International Night


I’ve mentioned before how very diverse my ward and stake are. That diversity was on full display this evening, as my stake put on an International Night. I just got back from it.

There were tables lined around the gym, each representing a different country, set up and manned by volunteers who are from that country.  Each table offers a taste portion of two or three native dishes;[1] they also have pictures, clothing, or whatever the person in charge of the table wants to display to represent that country. I walked around the gym and made a list of the countries represented: Poland, China, Mexico (x2), Germany, Peru, Dominican Republic, Nigeria, Ghana, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Japan, Romania, Finland, Italy, Ecuador, England, Bolivia, Chile and Philippines.


(Young girls doing a Mexican dance.)

Then for the evening’s entertainment various stake members performed. Most of the performances were folk dances in native costume from various countries.


(A Peruvian war dance.)

There was also a woman who did Native American sign language to a song, and a brother from China who played an erhu.

It was a fun, low-key evening, with people bringing lots of family and friends to enjoy the food and the show. I’m curious whether your ward or stake has ever done anything like this before. It was a first for me, and I quite enjoyed it.

[1] If they do it again, one improvement I would suggest would be to have slips of paper at each table giving the names of and describing the dishes. The theory was that you’re supposed to ask about them, but often there was already a crowd talking to the people manning the table and so you didn’t really know what it was you were eating.


  1. Our ward did one few years back. We weren’t nearly as diverse. Philippines, & Guatemala, were all the volunteers we could get from the other countries. So we ended up with RMs who served in a few more countries; Hong Kong, France, Russia, Norway, Mexico & Spain. It was a bit struggle and attendance was light, but those who came had a lot of fun. And I think it opened the eyes of a few who had never left the state.

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    Oh, yeah, using missionaries who served in other countries would be a way to fill in where you don’t have natives; that didn’t even occur to me.

  3. A few months ago we had an event similar to this one, but put on by the Spanish-speaking branch, who invited several nearby stakes. It was an enjoyable experience. There were probably six or so Latin America countries represented, plus Spain. It was decently-well attended, but not as well as your event appears to have been. Sadly, small town Idaho lacks the diversity of a place like Chicago.

  4. I vaguely remember a small international night in my ward when I was a kid. I think we mainly had returned missionaries or people who had been to another country that did some kind of presentation. One brother had German heritage, my dad went to Ireland on his mission, one brother went to Argentina on his mission around the time of Evita Peron, and a friend’s mom had gone to a middle eastern country at some point. That’s all I remember.

  5. I belong to a small, but very diverse (and absolutely wonderful) Ward in England. We have had a couple of international evenings where we set up displays, prepare traditional dishes and share our cultures (through music, dance, presentation, etc.) We must have had at least a dozen countries represented each time, from all over the world. It is a lot of fun, and we always learn something new.

  6. I was looking at the first photo asking myself “Gee that looks an awful lot like my Stake Center,” and I was trying to figure out how many buildings might have the same architecture and color scheme from the 80s. Then I looked the name of the author and realized, “Hey that is my Stake Center.”

    I’ve heard rave reviews from so many which hopefully will make this easier to pull of next time given after all the heavy effort it took to recruit participation.

  7. The international brothers and sisters are an enormous asset to our church. My ward is NOT very diverse. But a few years ago we had a ward party centered on an international theme with return missionaries bringing dishes from their country of service. In retrospect this had a few problems. Missionaries are not great cooks generally; they don’t eat the best food in their countries of service but closer to the worst; many years have past since living abroad for most of them; and wives not husbands do most of the cooking. I personally was up to trying to cook any Japanese food from where I served my mission. For whatever reason, the food was mostly pretty lousy.

    A few weeks before, my wife’s girl scout troop sold barbecue at a local festival. They bought about 10-15 pounds too much and we just bought the excess and froze it. This was some of the best barbecue I have ever tasted. I borrowed their 2 Dutch ovens and my own made it 3 and I reheated the barbecue on charcoal in the fire place and added a small can of chopped black olives for appearance sake, not effecting the taste.

    Each dish at the ward international party had a card describing it. As close as I can recall this is what I wrote on my card.

    Name of Food: Saddle stew with bits of boots.
    Country of Origin: Wyoming
    Description or other interesting points: Dan Jones was trapped by the winter storms back in 1857 and ran out of provisions. He and his men were forced to boil their saddles and boots into a stew to survive the winter. Ever since then the members of Wyoming have cherished this hearty dish.

    It was supposed to be a joke, but nobody laughed. The good sisters of the Relief Society trotted the soot covered stack of Dutch ovens back into the kitchen and I sneaked them back out and put them at the end of the table after all the fine casserole pans and slow cookers. Nobody besides me partook of the barbecue; until a pair of hungry missionaries showed up late and not much else was left. So they gave my saddle stew with bits of boots a try. And they immediately said pretty loudly, this is about the best food I’ve tasted on my mission! In a few minutes all of the contents of the 3 Dutch ovens disappeared.

    I think that having authentic food from other countries is the secret, not something the missionaries cooked up 10, 20, or 30 years after coming home. To get authentic food usually you need cooks actually from the featured country. And our international members add so much more than their cuisine.

  8. Correction. I personally was NOT up to trying to cook any Japanese food….

  9. Eh, for returned missionaries to cook authentic international food they actually need to know how to cook, they need to be willing to spend the necessary time on cooking, and they need to have access to the right recipes and ingredients. Nothing more. Unfortunately, in the U.S. at least, cooking’s becoming a lost art.

  10. Tim hits the nail on the head. The missionaries do a lot of good things but generally not in the kitchen.

    One other idea. My son has been to Beijing twice now to teach physics and do research for a semester. He will eat about anything here including every ethnic food in the phone book. (Is there still a phone book?) He reports that real Chinese food in China is horrible. He thinks that what Americans call Chinese food was invented by Chinese immigrants, probably in San Francisco, using some native spices but mostly a mix of Chinese and American ingredients put together in new ways.

    If this is true it raises the possibility for the creation of really interesting food. I imagine a synergistic cuisine with international and Mormon roots. I’m not sure what that is going to look/taste like but I am hopeful to find out some day.

  11. Mike, your son isn’t wrong. What most Americans call Chinese food has evolved around the concept of quick take out foods that at one point in time had some basis in an original Chinese recipe. But I would be cautious in castigating all Chinese food.

    I found some spectacular street food from a vendor in Guilin and goaded the locals into sending me the Xian specialty (belt noodles with some extremely hot peppers) when I visited there. They were bug eyed that we would eat such a spicy dish as Biang Biang Mian (belt noodles). Yes, much of what we were served in the restaurants was catered specifically to American tastes – as our hosts wanted to ensure they offered something they believed we would enjoy – and that was why I started seeking out more authentic sources. I can’t speak for what your son is experiencing but I will say that in my experience there are fantastic examples of Chinese cuisine that are exceptional.Dim Sum is one of those dishes that I will scarf down consistently and there is a wide variety of options. Yes it has a Cantonese / Hong Kong origin but there are many specialties that have since evolved across mainland China. I don’t know where you live but I would suggest seeking out a true Chinatown in Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, New York City, Vancouver, or Toronto to find some truly authentic cuisine if you cannot make the trip to China to seek it out yourself.

  12. Kevin, I truly miss this ward and stake. What an amazing place. Not sure if there is any other quite like it in the church.

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