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Flavors from Home

Flavors from Home: Refugees in Kentucky Share Their Stories and Comfort Foods

Aimee Zaring
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 304
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    Flavors from Home
    Book Description:

    Each year, the United States legally resettles tens of thousands of refugees who have fled their homelands. Refugees, unlike economic migrants, are forced to leave their countries of origin or are driven out by violence or persecution. As these individuals and their families struggle to adapt to a new culture, the kitchen often becomes one of the few places where they are able to return "home." Preparing native cuisine is one way they can find comfort in an unfamiliar land, retain their customs, reconnect with their past, and preserve a sense of identity.

    InFlavors from Home, Aimee Zaring shares fascinating and moving stories of courage, perseverance, and self-reinvention from Kentucky's resettled refugees. Each chapter features a different person or family and includes carefully selected recipes. These traditional dishes have nourished both body and soul for people like Huong "CoCo" Tran, who fled South Vietnam in 1975 when Communist troops invaded Saigon, or Kamala Pati Subedi, who was stripped of his citizenship and forced out of Bhutan because of political and religious persecution.

    Whether shared at farmers' markets, restaurants, community festivals, or simply among friends and neighbors, these native dishes contribute to the ongoing evolution of American comfort food just as the refugees themselves are redefining what it means to be American. Featuring more than forty recipes from around the globe,Flavors from Homereaches across the table to explore the universal language of food.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6093-1
    Subjects: Education, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    Something curious happens when you talk to people from other countries about their native foods. I once told a Pakistani student in my English as a second language (ESL) class that I likedboorani, a layered eggplant and yogurt dish from her region of the world. Her eyes widened beneath the hood of her hijab as she gasped with delight, “How do you know about boorani?” I received a similar reaction while shopping at an ethnic grocery store one day for the ingredients I needed to test a recipe. An African customer at the counter, noting my purchases, raised his...

  5. 1 Hungary: Irene Finley, October 23, 1957
    (pp. 9-20)

    “I just realized … how will we know each other?” Irene Finley asks over the phone in her honey-thick Hungarian accent.

    Irene and I have never met, but I feel like I already know her. A friend told her about my project, and the next thing I knew, I had a handwritten recipe for chicken paprikás and a tape entitled “Irene’s Testimony.”

    It is a clear-skied spring morning. The fresh air and blooming flowers are as comforting as the rocking chairs lining Cracker Barrel’s front entrance. I easily find Irene in the restaurant’s gift shop, a brown-eyed blonde wearing a...

  6. 2 Vietnam: Huong “CoCo” Tran, August 2, 1975
    (pp. 21-34)

    Huong “CoCo” Tran says, “Ask me anything. I don’t mind.” Her words are as warm and generous as the smile that follows, and soon I will learn just how much they reflect her mission in life: to give back.

    CoCo and I are seated on backless stools at a high-top table in her vegetarian restaurant, Heart & Soy, in Louisville’s eccentric Highlands neighborhood. We are surrounded by lively persimmon walls and colorful photos of soybeans, soy milk, and tofu. If anyone knows tofu, it’s CoCo. Behind the main dining space is a smaller glassed-in room containing a gleaming stainless steel tofu...

  7. 3 Iran: Azar and Ata Akrami, July 1979
    (pp. 35-46)

    Azar (AH-zar) Akrami tells me that her name means “fire” as we sit in the beautiful Iranian native’s stylishly decorated East End Louisville home. Across the family room her tall, soft-spoken husband of fifty years, Ata (AH-tah), quips, “That makes me ash.”

    Fire. It warms our body, cooks our food, and fuels our soul. It seems a fitting element for Azar. We’ve only just met, but I can already sense a fiery, passionate spirit behind my hostess’s soothing voice and bright blue eyes. And I will soon learn that this spirit infuses every ounce of her incomparable Persian cooking.


  8. 4 Myanmar (Burma)—Karen: Dr. Mahn Myint Saing, December 20, 1990
    (pp. 47-58)

    Dr. Mahn Myint Saing and his wife Chaveewan (SHAH-vee-whan) have been dishing out authentic Thai cuisine at their Simply Thai restaurant in Louisville since 2006.

    When I visit on a misty day in March, their eldest son Jade, general manager of the restaurant, is in Atlanta to watch the University of Louisville’s men’s basketball team play in the Final Four tournament. City pride is alive and well in this St. Matthews neighborhood restaurant, with food and drink specials to honor the occasion. Even Dr. Saing and Chaveewan (married for more than thirty-five years and known by their employees as “Pa”...

