Trying to stem an outsized flow of Chinese students to off-campus housing, the University is adding 15 Chinese dishes to its monthly residential dining menus. More than that, cooks are altering food preparation methods for a more authentically Asian taste.
The new items (find a full list at the end of this story) will be served at three residential dining halls: Marciano Commons, Warren Towers, and West Campus, says Christopher Bee, Dining Services executive chef.
With students from China flooding to BU and campuses nationwide, the changes are part of ongoing University research into a conundrum: while 75 percent of American and non-Chinese international students return to campus housing their sophomore year, fewer than half of Chinese students do, according to Marc Robillard, executive director of housing and dining.
A survey of roughly 100 Chinese students, most of them undergraduates, uncovered one clue: “We saw that dining is an extremely important item,” Robillard says. “It’s a menu issue, certainly, but it’s also a preparation issue. We can think something is authentic, but it can be way off. It has to be prepared the right way.”
“Western Asian food focuses on meat, with vegetables and/or rice as side dishes,” explains Bee. “Authentic Asian preparation focuses on vegetables, rice, and noodles, with meats and seafood as a protein source and flavoring,” layered in a dish together rather than on the side. Also, while American Asian food is mainly fried, “traditional methods, such as stewing, braising, baking, steaming, and boiling are our current direction at BU,” says Bee.
No detail is too small. “It’s as simple as water,” says Robillard. “Chinese students don’t drink cold water. They drink warm water. They believe warm water is healthy.” So BU is now adding warm water dispensers (in addition to those already available for tea) for students seeking a glass of water to wash down their meal, Bee says.
Dining Services got a jump on this month’s menu changes last week, when in observance of the Chinese New Year a more authentic menu was presented than last year’s. The research is continuing as the University quantifies which lifestyle factors are the most important to Chinese students. But “why wait for the quantitative?” Robillard says. “Certainly the menu is something that’s easier to do than other things.”
Other schools agree. Food service company Aramark, which operates at more than 600 North American colleges, universities, and prep schools, including BU, has polled students of all backgrounds at its colleges and universities, and 44 percent asked for more Chinese menu options, says spokeswoman Kelly Banaszak. (More than a fifth requested Thai food.) In response, “we have added additional Asian-inspired meal selections and sides,” Banaszak says.