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A Military Family’s Guide to Throwing a Dinner Party

Growing up as an Army brat, change has been a constant in my life. Whether I was changing schools, houses, states, or even countries, my life was always in motion. This can be challenging, having to move into a new neighborhood, into a community full of new people. The thought of meeting and greeting is daunting. But in the Army world, everyone’s life is as transient as ours. We find ways to connect with others, and one of the best ways to do that is over a meal. 

I’ve watched my parents throw dinner parties ever since I can remember. It was a staple of my childhood. I would look forward to it, the smells wafting from the kitchen to my bedroom, the soft hum of music and finally, when the guests came over, the laughs and shouts from the first floor of my house, the sound of people happy and full, enjoying each other’s company. My mother is a master of the craft, a dinner party expert, so I decided to call her up and get some insights. This is a military family’s guide to throwing a dinner party. 

Ambience: 

In the words of my mother, the goal of dinner parties was always to curate a comfortable and cozy energy throughout the house. “I always tried to go for warm and welcoming, lots of candles, some scented ones away from the food so the house would smell good. Lots of seating is important, it gives people space to gather and get off their feet for a while. I want it to feel informal and casual, someplace people could relax and feel at home.” I remember walking around my parents’ parties, people’s faces glowing in the light. Ambience is crucial, and the warmth I felt in my house is a feeling that stuck with me, as I’m sure it stuck with everyone who entered as well. 

Music is also an important aspect of the ambience. My mother laughed as she said, “you don’t want people to walk into a silent house and feel awkward!” Whether it be something you curate yourself or a premade playlist you find on Spotify or Apple Music (two of my go-to’s: Dinner Party & Dinner w/ Friends) pick something smooth and easy, with a mix of things people know and new finds (because throwing a dinner party is really an excuse to show off your music taste). You want something you can just hit shuffle on and not think about, allowing you to enjoy the night. 

Guests:

In the military, dinner parties were a way to get to know people outside of the office. This line of work forces the personal and professional lives to be more intertwined than in most occupations. Soldiers, spouses, and families all play a role. That’s what makes the dinner party the perfect opportunity to make connections, feel comfortable with each other, and foster “esprit de corps” a French term used by the military to describe, “a spirit of solidarity; a sense of pride, and honor among the members of a group”. When you’re in the military, you’re a part of a team. And what’s better for team bonding than a dinner party? 

But this concept transcends military life. As a college student, I view my friends and I as a team, my roommates and I as a team, and my peers as a team, all working together towards a common goal: an amazing four years. The relationships you have with the people you care about are important, the people you have on your team are everything. A dinner party celebrates that and gives people opportunities to get closer and connect with those around them. 

As a host, you see the behind-the-scenes science that goes into throwing a party. “These are a chance to bring people together,” my mom says, “they provide opportunities to make new friends, build your team, and really get to know each other. Being the host means you’re helping curate that. Always greet everyone, make them feel welcome. Get them a drink and try to connect them with someone else.” Mixing and mingling is the best part about attending a dinner party, and it’s also one of the most rewarding aspects of throwing them. Bringing people together is what this is all about. 

Food: 

Finally, the most important part of any dinner party is the food. My mom’s advice was simple: “good food and good drink.” I remember my mom making one of two dishes: stuffed shells or marinated steak. “Keep it easy! Try and make most of it things you can cook ahead of time so you can be present during the party and not stuck in the kitchen.”

Photo Courtesy of Fork Knife Swoon

She would float around the house, occasionally disappearing into the kitchen, but you’d blink and she was right back, getting someone another drink or introducing two people who had been making their way around the house. Scattered around were little bowls of snacks, picking items like almonds or dried fruit. A charcuterie board with crackers, cheeses and meats is always a good idea. My parents were used to hosting larger parties, so buffet style was always the way to go. Lining up a salad (Ina Garten’s Cape Cod salad was a staple in our house), the main dish, and a few loaves of a warmed baguette along an old maple table we had, guests could come up and help themselves. I found myself going up for that salad numerous times, and then making my way back to the table or the chair in the living room I had made mine for the night. 

“I always liked to have an open bar area too, something where people could go and refresh their drink, grab a water, or try something new.” My mom would line up decorative tubs filled with ice, home to seltzers, beers, sodas and waters. A little something for everyone. 

The dessert would come when everyone had seemed to slow down and the trips to the buffet were becoming few and far between. It was then my mom would bring out something like a platter of chocolate-covered profiteroles or an assortment of cookies she picked up from a bakery early that morning. She never felt a pressure to cook everything. Cook what you can, cook what you want, and cook it well. Then fill in the gaps with your favorite treat from the bakery or grocery store. 

At the end of the day, dinner parties are fun. In the words of my mom, “they’re a great way to show the people you love that you care.” They provide us with an opportunity to break bread with others, build bridges and form connections that you wouldn’t be able to make in other settings or circumstances. With a few pro tips and tricks up your sleeve, you can make throwing an amazing dinner party easy and stress-free. Whether you’re in a house, apartment, or dorm room (I promise it can be done), the energy is the same. It’s a night to connect with others, celebrate the people around you and tell your team thank you for sticking by your side.

Cover Photo courtesy of Vox

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A Love Letter From a Snob to Coffee, The Italian Way

Something, actually, an abundance of things, about the experience of drinking coffee is just better in Italy than here in the US. Is it the fantastic flavor? Yes, that’s one reason, but not all. Oooh, what about the fact that there are gas stations with fully-fledged, long coffee bars just off the highway? YES. I have been fortunate enough to have experienced Italy’s true coffee dominance over America multiple times.

First, the flavor. The cappuccino, as well as the espresso macchiato, is delicious and smooth with its delicate foam. I have winced each time upon returning to the US, forcing myself to drink bitter Dunkin’ to wake up in the mornings. 

Second, the delightful accoutrements! The Italian cafes I visited featured croissant-like pastries with a subtly sweet custard oozing out. The buttery flakiness and delectable cream pleasantly complement the warm nectar of the cappuccino. Ah yes, just a tad better than the classic American coffee-donut combination, in which the cloying donut and severely bitter coffee-bean-water amount to an unsavory aftertaste. At Genoa’s Caffetteria Orefici e Latteria Buonafede, a small low-ceiling, white-tiled cafe in a quiet, unassuming plaza with just an older man and girl as the staff, they served one spoonful of delicious melted dark chocolate and one of fluffy homemade clotted cream along with each cappuccino order. This was easily the best version of whipped cream I had ever tasted and might ever taste. My sister and I visited there every morning during our three days in Genoa that trip.

