Inspired by a potluck with different flavors from around the world, Hanaa Omar and Cheryl Williams began the Universal Flavors Club about a month ago.
“[I want to] de-mystify [international] food. It’s not strange and exotic, it’s just that you’ve never experienced it. Once you’ve experienced it, you’ll find a familiarity and commonality,” Universal Flavors Club Treasurer Williams said.
“Not a lot of people understand where a dish comes from, how it’s made and what kind of effort and love is put into it,” Omar, president of the Universal Flavors club, said.
They plan to teach others how to cook international food and delve into the background of each dish. With the help of the Daily Den, the club will serve and enjoy universal flavors.
“[My goals are] connecting people of different backgrounds through the love of food, teaching folks how to prepare their own food with more nutrition and also getting to know other locations here in town that have different cuisine,” Williams said.
Omar echoed Williams’ goals for the future of the club.
“The mission is to have a community of people who enjoy and understand traditions in food from around the world,” Omar said. “We are trying to integrate mostly international and local dishes as well.”
Omar and Williams both have culinary backgrounds. Omar grew up in Egypt, where she watched her family members cook Middle Eastern food. When her family moved to the United States, they continued to cook with friends on Saturday nights. Omar learned from them and worked at Aladdin’s before it closed in December of 2018.
Williams, a psychology student at UAA, values comfort food and personal connections that develop while sharing a meal.
“I have made more connections with people through breaking bread [than through other circumstances],” she said.
Her culinary experience comes from cooking for the military. She also watched her mother cook with influences from many different places.
“Food is my obsession, profession, hobby and vice,” Williams said.
Williams sees a connection in cooking techniques from different areas. The difference in dishes depend on the local ingredients, Williams said.
“She’s literally a food Wikipedia,” Omar said.
One of their menu ideas is sambosas. This dish from Somalia, India and the Middle East varies in each country. Sambosas are fried or baked triangular pastries filled with meat, onions, peppers and spices.
The Universal Flavors Club is still in the planning phase. Other students have signed up to join Omar and Williams. Many individuals have come forth with their own ideas for the club, such as using photography skills to compile a cookbook.
Meetings will occur primarily on campus but also around Anchorage. The group has already hosted a few charity events. They regularly serve Mochileros Street Food, which is Guatemalan-American food, on Tuesdays at Gathering AK Cafe from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Anyone inside or off campus is welcome to be a part of the Universal Flavors Club.
“If you like food, if you enjoy cultures and travel, it’s like you’ll have a piece of every country,” Omar said.
Williams hopes to see a diverse gathering of people who are “flexible, considerate and inquisitive” to try something different.
Omar and Williams are waiting to finish recruitments to present their club to UAA. They hope to start regular cooking sessions by the end of 2019.
For more information or to join Universal Flavors Club, contact Omar at [email protected].