Saturday, November 17, 2012

Short Timers Food

Just off a leafy boulevard in Simferopol, you will find Crimea State Medical University. Every year, this small medical school welcomes hundreds of foreign students from around the world. Young people journey from African countries, the Middle East, Turkey and India, among other places, to study at the medical school, which is for many more affordable than training in their home countries.

Nestled on the second floor of the university’s high-rise dormitories, there is a cafe that caters to foreign students, serving pan-Asian dishes. Wandering up flights of stairs and through darkened hallways, we managed to find the little café recommended to us by several friends.

It was here, over curries and naan, that we met Seethala Devi, who just finished her medical degree a few days before. Seethala, 27, is Malaysian and comes from the Selangor district, about 45 minutes from the capital, Kuala Lumpur.  She has a warm eyes and a kind smile. 

Seethala first came to Crimea for her pre-medical training and decided to stay on for her full medical instruction. Coming here was really hard, at first, she said. It is tough to be alone in a new place with a new language and environment. Then, she told us, she started finding all the positives. “I like it here; I have really enjoyed it.” The hardest part now is missing her family, as she had not been back to Malaysia in four years. 

Getting used to Ukrainian food was part of the adjustment to life in Crimea. Seethala smiled as she recalled “When I first came, I became quite plump.” But, as it turns out, she explained, eating local food became a bit like a diet, with simple tastes, fresh vegetables and less oil than many Asian dishes.

She works long shifts at the hospital and packs along with her kasha, cookies vegetables and tea, for her breaks. “I actually really enjoy it. I will bring along some bread and I have a complete meal.” Eyes shining, she admitted that she has also developed a penchant for Ukrainian sweets (as many of us do!). Once in a while, for treat, Seethala stops by a local bakery for a sochnik, a puff pastry filled with the sweetened pot (cottage) cheese.

She still makes favorites from her native Malaysia, however, but access to spices for traditional dishes is limited. Once in a while, she will stop by the café for a quick meal alone, before heading to the hospital and meeting with friends. Like many restaurants in Ukraine, the café often does not have everything on the menu but does has a few daily specials. “It is a gamble, sometimes” Seethala told us and advised us to ask for “what is nice?” Then, you will get what is freshest.

After seven years in Crimea, she is preparing to go back to Malaysia and was hoping for an internship in Sabah, the oil rich province in the Northeastern part of the country.  It will be a transition too, she said. “I am really going to miss it here.”

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