Third, the culture. In Italian coffee culture, the customer is to enjoy their coffee in a ceramic cup and saucer then and there, at the bar standing up in the company of (mostly) friendly baristas. NOT in an earth-killing plastic/styrofoam cup and brown cardboard wrapper thing while driving a car. Although the Italian cafe provides a hospitable environment, the Italians don’t lollygag there at the bar, but rather quickly consume their breakfast and exit with a “Ciao!” I recall my family’s conversations with the friendly baristas at Rome’s Caffe Camerino, where I was first blessed with the authentic Italian coffee experience. We walked there every morning during our five-day stay from our nearby apartment

Fourth, the price! Each cappuccino at most places is under 2 Euros. My sister’s and my daily breakfast in Genoa rounded to about 8 Euros total. 

Fifth, the absence of Starbucks. I did not see any wretched Starbucks establishments or their ubiquitous plastic cups anywhere in Rome, for they simply are not there. In fact, Starbucks opened its first branch in Rome earlier this year, and I’m praying for its downfall. Or perhaps I don’t have to, for Italian cafes are superior in every way and will therefore quash any further Starbucks revenue, except for the occasional tourist rabble. 

Sixth, the incredibly perfect off-the-highway gas station coffee shops! Yes, the delightful Italian coffee experience can be found not just in urban areas, but on the side of a highway too. I noticed these on my recent spring break trip to Rome with BC’s University Chorale, where we stopped on the way to each of our two day trips in Orvieto and Florence at an establishment called Chef Express. Chef Express is no ordinary gas station, but rather an oasis featuring a fully-fledged, long coffee bar with four baristas and plenty of cookies, chilled sodas, and even children’s toys. Even here, just off the highway, I observed Italians drinking their coffee at the bar standing up, not carrying it out the door in a plastic cup to drink while driving. The employees there handled our Chorale invasions with efficiency and ease. I joked with my friend, Campbell, about my dream to someday franchise a Chef Express with him and retire in the Italian countryside. Then, I could linger at my own coffee bar a little longer, content knowing that I wouldn’t have to experience mediocre (American) coffee again.

Cover Photo courtesy of The New York Times

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Kansas City Barbeque: The Sweet Life

My grandparents are from two neighboring farm towns deep in the heart of Missouri. I once visited Hardin with a population of around 500, walking the same streets my dad’s family once did, surrounded by fields and wide-open spaces. After moving from their small towns, Kansas City and the surrounding suburbs became home to my extended family. KC always felt like home to me, and every time I would come for a visit, it was as if I never left. There were rituals that took place every vacation back to the heartland. My dad and his cousins would go to a baseball game, hit the casinos, and stop to get some of the best barbecue in the country. I would give my dad a hug as he headed out the door in his jersey, waiting for the days where I was finally old enough to take part in this rite of passage, and have a real and authentic Kansas City night. Now at 20, I’ve sat through the steaming hot baseball games at Kauffman stadium, I’ve seen the casinos from the car window as we speed past on the highway, but the best part about our family tradition has got to be the barbecue.

To me, BBQ is the month of July, fresh cut grass, the first sip of a cherry coke on a scorching summer day. Whether it’s North Carolina or Texas, California or Tennessee, each region of the United States adds their own flare and style to their BBQ. While I may be a little biased, Kansas City barbecue reigns supreme over all. Differentiated by its tomato or molasses-based sweeter and thicker sauce, and its variety of meats (In Kansas City, ANYTHING is fair game to be grilled and smoked) KC BBQ is one of the most famous styles of barbecue. If you were to ask a local where the best spots in the city are, you are most likely to get one of four answers: Arthur Bryant’s, Gates Bar-B-Q, Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Q, and Jack Stack. Each person seems to have loyalties to one, and my family’s ties will always be with Arthur Bryant’s. So, when I went to Kansas City for Easter break this semester, it was only right that one of our afternoons was spent there. 

Bryant’s opened in 1908, and not much has changed since then. When I walked in with my cousins and my mom just a few weeks ago, it looked exactly how I had left it years before. But this is just the thing that makes Byrant’s so special. My cousin Jason said, “the atmosphere makes it different. It’s one of the oldest in the city. It’s not as fancy as some. It’s kind of gritty. It hasn’t changed since I’ve been going there.” In the prime 18th and Brooklyn location, it was once just blocks away from the home of the Kansas City Chiefs. The old brick building with the red and white awning stands alone as the main attraction on the street. 

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Walking in, you’re instantly greeted by the smell of meat cooking in the back, coated in sauce and spices that will make anyone drool the second they step inside. The walls are lined with photos of all the famous faces who have made an appearance at the restaurant. You’ll see presidents like Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama, as well as Hollywood stars like Steven Spielberg. The old, almost diner-style interior makes it feel cozy and comfortable, turning it into a place you could spend hours sitting down and catching up over a meal of burnt ends (a KC specialty), coleslaw and fries. When in line to order, it’s crucial to be prepared. Lines that go out the door can move in just minutes, and before you know it, someone from the kitchen will be asking what you want. 

This time around, I went for my usual rack of baby back ribs, knowing they were going to be covered in the classic Kansas City sweet sauce. However, when it came down to the sides, I just wasn’t sure. The smiling man in the kitchen saw my hesitation. He laughed, “don’t worry young lady, I got you” and disappeared to the back to fix up my special meal. When he returned, he had a heaping pile of their potato casserole sitting next to my ribs. Needless to say, it was the perfect side. 

I topped my meal off with a large Diet Coke and made my way back to sit at the table with my mom and cousins. I joined the ranks of the clean plate club that afternoon, and left feeling full and satisfied. Bryant’s, and KC BBQ in general, is more than food. When talking to Jason, he’ll tell you Bryant’s is about family. In his words, it’s “baseball, Bryant’s and family”. For me, it’s about love. Love, culture, flavor and looking at the people you come across in life and saying, “I got you.”

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Cover photo and article photos courtesy of Maddie Simms and Arthur Bryant

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A Day’s Lobster Trip

About twenty minutes north of Portland, Maine, off the side of US Highway Route 1, is a delightful shack-like eatery named Day’s Crabmeat and Lobster. On the right side of the white building, wooden deck steps bring visitors up to a sliding window, where one can order their lunch of steamer clams, fried clam bellies, clam chowder, crab cakes, lobster rolls, or whole lobsters with a side of corn on the cob. On the left is an entrance into a large, low-ceiling room with tanks of crawling lobsters, a counter with refrigerated soups and scallops, chalkboards detailing the prices of lobsters and steamers, and various Day’s t-shirts and mugs. Behind the buildings and next to the gravel parking lot are bright red benches overlooking a pleasant marsh with small sailboats, presumably ones for lobstering where sailors set traps and catch lobsters, in the distance. We first visited as a family in fall 2021.