  9. 5 Bosnia: Mirzet Mustafić, October 30, 1994
    (pp. 59-70)

    Mirzet (Mer-ZET) Mustafić claims that he knows just about every Bosnian in Bowling Green. If the dozen customers who greet him by name at the Mediterranean Food Store during our interview is any indication, I believe him.

    The Bosnian-owned grocery, located southwest of Western Kentucky University, feels like it’s been plucked from a cobbled street corner in eastern Europe and transplanted into the Bluegrass State. The store’s shelves are lined with staples from Mirzet’s motherland: Vegeta (a popular vegetable seasoning mix), fruit preserves, candy, canned sauces, and freshly baked breads.

    Mirzet and I sit at a booth in the store’s...

  10. 6 Bosnia: Zeljana Javorek, September 9, 1999
    (pp. 71-80)

    Zeljana (Jhel-YAH-nah) Javorek has a special place in my heart. If it weren’t for her, I might never have begun working with refugees, which means, come to think of it, that I never would have written this book.

    The way Zeljana and I met is a classic example of being at the right place at the right time. But it’s more than that. We both seized the opportunity presented to us—a guiding motto in Zeljana’s life.

    “You have to be able to sell yourself,” Zeljana once told me, referring to refugees who are starting new lives in America. “Give...

  11. 7 Rwanda: Nicolas Kiza, March 15, 2000
    (pp. 81-92)

    The first time Nicolas Kiza and I spoke on the phone, I asked him if he was a refugee, a prerequisite for inclusion in my book. He said yes and then corrected himself: “I mean Iwasa refugee.” Indeed, it’s hard to imagine that the co-owner of Kalisimbi Bar and Grill, located in a vibrant, multiethnic community in Louisville’s South End, ever had to run for his life through the jungles of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) or was ever held in a ten- by ten-foot military prison cell without food for two weeks.

    It’s early on...

  12. 8 Somalia—Bantu: Amina Osman, November 5, 2004
    (pp. 93-102)

    Perhaps you’ve eaten a salad at a restaurant in Louisville’s East Market District made with African pumpkin fresh from Amina (Ah-MEANah) Osman’s garden. Or maybe you’ve seen her in a colorful head scarf stationed behind a table overflowing with her homegrown cucumbers, tomatillos, bell peppers, and eggplants at a farmers’ market around town. She might not know much English, but the fruits of Amina’s labor speak volumes.

    Amina is a Somali Bantu, an ethnic minority that lives primarily in the southern part of Somalia. Bantus differ culturally, ethnically, and physically from the Somalis, who constitute the ethnic majority. It is...

  13. 9 Cuba: Milagros Guzman-Gonzalez and Lázaro Hondares, May 19, 2006
    (pp. 103-112)

    Milagros (Me-LAH-gross) Guzman-Gonzalez cracks an egg against the counter, dumps the golden yolk and white into the meat mixture of heralbondigas de carne, and tells me something she has never mentioned in the three years we’ve been acquainted. In her native Havana, she worked full time as an accountant for a tourist company, and she misses it—her professional life. I knew that Milagros’s husband, Lazaro (LAH-zah-ro) Hondares, had been a graphic artist in Cuba, as well as a gifted painter on the side, but the more reticent Milagros had never shared anything about her former life with me....

  14. 10 Myanmar (Burma)—Rohingya: Win Khine, March 23, 2008
    (pp. 113-124)

    Win Khine, his friend Sabura (SAB-ur-ah) Lin, and I enter their friend’s large eat-in kitchen in Owensboro and instantly start coughing. We soon discover the culprit: a spicy Thai beef dish loaded with hot chili peppers simmering on the stovetop. Win quickly raises both kitchen windows, allowing in the mild mid-October air. American kitchens aren’t equipped for Burmese cooking, he explains. The stoves often have insufficient ventilation systems, and the kitchens themselves have either no windows or not enough of them. In his native Burma (Myanmar), kitchens are commonly open air.

    Fa Ta Ma (FAH-tah-ma) Bi, who has graciously invited...

