Kayla Mar ’27
Many students, especially students of color, get excited to see their cultural food served in the dining halls. I too find that same excitement; so when I saw chow mein on the Malott menu for the first time, I was ecstatic. Finding comfort in food you grew up with and simultaneously sharing it with those who may not be familiar creates a distinct bond that allows you to take pride in your culture.
I love Malott. The feeling of stumbling through the dark brown doors, grabbing a plate of food, and cozying up in the sun-baked wooden chairs outside is a dining experience unlike any other at the consortium. However, my strong affinity for Malott stops short at their chow mein.
I recall my first encounter with Malott chow mein. It was one of my first meals in college this past August, and after a full morning of orientation presentations and ice breakers, I hurriedly made my way to the newly comforting Malott. Excited for my first taste of Asian food since leaving home, I gathered some noodles onto my fork and stuffed my mouth full, waiting for the wonderfully flavorful food to grace my taste buds in the same way I had become accustomed to since moving into college. Yet, the only flavor I could discern was the singular bell pepper strip among a vast sea of noodles.
The bland noodles were simultaneously rubbery and dry. Sparse bell peppers and onions only added texture. No amount of added sauce could fix this. From each step of production, the amount of love and energy, the amount of effort and time to create such vast vats of this dish for the people of Claremont, all to end up on my plate half eaten, unappreciated, and underseasoned. Based on my initial reaction to Malott chow mein, it may be surprising that I willingly had a second encounter with the dish.
Call me naive, call me idealistic, but I choose to live life with confidence in the good of the world. I bravely bit into the noodles with simple optimism. Surely there was no way it was nearly as bad as I remembered. It was.
So there I sat in front of Malott, the sun shining a borderline uncomfortable warmth, a plate full of chow mein, and utter disappointment.
I like to think of myself as a positive person, as demonstrated in my second chance – one who can see the good even in the bad. However, for the Malott chow mein, I cannot.
College is a time for not only exploring yourself, but to also expand your knowledge of the world. The same applies to cultural foods; food is one of the most easily accessible ways to share and explore culture, and with such a diverse Claremont community, there is a plethora to receive and experience. I am critical of Malott’s chow mein because the dining hall is no stranger to serving positive representations of various cultural dishes: delicious Korean bibimbap reminded me of my own mother’s cooking and chicken pot stickers made me reminisce about summers spent with my grandma. Serving my cultural dishes allows me to proudly showcase my heritage to my friends who may have never had the opportunity to try these dishes before, which is a sentiment held by people of all ethnic backgrounds around the world. Of course, not everyone needs to like every dish from every culture, but serving a dish that is most faithful to its authentic form is the most effective way of sharing and learning about cultures around the globe.
Image Source: Sue Morgan