Greeting you with a friendly face is an unassuming man named Trip. I recall shaking his hand, his burly, thick fingers callused with burns (from grabbing boiling-hot lobsters) enclosing my hand with a firm grip. Trip proceeds to lead my dad and I outside on the wooden deck, where a deep stainless steel tub filled with boiling water lays stacked on cinder blocks. He lifts the metal handle with his bare hands, drops in the sack of lobsters, and closes the lid. Although Trip recommends steaming lobsters at home, he says that because the restaurant has to cook nearly 100 at a time, the boiling water reaches the entire surface area of each lobster, and therefore cooks them more evenly. We walk back inside and nine minutes or so later, he carries the bright red lobsters in a styrofoam box over the counter.

Growing up in Michigan, every Thanksgiving, my dad ordered five 2+ pound lobsters shipped from Maine’s Cape Porpoise Lobster Co., instead of the traditional turkey. He always insisted that bigger was better because each lobster had more meat. To our surprise, Trip informed us that the distinction between smaller, younger lobsters (1.25 pounds or less) and larger ones (1.75 pounds or more) is analogous to that of veal and beef. My dad and I noticed a tangible difference with the meat of the smaller lobsters. The morsel of white, knuckle meat melted in our mouths–it was the most tender, succulent piece of lobster meat I had ever tasted up until that point. My dad and I were instantly converted, and thereafter we only ordered 1.25 pound lobsters from Day’s and other vendors. 

We left Day’s with five cooked lobsters, all 1.25 pounds each of course, and happily consumed them for dinner. My family and I all noticed that the meat was significantly easier to separate from the shell, similar to the coveted “falling off the bone” phenomenon of well-cooked barbecue ribs. The steamed shells were also much softer to crack, and we did not need the metal crackers and sticklike paraphernalia that Thanksgiving dinners in Michigan necessitated. 

Trip was definitely right, and possessed the experience to back his claim. He grew up in the area of Maine’s rocky, curvilinear coastline, fully immersed in Maine’s predominant lobster industry before working in commercial real estate for over 20 years, and then as a manager at Hannaford’s Market, a mostly Maine-based chain of supermarkets. Ultimately, he said he was sick of working in “corporate America,” and instead decided to work full-time at Day’s. 

Day’s closes for the winter, only to reopen March 1, for the boats need to travel further and in rougher conditions to catch lobsters in the winter. Lobsters are therefore sold at a higher price, and it becomes less economically feasible for Day’s to remain open. My family now insists that anytime we drive together to Portland, we stop at Day’s. Let’s just say we’ll no longer eat large lobsters shipped from afar, for a trip to Day’s is worth the wait.

Cover Photo courtesy of Scott Greenhalgh

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The New Platform for ‘Social Foodies’

It was a warm afternoon in early April when I spoke with Arthur Brenninkmeijer, the amiable and perceptive founder and creator of SpotDrop, a new app revolutionizing food recommendations to be more interactive, helpful, and authentic. I quickly discovered that Brenninkmeijer’s vision of SpotDrop goes beyond solving a culinary conundrum but offers a new way to connect with friends in a personal way. 

BEGINNINGS

A senior at Boston College, Brenninkmeijer’s interest in creating SpotDrop ties closely with his multicultural background and love for exploring different culinary scenes. French and Dutch, Brenninkmeijer grew up all over the world, including Brazil and parts of Europe. Having lived in Europe, Brenninkmeijer explained that it’s easy to “travel from city to city and from country to country,” which put him in close proximity to “a lot of different cultures and a lot of different food scenes.” When exploring new areas, Brenninkmeijer sought to eat where the locals ate, attempting “to stay as far as possible from tourists.” To this end, Brenninkmeijer often turned to his friends for authentic food recommendations. However, he mentioned the process to be “painful” since it often required manually calling or texting people who may be busy, “taking a screenshot of a conversation to remember the place’s name” or “adding the name of a specific restaurant” to a folder or note. In other words, there was not a seamless, easy way to access friends’ food recommendations. 

He faced the problem once more when arriving in Boston for the first time and being “overwhelmed by how much choice there was” in the food scene. Brenninkmeijer sullenly admitted that he “didn’t do a good job of keeping track” of his friends’ recommendations, which led him to “completely miss out on everything that my friends have told me” to check out. However, inspiration struck Brenninkmeijer when he saw a prime opportunity to “build something new” that addresses this recurring problem. Thus, the idea for SpotDrop was born the summer after his freshman year. He chose to study at Boston College to “pursue my interest in startups and entrepreneurship,” which provided a basis to launch his foodie-fueled idea. After years of hard work with a team, he launched SpotDrop on the App Store in February 2022, and pitched it at Boston College’s Accelerate@Shea Demo Day in April 2022.

APP OVERVIEW

What is SpotDrop? Brenninkmeijer explained that SpotDrop is an app where users can view “different restaurants, cafes, bars and nightlife experiences that your friends enjoy” on the platform by posting “spots” and following friends. When a user posts a “spot,” they have the option to attach photos and write a review for their friends to see. Value comes from seeing real recommendations from people that users choose to follow and trust on a personal level.

Brenninkmeijer solidified SpotDrop’s mission with an example. Say “you’re going to New York one weekend, and you know that your friend Abby goes to New York all the time… You can open spot drop, go to Abby’s profile, and then see the places that she’s been to [that] she would recommend her friends” to go. Brenninkmeijer believes that the heart of SpotDrop lies in offering “a much more personal recommendation because it comes from someone that you know.” He finds it “fun” to think about that “knowing that the reason I’m here is because my friend Abby added [a post] on SpotDrop.” There’s a “certain level of connection” in that experience that is “quite special,” Brenninkmeijer mused.

APP DIFFERENTIATION

What makes this different from food influencers on social media? Brenninkmeijer revealed that platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat, while very helpful and engaging, are not “curated for a foodie’s journey and experience.” As a result, such platforms often fall short on “key features” and “information that foodies look for.” SpotDrop caters to the foodie experience, targeting digitally-savvy and social young people. For example, it has a “a map feature that can be filtered based on exactly what kind of cuisine you’re looking for.” In addition, SpotDrop is partnering with OpenTable and will soon offer users the option “make reservations at different restaurants” through the SpotDrop app. Therefore, “Spot drop is just a bit more curated to the foodie side of things” and takes a foodie’s journey closer to actually eating at a recommended restaurant.

