A Taste of Home

April 10, 2011

Growing up in rural Georgia, Benji Ho’s family would often eat vegetables they grew in their garden and fish they raised in their lake.

Dinner was always a place where good food met good conversation, but Benji took more from those experiences: he paid attention to his mother’s cooking techniques and carried her recipes with him into college.

Now in medical school at AUC in the country of St. Maarten, Benji uses his time in the kitchen as a way to take a break from studying.

And he writes about it on his popular website, “Diary of a Caribbean Med Student,” a blog where he posts about his life as a second year medical student at AUC.

There, wedged between notes on USMLE scores and study tips are blurbs on Lotus Root, where to find the best Asian products, and reviews of restaurants on the island – a new feature Benji added to his blog on March 26.

“Cooking is a way to relieve stress from schoolwork, since it gives your mind a break,” said Benji, who graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in 2005 with a major in Architecture – he completed a post-baccalaureate program in premed at the University of Georgia in 2009.

“It turns over the work to the senses – tasting, smelling, feeling, seeing, and hearing.”

In St. Maarten, Benji often experiments with his meals.

“I usually cook from scratch, so that means fresh vegetables, fruit, meats, rice, tofu, eggs, and flour. When I go shopping for groceries, there’s usually not any particular dish I have in mind to make,” said Benji.

“I just get the ingredients I see are available that I like, and then decide later when I’m cooking how to mix and match them to make dishes.”

One of his recent dishes included Tilapia sautéed with white onion, tomato, black pepper and lime. For side dishes, he had a slice of toast with a goat cheese and herb spread, green avocado, fried egg with taco sauce, and a tomato and cucumber salad garnished with cilantro, lime juice, black pepper and olive oil.

For a sweet rush, he sliced up a navel orange.

Finding all those ingredients in St. Maarten has not been difficult.

“I can find everything I’m accustomed to back home over here. I can even find some of the Asian vegetables my mother grows in her garden at home being sold in the supermarkets here,” said Benji.

While he’s not a picky eater, Benji is certainly used to some comfort foods that stem from his Taiwanese roots.

And he likes to share those dishes with friends.

At UGA, Benji would often hold dinner parties, leaving friends with cravings.

His girlfriend, Irene, who is in post-graduate school in Miami, is also a foodie.

“We love to find ‘hole in the walls’, find charm in mom and pop restaurants and try new foods from street carts,” said Irene.

“Surprisingly, I think Benji likes to cook more than I do. Good for me!”