Every two years, members of the North Manchester community congregate in Haist Commons to celebrate unique, cultural dishes at the International Buffet. It is hosted by the Office of Multicultural Affairs.
“The International Buffet has been taking place in some iteration since 1993,” said Michael Dixon, Director of Intercultural Services at Manchester University. “It started as an off-shoot of the International Fair. In the early 2000s, the International Buffet and Fair were separated on an every-other-year cycle.”
Anticipation for this year’s International Buffet, taking place from 11AM to 1PM on April 7, packed the seats of the Jo Young Switzer Center as hundreds of people attended this special occasion. An uncommon feat for weekend meals on-campus, this event has a tradition of motivating students to leave their dorms, as well as propelling local parents to bring their families.
“We have served around 600 people in the past, but I think it was dependent on the weekend it fell,” said Dixon.
The atmosphere was loud and spirited. Groups of tables, reserved for VIP attendees, were located near the cafeteria entrance, while speakers played upbeat world music rarely heard in Haist Commons.
“It’s a nice change of pace from the normal student meal plan offered here,” remarked Nash Walker, a junior. “I had a good time trying food I’d never even heard of before.”
Along with the taste of familiarity hamburger sliders provided, attendees were treated to salads, main dishes, desserts, and drinks from fourteen other countries. The dishes, such as mughlai paratha from India and tiramisu originating from Italy, were specially prepared by current Manchester University international students.
“The students take pride in preparing the food with support from Chartwells,” said Dixon. “We prepare the meal in the Chartwells kitchen, using the dishes and ingredients purchased by Chartwells.”
“My favorite part of the Buffet,” Dixon continued, “is watching the students that help with dishes that have no idea the cultural significance. The passion and excitement the international students have explaining their dish is infectious.”
Angie Gonsiorowski, a senior art and psychology double major, and Fotini Kristuli, a junior business management and accounting double major, were the students ultimately responsibe for planning and preparation of the event this year. They helped with, “preparing the menu, securing the volunteers, and creating the cooking schedule the weekend leading up the event,” according to Dixon.
Both old and new dishes alike, the food did not disappoint.
“I enjoy tibs, an Ethiopian dish, but this year it was outdone by this Liberian dish called “Cassava Leaf,” said Dixon. “The spice was incredible.”
The International Buffett concluded 2019 Peace Week. For Michael Dixon, the goals of both Peace Week and the International Buffet “dove-tail quite nicely.”
“The theme of Peace Week this year was storytelling,” he explained. “There is always a story behind food such as why the dish was created in the first place, or how the food relates to a time in your life.”
“The Buffet can bring people together,” he continued, “because it gives a common experience to draw from. It starts new conversations or continues previous ones.”
Students were able to attend the event with just a meal swipe, while adults were charged a $14.99 entrance fee. Students without a meal plan could purchase a ticket for $9.99. The buffet was free for any students eleven years old or younger.
The inviting food and ambience of the Buffet may have served a greater purpose to understanding other cultures without the burden of a costly airplane ticket.
“Food is a very easy gateway to culture since both are very intertwined,” said Dixon. “If I can get you to try food, you might be interested in learning the history and other aspects related to my culture.”
The current international student populations are tasked every two years in creating authentic dishes for the community. Due to the nature of students graduating, the foods offered changes each time.
With the most recent International Buffet just slightly in the rearview mirror, Dixon is already looking forward to the changes the 2021 calendar year Buffet will bring to Manchester.
“The next time we host the Buffet, expect to see, feel, and experience something different,” he said