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International Dinners Serve Up Authentic Cuisine To Benefit Educational Programs

by on January 25, 2014 1:45 PM

If you're looking for a break from the monotony of your dining routine, Passport on a Plate: Home Edition is ready to spice up your cuisine, with a little dash of international culture sprinkled in.

Global Connections is a community-based, non-profit organization affiliated with Penn State and the United Way of Centre County. It serves up international cuisine at dinner parties held in State College homes. Those dinners raise money for a wide array of programs that help people from other countries who now live in the community.

Sixteen dinners will be served over the course of four Saturdays in January and February. Thirty-two authentic international chefs will be whipping up their specialties. They'll be assisted by volunteers who help with cooking, serving, and cleaning up. The first meals were served up last weekend. But don't worry, there will be another eleven meals taking place over the next three weekends.

The idea is to have a great time and celebrate the diversity of international cuisine.  The dinners will provide a taste of local fare from dozens of countries across the globe, representing countries such as Ukraine, Korea, India, Peru, Azerbaijan, Tanzania and Hungary. Each meal is given a unique theme, including "Asian Fare with Fusion Flair," "Exquisite Lebanese Sensations," and "Under the Tuscan Stars."

Olga Buchko, a graduate student at Penn State, served authentic Ukrainian food to her guests last Saturday. That meal included "borsch", a beet soup, and "medovik", a six-layer honey cake. Buchko says the food was made from scratch with no artificial ingredients - the way her mother and grandma taught her when she first learned how to cook in her native country of Ukraine.

"In my mind, food helps to 'taste' the culture, to experience it and gain insight into it," says Buchko, who dressed in traditional Ukrainian clothing for the event. "Through tasting authentic food of other nations we learn about people, about their countries, and about their life styles. Sharing food is a great thing to establish social interactions with people."

In addition to food and drink, Buchko introduced Ukrainian language and taught her guests some common expressions, like please, thank you, and "Dobryj vecher," which stands for "Good evening," in Ukrainian. She also taught a piece of a very popular Ukrainian song called "Chervona Ruta," the "Red Flower", about a yellow flower that turns red for only a few minutes once a year. According to Ukrainian legend, the girl who finds it will be happy in love all her life.

Buchko says she titled her menu "With love from Ukraine," because only with love in our hearts can we deliver the real message about our countries and people.

"There are many biased stories about other countries and cultures that we learn from TV, Internet, and all this information comes mainly from political and economical perspectives," Buchko says, citing her motivation to take part in the event as a way to help spread understanding of international cultures. "Global Connections helps us learn about people, not politics, thereby getting rid of stereotypes and enriching our lives through exchanging of cultural knowledge."

Tamra Fatemi, co-chair of Passport on a Plate and program coordinator at Global Connections says the organization hopes to raise close to $10,000. The money will be used to help finance a number of Global Connections programs, including English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) classes, International Tax Assistance, the annual International Children's Festival, as well as the International Friendship Program. The friendship program helps connect hundreds of people from foreign countries with area residents.

Since the early 1990s, Global Connections says it's assisted over 70,000 people.

"I respect and like very much what Global Connection does as a nonprofit organization, namely bridging different cultures," says Buchko, who is working toward her doctorate in education. "I hope our guests felt that I put a lot of love and responsibility into making the experience worthwhile."

Seats are still available at some of the remaining dinners. It costs $75 per person and all proceeds go directly to the organization. To see the menus or for more information click HERE or call (814) 863-3927. Click HERE to make a reservation.

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C.J. Doon is a frequent contributor to Onward State and is a former StateCollege.com intern. A Long Island native, Doon is studying print journalism at Penn State.
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