Know Your Foco

by Paulomi Rao | 8/11/16 10:00pm

Let the Baker Tower bells ring, ladies and gentlemen. It’s almost that time of year again when the leaves turn orange, the air is crisp and hundreds of freshmen frolic around the homecoming bonfire. Amongst all the crazy changes students will come back to in 16F, with new residential houses and class times, there is one truth on which every Dartmouth student can rely: The Class of 1953 Commons (call it Foco or you may as well be a townie) will still be baking the most incredible chocolate chip cookies in the Upper Valley.

Now for all you ’20s reading this across the globe, have no fear. It’s crazy thinking that in just a few short weeks, you will be packing for First-Year Trips and orientation week, ready for your newfound freedom with classes, extracurricular activities and, of course, your dining options. So how are you going to survive without your hometown favorites or your mom’s cooking? For those searching for ways to pack all of their favorite snacks into suitcases meant for clothes, don’t worry, I’m here to help.

The Basics. At Dartmouth, we’ve got some pretty great dining options. There’s Collis Café (known as Collis), The Courtyard Café at the Hopkins Center (better known as the Hop), King Arthur Flour (“KAF”) and Novack Café (Novack). But the one that trumps them all in sheer volume of offerings is the College’s largest dining facility, Foco, short for “food court.” Technically, the dining hall is actually named the Class of 1953 Commons, but you usually won’t hear students or even faculty call it that. Its prime location, perched right behind the Collis Student Center (good food, large TVs and free coffee), Robinson Hall (where Trips start) and the Office of Undergraduate Admissions (where some nice people accepted you to join the worst class ever), along with the requirement that all freshmen sign up for Dartmouth Dining Service’s largest meal plan, the “Block 20,” ensure that you and Foco will soon become well acquainted.

Getting Into Foco. When you first enter Foco, try to already have your ID out. By October, when it starts getting cold and the line stretches outside, if your ID is in the back of your wallet at the bottom of your bag, no one will be pleased. You can only swipe in at certain times for breakfast, lunch and dinner and never forget about the brunch option on Sundays (7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.). Having breakfast at 1 p.m. on a meal swipe is a game changer.

Finding A Seat. After getting inside Foco, I suggest saving a seat and then grabbing food. There’s nothing worse than getting hot food and then having to search the light side, dark side and upstairs to find a place to eat before it gets cold. Also, reaching across counter tops for some of the self-serving options may get messy, so it might be easier to just leave the backpacks and bulky jackets on chairs or in the cubbies by the entrance.

Getting Food. Take a quick lap to make sure you know what’s being served at every station. Some highlights to keep an eye out for: the kosher station (if it’s open), the type of pizza available and what’s happening in that week’s World View station. Once you scope out the scene, it’s easier to find what you want with the shortest lines. Meat is served on a separate plate so try to get it first and avoid the hassle of carrying around two plates.

Eating your veggies is crucial to avoiding the Freshman 15. Raw vegetables taste great in soups if you steam them in the microwave first. In fact, you can basically steam any vegetable. Pile rice from the stir fry station under a salad for a filling and nutritious alternative. For a quick hack, the craisins from the oatmeal station are left out every day and taste great on top of salads.

Depending on the day, the options for breakfast vary. The granola by the pastries is actually just sugary almonds while the real stuff near the cereal will cover all your crunchy needs. Pair the granola with Greek yogurt covered in honey from the tea station and you’ve got a parfait. This is Dartmouth, you’ve got to know your granola.

Dessert. For a perfect pre-study snack on Sunday mornings, try waffles with chocolate chips from the ice cream topping station, cut-up bananas, ice cream and Nutella. For other treats, try kosher cookies for a sweet-but-not-too-sweet alternative. A crucial dessert hack is knowing the location of the cinnamon sugar bottle (by the peanut butter and other spreads). Make toast in the toaster, add peanut butter and chopped bananas and a little sprinkle of cinnamon sugar for happiness.

Get Creative. To avoid boredom, maximize your variety. Add pesto to fish, chicken and stir fry with pasta or sauté vegetables and protein for lo mein-à-la-Foco. Honestly, some nights you will just feel the need to sauté everything. Last fall my friends decided to sauté ice cream in oil when no one was looking and see if they could make fried ice cream. They forgot there needed to be some sort of flour coating and the ice cream melted in the pan.

You can also get crafty in other ways. If the grilled cheeses by the Caesar salads are looking a little sad, you can make your own with more creative fillings at the panini press — try the fresh mozzarella and cold cuts to start. And don’t forget to utilize the microwave. Grilled chicken heated with tomato sauce and cheese becomes chicken parmesan.

If you utilize your options, Foco is guaranteed to keep your heart warm on the coldest of nights. Siracha or hot sauce in hummus makes a wonderful dip, while the omelet station on Sundays will also make you scrambled eggs if you ask politely.

The Foco Family Table. Take your time, take it all in. If you commit to sitting down at Foco, I suggest making sure you are not in a rush. Some of my best memories of freshman year were sitting with friends on weekdays until Foco closed and grabbing Foco brunches before big weekends or games. No one does community like Dartmouth, and nothing fosters community like food. Thanks to Foco, we can all create a little piece of home on campus. So welcome home, ’20s. We can’t wait to have you.