Festival of Flavors

Global Youth VoicesOctober 26, 2016HeritageFeatures

In Festival of Flavors, kids around the world share the family recipes that most evoke their heritage!

As a Chinese American, I’ve always had difficulty connecting to my Chinese heritage.

Reading Chinese texts with my family consists of my parents reading every other character, and talking in Chinese with my parents’ friends always turns me into a blustering fool trying to remember how to say, “I’m doing fine, how about you?” I would be doing better if I could speak better Chinese, but of course I’m having trouble articulating this thought as well.

I’ve found that my changing view of making Chinese dumplings demonstrates how I’ve better connected to my heritage as I’ve grown up.

When I was young, I hated dumplings. They seemed like deformed, almost tasteless tacos that I could never manage the art of making. I always put too much of the meat filling in the center of the dumpling wrapper, so the ground pork oozed out of the wrapper when I tried to seal it. My mom laughed at my tears when I couldn’t make a dumpling with my clumsy fingers, but I couldn’t find anything funny about it. When I ate what I made — boiled pork meatballs that had escaped their wrappers — I couldn’t help but think that I had destroyed already deformed tacos.

When I was 10, my parents held a party for their friends. I was tasked with helping my mom wrap dumplings. “Don’t overstuff it,” she said in Chinese, so I only put a sliver of the filling inside the wrapper before sealing it closed. “Moisten the edges and seal it tightly,” she added, so I folded my creation until it resembled a meatball made of dumpling wrapper. When my mom boiled and served my dumplings, neither of us were surprised that they tasted only of dumpling skin, but we laughed until our stomachs hurt.

At boarding school, the Chinese teachers host a dumpling-making day each year. Because I miss home and making my deformed dumplings, I always partake in the event — spooning the dumpling filling into a wrapper, dabbing the edges and sealing it closed, creasing the edges until it somewhat resembles a meatball with skin. But I’m always pleasantly surprised by how many students enjoy making dumplings as well. It seems dumplings are more than just deformed tacos or meatballs with a wrapper around them; they’re nuggets of Chinese culture that transcend the barriers of language and distance.

The recipe that makes me feel closest to my heritage is the Indian dessert kheer because it is made on many special religious occasions as an offering to God.

Another very significant reason is that the main ingredient required to prepare it is cows’ milk, and the cow is considered a very sacred animal by the followers of Hinduism.

Kheer is most often prepared on the occasion of Sharad Pornima or Kojagiri Pornima (full moon). It is mainly celebrated in West Bengal and Maharashtra, states in India. In West Bengal, the Goddess Lakshmi, who represents wealth, fortune, and prosperity, is worshipped on this day. Kheer is offered to her because rice is grown in abundance in West Bengal. This tradition has been prevalent in our society since ancient times.

Sharad Pornima is celebrated on the full moon day of the month Ashwin according to the Hindu calendar, which is between September and October. On this day people gather and enjoy kheer after offering it to the Goddess Lakshmi at midnight under the moonlight.

Along with the Goddess Lakshmi, the moon is also worshipped, as it too is considered divine in Indian culture. It is said by our ancestors that on Sharad Pornima the moon and the earth are closest to each other, and that the moon showers nectar through its rays that nourishes our body and soul. Celebrations include keeping a bowl of kheer under moonlight. It is thought that divine illumination is reflected by the moon on this night, and after offering it to the Goddess Lakshmi we can enjoy the kheer wherever we want, beneath the moon or in the house. Sometimes, friends or family members get together after midnight and enjoy kheer together.

A few years ago, on the day of Sharad Pornima, my mother prepared kheer to keep under the moonlight, as usual. We were all delighted to eat it after the rituals. Then it started raining in the evening. I thought it wouldn’t rain for too long. But as time passed, it continued raining until midnight. I was upset thinking I wouldn’t be able to eat the kheer as the moon was not visible, and without moonlight we couldn’t eat the dish. We waited for a long time and were convinced that we would have to sleep without the treat.

Then, to everyone’s surprise, it stopped raining. After some time, the moon appeared, too! I was overjoyed and asked my mother to bring the kheer and finish the rituals as soon as possible so that I could enjoy this delicious dish!