  15. 11 Bhutan: Kamala Pati Subedi, July 29, 2008
    (pp. 125-138)

    It is a midsummer evening when I visit Kamala Pati (KAH-ma-la PAHtee) Subedi’s home. He is sitting in a lawn chair on a small covered porch—as if he’s been there, waiting patiently for me, all day. (And considering that he was one of my most conscientious students—the only one who would complain when I didnotassign homework—he might have been.) He pops up as soon as he sees me and begins waving wildly. On the porch steps, we control our excitement long enough to bow and exchangeNamastes, the traditional Nepalese greeting.

    You can’t look into...

  16. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  17. 12 Myanmar (Burma)—Chin: Pastor Thomas Kap, September 6, 2008
    (pp. 139-146)

    I visit Pastor Thomas Kap on Labor Day, a day meant for rest and relaxation. But for the pastor, it’s just another workday. In fact, since this morning he has been trying to fix the brakes on his car with the help of a fellow Burmese refugee. It’s a perfect example of neighbor helping neighbor—or, in this case, Chin helping Chin. If there’s anything I take away from my visit with the pastor and his wife, Esther Sung, it’s this: Chin do not abandon their own.

    In the kitchen of their second-floor apartment in Crescent Springs, I’m introduced to...

  18. 13 Democratic Republic of the Congo: Aline Bucumi and Genevieve Faines, December 12, 2008
    (pp. 147-156)

    Genevieve Faines, wearing a red sundress, plops down on the kitchen floor with a large stockpot and a dozen green bananas and begins peeling them one by one. I sit across from her and start peeling too.

    These aren’t what most Americans consider green bananas—the sweet variety a few days shy of ripe—which can be peeled with the hands and eaten raw. These are “cooking bananas,” which are similar to plantains and eaten like a vegetable. They are a special variety grown only in the eastern regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and East Africa. Their...

  19. 14 Bhutan: Goma Acharya, June 23, 2009
    (pp. 157-164)

    Goma (GO-ma) Acharya looked at me with her penetrating, dark brown eyes and pushed her notebook across the table. “Here,” she said, “write phone number.” That’s Goma for you—intense, assertive, determined.

    The year was 2009, and it was my first day as a volunteer teaching assistant at Louisville’s Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services’ ESL school. Although I hesitated to give my phone number to a student, Goma’s persistence finally wore me down. She called me twice that same day, announcing each time, “I, Goma, and you, be friends.” It was not a request or even a suggestion. Looking...

  20. 15 Somalia: Abdiaziz Haji, September 3, 2009
    (pp. 165-174)

    Abdiaziz (Ahb-DEE-ah-ZEEZ) Haji rolls out a large, clear plastic tarp over the area rug in the living room and says, half apologizing, “We usually just eat on the floor.” In the small kitchen of their Florence, Kentucky, apartment, Abdiaziz’s wife Hafsa (HAHF-sa) prepares our lunch. Their dimple-cheeked four-and-a-half-year-old son Naji (NAHgee) tries to steal my attention, head and hips wiggling in opposite directions as he strums his toy electric guitar. Naji is running at full throttle this Sunday afternoon, the first day of fall. In addition to the excitement of having a female American stranger in his home, he will...

  21. 16 Azerbaijan: Elmira Tonian, April 16, 2010
    (pp. 175-186)

    For Elmira Tonian, cooking is not just a pastime; it’s a passion. Some might even argue that it’s an obsession. “Every time I go to bed at night,” Elmira says, “I think about what I’m going to make the next day.”

    I met Elmira through the Elder Refugee Program where I was teaching. I knew her by reputation, from the delicious dessert creations she often brought to school and shared with the teachers and students during break time. “Elmira brought a cake!” I would hear someone shout down the hall before class, and the mere thought was enough to sweeten...

  22. 17 Iraq: Hasana Aalarkess, April 29, 2010
    (pp. 187-198)

    Hasana (Huh-SAH-na) Aalarkess and I are watching, of all things, Mel Gibson waxing his legs while wearing a pore strip on his nose inWhat Women Want. This Iraqi mother of seven likes American actors: Mel Gibson, Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie. Her occasional soft laughter reminds me of ripples on calm water as I speak with her youngest daughter, Lamia, on the other side of me. On an adjacent couch are her eldest daughter, Hiba, and her son, Mohammed, who are helping Lamia interpret for their mother this June afternoon.

    Through a special modem on the TV, Hasana...

