The Hmong and Southeast Asian American Club (HaSEAAC) hosted the 17th Annual Dinner Taste of Toj Roob on Saturday, Nov. 11, in the Dreyfus University Center. Though the festivities were many, I decided to focus on my favorite part: the food.
As I sat down at one of the many banquet tables, I had the company of both University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and UW-Milwaukee students. The Milwaukee students were Hmong and had made the trip specifically for this event. We all introduced ourselves and made friends, which was very much in the spirit of HaSEAAC, promoting diversity and culture.
The menu advertised an appetizer of salad rolls with spicy garlic cream dip. The servers brought out the rolls, with the regret that there would not be any dip to go with them. In biting down on my salad roll, I found I was chewing on raw cabbage (the main ingredient along with some greens, cucumber and carrots). On the second bite, I found a morsel of chicken that eluded me the first time. It was well seasoned and acted to balance the cabbage. Nevertheless, it was evident that the sauce was what was meant to bring the two together.
Next came a large bowl of rice. We passed it around the table serving each other, Thanksgiving style in anticipation for the Pad See Ew to come. When it did arrive and made it around the table just as the rice, I found it to be a classic Asian dish which later realized was my favorite of the evening. Pad See Ew, (translated as fried soya sauce) had some classic elements of a rice noodle dish including the hoisin and soy based sauce. It also had some unique elements expressed through the use of Chinese Broccoli. This vegetable was not the star of the dish, but still a welcome member in a very enjoyable entree.
With Hmong music playing (both traditional and modern) throughout the banquet hall, we were served our dessert. The Tapioca Melon Soup was just as its name suggested, tapioca pearls bobbing in a sweet blend of coconut milk, coconut water and whole milk like a harbor full of buoys. Balls of cantaloupe and honeydew melon were the rocks in this harbor. The soup was chilled but not cold.
Long Thao, junior childhood education major at UW-Milwaukee, remarked, “It needs ice inside or just served cold. Some like it hot. Hot, it emphasizes the coconut milk.”
All in all, the food was enjoyable. While not first-rate dishes, the food was only one part of the event. In conjunction with the dancing and music, it added to the understanding of the flavor of Hmong life. In this way, the program including the cuisine, was a success.