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Travel Around the World Through Food
Jason Sparapani runs a cooking class in New Orleans where food is the life of the party
Jason Sparapani (internews)     Email Article  Print Article 
Published 2005-03-31 18:08 (KST)   
An Indian night market
Back in college one summer, my father and I spent a few days in Washington, DC. It was a classic father-son trip, and we chatted about things like the appropriate drink to get after a day of real work. (You drink beer, my dad said, only if you're thirsty.) One statement stands out, "When you give a party, make sure you have food. Everyone is happy as long as you have food."

He would have been shocked at the numerous happy gatherings I attended at school that offered not a crumb, but my father was right: Food compels and seduces in a way alcohol cannot. And living in New Orleans, where bourbon carries more clout than bread, I know firsthand. At least, I think I do.

As facilitators in the Lyceum New Orleans, a community learning project based here, my friends Tom and Stephanie and I have taken my father's advice. Since we are having parties of sorts -- they are held on Fridays, there is passable wine, and our friends attend -- we ply our guests with exotic dishes from Laos, Thailand, Korea, and this Friday, Nepal and India. But as the Lyceum's aim is to impart knowledge, our parties follow a curriculum, instruct and cost a nominal fee. In short, classes.

Creamy Nepali Chicken


Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs. Chicken breast, cut into 1-in. strips
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 in. ginger
  • 3 fresh red chilies
  • 1/2 cup almonds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon mustard oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 in. cinnamon stick
  • 5 cloves
  • 5 green cardamoms, crushed
  • 2 cups onions, finely chopped
  • 1 cup yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper Salt to taste
  • 4 teaspoons clarified butter
  • 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro for garnish

    Instructions:

    Grind garlic, ginger, chilies, almonds, coriander and cumin seeds with water to form paste. Salt and pepper chicken. Heat one tablespoon mustard oil in a non-stick pan, and brown chicken. Transfer chicken to a bowl. Drain and clean the pan, heat clarified butter. Add cinnamon stick, cloves, bay leaf, and cardamoms. Fry for 30 sec., and add onions. Sautee the onions till brown.

    Transfer the almond paste to the onion mixture. Stir for about 2 min. till the oil separates. Add yogurt, mix well to a consistent mixture. Transfer the browned chicken to the yogurt sauce. Cook in low heat till chicken is tender and the almond sauce is thickened. Garnish with chopped cilantro. Serve with roti, or rice. / Tulsi Regmi
  • What we came up with, "Travel Around the World Through Food," a cooking class that featured food from our combined travels, was to us and the few people we told, a success. We work well together, tell stories of treks in Ladakh and night markets in Vientiane, and above all, put together some delicious grub.

    Our advertising, however, has been limited to an announcement at Lyceum's spring open house and a posting on the Lyceum Web site, so our attendance has not exactly embraced the community.

    Our first class, for example, included Drew, who heads the Lyceum, his girlfriend Sunshine, a vegan and light eater, and Winter, a colleague of mine. The next class brought in one more, and many no-shows. But as no-shows means people were planning to come, I took this as hope for our culinary classroom.

    I thought a little outside marketing might help get the word out. So mustering up some talent for design, I put together a flier for our upcoming Nepali and Indian class, and asked an Indian at work to check my spelling in Hindi. I gave half to Tom, who would canvass Uptown, and headed for the coffeehouses of the French Quarter, where my flier contended with for-rent signs and yoga postings. At one venue, a girl who was part of a tour group showed interest, and then absconded to the bathroom.

    On Easter, when Tom, Stephanie and I bucked tradition with a South Asian feast -- meat and vegetable curries, dal baat, or lentils and rice, cucumber raita, flat bread and fresh tomato chutney -- as a dry run for the class, we received our first call inquiring about the course. Since then calls from all over the city have been coming in. Today at a coffee stand, a barista asked me if she could still phone and reserve a spot, and I've stopped telling people for fear that they'll want to join.

    So we may finally have a class on our hands. But should the atmosphere become a touch academic, the material rigorous, the students overly serious, all I need to do is remember that time in Washington with father, serve up some aloo gobi and, as they do here so well, laissez les bons temps rouler.
    Jason Sparapani is a freelance writer and editor at Tulane University in New Orleans. He worked in Nepal with the Peace Corps and was a reporter and editor at a newspaper in Seoul, Korea. He will be attending graduate school in the fall.
    ©2005 OhmyNews

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