International students making the most of what food they can find in America.
By Carter Boone, Emma Cary and Jessica Ramsey
TUSCALOOSA- Tuscaloosa, Alabama is the kind of place where home-cooking means everyone’s mama is the greatest cook there ever was.
It’s where meals are shared around your family’s round table, and the tea is so sweet you might get a cavity from one sip. It is Sunday afternoon with deep fried okra, buttermilk biscuits and chicken so crispy you don’t feel too bad about the extra calories.
Nevertheless, less than half of the students at the University of Alabama call Alabama their home state. This means that for some students, home-cooking is a two-hour flight to a big city in the Northeast. For others, it takes an 8,000-mile voyage and 20-hour flight to get food that tastes like home.
Sujit Kunwor remembers what it was like to be a little boy on the outskirts of Kathmandu, Nepal. His city, in the valley of the Himalayas, reminds him of his mom’s tea and cookies, his aunt’s curry and the meals he shared with his brother in his family home.
Kunwor is a PhD. candidate in data science at Alabama. Although he has lived in the U.S. for 10 years, he said he misses the authentic street food he could get in Nepal.
Nepalese food is centered around rice, lentils, vegetables and spice. Most of the supplies can be found at the local grocery store. Some specific ingredients cost a trip to Birmingham to an Indian market. Kunwor and his wife, Rona, stock supplies from the Indian market so they can enjoy authentic food.
Even though a drive to Birmingham allows Kunwor and Rona to recreate Nepalese food, there are specific tastes he misses that are native to Nepal.
“We didn’t have a gas stove when I was growing up. We used a wood fire to cook everything,” Kunwor remembered. “It tastes different that way. That’s something I really miss.”
Kunwor is not the only UA student who feels like the food tastes different in America. Ashok Pokhrel, a physics major who also comes from Nepal, thinks the food here is not spicy enough.
“It’s very bland,” Pokhrel said. “I at least need to have food from my country twice a week.”
Pokhel’s version of a home cooked meal is lettuce, veggies, rice, chicken and gravy and goat.
Not only is Nepal’s food different, it is also healthier.
“The food is cooked kind of the same, the only difference is we use natural oils which makes it healthier than American food,” Pokhrel said.
The transition from their traditional foods to Southern food is difficult for international students. Kenjo Takahashi, a student from Japan, views American food in a harsher light.
“The food here is less healthy than Japanese food,” Takahashi said. “There are so many fast food restaurants and so many places that sell fried foods.”
Finding real, authentic food that reminds international students of home is another tough boundary for them to cross.
“There are good places that sell Japanese food, but it is not authentic,” Takahashi said. “The food is good but it is heavily Americanized. Groceries are not hard to find, but sometimes it is difficult to find the right seasonings.”
Takahashi also mentioned that while there are restaurants that sell good Japanese food, the authenticity is hard to come across. Every Japanese restaurant he has tried is appropriated towards Americans. This takes away some of the originality, especially when trying to find certain dishes because Americans do not know what the food is.
“I don’t try to make Tuscaloosa feel so much like home though,” Takahashi said. “Tuscaloosa is totally different from Japan but I don’t feel like I need to make Tuscaloosa more like Japan, because I enjoy feeling the differences in the cultures of both places.”