Friday, November 12, 2010

Post 39.1: International Potluck

I work in a section of the office that has people from all different ethnic backgrounds... from Afghan to American to Pakistani to Polish.  We used this to our advantage by holding an international potluck at work.  Here are some of the dishes that my co-workers brought to the potluck... along with the five words they would use to describe food from their culture.

Sambosas and chutney

No typo there.  Sambosas are from Afghanistan, and samosas are from India.  Difference? Other than the extra letter, Indian samosas are pyramid-shaped and primarily filled with potatoes, while Afghan sambosas are flatter and are filled with seasoned ground beef.  

The ground beef filling is folded over with wonton wrappers and then fried in a wok... a wok? That doesn't seem very Afghan! The wok is used by Afghan-Americans... but what if you're Afghan in Afghanistan? You make your own wrappers with flour and water, and grab a deep kettle to fry these fantastic fried finger foods up.  Clear out the space in your stomach for Afghan sambosas.  They're ridiculously addicting.

Sambosa filling: ground beef, cabbage, onions, peas, carrots
Spices: ground coriander seed, cumin, paprika, garlic, garlic powder, salt, pepper
Chutney blend: cilantro, murch (Afghan chili) or jalapeño, apple cider vinegar, avocado

Marya's 5 words to describe Afghan food: Persian style cooking, Indian spices

Pork fried rice

Bai cha, or fried rice in Cambodian, is surprisingly similar to Chinese style fried rice.  But the rice that Cambodians use is different.  While the best Chinese fried rice is made with day-old, long grain rice, my co-worker informed me that Cambodians use a mixture of new rice and old rice.  Many claim Cambodian rice is a higher quality version of the rice from Thailand or Vietnam.  I can't tell the difference just yet, but hey, at least I know it's good.

Stir-fry ingredients: Chinese sausage, eggs, corn, peas, carrots, garlic, soy sauce

Holly's 5 words to describe Cambodian/Khmer food: simple in a complicated way

Chicken qorma with matar pulao

Mmmmm... now this is some good stuff.  Spicy food always makes me happy.  Although I was ensured that the heat on the qorma was toned down just for us non-Pakistani, non-Indian folk, it was spicy enough for some perspiration to form on my forehead... but not too much.

Vegetable oil was used instead of ghee (clarified butter) in the qorma... oil is healthier, and it doesn't congeal when it cools off the way ghee does.  The pulao, another word for pilaf, was a tasty way to soak up all the gravy from the qorma.  I liked the added touch of the peas (matar) to the rice.

Qorma ingredients: yogurt, fried onions, coriander, powdered cumin, peppercorn
Pulao ingredients: Basmati rice, peas, fried onions, cumin seed

Zeeshan's 5 words to describe Pakistani food: Just use the Wikipedia words
Wikipedia's 5 words to describe Pakistani food: refined blend of various cuisines

Pancit bihon

Ah... Taiwanese stir-fried rice noodles? 米粉? That's what I thought when I first noticed the rice noodles.  Not only are the Taiwanese and Filipino rice noodles similar in appearance, the name is similar as well... bifen in Taiwanese and bihon in Tagalog.  But the big difference, at least for me, was not just the choice of meat (Taiwanese generally use pork to make rice noodles) but the last minute squeeze of lemon right before eating.  Usually, calamansi is used for its more sour flavor (as compared to the typical American lemon)... it adds a burst of flavor that's unseen to the naked eye. 

The burst of flavor, especially the sour taste, is something that Filipinos like, and I understand why.  The squeeze of lemon at the end is like icing on the cake... it makes something already good that much better.  With this eye-opening experience with bihon, I think slices of lemon will forever accompany my bifen.

Main ingredients: bihon rice noodles, cabbage, carrots, celery, onions, garlic, scallions, lemon

Peter and Lisa's 5 words to describe Filipino food: porky, vinegary, Spanish-Asian fusion

Cabbage rolls stuffed with beef
Ireland, Poland

Oooooh... how interesting.  Traditionally, cabbage rolls were a way to consume leftover food in old Eastern Europe.  It's something I've never had before, so I was quite intrigued to discover what was inside.  As I broke the cabbage leaves apart, I was surprised to discover not just beef within but grains of fluffy white rice as well.    The stuffing can be any kind of meat mixed with grains, eggs, vegetables and even the leftover bits of cabbage too small to wrap around the filling.  Covered in tomato sauce and cooked for 45 minutes in either an oven or over the stove, the cabbage rolls stuffed with beef makes a very hearty meal.  Meat, veggies and carbs are rolled into one... literally.  All that's missing now is beer.

Stuffing ingredients: ground beef, white rice, onions, tomato sauce, salt, pepper

Christina's 5 words to describe Irish food: meat and fat and beer

Texas BBQ beef

Phil's in San Diego and Lucille's in the LA area both make great barbeque, but Jon's wife Tammy barbequed up the best batch of beef today.  The meat was sweet and tangy and ever-so-tender.  I didn't even need the rolls to enjoy the shredded deliciousness.  Meat and sauce is as simple as it gets.  It may be the reason why Jon describes American food as basic... just grown on a farm.

BBQ ingredients: beef and sauce

Jon's 5 words to describe American food: heavy, filling, basic, farm food

Not featured: 
Antipasto salad (Italy) and Three cup chicken lettuce wraps (Taiwan)

ML - 20101117/20101028

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