As for platforms like TripAdvisor and Yelp, Brenninkmeijer underscored three ways SpotDrop is different: authenticity, subjectivity, and sustainably engaging.

First, the recommendations and content from these platforms comes from strangers, missing the personal connection piece that makes SpotDrop different. “SpotDrop is building a platform where the only content I see is from people that I’ve chosen to follow,” Brenninkmeijer emphasized. “Hopefully, users will be following people that they “know and trust” so they therefore “will know and trust the recommendations” of people they follow. Recommendations are founded on authenticity and trust.

Second, Brenninkmeijer scrutinized the “one-size-fits-all” approach of such platforms. “What might be a great restaurant for me… is not necessarily a great restaurant for you,” since taste and experiences are subjective. Instead, he advocates for recommendations based on people users choose to follow and trust, which is different for every person. This informs why SpotDrop doesn’t have a “star-rating” feature. 

Lastly, Brenninkmeijer finds a “gamification approach,” often seen with points or badges, as unsustainable for long-term platform strategy. “The incentive that we decided to go with people posting on SpotDrop is just being able to engage with people’s content.” He built in incentives similar to other social platforms, including commenting on and liking posts. Brenninkmeijer’s goal is to take the existing incentive model and “optimize it” for foodies in a way that is unobtrusive.

UNCOMPROMISING ON AUTHENTICITY 

SpotDrop seeks to offer an authentic experience to the user. What this means is that upon opening the app, there will not be a “For You” or “Explore” page that bombards the user with information. Instead, the user only sees the content from people they follow. So, “if you download SpotDrop, and you don’t follow any foodie, and you don’t add any of your own places, the app is going to be empty.” Currently, there are a few Boston College foodie accounts recommended (including Gusto!) upon downloading the app just to get a user’s journey started on the relatively newly released app.

The overarching premise is that “we want to make it so that every time you see a picture or spot or something on SpotDrop,” it relates to “someone that you’ve chosen to follow, because that’s really what’s going to keep SpotDrop personal,” Brenninkmeijer affirmed. In the future, the platform might consider recommendations from friends of friends in less explored geographical areas, but SpotDrop plans to keep itself as personal as possible. “We definitely don’t want to be a platform that pushes content to users without it coming from a source that they decided to follow.”

Brenninkmeijer mentioned that SpotDrop’s key mission of curating a personalized food experience is constant, but the app development itself is ever-evolving. After all, it’s there to support the foodie’s journey. “We really are building an app for our users,” Brenninkmeijer stressed. As a result, constantly testing and implementing user feedback allows SpotDrop to offer a more frictionless experience with each app update. 

Ultimately, Brenninkmeijer finds value in connecting with friends in a deep way. What better way than food? “I really want SpotDrop to also be a platform that fosters genuine connections with people you already know,” Brenninkmeijer shared cheerfully. It adds “a new way to connect with your friends,” since “food and experiences are such powerful things,” he concluded.

The next time you struggle to remember a deep-dish pizza restaurant your friend recommended you check out in Chicago, consider downloading SpotDrop. Not only does it save time for all parties involved and is easily accessible, but forges a new connection between friends. Perhaps walking a mile in a person’s shoes is not the only way to really understand a person. Eating a plate of their favorite food at a place they love could be just as informing and of course, delicious.

Cover photo courtesy of Eataly Boston

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Solodko Patisserie: An Exclusive Interview

Solodko is a Boston-based patisserie that offers classy and delectable desserts. Ilona Znakharchuk founded the business while studying at Boston College, and runs the patisserie with her sister, Irina. To learn about Solodko’s past and present, I interviewed Ilona, the bubbly and introspective owner. I learned about her fascinating business and culinary journey, and by the end of our chat, also ended up craving a scrumptious slice of Ukrainian honey cake. 

“It sometimes surprises me to see how far we’ve come because when we started, I didn’t think that three years later, I would still be doing this,” Ilona reflected. “And I plan on continuing to do it.” 

BEGINNINGS 

Ilona always had a passion for baking from a young age. Ilona and her older sister Irina, were born in Ukraine and moved to the United States as children. Ilona would often visit Ukraine to spend time with family and friends, and mentioned that she had a friend who owned a pastry shop there. “I was always just in awe of her desserts because I couldn’t find anything similar to what she had here, in the States,” Ilona shared. Inspired by her friend, “I started just playing around in my kitchen and experimenting and she helped me with a few of her recipes that she was kind enough to give to me,” Ilona added. “And that’s where it all started.” 

Photo credit: Solodko

Solodko had its sweet beginnings in a dorm room at Boston College. During her sophomore year of college, Ilona would bake delicate desserts to share with friends. Macarons were her specialty, and she did not shy away from unique flavor combinations. In fact, her blue cheese, walnut, and pear macaron flavor was well-loved. Upon noticing her talent, her supportive roommate urged her to start a business and even made an Instagram page for her to commence her journey. At that time, Ilona chose the name Conditer for her baking business, which means “pastry chef” in Ukrainian. “That was my nickname in the family,” said Ilona warmly. For trademarking reasons, she later changed the name to Solodko, the Ukrainian word for “sweet”. 

Ilona started off posting a few pictures on Instagram and was shocked at the positive response. “Before I knew it, students started reaching out to me and placing orders. And I had a little bit of a freak-out moment,” Ilona admitted. However, she soon formulated a routine to manage her influx of orders. “I would go home on weekends and I would bake, and then I would come back to campus Sunday night,” where she would deliver the desserts, mainly macarons, with Irina’s help.

The next year after gaining more hands-on experience, Ilona pitched Conditer in Start@Shea’s Accelerator Program at Boston College. This program helps entrepreneurs realize their goals by offering helpful expertise, networking, and funding. The accelerator program let her “have more of a vision and a plan for how I want to move forward with this in the future.”’ She described this as the point where baking was no longer something on the side — Ilona was all in. 

SOLODKO TODAY 

After graduation, Ilona rebranded Conditer to Solodko. Currently, Ilona and Irina both work full-time jobs and spend their evenings attending to orders from customers in greater Boston. Ilona described Irina as her “right hand.” The sisters complement each other to deliver on quality consistently. “She’s there to help out and that really gives me the time and the freedom to carry out our goals and our vision,” Ilona said, mentioning that “background work” should not be underestimated. “Without her, I wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything that I do in terms of the business,” Ilona concluded. 

Despite their busy schedules, the sisters’ dedication to Solodko never wavered. “There were concrete steps for making the business a fully operational legal food entity,” to which Ilona gave examples of sub-leasing a commercial kitchen space and formally registering the business. They also revamped the menu to cater to their schedule and working capacities. 

