A line of UCR students passed by a display of bowls of colorful South Asian spices like turmeric and garam masala as they picked up plates of Bhutan momos and Indian pakoras.
The food was part of a special “Taste of South Asia” dinner at the Aberdeen-Inverness Residential Restaurant on Jan. 30. Flags from eight South Asian countries hung above the World’s Fare serving area while music from the region played over the sound system.
The menu featured cuisine from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan such as chana masala, Sri Lankan coconut roti, and Nepalese red dal — a change of pace from the usual dinner offerings at the restaurant.
Dining Services worked with the South Asian Federation, an umbrella organization representing about a dozen student groups, to put on the event, its second time doing so. It’s also partnered in the past with the Middle Eastern Student Club for a dinner with cuisine from that region and hopes to do similar dinners with other groups representing different cultures, said Lanette Dickerson, UCR’s executive chef.
“I really enjoy doing these types of events,” she said. “It really helps us get educated on making these dishes that remind our customers of home.”
For the South Asian-themed night, the student groups put together a list of suggested menu items and provided recipes for the Dining Services chefs, who then had to figure out how to scale up the recipes to make in batches that feed up to 500 people.
Dickerson and her chefs held two practice tastings, including one with the student group, whose members provided feedback.
A week before the dinner, they tested three of the menu items: the Bhutan momos, a dumpling with ground chicken; chana masala, a spicy Indian dish with chickpeas; and Sri Lankan coconut roti, a flatbread with a sweet and spicy kick.
“A lot of this food is all new to me — my first time doing it,” said David Murillo, an assistant culinary manager, as he prepared the roti. “This is fun.”
The momos were a returning favorite from the first South Asian-themed dinner last April. Jeniffer Valenzuela, an assistant culinary manager preparing the dumplings, recalled how one student said it reminded them of their mother’s cooking.
“It doesn’t get much better than that,” Dickerson said.
She and the student group planned the menu to ensure a variety of South Asian cuisines were represented, noting most diners tend to be familiar only with Indian food. The menu also included plant-based and halal items to accommodate different dietary preferences.
Dickerson said she expects some of the popular dishes will be incorporated into the regular menu in the future.
Elizabeth “Iggy” Ignatius, a third-year student and vice president of the South Asian Federation, praised the Dining Services chefs, mentioning the gulab jamon dessert and Indian chai as particular favorites.
“It’s nice to come here and feel represented,” she said.
Her group put together the music playlist, featuring artists from all over South Asia. The event had a festive air, featuring a henna artist applying tattoos and Bhangra and Giddha dance performances.
“We wanted to make sure we can promote our culture and our food and show people a good time,” Ignatius said.
Rashia Amashta, a senior and former vice president of the South Asian Federation, said it was nice to see the large turnout of South Asian students and community members.
“We really brought the people together — all the Indian people, all the South Asian people,” she said.