Montana State University

Spring 2017

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Mountains and Minds

Food: The common ground June 06, 2017 by Jessianne Wright • Published 06/06/17

Mina Botros, a Montana State University international student from Egypt, placed a large metal pan onto a cart. The pan was filled to the lip with sliced potatoes.

“It’s a secret recipe,” Botros said, smiling. “You’ll try it tomorrow.”

Hanan Alkalaji of Syria arranged grape leaves and rice over carrots and potatoes, while Albanian Herlin Kadriu kneaded and rolled dough on a nearby table. At the oven, Omolola Comfort Betiku, from Nigeria, fried chicken on the stovetop. Other students stirred industrial-sized pots of boiling water, steaming vegetables and cooking meat, setting off an ambrosial melding of spices.

Two days before the International Street Food Bazaar, MSU’s Union Market bustled with people, food, sounds and smells as students from around the world worked to prepare traditional foods from their home countries to sell at the bazaar. This year marked the 34th annual event, which is held in the SUB ballrooms each February. As many as 3,000 visitors attend the bazaar each year.

“It doesn’t matter what you read about going on in the world… you can find common ground in food,” said Rick Schneider, Union Market executive chef. “Food is the universal binder.”

“People can come to the ballroom and travel the world without leaving Bozeman,” said Deborah Chiolero, international student and scholar adviser in the Office of International Programs. Chiolero has been a leading organizer for the food bazaar event, which is one of the university’s most popular community events, for the past 16 years. She begins the planning process in September.

“(The food bazaar) is a time for us to realize that the world is full of adventures, and we can learn so much from the (international) students, about their countries, values, customs and much more,” Chiolero said.

Schneider and Union Market staff work with students weeks in advance to adapt recipes to serve hundreds of people. They also advise the students in order to successfully prepare the food in advance of the bazaar so that on the day of the event, each represented country can offer authentic foods prepared by the international students themselves. More than 100 international students representing 27 countries participated in this year’s event.

Alkalaji, a graduate student in MSU’s Adult and Higher Education program, prepared yalanji and kibbeh, traditional foods of Syria. “We do this food for big occasions.”

For Alkalaji and many other students, being a part of the bazaar is a chance to teach people about a country, as well as take pride in their heritage.

“I see that people are always curious to learn more about Syria,” she said. “(The bazaar) is a nice chance to exchange culture.”
Kadriu, who is studying cell biology and neuroscience, agreed.

“(The bazaar) is a good way to introduce myself to the community while representing my country,” he said. The first Albanian student to have a booth at the bazaar, Kadriu said he was particularly excited to share his heritage and make his family proud.
Beyond sharing culture, involvement in the food bazaar is a chance to learn more about it, explained Pancasatya Agastra of Indonesia, who is pursuing his doctoral degree in engineering. Agastra participated in the MSU food bazaar for the first time in 1997.

“I think you need to see yourself from the outside,” Agastra said. “You need to see where you are in this world.”

This year, the Office of International Programs awarded one of the student booths with the People’s Choice Award, as determined by event attendees, and Nigeria was voted the winner.

Betiku, a Ph.D. student in animal and range sciences, worked hard preparing the food for the Nigeria booth in the days prior to the bazaar.

“I can tell you that Bozeman is cold, but the people are warm,” Betiku said. “Maybe that’s the reason (as international students) we don’t actually feel the cold so much.” ■