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Saint Mary’s Diversity Board hosts authentic Tunisian dinner

| Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Monday evening, the Saint Mary’s Student Diversity Board (SDB) hosted the third Diversity Dinner of this academic year in Regina Hall’s South Lounge for students to come together over a family-style Tunisian meal.

Saint Mary’s students tasted a family-style Tunisian meal at the third annual Diversity Dinner in Regina Hall’s Lounge on Monday.Monica Villagomez Mendez | The Observer

Saint Mary’s students tasted a family-style Tunisian meal at the third annual Diversity Dinner in Regina Hall’s Lounge on Monday.

Student government association (SGA) international co-chairs senior Catherine Sullivan and sophomore Ngoc Truong organized the event to further their initial goal established in the fall semester: highlighting diversity within the Saint Mary’s community.

“The Diversity Dinners aim to not only feature a variety of cultural foods, but they are meant to also help along students’ understanding of who their fellow Belles are,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said this is the third Diversity Dinner she helped to organize, following two other successful meals featuring Chinese and Italian dishes.

“Because of how successful the two other dinners have been, we have had to put a cap on the dinners of 50 people,” she said. “We’ve filled up the dinners every time and we are hoping to expand for further events.”

Monday’s dinner showcased Tunisian food thanks to one of the two Fulbright scholars at Saint Mary’s, Olfa Slimane, who is originally from Tunisia.

“I wanted to share my culture because as a Fulbright scholar, I am a cultural messenger,” Slimane said. “This is my status. As a teaching assistant, I have to share my culture with others, and sharing culture means sharing food.”

According to Slimane, the meal consisted of Tunisia’s most famous dishes, and it reminded her of her home country.

The cuisine included couscous, something Slimane said Western diners are familiar with but cooks from Eastern countries prepare differently. The meal also included pureed carrot, lamb sauce, Tunisian salad and aja. Slimane also brewed a sweet green tea with peppermint leaves for the event.

“I don’t normally cook for myself; I eat at the dining hall,” Slimane said. “I actually don’t cook much.”

Yet, Sullivan said that was not the case for the Diversity Dinner — Slimane not only chose the dishes for the meal, but she also spent three days talking with her mother, who lives in Tunisia, on the phone while cooking every part of the dinner.

“Olfa [Slimane] was originally an English teacher in Tunisia and came to Saint Mary’s to teach Arabic,” Sullivan said. “We spent all of Monday morning listening to French hip-hop music in the kitchen of Saint Mary’s [while] cooking lamb.

“Olfa [Slimane] is such a great addition to our community here, and she was so excited to share her home cuisine with everyone,” she said.

Senior and self-proclaimed foodie Nancy Reynolds said she first took interest in the event because she wanted to experience Tunisian cuisine.

“The food was delicious, and I was excited to try different dishes that I otherwise wouldn’t get to taste,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds said she thinks the Diversity Dinners are very beneficial for Saint Mary’s students to experience other cultures on a micro-level while in college.

“What better way to experience a variety of cultures than with family-style meals?” she said.

Senior Emmie Scanlon said she came to the event because she was paired with Slimane in SGA’s international buddy program, which effectively brings together American students and international students at the start of each school year.

“It’s been such a fun experience learning about Tunisian culture and becoming good friends with Olfa,” Scanlon said. “This dinner made me learn even more about her, and on top of that, the food was so tasty.”

Sullivan said the next scheduled Diversity Dinner will feature Mexican food, and four students from Mexico are already committed to taking on the role of chefs. The Diversity Dinners will end with the fifth dinner, which Sullivan said will offer German cuisine.

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About Kelly Konya

Kelly Konya is an English major bred on Catcher in the Rye and Roman cornettos.

Contact Kelly