Last week, Cornell held its first World Cuisine Night: a night where you could pay $10 or use one meal swipe and get access to every dining hall on campus, each of which was serving a cuisine from a different section of the world. Everybody was given a passport that they could get stamped at each dining hall along their way. Between three writers, we covered nine out of the ten dining halls (sorry 104 West; we missed your limited hours). After a couple hours of “traveling” and a lot of destinations, here are our final thoughts on this inaugural Cornell dining event.
Asian, Mediterranean, & American Comfort Food @ Keeton House
By Olivia Lutwak ’18
I was really excited for this stop — it was the first place I went, and from the buzz I heard from other people in other dining halls, everyone was looking forward to it. I think that Asian and American comfort food are two cuisines that are most familiar to people; they’re the most commonly found foods at dining halls on any given night.
However, as a result, there was really nothing special about the food here. It felt like leftovers or dishes that Keeton had been planning on making that night anyway. “Comfort” food consisted of fried chicken and cornbread — no mac and cheese, which is my personal definition of comfort.
There were a couple kinds of Asian-style noodles that were okay but not much different from what you would get from a Chinese take-out restaurant. There was a tofu stir fry that was so weighed down with tomatoes that I could only stomach a single bite. Keeton also featured a section where I think people were supposed to create some sort of salad with ingredients such as kimchi and pickled ginger — the salad aspect was not clear enough to me so I just grabbed some pickled ginger (I love pickled anything) and ate it with my noodles. Overall, a sad start to my trip around the world.
Middle Eastern/North African Cuisine @ Rose House
By Janna Yu ’18
I knew nothing about Middle Eastern Food until my friend from Iran introduced me to it. I had encountered some food from the area in the past whenever the ISSO (International Students and Scholars Office) held “international dinners” but I admit I didn’t pay enough attention to the unique tastes of each dish. As a first stop to my world cuisine journey, I have to say Rose set my expectation so high that I feel it must be a cruel joke played upon the other eateries because I subconsciously compared others against Rose. The Chicken Shawarma at the grill station had a warm, smoky taste, though it was a bit hard to chew. The tahini sauce served on the side had the familiar taste of sesame. I also liked the Persian Rice, although I only had a little; it had a gorgeous saffron color and was very different from the short-grain sticky rice I was used to at home. The chicken drumsticks with Za’atar spice rub were interesting and intensely aromatic but I was too full to try them. The Tabbouleh Salad introduced me to cracked wheat and it was delicious and way healthier than refined versions we see in crackers and cakes. Overall, I am no expert but I would certainly rank Rose as my favorite on World Cuisine Night.
Pacific Rim Cuisine @ Becker House
By Olivia Lutwak ’18
I’ll admit I had to look up what exactly constituted the “Pacific Rim.” According to Google, it combines cooking from the Pacific Islands, Asia, Hawaii, and California. Becker did not deliver. Again, there was a terrible tofu dish that I couldn’t stomach, tempeh (fermented soybeans), bean curd, and seitan (wheat gluten). If that’s what Pacific Rim cuisine is, rank it at the bottom of my list, because I did not enjoy any of it. My guess, though, was that the execution was worse than the cuisine — I’ve enjoyed all of these foods separately in the past; I just hated what was on my plate that night.
This dining hall was saved, however, by the baked Alaska served for dessert. I had never had one before; it consists of ice cream over a thin layer of sponge cake and then topped with a caramelized meringue. The charring on the meringue made the whole dish taste like s’mores fresh from the bonfire. The rest of the meal could have been skipped, but I would go back just for the dessert.
African East Coast Cuisine @ Jansen’s
By Janna Yu ’18
The East African food offered at Jansen’s opened my eyes to many different comfort foods. My friend told me the foods he had at home in West Kenya were super solid and filling, and the food at Jansen’s that night was on point. He was disappointed that there was no ugali or chapati: two things he missed the most.
I especially liked the Ugandan curried potatoes, which had the right amount of crunchiness and spice that agreed a lot with my East Asian stomach. The Tanzanian Fish Bake wins not in authenticity (I couldn’t find it documented anywhere) but in its taste. In my limited experience with East African food I have never had fish so it was a pleasant surprise. The topping tasted like basil oil sauce, though I could be mistaken. And the Ethiopian lamb stew — I honestly couldn’t differentiate between my mom’s lamb stew and this. The beans in the Githeri (a dish consisting of a mixture of maize and beans) were too raw for my taste and I couldn’t finish it. When I heard that Githeri was popularized by school lunches, I felt a lurch in my stomach; no one likes school lunches, and while it is good enough for me as a foreigner, I could not imagine eating it on a day-to-day basis for a long period of time.
