“I think my taste-buds have disappeared,” I said to my mom on the phone after another dinner of the same variation of oily meat and undercooked rice at Hill Dining’s Global Fusion section.
As a proud and self-acclaimed foodie, I’ve always deeply appreciated a good meal. After coming to Penn, however, I feel like I’ve lost the adventurous and creative part of me that romanticized each meal of the day.
I once loved crafting my own meals back home, whether it was just a simple sandwich (always on a piece of bread that will destroy the roof of my mouth with thick slices of tomato) or the most unnecessarily complicated instant ramen (add: rice cakes, fishcake, enoki mushrooms, bok-choy for a pop of color, a slice of cheese, a perfect soft-boiled egg, no green onion because I’m immature). However, there is just no opportunity, kitchen, or time for me to concoct such meals as a college student living in a first-year dorm.
Instead, like all first-years, I resort to the dining plan. When a ghost of the foodie that I once was rears her head, I guiltily close Penn Mobile (which shows my humiliating excess of meal swipes), and spend money eating out with my friends. The food our dining plan offers isn’t great, but exploring the vibrant food scene of Philadelphia comes at a cost too (literally).
In short, being a budget-conscious foodie at Penn is hard.
That is, until I stumbled upon the secret of Penn Dining. What if I told you that it’s possible to be a foodie on campus? That you won’t have to pay a cent for a delicious, innovative meal cooked by professional chefs, and that you’ll be able to learn something new in the process?
Try signing up for one of the Culinary Sessions offered by Quaker Kitchen every Wednesday from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., where Penn students get the opportunity to learn and eat from Penn’s own Chef Clara Park and a rotating lineup of local guest chefs.
I’ve been to three sessions so far with my friends. The first one I attended was Chef Jonathan Deutsch’s demonstration on upcycled food, where he told stories about food waste and presented a three course meal consisting of a cheeseboard, pizza, and banana ice cream made solely with upcycled food. I happily left with a full stomach, a lot more knowledge, and a jar of tomato jam to take home.
Next, Baba's Brew’s owner, Olga Sorzano, talked about the process of fermentation while students got a hands-on demonstration of how to make kombucha and kimchi. For the price of zero dollars and zero cents, I got to walk away with a large bottle of personalized kombucha and a jar of homemade kimchi.
Lastly, I attended the Diwali celebration session led by The Curry Blossom’s Chef Chetna Macwan. The food was dance-worthy. The cardamom shone in the mango lassi and the shrikland. The star of the show, however, was the batata vada sandwiched between two pieces of bread. The spice and heaviness of the potato filling was perfectly complemented by the citrusy and light bhel chaat and fresh mint chutney. I hadn’t had this much flavor since leaving home.
Everyone knows that the Penn dining plan isn’t ... jaw-droppingly good. Students have been complaining about it for forever. The Undergraduate Assembly, the Dining Advisory Board, and other student advocacy groups have consistently tried to improve dining. Although successful with some initiatives, there has never been a change made drastic enough to satisfy students. Bon Appétit, the company behind Penn Dining, seems to be unresponsive to suggestions, blocking out the muffled screams of Penn students trapped in 1920s Commons.
Yes, the Penn Dining food disappoints, and the taste, smell, and color is off-putting at times. Yes, there’s not enough options, and while Drexel University students get to tap their student IDs at Shake Shack, we don’t even have the option of spending our dining dollars at the Insomnia Cookies located inside one of the most popular dining locations on campus.
However, instead of moping over chunky mac and cheese and strange-looking mushrooms, we should put on our explorer hats and uncover the hidden jewel of Penn Dining: the Culinary Sessions at Quaker Kitchen.
Quaker Kitchen’s culinary demonstrations reminded me of the importance of food for not only sustenance, but contentment. Let’s fall back in love with food in a way that also won’t break the bank this year. So, for one Wednesday evening, push your homework away, grab your friends, and celebrate food in the way it should be celebrated: an experience for your brain, your tastebuds, and your soul.
CHLOE CHEN is a College first-year from Vancouver, Canada. Her email is email@example.com.