BY RUI ZHONG
WASHINGTON — A platter of freshly julienned tomatoes, carrots and papaya were scooped into a mortar and pestle, handful by handful. Along with other toppings and a few dollops of fish sauce, the vegetables were meticulously ground into a colorful, sweet salad known as som tam. The Thai Club’s som tam and other home-cooked fares, which included pad thai and chicken panang curry, were loaded up into small plates and swapped for tickets at the 2015 SAIS International Dinner. Over the course of an evening, SAIS’s cultural clubs donned Chinese qipao, South Asian salwar, and Japanese happi jackets to celebrate international cultures and food.
Card tables set up throughout the cafeteria were decorated with bright posters, banners and small trinkets from various countries. The SAIS Observer spoke with a few representatives busily preparing to serve international dinner guests, and asked about the dishes they had brought.
“With Thai salad, you get the flavor from the vegetables,” explained MA candidate and Thai club member Itt Thirarath, who stood by to snap photos of the SAIS Thai club’s well-staffed table. “You don’t really use much sauce. You add fish sauce, but not a lot.” Thirarath’s Thai club teammates continued to fix up batches of som tam all the while.
Nearby, Farzona Mukhitidinova, an exchange student from the National University of Singapore, served up plates of beef plov and sambusas. Both dishes were variations of pilaf and samosas. Mukhitidinova explained that her team selected these dishes because they were eaten weekly in Central Asian households. “We usually cook it on Thursday, which is a very important day in our culture.” She gestured to the sambusas she had baked for International Dinner, which traditionally had beef or pumpkin-based fillings. In addition to the two dishes, the Tajikistan table also set out almonds, yogurt and salted apricots as snacks for curious customers.
Ultimately, the Thai Club impressed the panel of judges presiding over the annual International Dinner prize, taking home the distinction for “Best Taste” out of 15 participating clubs. The Tajikistan table’s pilaf and sambusa received an honorable mention, as did a table of Indian street food cooked by the Chai Club. Other cuisines served included dishes from China, Korea, Russia, Japan and many other nations from SAIS’s diverse student body.
As students filed into Kenney-Herter Auditorium after selecting their dinner appetizers and entrees of choice, SAIS student performers dazzled the audience with song, dance, and even a Tai Chi demonstration.