UC Berkeley: Changing the way I think about Cafeteria Food


When I reflect back on the lunch I had on Friday, I realize how much has changed since my college cafeteria days. I intentionally made a point to visit UC Berkeley’s student union dining room for What’s Poppin’, A Pop-Up Dining Adventure. For the month of March, three female and minority chefs from San Francisco’s incubator kitchen, La Cocina each have a space to showcase cuisine from their diverse backgrounds. I went to campus with some friends and tried food from each spot.
Chef Binita Pradhan runs Bini’s Kitchen specializing in food from Nepal. Fans seek out her fresh made momos or dumplings. We sampled the vegetarian combo which included kwati, jeera rice pulao, and momos. Kwati is a traditional Nepalese soup mixed with nine different beans. It was thick like a stew and very comforting. The jeera rice pulao is a cumin flavored basmati rice that was cooked perfectly. My favorite part of the combination meal were the plump, fresh, and juicy momos topped with a spicy tomato cilantro sauce. Check out the Bini’s Kitchen website for more ways to access those momos.
Mixiote is a style of Mexican cooking where meats and vegetables are traditionally marinated, wrapped, and slow cooked. It’s also the name of Chef Alma Rodriguez’s business. I was lucky to have attended a wedding last year where she and her team catered some delicious food. To see her have a spot in the dining room was a happy sight. Their pop up menu allows for a choice of pork, chicken, or veggies served on hand made tortillas or rice bowls. We had the pork tacos which were topped with a roasted pumpkin seed sauce. These were hearty, tender, and very flavorful. Our luck was upon us because they specially made taquitos that day. These fried tacos were stuffed with potatoes and were delicious. Stay tuned and follow @MixioteSF on Instagram because word on the street is she’s raising funds for her first brick and mortar.
I have been following Chef Aileen Suzara’s journey for awhile, since she was a Public Health student at UC Berkeley. Sariwa means fresh in Tagalog and Chef Suzara’s mission is to bring healthy Filipino food to the forefront. 

We tried a variety of food at Sariwa including the amazing homemade vegetarian lumpias filled with sweet potato and vegetables. The lunch bowls allow for a choice of mains including chicken adobo and coconut tofu and pumpkin and choice of vegetable side dishes. I was bummed the coconut tofu and pumpkin entree was sold out as it is the menu item that characterizes Sariwa most. At the same time, it’s proving that Chef Suzara is making a difference in the way people perceive Filipino food and it’s all coming full circle. Read more about her story in a recent interview by Bon Appetit.
This month’s What’s Poppin’ is not only a great opportunity for rising female and minority chefs, but it’s a great way for students to explore new, diverse, and healthy cuisines. These three pop-ups are serving lunch M-F. Contact the MLK Jr Student Union for more information and their hours. Address: 2495 Bancroft Way Berkeley, CA. Phone: 510-664-7976.  

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Bluefin: When you can’t decide between Japanese and Thai food

Last week my family decided they wanted to go out to dinner. There was a lot of debate over what to eat. My mom had been in the mood for Japanese food lately and hadn’t gotten her fix. I was thinking Laotian or Thai food. My sister in law had suggested a restaurant in Alameda called Bluefin that serves both Japanese and Thai food. We all agreed to give it a try.
We ordered the fried chicken wings to share. They were cooked to a beautiful golden color and were crispy and flavorful. I enjoyed the fried herb that complemented it.  
I ordered the sake sashimi appetizer. When it came out there were some oohs and ahhs. It was very fresh and presentation was on point. I think I ate all five pieces in under sixty seconds.  
My brother and mother like cooked sushi, so they ordered a four sushi rolls: 1) The Dancing Roll is a California roll topped with BBQ eel. 2) The Lion King Roll is a California roll topped with salmon and baked with a special sauce. 3) The Bluefin Bomb has tuna, salmon, avocado, asparagus, scallions topped with a spicy sauce. 4) The Lobster Tempura roll has crusty fried lobster with avocado, masago, asparagus, and special sauce. These all were presented in a bamboo sushi boat.  
My sister in law wanted Thai food and ordered the Papaya Salad which has green papaya with prawns, tomatoes, peanuts, and a spicy lime dressing. I thought this was really fresh tasting.
I ordered the Tom Kha which is a Thai soup with coconut milk. My “bowl” runneth over with chicken, mushrooms, tomato, onion, lime leaves me galangal, and lemongrass. It was a large bowl that I couldn’t finish in one sitting. I ended up having it for lunch the next day and it was still delicious.  
One of my nieces ordered the Teriyaki Beef dinner. Bluefin knows their teriyaki. The beef was cooked a perfect medium rare and the flavor had the right amount of sweetness. It was laid on top of cabbage, carrots, and broccoli.  
My other niece wanted udon. We got her the tempura udon with the tempura on the side so that everyone could indulge in the fried goodness.
I definitely had a good overall experience at Bluefin. It’s easy to find parking, the staff are really nice, presentation is awesome, and their was a great variety of food that was quite enjoyable. I don’t know why the Yelp reviews are mediocre.  I would add an additional star.  I thought the chefs were able to conquer Japanese and Thai cuisines very well. I personally would go back to Bluefin to try more of both cuisines.