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Theme Dinners celebrate cultural backgrounds of dining hall staff

Dining hall servery decorated with flags of different countries on a string over the servery.
RoMa servery during Theme Night, Feb. 8
Victoria Davies / The Daily Princetonian

Breaking from the regular menu, Campus Dining staff cooked and served family meals for “Theme Dinners” held across residential dining halls on Thursday, Feb. 8. 

Menu options ranged from Jamaican chicken curry in Whitman-Butler Dining Hall, to Guatemalan beef enchiladas in Forbes, to Haitian fried chicken in Rocky-Mathey Dining Hall (RoMa).

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According to Mitresh Saraiya, the culinary production manager for RoMa, Theme Dinners are held once per semester, along with other events such as the Harvest, Winter Holiday, and Mardi Gras dinners throughout the year. Princeton Dining also offers “Take Your Professor to Dinner” nights, where students are encouraged to invite professors, lecturers, or preceptors to dine with them at their dining halls.  

Margaret Hayes ’26 had dinner at RoMa on Thursday. She said that she thinks “it’s a really great opportunity to expose students to new cuisine that they wouldn’t normally try.”

Saraiya told the ‘Prince’ that “lots of different cultures were represented.” Dining halls featured foods from Jamaica, Haiti, Guatemala, and Scotland, among other nations. He explained that many of the dishes “evoked a lot of memories for a lot of students and a lot of people that work [there].”

The food was met with positive reactions from the other students who dined at RoMa on Thursday.

Xuan Stabb ’27 said in an interview with the ‘Prince’ that he thought the food was “pretty delicious.”

Kateri Espinosa ’24 told the ‘Prince’ that “it’s cool to see the dining hall workers be able to make their home cuisines in this environment.”

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Saraiya explained that he “tasted everything to make sure that things were seasoned well,” and that he thought “the food itself was very delicious across the board.”

Tables in RoMa sported white tablecloths, and flags of different countries were strung across the servery. The servery was decorated by Kenneth Fonseca, the front of  house manager for RoMa, according to Saraiya.

Stabb added that “the whole ambiance really improved, and the staff seem[ed] much happier as well.”

Students commented on the sense of pride and community created by the family meals. Espinosa said, “when there’s a sense of pride in what you’re cooking, it just makes the whole experience better for everyone.”

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Faraaz Godil ’24 agreed, explaining that “it’s good to build a sense of community with the dining hall staff … they can share a piece of themselves and their stories with us.”

There was variation among the favorite dishes of RoMa frequenters. Stabb declared the Haitian chicken as “probably the best, by far,” an opinion shared by Saraiya.

According to Saraiya, Jean Pierre, a residential food service worker originally from Haiti, cooked the chicken. Saraiya said “he put a lot of hard work and effort into this, the presentation out there was beautiful and the flavors were really nice.” 

Meanwhile, Austin Guo ’26 said that he thought “the pork [was] pretty good.” Pork jocón is a traditional Guatemalan stew, which was served at RoMa.

Hayes “really liked” the cavatappi with horseradish and pancetta at RoMa, a pasta option that differed from regular dining hall menus.

Theme Dinners were widely popular among those who patronized them, with many hoping to see more of these dishes incorporated into the dining halls' regular rotation.

Espinosa suggested "incorporating more of these home-cooked recipes into the day-to-day at the dining hall.”

Godil agreed, explaining that “I feel like giving the dining hall workers more agency ... [is] going to be good, [because] clearly this is really good.”

The residential and Graduate College dining halls will host a Mardi Gras celebration dinner on Tuesday, Feb. 13. Expected menu offerings include crawfish boils, seafood etouffee, gumbo-style Creole chicken and vegetarian jambalaya.

Victoria Davies is an assistant News editor for the ‘Prince.’ 

Please send corrections to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.

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