Just as all deeply traditional, historically isolated cuisines, the food in East Africa could not be generalized and each community has their own famous dishes. I’m glad Cornell is offering these cuisines from time to time and I look forward to more.
European Cuisine @ Cook House Dining Room
By Olivia Lutwak ’18
Europe has such a wide variety of cuisines; I was skeptical that Cook could represent all — or even most — of them in a single dinner. I was right in my skepticism: features included a vegetable medley, German potato pancakes — which, I’m fairly sure, were just bad latkes — and foccacia bread. They had lemon cannolis for dessert which just completely fell apart. By this point in my journey (I was already five dining halls deep), I was extremely full and had really lost my will to go on, but I think that even had this been my first stop, I would have found it to be a disappointment.
South American Cuisine @ Risley Dining Room
By William Oldfield ’20
Risley was the dining hall I was most looking forward to — I previously lived in Brazil, so I was curious to see what food Risley would be offering. I was not disappointed. I appreciated their effort at offering foods from different countries, including Suriname, Brazil, Peru, Argentina, Bolivia and Colombia, among others. Among the highlights were the beautifully presented Peruvian Ceviche and the flavorful Arepas. While the Brazilian Pão de Queijo was dry and tasted quite different than I was used to, it was passable and reminiscent of home. The plantain brownies with caramel sauce and chaja cake for dessert were a very nice finish to what had been an all-around satisfying meal. Perhaps as important as the quality of the food was the fact that there were many dishes that I had never tried before, so I was able to experience something interesting and new.
South African Cuisine @ Robert Purcell Marketplace Eatery
By William Oldfield ‘20
RPCC was a bit of a mixed bag on World Cuisine Night. While I have to acknowledge that there were a number of interesting dishes featured, their quality was definitely a lot more miss than hit. On the plus side, I really enjoyed the Pumpkin Casserole and the Butternut Squash Soup, and visitors seemed to be somewhat enthusiastic about the Chicken Tagine and the Chicken with Chutney in Pita. The main highlight was the Chocolate Fondue, although the chocolate was dispensed in cups instead of from a fountain, and as RPCC has fruit and chocolate fudge every day, it hardly seemed noteworthy. On the negative side, the Bobotie looked quite appealing, but one bite was enough for me to push it to the side. The same can be said for the Giant Stuffed Meatball, and the Exotic Brinjal (Spicy Eggplant) tasted as bad as it looked. Overall, while there were a few dishes that had interesting flavors, it was a bit like playing a slightly less lethal version of Russian Roulette.
Eastern European & Central Asian Cuisine @ North Star Dining Room
By William Oldfield ‘20
I was somewhat apprehensive on seeing that the first item on the Eastern European and Central Asian Cuisine menu was the “All American Burger Bar”. However, I soon discovered that my fears were unfounded. There was a huge selection of different dishes, and it was interesting to see each station’s take on the theme of the evening. For example, the Pizza Station offered a delicious Lahmacun (Turkish Pizza with Lamb), and the Salad Station was complete with a Turkish Ezme Salad and a Persian Salad Shirazi, among others. My one major complaint is that the semolina cake with pomegranate was an underwhelming finish when compared to the vast variety of dishes on offer. Dessert was saved, however, by the star of the evening, which was the Mango Lassi. This sweet drink was reminiscent of a milkshake, and was so popular that a long line soon formed, and it seemed that the dish was constantly being refilled. It was one of my favorite items of the evening, and it meant that overall I was very satisfied with my meal at North Star.
African West Coast Cuisine @ Okenshields
By William Oldfield ‘20
My first thought upon walking into Okenshields was that World Cuisine Night had been cancelled; only the sign by the door proved otherwise. Granted I am certainly no expert on African West Coast Cuisine, but I would guess that “Sesame Ball with Red Bean” and the “Assorted Pizza Bar” are not traditional delicacies. It didn’t seem much different from a normal Okenshields dinner. Once I did manage to find the limited selection of West African food, I was even less impressed. The beef curry and Jollof Rice were not particularly flavorful, and if I had not known I would be eating at five restaurants later that night, I would have gone back to the pizza and dim sum bar. My friend, who had lived in West Africa, confirmed that the food was a shallow representation of what it was meant to be. The chocolate cake for dessert did look appealing, and indeed had a nice texture, but was nothing to write home about. While I am usually the first to defend Okenshields from critics, in this case my only thought on leaving was the hope that the other dining halls would make more of an effort at offering “world cuisine.”
Overall, the concept of World Cuisine Night was a good one — paying $10 or one meal swipe for access to every dining hall is an amazing deal, and the idea of traveling the world across campus eateries was fun to get into. However, the execution was pretty poor. Very few stops were the least bit satisfying — it really brought out the worst in dining hall food. With adequate preparation and superb execution, though, I think that another World Cuisine Night could be a big success.