  23. 18 Iran: Baharieh Moosari Arabi, June 7, 2011
    (pp. 199-206)

    “I love it very much, this country,” says Baharieh (BAH-hah-ree-AY) Moosari Arabi. She smiles with girlish delight over a cup of Starbucks plain black coffee that her son, Arash (AH-rash) Taarifi, has just delivered to our table. Arash, who is in his midthirties, moved to the United States from Iran in 2007. He likes to take his parents on as many outings as possible, even if it’s just a quick trip to the local coffee shop in Louisville. He wants to expose them to real-life America, “not life you see in the movies,” he says.

    Baharieh pulls out a small...

  24. 19 Pakistan: Dr. Gulalai Wali Khan, June 14, 2011
    (pp. 207-218)

    In a Mediterranean diner a block from her workplace at Kentucky Refugee Ministries (KRM), Dr. Gulalai (Goo-LAH-lay) Wali Khan tells me she shouldn’t be alive today. On August 9, 2010, as she was leaving her health clinic in the crowded Karachi Market in Khyber Bazaar, a gunman on a motorcycle fired three bullets at her, one of which hit her in the arm. How the gunman failed to kill her at such close range is a mystery. What isn’t a mystery is why Gulalai was targeted. Just a day after she was shot, the Taliban issued a statement claiming responsibility...

  25. 20 Myanmar (Burma)—Chin: William Thang, November 4, 2011
    (pp. 219-226)

    Ask the average American if they’ve ever had Burmese cuisine, and chances are they haven’t. Even US cities with large Burmese populations, such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York, have few restaurants featuring solely Burmese food. William Thang wants to change that. He has a dream of opening a Burmese restaurant in Louisville someday, and even if he wasn’t my friend, I would be one of the first through the door. William introduced me to Burmese food, and I couldn’t have asked for a better culinary guide. That’s because William knows his way around a kitchen.

    When I...

  26. 21 Iraq: Zainab Kadhim Alradhee and Barrak Aljabbari, January 5, 2012
    (pp. 227-236)

    “The eggs saved us,” Zainab (ZANE-ahb) Kadhim Alradhee jokes, telling the story of how she and her husband, Barrak (Bah-ROCK) Aljabbari, first learned that their lives were in danger in Iraq. A neighbor had gone shopping for eggs at the market one day and happened to run into Barrak’s mother. The neighbor informed her that Barrak had been blacklisted—targeted for assassination.

    The news did not come as a complete shock to the young newlyweds. Barrak had been working for a security company as part of a private security detail. “I was like the Iraqi GPS,” Barrak says. Because of...

  27. 22 Democratic Republic of the Congo: Sarah Mbombo, August 3, 2012
    (pp. 237-248)

    “They don’t have these where I’m from,” Sarah Mbombo calls over the whirring of the food processor blades in her Lexington kitchen. It is a narrow, windowless room with bright artificial light and white unadorned walls, but Sarah’s energetic personality fills the space with more warmth than any furnishing or decoration ever could. On this first official day of summer, Sarah is using her food processor—a gift from a Kentucky Refugee Ministries (KRM) volunteer—to puree bell peppers, hot peppers, garlic cloves, eggplant, and onions for cassava leaves, a popular stew from her part of Africa.

    The women in...

  28. 23 Cuba: Omar Pernet Hernández, September 1, 2012
    (pp. 249-258)

    After class is dismissed and the other students have left the room, Omar Pernet Hernández calls me over to his chair. He pulls a Cuban flag out of his book bag, unwraps it slowly and respectfully, and retrieves from its folds several old letters, photographs, and a medal. In one of the photographs, a group of people is assembled around a large oval table.

    “Wait,” I say, “is that President George W. Bush, Omar?”


    “And is thatyouat the head of the table, Omar?”

    Sí, sí.”

    In another picture, Omar is with the same group of people, and...

  29. Afterword
    (pp. 259-260)

    When I look around my kitchen today, more than two years after I began this journey, I hardly recognize it: a double-stacked Turkish teapot sits on my stove, there’s a rice cooker on my storage shelf, and my refrigerator and pantry are full of ingredients I had never heard of before, let alone cooked with. My tastes have changed too. I knew, going into this project, that I would encounter dishes I liked—perhaps even loved. Little did I know that I would actuallycravemany of them, my friends’ comfort foods becoming my own. (Even as I’m writing this,...

  30. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 261-262)
  31. Appendix: Fast Facts about Refugees
    (pp. 263-266)
  32. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 267-268)
  33. Index of Recipes by Country
    (pp. 269-270)
  34. General Index
    (pp. 271-284)