Homemade Italian house soup evokes my heritage.

This soup was born out of my curiosity about the culture of Italy. One day I decided to create something unique and fragrant for dinner. This soup is the delicious result. I often find myself imagining roaming marble halls among the leaders of the ancient world, such as the great emperors of Rome.

But alas…I have to satisfy myself with a delicious recipe guaranteed to warm on a chilly fall day.

When I first made the soup, my family told me it was packed with flavor. They also told me I had a few adjustments to make: I had accidentally put in four tablespoons of garlic powder instead of two. Nevertheless, the whole family was begging for leftovers the next day. An instant hit!

When I make this recipe, I know I’m connecting to the women who made this before. My grandmother, although not fully Italian, was a prominent figure in my mind while making this soup. She loved to bake, cook, and create delicious memories for everyone around her. I think of her strong hands picking every tomato, every fragrant leaf of basil, creating a meal for her family. Mealtime isn’t much different nowadays. If anything is boldly different, it is the priority we place on meals. Families are often in a huge rush and don’t connect with each other over a great meal. I find making a hearty soup by hand can fix this, at least for one night. We’re all busy, but this soup is easy.

My family is mainly Finnish and Polish, with a little Irish on the side. My great-grandmother was fully Polish, while my grandfather was fully Finnish. Though very distant, my extended family is Italian. My mom and dad love looking at our family heritage and sharing it with my siblings and me. When I make this soup, my whole family gets a glimpse of the lineage we share. With its robust flavor, Italian house soup is sure to be an instant hit in your home.

Soup, or any kind of food, can really knit hearts together. I find that making and preparing my own food gives me a sense of pride and enjoyment. For me, being able to sit down with my family to enjoy a little part of our history is a joyful and meaningful experience! Mealtime is incredibly important, and with this recipe, it’s sure to be delicious.

Mantou, a steamed bun, is one of the most common Chinese foods and one of my favorites. It is said to have originated during the Three Kingdoms period (220-280 AD) in China.

The story says that the Shu Kingdom general Zhuge Liang was leading his troops back home, after defeating the warlord Meng Huo, when they came upon an extremely fast-flowing river. They couldn’t cross the river and so sought help from a local person whom they viewed as a barbarian.

The barbarian told Zhuge Liang that his people would have to sacrifice 49 men by throwing their heads into the river to calm it down. However, Zhuge Liang didn’t want to sacrifice his men, so he killed some livestock and wrapped flour around the meat. Then he steamed the buns so they looked like human heads and threw 49 of them into the river. After they crossed the river, Zhuge Liang named these buns mantou, which literally means “the barbarian’s head.”

Prior to the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD), the word mantou meant both filled and unfilled buns. Then the term baozi (buns with meat or vegetable filling) was added, so now mantou means only unfilled buns made with flour. These buns, along with noodles, Chinese pancakes, and rice, are a staple carbohydrate of the Chinese diet.

Mantou is easy to make and very affordable. One yuan (about 15 cents) can get you three mantou, which is a day’s meal. It is made by using only a little flour and yeast. It’s soft and can be eaten with many side dishes, such as pickled vegetables, fermented bean curd, or fried eggs. It has such an amazing puffy texture that it begs you to use it to scoop up the last drop of the sauce on your plate. With the perfect balance of sweetness and chewiness, it can be eaten on the go. I think mantou is symbolic of China — it is eaten by all social classes, from construction workers to businessmen.

Mantou is a glorious food. Had it not been for my grandparents, I wouldn’t have been introduced to mantou at all. I was born in the United States, and my dad’s job was a two-hour drive away from home. After my mom’s maternity leave, she had to go to work, too. Because there was no one at home, my grandparents came from China to America and brought with them the skill of making mantou, a food that they painstakingly made every week in large batches.

From then on, our family’s breakfast was served with mantou and, for me, it is a comfort food of the highest order. Today it always reminds me of my grandparents kneading dough, the hustle and bustle of mornings, and sometimes cooking breakfast by myself. That’s why mantou, a plain bun, is so special to me. I hope that it will be special to you, too — in some way.

