semester. Chef Spreng shared how the process began, “In the beginning its just a handful of meetings I meet with the students and go over their menus that they want to cook and I have to manage that because sometimes they have grand ideas that we’re not able to do.” After finding manageable recipes and a balanced menu, Spreng then usually goes online to purchase the food as she cannot secure all the items through her normal ordering avenues.

However, before the students can enter the kitchen, Spreng said, “They come to a safety meeting and a power point presentation and they walk through the kitchen and we discuss all the different rules and regulations and for physical safety. It’s very important to us.”

Credit Stella Fong
Executive Chef Marlo Spreng of the MSUB Dining Services guided and supported the international students’ efforts in cooking for the International Food Fair.

Then knowing their recipes, Spreng schedules them to work in shifts days before the event depending on the complication of their recipes. While Seoyeon Park’s Kimchi Fried Rice from South Korea required several hours to prepare, Mardan Mamtimin and Ankar Anwar Uyghur cuisine of Lamb and Noodles took days. The noodles were handmade with lamb requiring days to marinate. Then Lizabeth Madriz-Dena’s three types of Mexican tamales totaling five hundred individual corn husked wrapped masa with fillings of rajas, chicken and guajillos required days of work and a small team.

Mohammed Al Sawat, a business and marketing major from Saudi Arabia teamed up with the China team to help them prep. He did the cutting and chopping for their Coke Chicken and Beef with Chili Pepper dishes. The food prepared by Annette Zhao, Yanlin Li, and Emily Beyer with Al Sawat’s help reminded me of my childhood soy sauce chicken my Dad made for my family.

Thomas Hoerner, a geography major and his team mates Constantin Schaffler and Frederic Schimidt studying International Finance, all from Stuttgart did not know each other before coming to Billings. They choose a recipe that reminded them of comfort home cooking. Linsen and Späztle is basically lentils with noodles. In this case they substituted the Späztle which is normally made with dropping droplets of batter into boiling water to create small pasta dumplings with spaghetti noodles. Because of the large number of people they opted for an alternate starch. The lentils were cooked with bacon, onions, carrots, and celery to be flavored with a little red wine vinegar. To accompany the dish, they had frankfurters, really good old fashion hot dogs.

Credit Stella Fong
Ankar Anwar of Xinjiang China made handmade noodles to accompany lamb.

Mandal Khawar with her partner Daniyal Shelich served Handi which refers to a deep, wide-mouth cooking vessel. The recipe came from Khawar’s mother in Pakistan. During the preparation for the event, she communicated with her mother to get the exact instructions for their chicken dish flavored with warm spices and chilis.

Tsukasa Kimishima, Kazu Furumoto and Kana Tateyama, from Japan made Gyudon, thinly sliced beef with onions seasoned with soy sauce, mirin, and ginger served over rice. The dish is very popular in Japan according to Kimishima. Their intent for the guests, “to make them experience Japanese food of what we usually eat.”

Vivian Oray worked with Shepherd Johannes and Faduma Omar to make Ring’ dhiang’ or Beef Stew served with handmade chapati or flatbread. Johannes rolled out the flatbreads while Omar cooked them on a hot flat grill.

Other food included Laham and Riz or Lamb and Rice made by Mahadi Alshawaf and Abdulelah Altoriki from Saudi Arabia, Megi Ivanova’s Moussaka and Baklava from Bulgaria, and from India, Lemon Chicken with Basmati Rice made by Yash Mahey and Bhuwan Manda.

Aside from the International Food Fair, there are other opportunities to meet the international students. For students, the Multicultural Club helps promote cultural diversity and internationalization among American and international students on the MSUB campus providing students the opportunity to make connections and friendships. For the community, the Billings Friendship Families program joins Billings community members, MSUB students, faculty, staff, and international students from around the world with one another.

Credit Stella Fong
Kana Tateyama, Tsukasa Kimishima and Kazu Furumoto from Japan prepared Gyudon, a beef dish served over rice.

Families in Billings can play host to the international visitors from picking them up at the airport to hosting students for the holidays to showing them highlights of our region. For summer programs, which are shorter in duration, families are encouraged to bring students into their homes for cultural exchange.

On this night at the 16th Annual International Food Fair, we all left the Rimrock Café full of food experienced from eleven countries around the world. Though this may be small compared to other parts of the world, the small community of Billings held large focus on those students who shared flavors and culture from their homeland.

Stella Fong shares her personal love of food and wine through her cooking classes and wine seminars as well as through her contributions to Yellowstone Valley Woman, and Last Best News and The Last Best Plates blogs. Her first book, Historic Restaurants of Billings hit the shelves in November of 2015 with Billings Food available in the summer of 2016. After receiving her Certified Wine Professional certification from the Culinary Institute of America with the assistance of a Robert Parker Scholarship for continuing studies, she has taught the Wine Studies programs for Montana State University Billings Wine and Food Festival since 2008. She has instructed on the West Coast for cooking schools such as Sur La Table, Williams-Sonoma, Macy’s Cellars, and Gelsons, and in Billings, at the Billings Depot, Copper Colander, Wellness Center, the YMCA and the YWCA. Locally she has collaborated with Raghavan Iyer and Christy Rost in teaching classes.