It was that anxious feeling when you are outside of your comfort zone that I felt walking up to the apartment building in Queens, New York. However, as soon as my host Nawida opened her door with a warm smile and welcoming hug, I settled into a sense of excitement for a culinary adventure.
Four weeks prior to this moment, I came across the company League of Kitchens, which offers cooking classes demonstrating authentic cuisine from various regions around the world. The instructors are women, living in New York City, who have immigrated to this country with a mastery of cooking in the style of their homeland. Today's cooking class: Afghani.
The class began with introductions among the participants, followed by Nawida describing her life in Afghanistan while we enjoyed some unusual and delicious snacks typical of the region. As she told her interesting story, I was shocked by the fact that once married by the age of seventeen, she had to prepare three meals a day for thirty five people. I couldn't help but repeat this number out loud at random to express my amazement.
Once in the kitchen, this experience shined allowing her to cook as effortlessly as most of us brush our teeth. It was this quality that allowed our conversations to flow from cooking techniques to Afghan culture to relationships and back to cooking, which made our time in the kitchen pass surprisingly quickly. Nawida's openness to sincerely discussing her journey in life transformed the class into a personal experience, and her pride in the refinement of the dishes, such as the unbroken and perfectly cooked long grain rice, kept the class grounded in helpful details.
Once the work was done and the table set, we sat down to eat what I can only describe as a dinner feast of complex flavors. While eating too much, I smiled knowing that unlike eating great food in a restaurant I knew how this food was created and could embrace the challenge of making it myself the next time.
When we finally said our goodbyes, I left walking down the street feeling refreshed. The cooking class was great, but it was the personal and cultural experience that was most rewarding. Nawida's life was so full of struggles, but her persistence and positive attitude are beautiful.
I have found a zest for life common among most foodies that I know, but Nawida maintained her light through hardships and a life so foreign to my own—and yet our similarities transcend borders and cultures. The experience affirmed my faith in people.
Guest-blogger Julia Geis is a contributor to TravelandLeisure.com.