If you had walked into the International Food Competition on March 1, your nose may have been a little disoriented at first.
Is that buñuelos from Colombia you’re smelling? Empanadas from Chile? Chicken curry and rice from India? Or maybe that’s Japanese teriyaki beef? Actually, it could have been all of those scents and a few more.
With missionary kids and international students, BJU has a total of 267 students from countries outside the United States, and on Saturday, March 1, many of those students brought together the culture, smells, sounds and especially the food of their home countries in the first-ever BJU International Food Fair & Competition.
The way the competition worked was simple: each country had a team comprised of students from that country, and each team had a table that the students could transform into a little piece of their home country. The tables were full of food that had been freshly prepared in local homes, residence hall rooms and kitchens around campus only a few hours prior. Many of the dishes contained ingredients that came directly from the home countries of the teams that prepared them. The teams were free to choose how to express their culture, and most went all out.
“I really appreciated all the effort students put in,” said Matthew Arnold, a junior engineering major who helped organize the event. “Most of the tables didn’t just have food; they also had costumes and music and decorations. You can tell they put a lot of thought and planning into their presentation.”
Students who had purchased tickets to the fair could enter and sample all the food, including everything from Canadian poutine to Puerto Rican tostones rellenos. At the end of the fair, every student could vote for whichever country they thought made the best overall presentation, and the winning team received a $100 Visa gift card.
The competition was tight, but slightly less tight than belts of the students who had the difficult job of sampling more than 10 different plates of food.
“I’ve only been through three tables, and I’m already stuffed,” Allen Del Carmen, a freshman graphic design major, said as he ate a tamarind, a type of sweet and spicy Mexican candy.
Between mouthfuls of food, several students commented on which dishes and countries were their favorite.
“Austria has probably been my favorite,” senior math education major Corey Colosky said. “I didn’t even know what schnitzel was, so I learned something new, too.”
Not all of the tables represented just one country. The team from the Philippines, for instance, had food from three different Philippine islands. One of their dishes was sinugba, a type of fried pork that one of the group members actually marinated all night in his residence hall room the night before the competition.
The Southeast Asia team was made up of people from Singapore, South Korea, Laos and China — a fact that Joel Ang, a senior business administration major thought gave his team an advantage. “We’ve got such a mix of cultures,” he said. “We’ve got teriyaki chicken from Japan and pineapple fried rice from China. The recipe we used combines a few different cultures. It’s like having three countries on one plate.”
Another crowd favorite was the food from the India team. Although some people thought it was a little too spicy, the team members from India said they thought they hadn’t made it very spicy at all.
“It’s really hard to find authentic Indian food in Greenville, and theirs was so good, so spicy,” said Grant Hartman, a graduate university student studying Bible.
Student body president Sarah Kalmbach said she was inspired to have the competition so that international students would have a chance to express their culture.
“The international students come here and kind of have American culture forced on them,” Kalmbach said. “I thought food would be a good way for them to give back some of their culture.”
Kalmbach said she hoped the event would allow groups of students to come together and bond over something that spreads across all cultures: food and fun competition.
The first, second and third place countries were Austria, Colombia and India, respectively. Team Austria’s schnitzel and noodles won in the end.
Members of the Austrian team said one of the keys to their victory was practice. To make their meal perfect, the team did two test runs for the family of one of the group members. The team also said that since everyone on the team is very good friends, the process was that much more fun and their food that much better.
And what do they plan to do with their winnings? Why, go out to eat, of course!