International Taste comes to Bozeman
February 15, 2012
By Carol Schmidt
More than 150 MSU international students from more than 25 countries will prepare and sell food from their native countries at the 30th MSU International Street Food Bazaar set for 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18, in the MSU SUB Ballrooms.
BOZEMAN -- Montana State University's International Street Food Bazaar has become a Bozeman institution, and this year's event, scheduled from 4-7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18, in MSU's SUB Ballrooms, will be no exception. Thousands of members of the Bozeman community and beyond will line up to experience international diversity in the form of delicious food from 25 countries prepared and served by more than 150 MSU international students.
But had it not been for the willingness of the staff at the MSU Office of International Programs, which sponsors the event, to wrangle the annual gargantuan effort, and the willingness of the late Al Bertelson, director of the MSU SUB, to give the event a home, there might have only been one MSU international food bazaar, and that one three decades ago.
Stephanie Becker, who retired in 1999 as the assistant director of MSU's Office of International Programs, said the first MSU international food bazaar was held on a May noon hour on the west patio of MSU's Brick Breeden Fieldhouse. Becker said the location presented so many challenges that everyone involved said, "Never again!"
"The students loved it, everyone who came loved it, but it was a nightmare," said Becker, who now lives in Harrison, Mont., with her husband, Michael, a retired MSU professor of English.
Becker said that she received a small grant of about $1,500 from her national professional organization to hold that first food bazaar. Her proposal said that the money would help provide diversity to a location that didn't have much diversity. Students from about 15 countries cooked food in church basements in Bozeman and brought it in vans to the Fieldhouse. Large tubs of ice that melted in the sunshine provided refrigeration, and electricity for hot pads came from cords that ran from the Fieldhouse.
Becker recalls that the event ran out of food pretty quickly, and when it was over she carted the pots and pans and serving dishes to her home to wash.
Becker said that while the international students were energized by their day to be center stage on campus, many calling it "Their best day," the event was so exhausting to what was then a small staff, that they didn't anticipate doing it again.
However, just a few days after the event Bertelsen, who died in 2009, approached International Programs and asked if the SUB could partner on the event. At first, the event was held in the SUB Union Market space then moved to the SUB ballrooms. Debra DeBode, director of international student and scholar services, said that many have suggested that the event be moved back to the Fieldhouse -- the inside rather than outside -- to accommodate more people.
"But we must have access to the kitchens in the SUB for food safety issues," she said.
Becker, who said she rarely misses a food bazaar, said the hours of preparation go into making the food is "legendary" and that it is thrilling to see the behind-the-scenes work on the event.
"It's a glorious thing to see the students working together, to see the connected world we have here," she said. "You hear 10 to 15 languages going on at once."
The budget for the event is now about $10,000, and despite its popularity -- about 2,500 people are expected -- costs are rarely covered, DeBode said. In addition, the international students pay for the food served in their booth and hope that the money earned from the food items covers their costs.
"We do this to celebrate the international culture that is here in Bozeman," DeBode said. "It is a huge amount of work, yet there is a real love for the event in our office."
Becker attributes the popularity of the event to the win-win it provides the community as well as the international students.
"Not only does the community need and want to be aware of the students from all over the world who are at MSU, but (international) professors and researchers are involved. Through the years, quite a few families have participated. It's so good for community to have them here. And it's so good for students to see joy that Bozeman community gets from visiting booths, talking to them, seeing them. Some great friendships have formed through the bazaar throughout the years."
Admission will be free for MSU students with a CatCard, courtesy of Associated Students of MSU. Children under the age of 10 are also free. For others, admission is $4 for adults and $2 for students ages 10-18. Food costs will range from $1 to $3 a serving. International-flavored entertainment is also offered. For more information, see: http://www.montana.edu/international/Events/index.html