Detail image for July 2023 Modern Family story.

Welcoming international guests into their family home brought world cuisine into the kitchen and a taste for international food and travel to Jean West and all three of her boys.

Written by Jean West | Photos provided by Jean West

If you were to look inside my kitchen drawer, you would find an unusual item: a sensu, or ogi … a folding fan.   

I lived in Japan for three years, and used these little fans all the time when it was hot. But I didn’t realize there was another way they are actually used by the Japanese until our family hosted two Japanese exchange students who showed us how handy the fans are in the kitchen.

Hitomi and Kazuyo were two lovely young women who were students at UofL. They gave my boys a crash course in their culture … writing Japanese words on stickers around the house for them to memorize and teaching them how to make tamago gohan, a delicious rice dish eaten for breakfast.  

And that’s where the ogi comes in.  

When making tamago gohan, while you’re waiting for the rice to steam, you beat an egg with soy sauce and green onions. When the rice is ready, you remove the top, and quickly add the egg mixture, stirring the rice into the pot. This takes two people. Because while one person is stirring, the other person is – you guessed it – fanning the rice, cooling it so the egg mixture covers the rice before being cooked.  

This wonderful culinary tradition is only one of many that was introduced to our family by guests over the years. When I mentioned to my boys that I would be writing about how our international visitors taught us so much about world foods, the ensuing text conversation was delightful!


Detail image for July 2023 Modern Family story.

Antonio: “I remember that pair of Russian guys who lived in the basement and made borscht for us.” 

Joseph: “I remember all the borscht.” 

They’re right. We had a lot of borscht. From “Uncle Uri” a former Russian nuclear submarine pilot to Natalia – who was here on a religious mission. Then there was Natasha, a Russian television personality who admonished my beauty salon when they didn’t get her red hair color exactly right. Our Russian guests all sent us in search of beetroot from Kroger to ValuMarket. 

Mark:  “Who was that Italian lady?” 

Joseph:  “There was an Italian lady?”

We had quite the United Nations of visitors: Catherine Sawle, a vegetarian from England, who made delicious meatless meals (except for some mushy peas) and brought what she called “superior” British chocolate. Lamia, from Azerbaijan, brought beautiful garments and a bridal headpiece, along with her recipe for meat pies – a favorite with the boys. Two members of an Ecuadorian choir taught us to cook scratch tortillas – flour or corn. 

The parade of global guests made for fun eating at our house. My boys enjoyed sampling – and learning to cook– the strange and exotic cuisine. It was a way for them to experience the world at our kitchen table, which gave them the wanderlust for world travel that they are both afflicted with today.

This wonderful culinary tradition is only one of many that was introduced to our family by guests over the years.

Antonio studied abroad in Japan years later, where he actually met up with Hitomi to attend Kazuyo’s wedding in Osaka, Japan. Joseph, having lived in Belgium and spent time in China, introduced us to pork belly and hot pot.  

Mark spent time in South Africa, Panama, and China and makes his own potstickers and tortillas. A marine scientist, he’s allergic to fish, and has figured out how to survive on boats and islands eating other things.    

They are all grown and gone now, but those experiences and memories linger. My spice cabinet is an eclectic mix of favors. I shop at Viet Hoa, Supermercado Guanajuato, and International Grocery, to find the unique ingredients that we’ve come to love.  

Mark: “I swear there was a lady from Italy. She gave me a blue bunny beanie baby and taught me how to make vanilla milk”.  

That’s how we roll.