My Lucky Tummy 2015

My Lucky Tummy features local fare from 5 foreign countries for its main fall event

Chefs take part in the My Lucky Tummy event, which allows five amateur chefs to share a favorite meal from their homeland with the community. This year's event took place Saturday and tickets sold out.

Ingredients of all shapes, sizes, colors and smells were blended into five sets of dishes at this fall’s My Lucky Tummy (MLT) event. MLT organizes two pop-up food courts a year, each featuring five amateur chefs sharing a favorite meal from their homelands with the public.

"When you get the opportunity to share with other cultures, you learn and grow together."
Harish Jagnnath

Saturday’s event took place at the May Memorial Unitarian Universalist Society, a cozy, lodge-esque building on Genesee Street, east of Syracuse University’s campus. Originally $25, the meal tickets to sample dishes from Laos, Iraq, India, Pakistan and Burma sold out quickly.

“Everything just looks so interesting," said Jodie Schoelkopf, an MLT veteran, while standing in line for one of the stations. "I’ve never had any of these flavors together before, so it’s definitely new to my palette."

The Laos table served Tom Kha La, a red curry-based dish featuring coconut milk, potato, lemongrass, lime leaf, shrimp paste and chili.

“It’s a spicy common comfort food,” said Vekonda Luangaphay, whose mother prepared the meal. The curry, served in a compostable bowl with a lime green spoon, came with a spiced log of sticky rice.

Chef Muna, who was in charge of the Iraq station, smiled while handing out large handfuls of Fattoush, a crisp salad-like mix of romaine, purslane, toasted pita, Persian cucumber, pomegranate molasses and sumac.

“We cooked all day yesterday and I shopped all week,” said Adam Sudmann, the self-described chief executive factotum of MLT, referring to the preparation that took place before the event. “Seventeen stores. My car was filled to the ceiling.”

The India table was manned by station chef Sharada’s husband. He greeted most customers by telling them that his wife cooked the food, but he was taking all the credit.

Aratikaya Ava Pettina Kura was the featured dish, a mixture of mustard seed, chana dal, curry leaf, tamarind and raw banana over rice. A dousing of ghee, or clarified butter, accompanied every serving of rice.

The dessert served at the Pakistan station was one of the more interesting dishes at the event. Known as Falooda, the cup of Pandan water, rose syrup, vermicelli, basil seed, pistachio, saffron and kulfi was a recipe that took Sudmann two years to find. However, the dessert also took up approximately half of the event’s food budget, calling for large amounts of expensive ingredients like saffron and pistachios.

The Burma station was home to Laphet and Gin Thoke. Two female chefs placed individual portions of pickled tea leaves, crispy legumes, tomato, peanut, ginger, prawn, garlic and napa on customers’ plates and told them to mix everything together. When combined, the ingredients were said to create an entirely new flavor experience.

This gathering was MLT’s ninth pop-up kitchen. Each has successfully sold out. The organization’s chefs are often from local refugee communities; however, English fluency is not required of them—simply a love of delicious and authentic food.

“Helping refugees is great, but if you can only ever receive help, it’s disempowering,” Sudmann said. “If you can help other people, it can make life more interesting."

Getting to know the chefs behind the food made the event so much more than for lucky tummies, but for lucky hearts.  

Harish Jagnnath was serving Aratikaya Ava Pettino Kura, a South-Indian dish made of raw bananas spiced with mustard and cumin, accompanied by rice. Harish added a bit of clarified butter to the rice, called ghee, saying it was an Indian tradition. Attendees went bananas for the dish.

Jagnnath was not the chef, it was actually his wife, Anoush, who was not able to attend. Jagnnath said it's an honor for him to serve people his wife's cooking. Anoush and Harish Jagnnath have been married for seven years and they moved to Syracuse four years ago; Harish is a student trying for a PhD in Public Administration at the Maxwell school. Anoush does not work, but she focuses her time on volunteering and events such as this one to help people, and learn other cultures. 

"When you get the opportunity to share with other cultures, you learn and grow together," Harish Jagnnath said. 

Jagnnath said his wife, like many in India, was not formally trained on how to cook. Instead, her mother passed down to Anoush the passion and knowledge of cooking. Harish said when they got married, his mother joined them in the kitchen to add her own suggestions.

Fattoush, a salad with pita chips, eggplant, tomatoes, cucumbers, mint, and some other goodies was served at the Iraq station. With every scoop, chef Muna Hussain proudly gave people an appetizer that she says is deeply rooted in her heritage, and is specifically served at parties or gatherings such as this one. Muna and her husband, Ahmed, who volunteered, are refugees from Baghdad and were relocated to Syracuse five years ago.

"The cold, most people don't like it, but it's fun and different for us," Muna said. "We've truly felt welcome here."

Ahmed said he was a lucky man because he's able to eat this at home every day. So, for now, he's content with sharing.

"When I see my wife smiling, and the people she's serving smiling, I'm happy," Ahmed said. 

Just in the corner strumming an oud was Mohammed Alani. An oud is an Arabic guitar with a deep body and more strings. At his side were his wife and two children; the family moved to Syracuse from Turkey in April, although they are originally from Iran. The family is just getting used to the area, barely speaking English, but they're fortunate to be invited to social events like this one, Alani said. 

"I've been playing since 1992 and I used to teach music at home," Alani said. "I met Adam (My Lucky Tummy organizer) at an interfaith event, and he invited me to play here. I enjoy it very much."

Alani even had some people dancing to his strums; their stomach not yet too full of the delicacies around them for a little celebration.  

My Lucky Tummy is a gathering of culture and respect. The food brought people together, but to learn about the people behind the food is what matters most. 

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