This last Saturday, I visited the Cultural Cook-Off in the McNeil Room. With 10 different groups presenting their cultures’ foods, there was some very good food offered at the event. At the same time, there were several problems with the food that some groups decided to make. There were also a lot of plantains.
The Alianza Latina offered fried plantains, ketchup/chili sauce, and Morir Soñando (literally “Die Dreaming”), a Dominican drink made of orange juice, sugar, evaporated milk, and crushed ice. The fried plantains tasted okay, even good when the sauce was added, but were drier than they should have been due to overcooking. The sauce had a little too much ketchup, but besides that was quite good. The drink was surprisingly delicious, though I might have suggested the addition of some vanilla.
The Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers offered pickled red onions, mashed plantains, and slices of salami. I’ve always been partial to pickled red onions, and these turned out very well, as usual. The plantains could have used some salt and were much too oily, though still edible. The meat turned out to be rather disgusting, with charred bits left in, ruining the rest of the flavor.
Phi Iota Alpha assembled delicious and very slightly spicy sliders with avocado, tomato, and ham. The sliders were very well-balanced in flavors, and all-around quite nicely done. This was one of the best dishes I tried at the cook-off.
The National Society of Black Engineers presented chicken and potato soup with rice and fried plantains. I would have much preferred if the servers hadn’t served me rice that they even suspected ahead of time was undercooked. I would have been just fine with coming back later; I didn’t need to crunch down on it. The chicken was just slightly overcooked and the potato was just slightly undercooked, another no-no to undercook. That said, the plantains were surprisingly good, being cooked just perfectly, without seasoning, very difficult for most people to accomplish.
The African and Caribbean Student Association made two rice dishes and a chicken stew. The cooking was fine, but the spicing left something to be desired. Although, maybe if I mixed all of the dishes together, the spicing would work out, even if the flavors would start to have some problems. The lighter rice was under-spiced, the darker rice over-spiced, and the chicken was very slightly over-spiced. The darker rice and the chicken were also both very oily.
The Black Students’ Alliance cooked corn bread, sweet potatoes, mac and cheese, collard greens, and pumpkin muffins. While I didn’t try the mac and cheese due to personal preference, everything else besides the collards was done very well. The collards needed a bit of a better balance between the collards themselves and the rest of the dish; the collards, which, while tasty to some, are a rather acquired taste, overwhelmed that particular dish in flavor. The pumpkin muffin was particularly nice and moist—a very good dessert.
Two groups besides BSA cooked desserts for the cook-off. The Hong Kong Students Association cooked egg tarts. The central egg custard was a bit bland, but cooked correctly. The crust, however, was perfect, with just the right amount of sweetness. The Malaysian Students Association made dessert plantains. The biggest worry I had when I saw the dish was that it was going to be too sweet, but they came through and delivered smooth, perfect-sweetness, fried plantains, leaving me very satisfied with the desserts offered at the event.
The Korean Student Association presented kimchi (spiced, pickled cabbage) mixed with rice. Kimchi tastes great, don’t get me wrong, but the inclusion of gochugaru (red pepper flakes) becomes overwhelming for a lot of people. I personally like spicy foods, and the rice helps some, but I think the average person would find this dish too spicy.
Pi Delta Psi came to the cultural cook-off with a drink made from artificial iced tea powder mixed with artificial lemonade powder. While it was nice to have a second drink option, it felt rather lazy and was certainly unimpressive.
Despite the handful of mistakes, the cultural cook-off was all-around a success. I’m happy that I got the opportunity to try the foods that the organizations had to offer. At the very least, the cook-off made for an interesting lunch.