International students search for authentic flavors


Kennedy DeRaedt/Iowa State Daily

Madoka Tomono, Selina Teh and Taylor Roose enjoy their food at International Food Night at St. Thomas Aquinas Church Nov. 10. 

Mathew Evans

When students are halfway across the world from their home, they find themselves trying to find a little piece of that home in Ames. 

Moving to a new place is hard, but for a majority of the population on campus, that move is from in-state or somewhere in the Midwest.

For international students, that move was thousands of miles from home. Leaving home and traveling to study in a new country can be quite a shock. This is most apparent with the difference in the cuisine.

“There are many places in Ames that have international foods but many of them are Americanized so they are not truly authentic,” said Nattha Tritrakoolsin, sophomore in chemical engineering and member of the Thai Student Association.

When you are as far away from home as the international students, you find yourself just trying to find that little piece of home. That one something takes away the stress of college life and takes you back to a simpler time.

For the international students though, that one little piece may be an unauthentic American version.

“Because there are a lot of Americans that go there, they don’t make the food as spicy as it is supposed to be” said Yuqian Ren, sophomore in civil engineering and public relations minister of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association.

In America, one of the more popular version of Chinese cuisine is orange chicken.

But there is no such thing as orange chicken in China. It is known as 陳皮雞 or “citrus chicken” in China.

The key difference between citrus chicken and the orange, fluorescent and fried dough balls at the local Panda Express is where the orange comes from. The orange here refers to the fragrance from the citrus peel and not the Red #21 food dye of the Panda Express variety.

The recipe for citrus chicken calls for natural ingredients such as tangerine peel, ginger and orange peel. All of these ingredients offer real flavor and a reason for the name citrus chicken.

Ames has grown substantially recently, with about 4,000 international students enrolled at Iowa State, but a lack of authentic international foods continues to be a problem for them. This has become most apparent in Thai restaurants.

“There are only a couple Thai places in Ames, and some are more Americanized than the others,” Tritrakoolsin said.“ So I think Thai kitchen in Campus Town has a more authentic feel and spice, but I don’t think either of them have truly authentic Thai food.”

The one thing Ames does not have a shortage of is Chinese restaurants — from Little Taipei and China Town Restaurant to Joy’s Mongolian Grill and House Of Chen.

One restaurant in particular stands out above the rest when it comes to authenticity, Ren said.

“Taste Place on Lincoln Way makes Szechuan food, and it’s kind of spicy,” Ren said. “It’s good, and I think it is better than the others.”

Food is an important aspect of culture because it connects people and allows them to share new things.

“It’s important we as students combine our different cultures to improve ourselves to better prepare ourselves for the future,” Ren said.