People from central Europe and the former Soviet Union are crazy about dumplings. Over there, the dumpling is such a staple it can be either a main course or dessert.
Last week, I talked about food with foreign exchange students from Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Russia, Serbia and Kyrgyzstan. They like food in their homelands more than they like American cuisine. But they are crazy about peanut butter and Pop-Tarts, which they can't get back home. When they leave the U.S. in May, most would like to take peanut butter with them.
Mostly, though, we talked about dumplings. I learned about varenyky, a stuffed dumpling that's big in Ukraine. Not only is it stuffed with sauerkraut, cabbage, meat and cheese, but it also plays host to a fruit filling. I learned about the manti, a Turkish dumpling.
The students also talked about the samsy, an oven-baked pie stuffed with chopped beef and onions that's popular in Central Asia. Until last week, I didn't know about the national dish of Kazakhstan, which is beshkarmak, or shashlyk, a form of shish kebab.
The young people also praised borscht. One student said borscht done right can fill you for an entire day.
Students who attend school in this country are shocked at how much fast food Americans eat. They say their food back home has more flavor. They say their soups are creamier and their chocolate is better. They really like our bread.
Overseas, supper is eaten at home, and the meal might last two hours, with another hour spent sipping tea.
They like our fast food in limited doses. But a few found something to like at the Brown County Fair. The appeal of deep-fried dough, topped with cinnamon and sugar, is international.
Some of their foods, though, ring a bell. Vickie Moser, the students’ coordinator, said one of the dishes sounds like pigs in a blanket.
We also heard about halva, a dessert sometimes made with sunflower seed butter.
Not all of their food whets our appetites. Some traditional foods in Kazakhstan are made with horse meat.
On the other hand, I wonder what they'd think of some of our food-based expressions, such as cool beans.
We talked about other subjects besides food. Students in Asia and central Europe work very hard in school. Many attend school six days a week.
They don't drive or have jobs, and most students have lots of homework.
They don't think much of American education. But they love the way teachers in this country are friendly and helpful. Back home, instructors are definitely authority figures. Even though the students learn a lot over there, they say cheating in school is rampant.
Their criticism extends to adults. They can't believe how little Americans know about other countries.
The students obviously like a lot of things about their homelands. But they also enjoy more about the U.S. than peanut butter and blueberry Pop-Tarts.
When the school year ends, none of the students wants to go home.
Jeff Bahr is an American News reporter. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. His phone number is 605-622-2320.