Most international students will think of food if you ask them what they miss most about home. I’m very much a part of that contingent. There’s nothing quite like the kick of food that’s made with the love, attention, and heart that comes with home-cooked food.
I was stuck in a class on dreary legal issues when I was delighted to get a text from Laurie informing me that there was an Indian food company that had set up samples in the Dining Commons of I-House, and that she wanted me to speak to the entrepreneur and write about the food and the experience. I accepted this special assignment instantly and asked my roommate to charge my cameras. I hurriedly made my way to the International House immediately after class. Thankfully, Berkeley Law is located right across the street from I-House!
I’m still relatively new to I-House, so it was a nice surprise to see samples of food in addition to the abundant offerings of the daily lunch menu. There were banners of Sukhi’s’s logo and colorful tables with aloo gajar matar (a dish made of carrots, peas and potatoes), vegetable samosas (a savory pastry, traditionally with a potato based filling), chhole (chickpeas cooked in Indian spices), rice and the piece de resistance, a mint-coriander chutney.
I walked over and introduced myself to Sanjog Singh, the wonderful lady running the company. I spoke to her at length about the history of the company, its operations, and its plans.
Sukhi’s was started by Sanjog’s mother, Sukhi Singh. The eponymous company was a dream of Sanjog’s mother when she moved to the United States in the mid-1980s. It is an inspiring tale of immigrant success. Sanjog had grown up in the serene hills of Mussoorie, in the foothills of the Himalayas. Her father worked with the Indian Air Force and her mother was a schoolteacher. Sanjog moved to the US when she was 13. Her mother didn’t want to just work here, she wanted to create work, which is exactly what she ended up doing with the company. Sukhi’s is a full-fledged Indian food experience, serving everything from ready-made food, spice mixes, frozen food, and much more. I spoke to one student from India who said he’d been having it for years and was a fan of the company’s products such as spice mixes and frozen foods.
I was interested to learn that Sanjog is an international House alum, who stayed here in 1995 and 1996. She ate in the halls, walked the same corridors and spent the same delightful time here that I’ve been having thus far. She remembers having Joseph Lurie as an executive director at the time, chiming in agreement with me when I said he’s an excellent storyteller. She found community and witnessed flourishing diversity here at International House and at Berkeley, which was pivotal in her decision to settle in the city, only a few blocks away from the iconic steps. She spent a few initial years in the US in Lafayette, a city where she felt like an outsider. Berkeley, as we know, is the diametrical opposite, which convinced her that this was the place to be. It’s been almost thirty years since she came here but she remembers it like it was yesterday. She wishes to bring her children over for a meal soon, so they can see her old home and enjoy the lovely work of Chef Abbie.
Sukhi Singh, Sanjog’s mother and founder of Sukhi’s Indian Gourmet Food, says there are two types of people: People who love Indian food and those who haven’t tried it. I’m inclined to agree. We do food exceptionally well. Chef Abbie was in agreement as well. She was delighted to have Sanjog set up and hand out samples of her food. They spoke to each other at length, appreciating the great work that the other was doing. Chef Abbie was excited at the prospect of potentially collaborating with Sanjog and Sukhi’s for a meal at International House. She expressed her desire to keep in touch because she earnestly loved the work that Sanjog had been doing with the company and the taste of the food.
Sanjog was proactive in staying in touch with her International House roots. She made sure to sign up for the I-House Berkeley Connect online community (If you’re a resident reading this and you haven’t you ought to. It’s everything). She also spoke at length about plans to provide her company’s services at the International House and potential collaborations. Sukhi’s has since been added to the Business Hub.
It isn’t merely a company to her, of course. Sanjog hosts a Samosa and Chai event at her home every single Diwali, which I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to. It’s no small event, as she puts up posters in the week prior and sees turnouts of 200 people. I hope to feel closer to home when I go there later this fall.
I-House thrives on cultural plurality and on the relationships and ties built by those who walk its halls. Sanjog is one of the many such alums who stay in touch with our home and wish to reconnect and give back. I, for one, am extremely glad that I witnessed the inspiring tales of such alumni and have an opportunity to speak to them, understand different cultures, and histories, and expand my horizons with the diversity that I-House promises.