I was very excited about my eighth birthday because I was finally getting my own cell phone as a birthday present. I invited all of my school mates and park buddies to the party. I wanted to show off my new phone.

It was five in the evening. I was anxiously waiting for Sara, Amna, Aqsa, and Marium. After an uncomfortable hour-long wait, I got phone calls from my friends — one after the other, apologizing for not coming to my party. Some had transport problems and some had other responsibilities. I was depressed. I can still picture myself as an eight-year-old, sobbing in my mother’s lap. At that moment, I hated everyone and everything — the new dress and jewelry I wore for the party, the decorations, and the food.

I felt pathetic. Now, I laugh at myself when I recall crying over a little party. You face bigger problems when you grow older, but for an eight-year-old, a ruined party is a very big problem.

My mother tried to calm me by telling about the new mobile phone I’d get in few hours. I ate some chocolates and dreamed about playing games on the new phone. Half an hour later, my father came home with empty hands, telling me that the phone was out of stock. After more crying, my mother decided to send me to my grandmother’s house.

When I reached my grandmother’s home, she took me to the kitchen with her soft hands and her welcoming voice. She had prepared my favorite dish — khausay — to better my mood.

Khausay is a Memoni dish that consists of spaghetti with gravy and potato chips. Khausay is a very special dish made for special guests. In our society, it is considered a divine dish since it is made with expensive ingredients and takes a lot of hard work. Usually khausay is everybody’s favorite.

I was shocked to see khausay in front of me. It requires a lot of hard work, and I couldn’t believe that my grandmother made the effort to prepare it for me. My grandmother and I ate the khausay with some Pepsi and chatted about my childhood. She told me I was five years old when I first had khausay on Eid, the Islamic festival. She told that she loved it when I made a mess, but my mom hated to clean it up.

Afterward, I realized that friends are important, but family is more so — whether you are an eight-year-old or an eighty-year-old. From the beginning of life until the end, family will always make you happy. It will be a blessing to relive the memory and celebrate my eighteenth birthday the same way. My grandmother has been in the United States since 2010, but I hope to see her very soon.

Puran poli is a very special dish for the Marathi people of India.

It is usually prepared as a dessert and sometimes relished as a main course during festivals. It is offered to God as a naivedyam, a religious food offering. Puran poli is delicious; it is the best dish my mom makes. And since it satisfies my sweet tooth, it is my favorite food.

Puran poli is a sweet Indian bread also known as roti. It is prepared not only by us but by most families of our community during the festival of Dussehra. Dussehra is a festival to celebrate the victory of good over evil, as on this day Lord Rama killed the demon Ravana. To mark this auspicious occasion, celebrations every year include the preparation of this centuries old traditional recipe. We also prepare it during Diwali, the festival of lights.

During Dussehra our entire family gets together and enjoys a special meal of hot puran poli. We have a very big family home in Akola where my grandparents live. When we visit, I carry my cricket bat and ball as well as football. I play games with my brothers and sisters and we have fun the whole day. When the clock strikes 7:00 pm, we run at athletic speeds with our firecrackers. We set off lots of firecrackers until 8:30 or 9:00 pm. Then, after having some food, we play cards. On such occasions, I miss my uncle who lives in Washington, D.C.

Last November during Diwali, I wanted to learn how to make puran poli, and asked my mom for her help. She refused, saying that I was too small to learn and would not be able to handle the stove flame. After I asked her many times, she finally said, “I will allow you to make it but not to bake it.”

I just overflowed with joy.

But when I asked her why I couldn’t bake the roti, she said, “The pan is too hot. You might burn your fingers and then you will not be able to write for KidSpirit for a few weeks.”

After hearing this reason, I happily agreed to refrain from using the stove. I took the rolling pin and started shaping the puran poli. Lo and behold, I discovered a new shape! The “squanglecle”, as I named it, is a square, rectangle, and circle combined. After baking the roti, my brothers, sisters, and I, enjoyed the newly shaped treat.

I recommend that all those who read this article taste puran poli at least once in their lives. I won’t reveal its secret taste, but will give you a clue: it tastes even better than apple pie. You will fall in love with puran poli, I know it. Enjoy this traditional dish at your earliest opportunity!