Shi: Eat Your Heart Out

Dartmouth should add more Asian food to its regular rotation.

by Katie Shi | 10/3/17 12:30am

On GroupMe and Snapchat, most exchanges with my friends begin with questions like: “Breakfast at 7:10 a.m.?” “Lunch after class?” “Collis or Foco?” At 10 p.m. on any given day, we can be found at the Hop for Late Night (“$5.50 for a fruit cup?!”) calculating how many meal swipes we’ve used that week. Over the past month, campus dining has streamlined my diet into a rotation of salads, pasta, omelettes and smoothies. Most nights I pair the latest offering from Ma Thayer’s with cantaloupe cubes while my more athletic friends gorge themselves on plates of pizza and grilled cheese. Yet as someone who believes that “you are what you eat,” I’ve felt that an essential part of me is missing.

“I kind of miss eating Chinese food,” I told a classmate during Orientation who, like me, is Asian. She shrugged. “I’ve grown up eating Indian food my whole life, so I think this change is refreshing,” she replied. I felt the same way at first, but these days, I miss my parents’ cooking more than anything else: Fluffy white rice paired with roasted vegetables and braised meat. Dumplings filled with chives and pork. Tomato cooked with eggs. Pan-fried tofu cut into tiny cubes that melt in the mouth. Rice porridge with tiny pickles and roasted peanuts. Hongshaorou, red braised pork, on top of soft taro root slices. I remember my favorite variation of my mother’s fried rice — complete with soy sauce, egg, green onion and chicken — when I watch someone scrape unappetizingly dry rice out of the rice cooker at the Foco with an ice cream scoop.

What I miss more than the home-cooked meals themselves are the memories attached to them. I miss watching my father whisk eggs in a bowl before placing them in a pot to cook, the final product emerging from the steam with a silky, tofu-like consistency. I miss the weekends my parents and I spent standing at the counter making dumplings until 9 or 10 p.m. I would set my misshapen dumplings next to my mother’s perfectly-formed ones, and each time she would teach me how to fold the thin dough wrappers so that they were crimped neatly at the ends. There’s so much love expressed in the food we made together, and I hadn’t realized how much I would miss that warmth before I left for school.

Like me, you may have longed for some actual Asian food from home after being transplanted to Hanover and repeatedly fed Dartmouth dining staples like cookies and pasta. For many of us, we’ve been stripped completely out of our comfort zones. Most foods that the cafeterias here serve are still predominantly Western — hamburgers, calzones, American comfort foods and so on — and the “international” choices are often subpar. The entirety of Asian cuisine regularly offered on campus should not just be stir-fry, sushi and an occasional week of World View specials. There are a handful of options off-campus, and a weekend trip to the Chinatown in Boston or the one in New York would suffice, but those aren’t nearly as accessible.

Until Dartmouth expands its selection of Asian food, however, we can alleviate this homesickness, even for a little while, by cooking together. It can be instant rice and stir-fry made in the communal kitchens of your residence hall or hot pot thrown together at a friend’s apartment. It’s the comfort of food that I love: Food as a means to connect family and friends, food as a way to survive a bad day and look forward to the next one. Part of this power lies within the food itself, in its familiar textures and flavors, but the act of cooking holds an emotional element that’s just as important.

What if you can’t cook on your own — what if you don’t have the time, the resources or the know-how? Sometimes, the best you can do is to go to a dining hall for group dinners or share your turkey melt and mozzarella sticks with friends at midnight. We can’t always bring our homes to Dartmouth, but we can always establish a second home here, where friends and peers form another family. And once the term ends, I know I’ll definitely enjoy eating at home once again.

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