It happens at I-House on an ordinary day.
Two Chinese students from Hunan province, Yang and Tian Yi, come to the Front Desk and out of the blue ask me what Caprese is. Apparently they have just eaten this very famous Italian salad in the I-House Café, but they don’t really know what was in there. Tomatoes, yes, but, they ask, “What was that strange white thing?”
I realize they had never tasted Mozzarella and their Italian food initiation started with an American version. I am now determined to introduce my friends to the amazing world of Italian food. We start talking and I tell them I spent one whole year in China not so long ago. I even speak some Mandarin and that helps us feel closer as the conversation quickly develops into a food symposium.
Eventually I discover they hated their first Mozzarella (the American one). I decide to give my culture another chance and engage my new friends in formaggio italiano. I learn they are not familiar with cheese at all, so, enough is enough! I’ll bring them some Italian Parmigiano to start their new trip into the world of gourmet cheese.
Two days later, here we are at I-House Front Desk tasting Italian Parmigiano that my mother-in-law brought us during her last trip from Italy. Yang and Tian Yi are curious and want to know more about this and other cheeses. I talk about Parma, Italy and how we have been making cheese forever. They ask questions and taste (and don’t like it) but they are now committed to not give up on this strange new food. It’s all about opening new doors in the spirit of International House!
I promise to bring another cheese and send them our (now conventional) email that more or less says: “Cheese ready at Front Desk.” We’ll discuss more, learn more about each other, and feel happier on another ordinary I-House day.