In an effort for our girls to explore the world through cuisine, Mercy Home’s Walsh Campus recently held their inaugural Palate Passport meal. The ongoing cultural exchange seeks to broaden horizons by exposing our young women to international foods, as they learn about the customs, traditions, and history of foreign countries.

Girls from Walgreen Home came up with the idea when Nyah Griffin, Manager of Food Service Operations, asked the girls how her team could improve the cafeteria.

“They asked me if they could eat international food more often, which was something I was super open to,” she said. “I think it’s a cool idea.”

Every two weeks or so, one of the young ladies chooses a country – either someplace they have a connection to, or someplace they would like to learn more about. Then, coworkers — including the kitchen team — create an evening and menu focused on that country. Nikki Sullivan, Walsh Campus Administrator, created a passport for each of the girls that contains spaces to write in their favorite part of the meal. They also receive a passport stamp for each country “visited.”

“The young lady will also be responsible for creating a short presentation, with my help, about life in the chosen country, touching on culture, current events, and demographics,” said Marc Velasquez, Manager of Spiritual Development. “As part of their preparation, they will choose three to four recipes for the kitchen to prepare as that evening’s meal.”

The first nation presented was Togo, native country of Vanessa from Walgreen Home. Aside from researching the menu, Vanessa also suggested music to play. The menu included traditional Togoan grilled Chicken, Jollof rice, fried plantains, West African peanut soup, and beignets for dessert.

“It was a significant night for me because, even though some people had no idea I was from Togo or what to expect, I was able to be myself and share my story with them,” said Vanessa. “I danced and sang around with my country flag the entire time. The rest of my family is still in Togo, so this was a great way for me to remember them and show gratitude”.

“We knew this would be a great way for the girls to share their culture, learn more about each other, and try some new food as well.”

Marc said he received several suggestion from the young ladies for future Palate Passport destinations.

“We knew this would be a great way for the girls to share their culture, learn more about each other, and try some new food as well,” he said.

The featured country for the following Palate Passport night was Korea, hosted by Ashley from Walgreen Home. A huge fan of Korean popular music — K-pop — Ashley helped curate the menu: Kimchi rice with chicken, Sigeumchi Namul (a Korean spinach side dish), and honey pastries. Ashley also gave a presentation on Korean history and culture, and explained why the country is divided into two sovereign states.

“The more I got into K-pop, the more I started to learn the language and the meanings of the songs. Learning the language helped me to start to appreciate the culture more,” said Ashley. “One day I hope I’m able to travel to Korea and experience the people, music, and culture first hand!”

While cultural awareness remains the driving force behind the Palate Passport meals, Nyah also views them as an opportunity to dispel some myths.

“We’re trying to get rid of the stereotypes and the stuff people automatically think of when you’re dealing with different cultures,” she said. “We simply want to expose the kids to different countries and different ideas.”