A chorus of schoolchildren chimed in unison. The word "pizza" escaped their lips, one of the few English words all the students in the English As a Second Language class at Indian Hills Elementary School recognize.

And pizza they agree on. It's the favorite adopted food of the class. Regardless of their ethnic origin or the length of time they have lived in the United States, pizza topped the food preference list.But ice cream ran a close second.

Flavor choices ranged from chocolate to strawberry, but Fang Gao, 9, insisted his favorite was, "Milk, milk ice cream, you know, white ice cream." Gao stood corrected by a classmate's retort, "You mean vanilla, Fang."

Dariya Bulat, 10, a recent Russian immigrant, reminded her classmates how lucky they were to have choices of ice cream flavors. "In Russia we only have one kind. It was expensive, but the paper would stick to it. You couldn't get the paper off; it was real sick."

Dariya pondered other comparisons between her homeland and America. The grocery store came immediately to mind.

"We had to have coupons to get bread, sugar, butter, oil and soap. We got the coupons from the manager of our apartment building, after he made sure you lived in the building. My mother was the building secretary, so it was easier for us, but sometimes, even with a coupon, you'd go to the grocery store and there would be nothing there. Sometimes we'd wait an hour in line for milk. Sometimes my dad would go to swap meets for groceries."

Discovering a stateside grocery was a miracle of abundance for the Bulat family. "We couldn't believe how many things there were to buy," the child recalled. "At first my mom loved going shopping, but now she doesn't like it so much. She got used to it."

As a whole, the class quickly got used to the American way of life.

Young Jun-cho, 9, from Korea, nibbled on a bag of Skittles and admitted an "all-American child" love for peanut butter.

"We didn't have peanut butter in Korea; we had rice. Rice every day."

Even American holidays seep into the lives of the transplanted children.

Kristza Pungor, 10, Hungary, discovered a holiday treat in pumpkin pie. "It's the best thing I have here," she said.

Though the collective group of children enthusiastically responded to questions about their new country and its lifestyle, they exuded a quiet sense of longing for more familiar territory.

Food is often a tie that binds a child with a memory of home.

Kristza recalled a family favorite, "tejbegiz." Her sister, Eszter, 8, also expressed a longing for the chocolate-topped cereal-type dish. "We had it with milk," Kristza said.

Ludmilla Rhodau, 9, Iran, remembered a vegetable soup called "ash."

"It's a thick soup with beans, onions and more vegetables. We eat it with yogurt," Ludmilla remembered.

For Dariya, "blinchickes" are the Russian favorite.

"I know everything about blinchickes," she boasted. "I used to make them myself. You take a dough - it has to wind around tiny meat and tiny onions - then you mix it with some eggs and fold it up like a package and fry it. You eat it with cream cheese on, not cream cheese here, but cool cream cheese. It's real different in Russia."

Luiza Pavlova, 16, and also a Russian immigrant who is a Highland High School student, commiserated about the loss of caviar, one of the noticeable missing ingredients in her new life.

"I love caviar," the student admitted, "doesn't matter, red or black. In America, it's too expensive. In Russia, it's not."

Luiza substituted potato chips for caviar snacks.

"But I have to watch potato chips. One month, I eat; next month, I diet. I think potato chips are too fat."

Luiza has absorbed teenage American attitudes as well as American foods.

American foods, most often discovered through the school lunch program, quickly help expand the cultural assimilation of the immigrant students. Food helps the new students establish common ground with their American peers, a territory that expands to encourage sharing of other experiences.


Recipes listed:

Honey-Lime Spiced Chicken

Corn and Crab Soup

Linguine with Lamb, Pine Nuts and Pistachios

Hungarian Goulash

Stir-Fried Rice Stick Noodles with Shrimp and Vegetables

Rice Noodle salad (Bun bo sao)

Bread Pudding