Flavors of Ozarkansas

By Dorothy Hall / Photography By Stephen Ironside | Last Updated June 01, 2015
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Flavors of Ozarkansas

Take a drive down Emma Avenue in Springdale, notice the businesses lining Rainbow Curve in Bentonville, stop by the Fayetteville square on a Saturday morning, or open your eyes in any of the groceries in Northwest Arkansas, and it's so wonderfully apparent that the demographics are changing. An ever-increasing number of immigrants now call Arkansas home, and their food stories are impacting the ever-evolving Ozarkansas culture.

This corner of the state is growing rapidly, but it's the combination of a vibrant economy with the quiet pace of Ozarkansas life that is so attractive. It's easy to point to the impact of the major industry players, the big box stores and poultry business, and the manufacturers and the companies that ship those products around the globe. And the statistics follow: Arkansas boasts the fourth-fastest growing immigration population in the United States. The promise of jobs and affordable living beckons.

It's summertime, and the living is easy in Northwest Arkansas. Except that the living can sometimes be the tricky part. Job security and affordable housing draw people here, but once they're settled, the reality of life in a foreign land becomes more acute. It can be isolating, the distance from family and the comforts of home.

There is a tendency to reduce their stories to statistics, to look at the numbers rather than the people behind them. People like Achmed and Zuhal Aziz, refugees from Afghanistan building a new life in Bentonville. Or Suphan Gingsumrong, a native of Thailand who has been in Fayetteville nearly half his life. These are our neighbors, and like you and me, they are living real life, one day at a time. And one meal at a time, they are adding to our shared food story.

There is something transcendent about food. The foods we eat can connect us to the past, while the pull of hunger so closely ties us to the present. Several times a day, we pause, even if it is just for the moment it takes to bite and chew. And so often, that opportunity is squandered with thoughtless meals that might satisfy an empty stomach, but do little to connect us to our roots. This is something that the following families do so well: They celebrate the flavors of real food, connecting them to their past while showing them the way forward, one meal at a time. And these flavors are spreading throughout Northwest Arkansas. Authentic tacos and pad thai are as accessible as barbecue, and the ingredients behind them can be found in the ethnic markets scattered throughout the area. These markets can be intimidating to one who is accustomed to the neatly packaged, brightly lit supermarkets that all carry the same dizzying array of salad dressings, yet so few raw ingredients. Step foot into India Mart in Bentonville, and marvel at the spice aisle, with dozens of packages of whole seeds and dried botanicals. Or stop by Asian Amigo in Springdale, and choose a fish from the canoe filled with ice and the day's catch. Go to a carniceria, and ask the butcher's recommendation for the best tacos, or visit the Korean market for sushi-making supplies.

Be brave and adventurous. Try new things. Eat as if this meal matters. Because it does. Learn from the quiet determination of these families as they find place through food, and delight in the deliciousness of every bite.

Flavors of Afghanistan: Afghani Qabily

Afghani Qabily
To give the rice variegated color, Zuhal makes a light caramel and drizzles it with oil over the dish as it finishes. She says the rice is also good with lamb or chicken, but her family often enjoys...

Flavors of Mexico: Mexican Sopes

Mexican Sopes
A sope is a kind of open-faced sandwich, where the fried gordita base is topped with any number of delicious fillings and garnishes. Maria makes Tinga, a shredded chicken dish seasoned with a mild...

Flavors of Marshall Islands: Marshallese Pumpkin and Rice Porridge with Boiled Fish

Marshallese Porridge and Boiled Fish
If you have a sweet tooth, include the sugar. But this porridge is also wonderful without the added sweetness, which is how Doris prepares it for her diabetic mother.

Flavors of El Salvador: El Salvadorean Pupusas

El Salvadorian Pupusas
A note on ingredients: Maseca is the preferred brand of corn masa. Red refried beans are the more authentic choice, but refried pinto or black beans are also good. El Salvadorean cheese is more...

Flavors of Thailand: Thai Chicken and Rice Soup

Thai Chicken and Rice Soup
Suphan serves this soup to soothe a sore throat or for anyone needing a bit of comfort. Fish salt is available at Asian markets.
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