“We started off primarily making macarons just because those were convenient for the Boston College student population. After college, we transitioned from macarons to different desserts.” Solodko moved to eclairs and other pastries, and then to cakes. Ilona found that “it’s easier to make one large cake and deliver to one customer than to make fifty eclairs and deliver them to ten different locations across Boston.” Since time was precious, they had to be efficient. “We had to tweak our business model a little given that we are working full-time jobs. We have limited time in our commercial kitchen and limited time to deliver.” Desserts like macarons and eclairs were more demanding than cakes, which “wasn’t sustainable” for the long-term. 

Photo credit: Solodko

Ilona points to significant people in her life and baking career who helped her develop her culinary skills. Ilona shared that Solodko’s cake recipes are actually from a pastry chef in Eastern Europe, which offers something new to a largely American customer base. In addition, Ilona interned at Jonquils Cafe & Bakery on Newbury Street. She worked with a pastry chef who “taught me so much that I now use in my day-to-day life of running the food business.” This includes culinary tips and tricks and how to pivot “when things start going wrong in the kitchen.” Ilona shared that “without his expertise, and without my experience in that cafe over the summer, I wouldn’t have had as much knowledge as I have now.” Solodko’s menu reflects Ilona’s baking acumen learned from talented pastry chefs, her Ukrainian background, and her own personal techniques, style, and creative flavor pairings. 

Currently, Solodko’s menu consists of a variety of cakes, cake jars, cakesicles, and assorted tarts. In particular, Ilona pays homage to the classic Ukrainian honey cake, honoring her roots. The honey cake is “a very popular Ukrainian cake flavor, called medovik in Ukrainian, so that has to be there.” 

Here are some of Solodko’s flavors, as listed on the website: 

“Mango Passion Fruit Coconut: Almond sponge cake layers with mango passion fruit confit, a coconut soak, and a light cream” 

“Raspberry Chocolate: A fluffy chocolate sponge cake with raspberry confit and a light vanilla cream” 

And Ilona’s favorite flavor that she highly recommends to customers new to Solodko: 

“Berry Vanilla: Vanilla sponge cake layers with mixed berry confit and a whipped cream cheese frosting” 

Ilona also recommended the custom-tarts: “This seems like a small dessert but you have up to three different layers within the tart itself and then you have the topping.” In one dessert, “you get a lot of different flavors coming at you all at once.” From cakes to tarts, Solodko offers something for everyone. 

As much as flavors are important, aesthetics matter as well for Solodko. The business exudes elegance in branding, from dessert decoration to website design. “We focus on things to be as delicious as pretty.” Ilona said simply. “And that’s important for us. So, I think that did definitely emphasize our branding and our style.” Ilona wants her desserts to embody a “timeless classic aesthetic through time.” For Ilona, too much going on is “overwhelming” and can take away from a breathtaking visual. “I feel like there’s beauty in simplicity.” 

Photo credit: Solodko

Because Solodko cakes are custom, design is a balancing act between customer expectations and patisserie standards. Ilona walked me through the design process with an example. A customer reached out to Solodko for her daughter’s birthday, and shared ideas about the cake. “She likes leopard, she likes pink and she’s very feminine,” the customer said about the daughter in question. “That gives me right away something to work with,” Ilona articulated. She will then find inspiration on the internet and in life around her, “like nature, art, and fashion.” She looks at the work of pastry chefs and artists as well, and weaves her favorite aspects of those cakes into the final product, all while respecting artistic integrity. Ilona found that when customers hand over the reins to her in terms of design, the result is often impressive. “Sometimes those are the cakes that come out absolutely beautiful [because] you’re given the full liberty to execute your vision.” 

As for the items that are non-custom, Ilona “developed a style that works best for us in terms of aesthetics and time requirements. And that’s what we usually stick to.” For example, most of the eclairs, whenever on the menu, “are decorated with whipped ganache on top, piped in different patterns. We find that that’s the most comfortable for us to work with, especially when there’s a very large batch of eclairs that we have to make.” Ilona’s reasoning was practical. “You wouldn’t want to decorate each eclair in a different way because that’s unsustainable. And I think in business, you have to find a very smart balance between what’s artistic and creative and what’s sustainable.” 

Towards the end of our chat, Ilona contemplated on her years of trial-and-error, learning, and growth both as both a business owner and a pastry chef. “Every time I do something with the business and I take a step back and look at it, it’s a testament to the fact that… things that start out little can become big, with consistent hard work.” 

Ilona emphasized the power of persistence in achieving her goals. “You just should never give up on your dreams even when things don’t go according to plan. Because, as in anything that ultimately ends in success, consistency is key.” 

For the future, Solodko is looking to get its own commercial space, take more wedding cake orders, and open a cafe. Ilona sees this as an opportunity where she can expand their menu and definitely bring back their highly-requested macarons. No matter what the future holds, one thing is for certain: Solodko desserts are as aesthetically exquisite as they are indulgently delectable. Don’t be shy — help yourself to an irresistible slice of Solodko honey cake! After all, we all need a little sweetness in life.

Cover photo courtesy of Solodko

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PSA: Fortune Cookies Aren’t Chinese

Those thin, wafer-like crackers with a soft tint of yellow and a subtle taste of vanilla folded gently to encase a rather enigmatic yet oddly comforting rolled up paper fortune has become an icon of Chinese American restaurants. Three billion cookies are made each year almost entirely in the United States, but the origins of fortune cookies didn’t come from China nor did it come from Chinese Americans. The roots of fortune cookies can actually be traced to Japan. So how were fortune cookies adopted into Chinese American food culture? It’s a story about immigration. 

The emblematic folded shape of the fortune cookie was found in 1870s Kyoto by researcher Yasuko Nakamachi. She gathered evidence of these cookies in family bakeries owned by generations outside a Shinto shrine in Kyoto. Instead of commercialized vanilla scents, these cookies were made of miso and sesame resulting in a darker cookie. Nakamachi is the crowned expert in the history of the fortune cookie. She used old documents and even illustrations that referenced the traditional fortune cookie known as “tsujiura senbei” in Japanese. Instead of a paper fortune enclosed inside the hollows of the cookie, Japanese fortune cookies pinched the fortunes into the folds of the cookie. 

