Tastebud Paradise: Dining Hall To-Go Meals

Photo Collage by Robert Samec

Due to COVID-19, Yale’s dining halls have moved away from their usual free-for-all spreads of food; now, the only hot options are either the meat or vegan to-go meal. While these to-go meals are great for limiting coronavirus exposure, many of Yale Dining’s beloved classic dishes are modified or absent. However, other than some minor hiccups, a lot of the newly-introduced dishes deserve a chef’s kiss in their own right. 


An underrated, but crucial aspect of Yale Dining’s to-go meals are the sides, and the best ones offered are hands down the vegetable potstickers, clam chowder, and garlic bread. While these sides seem like a small part of the overall dish, they always, always complement and enhance the flavor profile of the entire meal. The potstickers are accompanied with a ginger-soy sauce which both brightens up and deepens the taste of the vegetable filling, bringing out the umami flavor. When I tried the potstickers for the first time, I was pleasantly surprised that they did not contain any meat! The clam chowder is rich and filling, making it easily the best soup served in the dining halls thus far. The garlic bread is also a terrific addition; while only occasionally served, it carries that perfect buttery taste that every good garlic bread needs- my fellow garlic bread lovers will understand this. However, not every side included in a meal is always needed, such as with the multi-grain roll. While they are a classic side, the rolls are normally hard and all-around difficult to digest. Most of the time, I consider them as just a second carb. On one occasion, dinner was beef bulgogi and pineapple fried rice with sides of bok choy and the infamous multi-grain roll. In this meal, the roll felt out of place and unnecessary.


Yale Dining also has some tasty versions of Asian, Mexican, and Greek-inspired cuisine. For example, the to-go meals containing lo mein, the classic potstickers, and jasmine rice are hard to hate. Yale Dining has served a wasabi peppercorn flank steak twice that paired excellently with jasmine rice, potstickers, and steamed edamame. This fancy and seemingly delicate dish packed in a lot of flavor. The wasabi on the flank steak gave the dish another dimension to the tender, medium-well flank steak. Although it was not the sinus-clearing level of wasabi you sometimes get with sushi, it introduced another level of complexity to the otherwise classic steak and rice dish. The Greek to-go meals are just as delicious: Yale’s chicken souvlaki is beautiful when paired with soft, airy pita bread and tzatziki. Lastly, one of the most well-executed dishes is the chicken carnitas tacos, usually paired with corn tortillas. The chicken tacos are a filling meal, usually with the add-on options of sour cream and shredded cheese to further enhance the experience. I personally love to add sour cream, shredded cheese, and hot sauce (although I normally add hot sauce to everything). Occasionally, however, Yale Dining’s pairing of two very different flavor profiles doesn’t always pan out. A prime example is the jerk chicken and Haitian rice with orange salsa. Neither authentic Jamaican nor Haitian cuisine include salsa, but Yale used it in order to complement the jerk chicken. As a Haitian-Jamaican American, the jerk chicken also felt like an appropriative name, as it was just chicken breast with excessive amounts of thyme, topped with an orange salsa. Ultimately, the combinations of food are often innovative and tasty, but do not do justice to authentic cuisine.


However, a consistently delightful and excellent facet of Yale Dining is its desserts. My go-to favorite, the homemade brownies, are dark and chocolatey. The brownies taste truly “homemade,” as its official name suggests, and as I eat them I am reminded of school bake sales and that familiar fudgy, soft texture. 


Although Yale Dining has to sort out some challenges of minimal contact food service, plenty of to-go meals are top notch. Yale Dining also offers a wide array of cuisines with each meal, allowing Yale students to move out of their comfort zone, and if you are not looking forward to the to-go meal that day, there is always a pre-made SmartMeal option! 

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