Campus menus expand to highlight international dishes
University Dining Services is expanding its recipe box to offer a taste of home to UNL's international students.
The move reflects growth in UNL's international student population, particularly in undergraduates from other nations, which have increased from 495 enrolled in 2006 to more than 1,800 in the current academic year. University Housing offers ethnic foods primarily in the Selleck Hall, with other residence hall dining facilities providing international fare during special theme nights.
"Adding international foods to the menu has been a focus for about the last five years," said Gina Guernsey, dining services manager for Selleck Hall. "Offering these dishes is important because they are a great way to show our international students that we are glad to have them here and that we value their culture.
"It's also fun because we get to educate ourselves and other students about different foods from around the world."
In recent years, the Selleck Hall dining team has added Brazilian, Chinese, Indian, Persian and Omani recipes to the menu.
One of the more popular dishes is feijoada, a black bean and five-meat stew developed by slaves in the Portuguese colonies that has become a Brazilian national dish. Brian Sabatka, production manager for the Selleck Hall dining facility, said feijoada is offered about once every five weeks alongside a rice dish that is also Brazilian.
"When word gets out that we are serving it, the kids from Brazil line up before the doors open," Sabatka said. "We've had times when they take up two of our 14 seat tables."
Pam Edwards, assistant director of university dining services, said student requests often lead to items being added to the menu. Employees research the dish requests, first seeking a recipe — students provide some, while others are found on the Internet — then checking for the availability and pricing of ingredients.
The recipes are perfected in small test batches before being added to a menu. Many times, ethnic diversity in the Selleck Hall dining staff helps speed up the process of converting a family recipe into something that can serve hundreds. For instance, when making pao de queijo, a Brazilian bread cheese, student workers from Brazil showed how a simple flour adjustment could produce an authentic product.
"We have maybe 10 to 12 countries represented in our staff now," Guernsey said. "It really helps when student employees can show us the traditional way meals are prepared. By listening, watching and working with them, we're able to get it as close to homestyle as possible."
And student reactions make the extra effort worthwhile.
"I love seeing the looks on their faces when they see a dish from home," Sabatka said. "And, when they tell you how good it is, that's when you know you've hit the jackpot."
For more information about upcoming meals at university housing's dining centers, click here.