Anyhow, this is where immigration changed the fates of these centuries-old Kyoto cookies. After the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 banned Chinese workers from entering the country, the cheap labor market was replaced by an influx of Japanese immigrants in the 1880s and early 1890s coming into Hawaii and California. These cookies started popping up in several Japanese bakeries—one in San Francisco called the Japanese Tea Garden (traced back as the original vanilla and buttermilk flavoring) and three in Los-Angeles called Fugetsu-Do, Umeya, and the Hong Kong Noodle Company. Japanese immigrants actually opened up Chinese restaurant businesses. 

Even as the fortune cookie traveled from Japan to America, the fusion between Japanese and Chinese businesses was already taking place. Jennifer Lee traced immigration patterns of the fortune cookie in her book The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food. She observed that Americans at the time of Japanese immigration in the 1890s opened Chinese restaurants rather than their own cuisine simply because Americans weren’t big fans of Japanese food like raw fish. 

However, the crossover of Chinese businesses run by Japanese owners doesn’t fully explain the complete adoption of fortune cookies into the Chinese American mainstream. In fact, the transfer of fortune cookies from Japanese bakeries to Chinese restaurants was a product of Japanese ostracisation following World War II. Reacting against the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt relocated almost 120,000 Japanese civilians in internment camps. This executive order displaced the Japanese from their livelihoods, homes, and businesses. With the closing of Japanese bakeries, Chinese entrepreneurs saw an opening. These cookies became increasingly popular with a growing demand. After the war, nearly 250 million cookies were produced every year by Chinese bakeries and factories. 

Like most things in America, its histories are defined by stories of immigration. The transfer of one culture to another is a uniquely American experience. Fortune cookies aren’t Chinese, let alone solely a Chinese American invention. All of this is packed neatly into a perfectly manufactured yellow-tinted cookie.

Cover image courtesy of The Curious Origin of Fortune Cookies

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Asian Groceries Move Online

If you’re at all familiar with Asian groceries, you’d know the aching feeling of trying to find your Asian sauces, dried anchovies, or chillis at the ethnic grocery aisle in the neighborhood’s biggest supermarket. Alas, it’s not there—just some Maruchan ramen packets, Sriracha bottles, and Goya beans. 

Asian grocery stores are a safe haven. In Boston, H-Mart and Super88 carry the biggest selection of basic Asian ingredients, delicacies, and desserts. You can find thirty different soy sauce bottles, ranging from dark, light, and regular. Instead of Sriracha, there’s Sichuan peppercorn, gochugaru, and sambal. The frozen aisle is jam-packed with char siew buns, gyozas, scallion pancakes, and tang yuan. It’s a refuge of home without the label ethnic. 

But the pandemic has changed the way we shop. Empty streets, mask mandates, and remote work have all rendered us homebodies. Even as we transition back to in-store shopping, online deliveries make life so much easier, and this mode of shopping exploded during the pandemic. Large grocery retailers began online deliveries without expanding their ethnic food aisle. In the last year, Asian American foodies have taken on the online grocery market by storm. 

Andrea Xu was born in Spain to Chinese parents. She moved to New York ten years ago. Xu grew up with food from all over the world—meals mixing unconventional ingredients. New York ten years ago, and even now, lacked the depth Xu craved. Xu and her partner began creating their company, Umamicart, an online grocery platform that would deliver essential and premium Asian-owned products. 

Xu interviewed dozens of customers and suppliers to understand what the grocery industry is lacking. “The ethnic aisle at mainstream grocery stores were often filled with brands that were unfamiliar,” she says. “The Asian brands that me and many of my third-culture friends loved weren’t sold at mainstream stores but were instead substituted with American-made versions of our favorite products, many of which weren’t comparable in quality or price.”

Popular grocery stores are starting to include more cultural foods. Take for example Trader Joe’s. It’s the millennial and Gen-Z safe space for relatively affordable and accessible simple groceries. Frozen meals such as the tikka masala, fried rice, and pork soup dumplings are growing popular among young, white consumers. Not surprisingly, these meals aren’t the most authentic and upcharge on otherwise simple, staple meals for people who belong to that culture. The store has also been under fire in the past for racist labeling of international foods. 

“It’s nearly impossible for a brick-and-mortar store to incorporate all non-white cuisines into their shelves in a thoughtful or curated way,” Xu says. “With Umamicart, we want to use our digital platform to our advantage and go deeper into these cuisines by offering an expansive catalog. We’re proud to offer nearly a thousand traditional and creative Asian offerings.”

Are separate grocery platforms the answer to diversifying food rather than integrating mainstream grocery stores? It seems the latter is a far-off reality as supply chains slow down and demand remains low among the majority of white customers. Umamicart offers an accessible and curated alternative. 

“We’ve noticed that customers who are both familiar and unfamiliar with Asian cuisines are becoming increasingly more dissatisfied with the selection at mainstream grocery stores,” Xu adds. “From our market research and direct conversations with customers, more and more customers care about who and what is behind the brands they are purchasing. They want to be provided with thoughtful and personalized recommendations and not just an odd mix.”

Other online grocery platforms are popping up like Weee, Bokksu, and Omsom, offering the same level of personalization for buying every day and more fun groceries. Of course, the pandemic has accelerated the demand for online delivery businesses, but underlying the trend of online Asian grocery platforms is the growing diversification of the food industry in America. Cultural foods no longer should be boxed up in a tiny ethnic grocery aisle. It deserves more attention, love, and authenticity that can only be genuinely brought out by individual platforms. 

“At Umamicart, for example, we add dozens of new fresh and pantry products every week,” Xu says. Our selection is a mix of timeless staples in different cuisines, and new and personal takes on traditional flavors—from immigrant-led businesses, mom-and-pop suppliers, and new and inspiring brands from Asian American founders.”

Maybe one day mainstream grocery stores in America will put Chinese black vinegar next to the red wine vinegar, the tahini next to the gojuchang, the McCormick spices next to five-spice powder and furikake, or the tomato paste next to curry blocks and tamarind paste; but until then, Asian ingredients and other international foods deserve an extra spotlight.

Cover photo courtesy of Seasoned by Jin

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Purple Rice

In Seoul, I sought to carve out a place I could return to even if for a little while. Who knew it would be a noodle shop in Sharosugil? In the fall of 2021, I was an exchange student studying business at Seoul National University (SNU). When I wasn’t studying, I was either playing soccer as a member of SNU’s women’s football team, exploring Korea, or eating good food. Sharosugil (샤로수길) was my go-to area for “good food” since it was a short walk from where I lived. It is a neighborhood in the district of Gwanak-gu (관악구) that attracts foodies from all over. As an American interested in food all over the world, I soaked up the sights, sounds, and flavors of Sharosugil like a sponge. The area is brimmed with a diverse set of restaurant choices (Korean, Japanese, Thai, Indian, Mexican), cafes (teddy bear shaped desserts, sulbing spots, coffee) and other curious eating establishments (a restaurant that only sells shrimp bowls). A mixture of independent and chain eateries, there is something for everyone.

