WILLMAR — The Taste of Culture at Ridgewater College keeps growing.
The annual foods-of-the-world potluck meal Thursday noon attracted about 400 people, one of the largest crowds in the meal’s 13 years. The meal is sponsored each year by the college’s Multicultural Club and is free.
The meal includes dishes made by college faculty and staff plus food from Willmar restaurants.
The food selections were far-ranging — teriyaki octopus, stir fry, sambusa, fried rice, Mexican soup, guacamole, lefse with lingonberry jam, krumkake, tater tot hotdish, tamales, Scottish shortbread and much more.
Students, faculty and guests lined up the full length of the Student Center, and the line kept building as people moved through the horseshoe-shaped serving line. Diners left the end of the line with plates heaped with food.
David Cairns, president of the Multicultural Club, said he thought the meal was a great success. “There was a lot more people than in years past,” he said. “And a lot more food.”
Cairns, 20, is just finishing his fourth semester at Ridgewater, studying to be a history teacher.
Local restaurants Golden Palace, Azteca, Rosita’s, Somali Star, Fafaan and Taqueria provided food, and the club purchased enough food for 400 people, he said.
The lunch gives students from different cultures a chance to taste foods from “all four corners of the world,” said Ron Ferguson, a Ridgewater faculty member and adviser to the club.
Ridgewater has a diverse staff and student body, he said, with people hailing from many different countries. “This gives students a chance to celebrate that in a visible way,” he said. Ferguson is from the Virgin Islands and each year serves his jerk chicken.
Ferguson said he’s been to similar events in the Twin Cities and other parts of the state, and he believes Ridgewater’s meal rivals many others he’s attended.
Nasra Ibrahim, a member of the Multicultural Club, had invited several exchange students from Willmar High School to try the unfamiliar foods.
Ibrahim is a Post-Secondary Enrollment Options student who will be graduating with a high school diploma and an associate degree in the spring. She had helped plan the dinner and had enjoyed the foods she tasted, she said. The jerk chicken was very spicy, she added.
Yerbolat Aitpayev, 17, from Kazakhstan, had liked the sambusa and most of the African cuisine he tried, because it was somewhat similar to the food in his country, he said. Guacamole was a hit, too.
“I liked everything so far,” said Benny Thomsen, 16, of Germany, looking down at his nearly empty plate. While he couldn’t remember all the names of his food, he said a Norwegian cookie had been a favorite.
At another table, several PSEO students were eating. Winter Johnson, 16, said the meal was “very delicious, I was starving.”
Nathan Erickson, 18, said the variety of food was really interesting. He tried the octopus, too. “It was a fun experience,” he said. “I’m not sure I’d eat it again, but ... ”