BY MOLLIE SIMON
Whether it means grabbing a midnight breakfast at Snelling or using a milkshake to conquer an intense round of studying at Bolton, food plays an important role in the culture of UGA students.
But, for some individuals, it can be hard to feel at home eating college cuisine when it is a far cry from the diets they have grown up with.
“In my culture, we use food as a vehicle to get to personal relationships. One of the first things we ask people is, ‘Have you eaten yet?’ It represents that we are able to take care of our guests,” junior Ian Bachiller, an economics major from Covington, said.
Bachiller is the public relations coordinator for the Filipino Student Association and lived in the Philippines until he was nine years old. With parents who love to cook, food has always held an important place in his life.
“Over time, my palate has changed. I have adapted to food in the United States, and I actually like the food here, but there is always a craving when you want to eat something cultural,” Bachiller said.
Meeting those cravings on a campus can be quite the challenge. \
While Bachiller said that the dining halls do a good job with staples such as rice, it is hard for him to find foods which taste like what he is used to from home-an experience he shares with other students of diverse backgrounds and cultures.
Karen Mejia, a sophomore advertising major from Norcross, brings Salvadoran food from home to campus and has adjusted to not being able to open a fridge to find traditional beans and rice.
“I am a picky eater in general, so finding food I actually like is hard. If I did eat beans or rice when I was on meal plan though, it wouldn’t taste right to me because it just was not authentic,” she said.
Mejia said she did enjoy the food on meal plan, but was not able to find the kinds of foods she was used to, such as pupusas and pastellas, a Salvadoran food similar to empanadas.
“We have such a diverse population, so we try to meet everyone’s needs as best we can across the board, but certainly coming to campus they all have different backgrounds and foods that they like,” Brian Varin, the interim executive director of Food Services on campus, said.
Varin said he would love to see dedicated stations for Argentinian, Mediterranean and Indian cuisines, possibly with a tandoori oven, at UGA in the future.
To bring such ideas to fruition would require extensive research and development of menus, something they are not planning to undertake at the moment.
Currently, Varin said Food Services is examining their department as a whole with sustainability initiatives and focus on potentially adding new meal plan options. Eighteen months ago though, when Bolton was under construction, he said they were doing much more experimentation.
The result of that research was new concept areas at Bolton, such as the Asian-infused “Can Ting” station.
“I think they are starting to get better with the Oriental cuisine at Bolton. That is where I go whenever I feel a craving for food. It is not authentic but it still hits that craving,” Bachiller said.
To supplement what he finds at the dining halls, Bachiller enjoys the food that comes with events for the Filipino Student Association.
“Since it is hard to find Filipino food on campus, we try to fill in and cater to people who want to try it,” he said of the association, which is holding its cultural showcase on March 21.
If he could have one food incorporated into the dining halls from his normal cuisine, Bachiller said he would suggest lumpia, a type of spring roll unique to the Philippines and filled with ground beef or pork.
For students who want to see changes within the dining hall menus, Varin suggests using the comment cards, contacting Food Services through their website, or simply finding one of the dining hall managers and having a conversation with them.
“It’s fun for us when we start trying different cuisines, and variety is important to us as it helps sell meal plans and helps us provide for students,” Varin said.
While Food Services does not look at what specific percentages of the population come from each culture in determining menus, he said they try to incorporate unique flavors into student diets through monthly special events.
The March “Street Fest” event, inspired by food trucks, will feature such dishes as roast duck tacos, roots jambalaya and Indonesian chicken satay.
“Authenticity is very important to me because I am a chef by trade. I want make sure the flavor profiles are matching up as they should and that takes a lot of research, writing recipes, testing and tasting,” Varin said.
His main advice for students coming into college with set palates is to have an open mind.
“Being on meal plan, I have tried a lot of different foods, and it has expanded my diet. It is easy to grab a little of something and see if I like it,” junior management information systems major and Spanish minor Giovanni Navarro from Buford said.
Navarro, who grew up eating traditional, homemade Mexican food, said that he has found through expanding his horizons that he likes Asian food and the stir fry available at O-House.
Despite this, he still sees that something is missing from his normal food diet and said the tacos and Mexican foods at the dining halls lack the distinct flavor he is used to.
There is a positive that has come from this though: it has made him appreciate going home to his mom’s cooking.
Featured image provided by @UGAFoodServices