International cuisine: Newman community shares holiday memories

Nov 19, 2020
Food Holidays

Thanksgiving is almost here and Americans throughout the country are buying turkey, ham and all the fixings for traditional side dishes that have graced Thanksgiving Day tables for years.

Although many gatherings will be smaller this year, and some may even be virtual, the culinary traditions will most likely not change as families give thanks to the blessings they have been given throughout the year.

America isn’t the only country with a food-focused holiday. Countries around the world have many reasons to celebrate with food and thankfulness.

Eid Mubarak – Tanzania

Alpha Magafu, a freshman biology pre-med major, is from Tanzania, which is located in East Africa just south of the equator.

Magafu said food is a big deal when it is time to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, Arabic for “Festival of Breaking Fast.” He said although the holiday is from the Muslim culture, Christians celebrate as well. He has fond memories of sharing food during the celebration.

“Muslim neighbors would cook tons of delicious food and share with their neighbors both Muslims and non-Muslim,” said Magafu. “My favorite is probably pilau. When it is cooked, its aroma can be sensed a few blocks away.”

He said another dish he enjoys is futari, one that contains squash, yams and coconut milk.

Eid al-Fitr is a three-day celebration focusing on family, community, generosity and gratitude. It marks the end of Ramadan, a month-long fast observed by most of the world’s Muslims.

Celebrating Eid al-Fitr in Egypt, 2015.
Mahmoud Shahin/AP Images

Some of the Eid al-Fitr traditions include giving gifts, donating food to the poor, visiting the graves of loved ones and hosting festive receptions. On the first day of Eid al-Fitr, it is also tradition to don a brand new outfit to symbolize the notion of spiritual renewal.

Just as Americans would greet others on Thanksgiving with “Happy Thanksgiving,” the traditional greeting for Eid al-Fitr is “Eid Mubarak,” which means “have a blessed Eid.”

Magafu enjoys all the food, which is mostly Arabic, that comes with the holiday. There is so much variety and so many types of dishes he said he can’t always remember them all.

Chúc Mừng Năm Mới – Vietnam

Minh Nguyen is a sophomore science major focused on biomedical science at Newman University. In Vietnam, where he and his family are from, Tết is the holiday that is celebrated with food.

Depending on the Lunar calendar, Tết is usually celebrated in either January or February. The traditional greetings for Tết is “Chúc Mừng Năm Mới” (Happy New Year) and “Cung Chúc Tân Xuân” (gracious wishes of the new spring).

Nguyen said, “The most popular foods that Vietnamese people make on this holiday include bánh chưng, bánh Tét, and kho hột vịt — braised pork and hard-boiled duck eggs in fish sauce reduction and coconut water.

“The foods that are eaten during Tết bring more than just a comfortable night of dinner; they symbolize the upcoming year of the household: fulfillment of the mind and body.”

Minh Nguyen’s family prepares the table for their Tết celebration.

The holiday revolves around families and bonding, similar to how Americans value the spirit of Christmas, said Nguyen. They celebrate by gathering and wishing happiness and luck to each other.

Because the holiday is all about getting together with family, the foods are made with bonding materials that symbolize strengthening love between each family member.

As for favorites, Nguyen said his is bánh tét, a dish prepared by wrapping a well-seasoned piece of pork along with ground green beans in a bed of sticky rice.

He added, “Bánh Tét has a cylindrical shape so when you cut it, the cross-section of the banh Tet includes all the goodness that it has to offer.”

Family and ancestors play an important role during this special holiday.

“Tết is also about remembering one’s ancestors, which is why Vietnamese people make good food so that, in spirit, the ancestors can enjoy the food and feel the warmth of happiness during this time of the year. Bánh chưng and bánh Tết are the common foods that are consumed during Tết since they represent earth and heaven, which is everything one can give to another.”

Buon Natale – Italy

Martina Viale ‘20 graduated with a degree in Bachelor of Business Administration in management and marketing. She currently works as an admissions counselor at Newman University.

Viale is from Italy; her dad is Italian and her mom is Brazilian. That just means more holidays to enjoy with great cuisine.

For Viale’s family, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and Carnival are the most common holidays that involve a great meal. During Christmas in Italy, families and friends greet each other with, “Buon Natale,” which is Italian for “Merry Christmas.”

“At my house, we do things a little differently since we celebrate two cultures — Brazilian and Italian. We would eat a cocktail of shrimp; my mom would then make bobó de camarão and we would have cozzata or pasta ai frutti di mare. We would also mix it up and have some vitello tonnato, prosciutto on grissini and panettone gastronomico. For dessert, we will have panettone and pandoro with mascarpone; both Italian traditions for Christmas. But we will also have rabanada, which is a Brazilian French toast.”

New Year’s Eve is a huge potluck fare until the midnight toast, which is followed by a helping of lenticchie e cotechino, or lentils and cotechino.

Carnival is celebrated with a dessert called chiacchiere, also known as bugie in other regions.

Even though the chiacchiere is a close second, Viale said her favorite treat is the Christmas dessert pandoro with mascarpone.

She added that spending a holiday with her family has not been a luxury she has been able to enjoy for four years now so she looks forward to the next time she can gather in person with her family to celebrate and reminisce with her loved ones.