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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KaSoy Pop Up: Mien Noodle Soup

A month ago I attended a pop up dinner at the home of my Instagram friend @dishingoakland. The theme was Mien food cooked by Instagrammer @laneylaneyfong.  
Our appetIzer was a broiled chicken wing with asparagus spears and came with an unforgettable Mien sauce. The sauce had very similar ingredients to a fresh Mexican salsa, but used roasted tomatoes that really made it pop.  
The main was KaSoy which was the reason for having the pop up. KaSoy is a popular and traditional Mien noodle soup. The dedicate and flavorful broth used for KaSoy is cooked with bone marrow for a number of hours, way before we arrived. The bowl of rice noodles, beef balls, vegetables, and fabulous broth is topped with a signature saucy ground pork mixture. There was a communal plate of chopped green onions, cabbage, bean sprouts, and cilantro if we wanted to add more. Individually we were also given chicharrones and a lime wedge to add to the KaSoy.
Chef Laney also prepared our soup bowls with hot chili sauce. I definitely thought it was spicy, but not so much that I couldn’t handle it. There were two diners that needed their bowls prepared with less spice. We recommended that this be self administered in the future.
At the end of our meal, our host baked some cupcakes and quickly whipped up some homemade strawberry frosting for dessert. It was light and was a nice treat to end the meal.
I was fortunate to attend this small pop up dinner where I was able to experience KaSoy noodle soup for the first time. As a noodle soup lover, I enjoyed it very much.  It was also great fun to meet others that enjoy good food. Follow @dishingoakland or myself at @510foodie on Instagram to find out about potential KaSoy pop ups in the future.  

F.O.B. Kitchen: A Filipino Pop Up

F.O.B. Kitchen has been popping up in a couple of locations in the Mission District of San Francisco. I crossed the Bay Bridge yesterday to have brunch at this pop up. F.O.B. Kitchen serves quality Filipino food. My understanding is that they do regular dinner service on Wednesdays and have had a few of these weekend brunches.    

  
Yesterday’s brunch location was at a bar called Cease and Desist. My friend and I were ready to eat. I had run four miles and she completed a long bike ride. We shared several items. We ordered the hot buttered bun, aka pan de sal which came with a house-made strawberry jam. What’s not to like about a warm buttered bun? The jam was not too sweet and offered a hint of tartness that I enjoyed.  
The meat lumpia at F.O.B. kitchen were filled with ground pork and water chestnuts. They were complimented with a Thai chili sauce. The lumpia came out hot and crispy and was a great starter. They also offer a vegetarian eggroll, but we didn’t go that route.
 The Tapsilog plate included thinly sliced marinated grass-fed beef, garlic fried rice, a sunny side egg, purple cabbage slaw, and fresh pineapple. The marinade on the beef had nice flavors, but the meat was missing a juiciness. Everything else on the plate was spot on.  
The Torta Talong is a charred eggplant omelette topped with shallots and tomatoes served with the same items as the other plate. It came with Jufran, a banana ketchup. I have a memory of eating this dish before many years ago, but this one was pretty awesome. Rarely do I think a vegetarian plate is better than a meat dish. This is one of those cases.  
 The dessert that was being served was a sweet lumpia filled with banana and nectarine. It came with macapuno, or coconut ice cream. This warm glazed crisp dessert had great texture and the flavors melded together perfectly.  
 You can interpret F.O.B. to mean what you want. I’m confident the F is for fresh because I clearly saw and tasted the freshness in all the dishes. This kitchen uses organic ingredients whenever possible. I might call it Fresh off Bon Vivant! Make sure you stay connected to F.O.B. Kitchen so you can hear about where they’ll be popping next!

Japanese Pop Up: Abura Ya

Garden House is a casual lunch spot serving salads and sandwiches open on weekdays for the business crowd. Located on 14th Street between Franklin and Webster Streets in Oakland, Garden House is pretty close to my work. I have often walked by, but have never stopped in to try it. The restaurant is long and narrow and not very interesting. It’s actually quite easy to just walk by without stopping. The idea of opening up a pop-up restaurant when Garden House is closed is pretty genius, especially as more businesses have opened and improved the area. Abura-Ya opens Wednesdays-Saturdays nights and specializes in Japanese fried chicken.

My friends and I went to the Abura-Ya last night. After walking in, I shortly discovered how it works. You order at the counter, pay cash, and find a seat. It took some time to review the menu so it was good that there were two parties ahead of us so we had time to decide on what to order.

The fried chicken is marinated in shiso-koji and pepper and then battered with corn starch. You have a choice of eight different flavors, three wet and five dry. We chose two of the dry seasonings, Shanso and Japanese Miso. I enjoyed the fried chicken, but wish I could try the other six flavors to make an informed decision.
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The deviled avocado was half an avocado stuffed with egg salad and drizzled with a sweet teriyaki sauce. The avocado was perfectly ripe giving the entire dish a silky smooth texture that was delicious.
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We ordered the Japanese chicken curry dish as well. It came with curry sauce over more fried chicken and rice. It seemed a bit repetitive for me since we already had the eight pieces of fried chicken. One of my friends loves curry so she preferred this dish over the other seasoned fried chicken.
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I was intrigued by the beef stew as I never had a Japanese version of this dish. The soy braised beef came with potatoes and onions and was served over rice. It looked and tasted similar to other Chinese beef stews I have had. I liked it, but there was a disproportion of sauce to rice. A little too much sauce was poured out. If I had another large scoop of rice, this would have been much better.
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The albacore tataki salad special was essentially pieces of seared tuna over a bed of greens. The tuna was nice, but I didn’t really like the salad. By the time I had the salad on the bottom, the flavor of the tuna leaked onto the greens tasting somewhat fishy.
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I mostly enjoyed the food and atmosphere of Abura-Ya, but I loved the concept of the Pop Up. Eating from paper trays and compostable utensils was fun and made things pretty easy to clean up as well.