Given Sharosugil’s location near Seoul National University, college students comprise a substantial portion of Sharosugil visitors, including myself. Navigating the neighborhood’s packed streets, it is common to see twenty-somethings sporting school varsity jackets and sleek backpacks while clutching iced Americanos even in the frigid cold. So, I was genuinely taken aback on the rare occasion I saw a baby in broad daylight. Child in the wild. 

Considering my proximity to the area, I frequented Sharosugil when I wasn’t eating in the campus cafeteria or exploring other parts of Seoul. Sometimes I ventured into Sharosugil with friends to grab a bite or study in a cafe, and other times I went alone. Hidden gems aren’t often listed online, so I scouted potential treasure the old-fashion way: just walk in. My basic understanding of the Korean language facilitated the ordering process, but I always had a translation app handy. It was thrilling—so many adventures!

The most memorable experiences often had two main components: food and people. 

It’s so fresh!  My Korean soccer teammate told me about her time living in China over lunch: noodles, hot Mapo tofu, and stir-fried tomato and egg. The owner left to buy tomatoes as soon as we placed our order.

What’s the WIFI password? We were studying for finals while Christmas carols blasted through speakers at midnight. My Uzbek classmate shared with me his upcoming trip to Dubai as I sipped on an Earl Gray tea that was too hot for my liking. 

Small world isn’t it. My first ever matcha latte in a tiny, vintage-inspired underground cafe that made me feel warm inside. I happened to run into my bomber-jacket clad Indonesian friend who had dreams of working for a fashion magazine. 

Towards the end of the semester, I had checked off nearly all the top Sharosugil restaurants that were on MangoPlate, Korea’s version of Yelp, and then some. The area was familiar, too familiar, so much so that I noticed even small changes like the sign plastered on the gate near a rustic dessert cafe.

Area Under Investigation: Do Not Enter

As an adventurous college student studying abroad, I prioritized exploring and trying new things. I often visited restaurants only once so I could continue to try new places. At the same time, I sought warmth and familiarity through connections. Back home, family and friends were where I felt most comfortable. It didn’t necessarily matter where I was, but who I was with. After all, having grown up in different parts of the country, my physical “home” was always changing. I realized early on—forgive the cheesiness—that home is indeed where the heart is. I was lucky to make lifelong friends in Korea who were “home” to me, including my soccer teammates and other exchange students. My Mapo tofu, Earl Gray tea, and matcha latte memories have precious people attached to them. Little did I know, my experiences at a particular noodle shop inevitably took a share of my heart as well.

* * *

“You’ve got to try this place,” a copper-haired British exchange student told me as she sent me a text with the restaurant’s details.   

[Naver Map]

Eommason Noodle Soup 엄마손칼국수

(Noodle Soup, Dumplings)

☆ 4.4 • Visitor Reviews 40 • Blog Reviews 22

Located just at the edge of Sharosugil. Easy enough. I took her advice and went on a chilly October evening. The outside appearance of the restaurant was unassuming, unembellished, and small. If I hadn’t intentionally made my way there, I might have missed it. I translated the menu board fixated outside the establishment and decided on seafood kalguksu (knife-cut noodles). The only person working in the restaurant was an elderly man who I assumed to be the owner. After I stepped inside, he took my order and gestured to me to take a seat. 

The interior wasn’t anything particularly memorable—standard restaurant layout. There were only about six rectangular tables, four seats at each. No decoration whatsoever. A lone student was eating at the table behind me, watching a video on his phone. The small television mounted on the wall caught my attention—a soccer game. Or as the rest of the world calls it, football. Players in red uniforms passed the ball to each other. Commentators rapidly analyzed the play in Korean. I recognized a few words that my team used regularly in practice. The rest I hadn’t learned yet. Even so, what I loved about the sport was that skill and passion transcended language barriers. 

I had a clear view of the kitchen while the owner quietly cooked. Open-concept preparation. The owner moved nimbly and every action was purposeful in the construction of the dish. He brought out the seafood noodle soup in a medium-sized steel bowl and kimchi in a shallow dish. Eat well, he said. Soccer commentary I could barely understand filled my ears and perfectly chewy noodles were submerged in a flavorful seafood broth. I was content.

* * *

I disregarded my “one-time” restaurant rule and found myself sitting at the same table, in the same spot a week later. The other owner, the wife of the elderly man, greeted me inside. As usual, I put down my contact information on a piece of paper for contact tracing. 

Saamia (사미아)         010 XXXX XXXX     •     Gwanak-gu (관악구)

An entertainment show was on the television this time. I had no idea what was going on, but I admired the video editing skills. Between the sound of raindrops hitting the street outside, low-volume television chatter, and occasional clinking of utensils in the kitchen, it felt real. I was eating by myself in the restaurant, but I wasn’t alone.

The owner prepared my order speedily and again, a metal bowl once again greeted me. The shrimp in the steaming hot seafood kalguksu stared at me. I can handle clams with chopsticks, but shrimp? I struggled to peel the shrimp with my metal chopsticks. I had gotten better at chopsticks overall, but shrimp was simply a new level. I was convinced that by the time I had successfully peeled the shrimp, the soup would have gotten cold and my hands would be cramping as if I had taken an exam by pencil for three hours straight. 

Good thing I didn’t have to worry about the impact of hand cramps too much for soccer. Of course, my throw-ins might be a little lackluster thanks to shrimp shell induced cramping, but the magic is in the feet as a forward. However, stubborn seafood posed a considerable foe in my quest for a peaceful meal that rainy evening, my one and only priority.

Seafood Kalguksu

Photo credit: Saamia Bukhari

I made eye contact with the owner and as if she heard my internal plea for assistance, came over swiftly. 

How do I…? I began to explain my struggle in Korean, but she quickly caught on and asked permission to show me how it’s done. Yes please.

This is how. She put on gloves, brought a separate bowl and expertly peeled the shrimp with her hands. She worked slowly so I could observe each step of the process (visual learners unite). I’ll never take peeled and deveined shrimp for granted ever again.

Thank you.

While her demonstration may not have improved my shrimp peeling chopstick skills since she used her hands, I was thankful for her help. I enjoyed a more peaceful dining experience thanks to her shrimp peeling abilities.

