Though most dining commons food comes as pre-made cuisine, already distinctly seasoned, there’s no reason students can’t still mix things up when the norm gets old. I headed into Worcester Dining Commons at the University of Massachusetts Amherst to ask students about their secret dining commons recipes and food mashup tips, and to try out some combos of my own.
It’s worth mentioning that Worcester has a lot of options. But even in cafeterias with a more limited selection, there are still lots of ways to create some excellent cafeteria fusion cuisine.
Nikita Kamaraj, a grad student at UMass who also works at Worcester, said she likes to add spicy masala on top of plain fries from the dining hall, or mix types of cuisine, like Chinese and Indian food.
Abby Nathanson, who was visiting UMass from Millerton, New York, for a youth leadership conference, suggested taking some of the couscous from one food station over to the fried risotto station instead. There, the risotto chef can mix in choice vegetables. This could be a good alternative for those who prefer the lighter dish to a heavier, creamy rice.
Naeemah Davis, a Worcester worker, had some interesting suggestions for how to make desserts, drinks, and dessert drinks tastier at the dining commons. She said if you want a milkshake, it’s simple: just pick your flavor of choice from the ice cream machine, add a little bit of milk and maybe even some Oreo crumbs and M&Ms, and stir it all together. You can even put the concoction in a cup to-go.
Davis, who will be a freshman at UMass this fall, offered another delicious dessert combo: blueberry buckle (a sort of dry cobbler) on top of vanilla ice cream, with some hot fudge drizzled on top.
One last suggestion from her: mix buffalo chicken into some mac and cheese for a zesty twist on the staple college food.
After listening to everyone’s combo suggestions, it was my turn to make something yummy.
I knew I couldn’t pass up the risotto bar, so I asked Chef Stuart Fontain to toss the rice with vegetable stock, red and green peppers, broccoli, zucchini, and mushrooms. For my meal’s twist, I asked him to skip the cheese. After everything was sauteed, I took my risotto over to the sauce bar and hit it with Worcester’s delicious tomato and meat sauce. Then I added my cheese and some red pepper flakes for an extra kick.
It was so good. Adding meat sauce, or even cut up chicken breast, to risotto is good for getting in that extra protein, and it tastes pretty great, too.
For my drink, I mixed together lemonade and iced tea to make a classic Arnold Palmer.
To top the meal off: soft serve. I spooned some Oreo crumbs into the bottom of a sugar cone before dispensing the vanilla soft serve. Then I topped the creamy treat off with some M&Ms and sprinkles. The Oreo crumbs were a good call; they were a nice chocolatey surprise at the end and they soaked up the dripping soft serve, making the desert drip-free.
Regardless of whether you like to stick to traditions or you’re always itching to try new flavors, just know that there are plenty of ways to do the latter. Don’t be afraid to let your boredom with the ordinary drive you to get wild and weird with your food.
Alexa Chryssovergis studies journalism at Indiana University; she just wrapped up an internship at the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton. Tweet her at @achryssovergis.