Hacking DDS: How to Make the Most of Dartmouth Dining

A writer’s guide to souping up campus options

by Hannah Shariff | 9/14/22 2:15am

foco
by Julia Levine / The Dartmouth

The first time I walked into Foco, the sheer amount of options was dizzying. Loading my plate up with everything from the Ma Thayer’s station and grabbing a few famous chocolate chip cookies, I was certain I would never get tired of Dartmouth Dining and all it had to offer. That lasted until week three; after eating my fifth consecutive meal of fries and chicken nuggets, I knew that something had to change. While the College’s food offerings are often mediocre, and sometimes downright dangerous — I’ll never forget the time I found a decayed bug in the soy sauce accompanying my sushi roll —  it’s a nearly universal experience for students across the nation. Takeout from Tuk Tuk is always an option, but instead of hurting your wallet, it’s better to figure out the hacks of Dartmouth Dining and which tricks work for you. As a Muslim and a picky eater, I’ve become a veteran at navigating the Dartmouth food scene, and I’ve compiled some of the best tips to making the most out of your meal plan. 

1) Never Eat Stir-fry Dry 

Stir-fry at Foco is one of the best, and most reliable, options on days when lemongrass General Tso’s chicken isn’t gracing the halls of the cafeteria. However, the key to taking stir-fry from a last-resort meal to a satisfying dinner lies in the arrangement of sauces next to the pickup area. Using copious amounts of these sauces unlocks a level of flavor you simply wouldn’t expect from Dartmouth Dining, whether it’s the garlic or just soy sauce. If you’re ready to take things up a notch, experiment with mixing the sauces — once you find the perfect combination, you won’t mind waiting in the interminably long line to get your dish. For those who have dietary restrictions, there are gluten-free sauce options available on request, and if you’re worried about staying kosher/halal, Dartmouth Dining workers are happy to cook your meats in a separate pan. 

2) Get Creative

Making Foco dishes memorable takes a little creativity from within, which can mean mixing and matching from different stations. While the salad bar and Ma Thayer’s tend to be separate entities, I’ve learned that adding a little bit of each station to your meal can lead to amazing results. Personally, I enjoy adding peppers to my lemongrass chicken, along with experimental seasoning from the spice rack. Beware that this rule only extends to certain Foco meals — dishes prepared by the chefs (like stir-fry) can’t include banana peppers from the salad section or pineapple from the fruit station. However, meals such as sandwiches and premade entrees can be customized to your liking, so take the time and experiment to see if combinations like ranch and General Tso’s Chicken are actually underrated eats. 

3) Learn To Love Collis Specials 

While I got the occasional smoothie at Collis, I never thought of it as one of the essential cornerstones of the DDS system — that is, until I discovered Collis Specials. Every day, Collis attempts to wow diners with dishes like loaded mac and cheese or Mexican beef bowls that are the closest thing one can get to Chipotle in Hanover. The assorted soups are also different from the usual Foco fare, and I make sure to get a scoop of the cafe’s Chicken Curry Stew whenever it’s available. The only pitfall of Collis Specials is that they aren’t exactly economical. Since one Collis special is approximately equal to one meal swipe, venturing out of your comfort zone for a new dish can lead to disappointment if it isn’t an automatic favorite. That’s why I usually refer to Dartmouth’s premiere GroupMe, Collis Special @Now. Not only do I get to hear about the daily Collis fare from other dedicated users, but students also review the dish and offer their own suggestions on the best way to consume certain specials. To get added, ask a nice upperclassmen or friends that have already become DDS actualized. 

4) Don’t miss theme nights at Foco 

You may have noticed the multitude of banners on the walls of Light Side that detail the dates of different themed dinner nights. While the posters themselves tend to blend in after a while, theme nights at Foco are always the highlight of the week. In the fall, expect and plan for events like the Harvest Dinner and Canadian Thanksgiving, where unique dishes and treats are brought to different Foco stations. Not only do you get the opportunity to enjoy steak on the College’s dime, but it’s also a great way to learn about the different local suppliers that DDS works with. While these events will leave you happily stuffed, they are also very well attended, and it’s best to get there early to beat the lines. Personally, I enjoy arriving around 4 p.m. to scope out all the food available and then gorge myself until 6 p.m. 

5) The Best Things In Life Are Free… 

This isn’t really a hack related to the DDS system, but it’s probably the most important advice I can offer: Always look for free food. The best thing about being on a college campus is the sheer amount of events that offer incentives like baked goods from Lou’s or bubble tea to entice students into attending. Every week, I scan the listserv looking for talks or special events that advertise free meals, and without fail, I find an opportunity to take a (free!) break from DDS food. The opportunistic mentality that comes with scavenging for free food has also led me to discover new parts of Dartmouth. I’ve attended Q&A talks with accomplished alumni in exchange for a Boloco burrito, and have even found a home in new communities like the DOC sub-club People Of Color in the Outdoors (lovingly known as POCO), where members bond over a shared dinner. Participating in Free Food @Now, another cherished Dartmouth GroupMe, has also led to memorable late-night outings with friends in search of the screenshots posted by other free food lovers. 

With experience and the drive to explore new horizons, you can develop a steady roulette of food options. However, if you still find yourself struggling to feed yourself even after “hacking” the DDS menu, take the time to meet with one of the College’s dieticians, who are available to provide support on creating a meal plan for the term and beyond.

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