As I steadily finished my noodle soup, the owner asked me if I wanted rice to finish the meal. I agreed since I love rice. She placed a very small, round metal container with a lid on the table. I looked at it curiously and opened it carefully. Purple rice. The result of white rice and black rice cooked together. I had never seen it before but the combination of the two types of rice yielded a unique purple color. She gestured for me to mix the soup with the rice to help finish the meal. She later replenished the rice to ensure I had enough. 

Before I left, she lightly scolded me. Your jacket is so thin!

She wasn’t wrong. Even when I checked the weather app an embarrassing number of times, I still managed to underestimate the weather. At least I lived closeby. I might freeze, but I’d thaw eventually.

I assured her I was okay. She wasn’t convinced but smiled with her eyes. Purple rice was on the house.

* * *

The owners recognized me every single time I stopped by. They introduced me to their two cats. One owner sometimes offered me free dumplings and quietly refilled my water. The other always had complementary purple rice on standby and commented on the importance of staying warm in the winter. I never knew their names and they never knew mine. Perhaps that information wasn’t important. At what point is a stranger no longer a stranger?

In the big city, the more novel the better. I did something new every day, visited new places, met new people. I carved a tiny nook for myself on the edge of Sharosugil. I tried different menu items and my newfound favorite was kaljebi, a combination of hand-pulled noodles and knife-cut noodles. My hand occasionally hurt from peeling the shrimp with chopsticks, but I loved seafood too much to let that deter me.

Sometimes I went when it happened to be busy. Oftentimes I was the only person in the restaurant. I brought friends along to try the place. I liked that it closed around 10 p.m. so I could help myself to some warm, satisfying food after soccer practice. It was casual enough that I could stroll in with my gear. It was nice to be there. It was a place I could return to. 

* * *

The day before I left the country, around Christmas time, I felt compelled to close the chapter. I couldn’t just leave without some sort of acknowledgement. I was running short on time yet quickly stopped by a local bakery and picked up a freshly baked, medium-sized cinnamon swirl cake. Can’t get more festive than cinnamon. Was it a holiday gift? Goodbye gift? Thank you gift? I Like Your Food Gift? It could be all of them at once. I embellished the box it was packaged in with some red ribbon to add to the holiday cheer. I wrote a card in Korean with my friend’s help and attached it to the box. Toasty in my purple coat, I walked straight on the sidewalk for about one hundred meters, crossed the street, and entered Sharosugil. After five minutes, I eventually reached the restaurant. 

Trying not to look creepy, I peered through the window to see if it was a good time to step in. The owner was inside making kimchi. The television was turned off. A much elderly woman with gray hair sat nearby; she was probably the owner’s mom. When I opened the door, the owner’s face lit up and she gestured to me to come in and sit at my usual table.  I didn’t have much time. In broken Korean I explained that I would be leaving. I handed the cinnamon swirl cake to the owner’s mom since the owner was physically occupied with kimchi making, which is a very labor-intensive process. The owner’s mom looked touched. Yet it was the first time I had ever seen her. Soft-spoken, she said words that I couldn’t understand and then embraced me in a tight hug. I was caught off guard but hugged back. Behind her, the owner bid me farewell with a smile. Take care.

Cover Photo courtesy of Saamia Bukhari

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Food or Healer?

In an era of COVID, social isolation, and fear, the attitude towards food seems to be pessimistic and gloomy. COVID quarantine seems to be the perfect excuse to consume all comfort foods imaginable. Left restricted and sick, fast food’s accessibility and ease becomes more appealing. Flooded with overwhelming feelings, emotional eating appears to be unavoidable. On top of it all, meals have ceased to be a social activity and the media keeps drilling in our heads that intuitive eating is long forgotten. The meaning of food has shifted. It no longer means medicine, balance or sustenance. It only means energy. By approaching food in this manner, we have forgotten the healing powers of food. Some think of natural medicine as purely spiritual. If approached adequately, however, it can have the power to improve the immune system, allow the body to heal, and prevent future diseases.

We learn in the History I classroom how the Black Death and the Smallpox plague decimated entire populations and cultures. Environmental features, migratory paths, and immunity played a role in the easy spread of such diseases. However, the malnutrition of the population played a more crucial role in its deadly toll. I am not suggesting we are all malnourished in the BC community, but perhaps our dietary choices could be used to help our bodies heal. 

The idea of food as medicine is not new. Indigenous cultures, like the Mayans and deeply-studied traditional medicines like that of the Chinese, have utilized food as a powerful panacea. In the Mayan culture, disease is caused by a bodily imbalance. Such imbalance can be healed by the consumption of certain herbs and foods. The popular examples of cacao, chili peppers, and herbal teas are only a limited scope. In a 2017 study, 59 plants were documented to be used in Mayan medicine practiced only in Belize, 20 of which treat infections and 16 different digestive issues. While it is true that some components of Mayan medicine are of spiritual roots, modern pharmaceuticals are based on the healing properties of certain herbs and foods found in natural medicine. Pilocarpine, from a Brazilian herb, battles glaucoma, and alkaloids from Madagascar Periwinkle are part of the chemotherapeutic treatments for Hodgkin’s disease and childhood leukemia (Pompescu). Your nearest CVS pharmacy turns out to be nothing short of a Chaman’s apothecary. 

Similar to the Mayans, Chinese medicine utilized food as a potent healer. Chinese medicine sought to maintain the balance of the Qi, or internal energy. In order to help the body find its way to balance, the consumption of foods like rice, sweet potato, and ginger were encouraged. Rice and sweet potato were believed to build Qi in the spleen. Moreover, ginger was utilized to build “kidney Yang” and promote the health of the kidney. Chinese medicine was not simply ritualistic nonsense. Its observations have carried over to modernity. Some modern findings have supported the use of sweet potato and ginger in preventive medicine. According to Erica Joulson MS. RDN., sweet potato has been found to hold properties for a good digestion and great gut health. Additionally, ginger has been shown to reduce complications of diabetes such as kidney disease. Chinese medicine might be ancient, but its bases have offered modern medicine a new alternative. 

As time passes, our historical memory seems to be obliterated by innovation and newness. This has led us to forget the strength of dietary choices as a healer. COVID quarantine does not have to be filled with inflammation, irritation and loneliness. Easy steps like controlling glucose spikes could have an influence on a better mental health and stable moods. Including elements of the Mediterranean diet could help the body respond to disease in a less stressful and more efficient way. And, the gratitude stemming from balance and natural medicine could even help prevent feelings of loneliness and hopelessness. Maybe the future of food is not all gloomy and pessimistic. Maybe food is the medicine we have all been waiting for.

Cover photo courtesy of Wok and Kin