“Sewanee is a potluck, not a melting pot”: OCCU entices community with culinary offerings

By Robert Mohr
Staff Writer

It reads like a bad joke: A 20-year-old college student with an almost empty passport (two trips to Canada) who vehemently avoided vegetables before his twentieth birthday attends a potluck dinner hosted by The Organization for Cross-Cultural Understanding (OCCU), which kicked off International Education Week. 

The annual OCCU Potluck offers a window into the culinary culture of other countries located around the world. This year’s dinner proved to be an interesting and tasty look at how the rest of the world eats. 

Mandy Tu (C’21), co-president of the OCCU, opened the annual potluck by sharing that “everyone who comes to Sewanee, whether they are international students or not, brings something distinctly unique with them… Sewanee prides itself on our sense of community and the potluck, inevitably, is a true testament to that.”

She explained the potluck is one of those events that don’t require a lot from its attendees. Rather, the OCCU asks that “you show up, you bring something to share, to join in this community that is comprised of so many amazing individuals, and get to know them better.”

A notable dish was “aloo tikki,” or vegetarian potato cutlets. Originating from Myanmar, this recipe seasons the cutlets with garlic and onion powder, along with black pepper. Cutlets originated in France around 1682 and made their way to the Indian subcontinent by way of either the Dutch or the Portuguese in the 18th century.

Basmati rice was another thoroughly enjoyed dish. The aromatic rice, which is longer and slimmer than traditional rice, comes from a Hindustani word which translates to “fragrant.” In 2018, India was responsible for 90 percent of all basmati rice exportation, with Pakistan contributing the other ten percent.

The Japanese sushi Oinrisan, also called inarizushi, consists of rice inside of a deep fried tofu pocket. It was surprising to see that sushi could be served without fish. The dish was originally used to honor the Japanese deity Inari, who protects crops. Represented by fox statues, people would bring aburaage, or deep fried tofu pockets, to shrines in Japan to pay homage to Inari.

Tu talked about the bittersweetness that accompanies her last year spearheading the event. While putting together such an event is certainly taxing, she clarified that seeing it all comes together makes all the hard work pay off. 

“There’s also this trap that you can fall into, of asking minority students to cook the dishes for everyone else to eat. What are the local students bringing to the table?” she posited. “There has to be some give and take. So when people complain that there wasn’t enough food, I ask them to reflect on who it was who actually brought the food and who came to consume it.”