Elizabeth Watson

I can often be seen lingering by the Berkeley salad station, sprinkling my plate with freshly ground pepper. To be real, my dinner plate looks like a culinary experience on most nights, so much so that I have had people approach me and ask, “How did you do that?” 

The formidable Yale Dining plates (designed for football athletes, I’m sure) have no bounds. Once filled, they look about as colorful and coordinated as an ever-growing online shopping cart. One of the ways to appreciate the Yale dining hall is to see the variety of experience; to be grateful for the varied mouths and diets it can feed. Many students who have adopted vegetarianism (or have retired, following the anemia warning) form volcanic salads erupting in a grilled carrot turnip medley, oozing red pepper hummus lava and shards of pita chip. Others, though, are more simple: my friend Hannah’s plate has merely token vegetables, and features instead a few slices of cheese pizza topped with a half-eaten cupcake. 

It is in these moments that Hannah stares perplexed at my Michelin-star plate with a mixture of second-hand embarrassment and envy. I simply continue to drizzle Balsamic glaze.

I am Yale Dining’s biggest fan. I wake up every morning to a life lesson from Annette, perfectly soft-boiled eggs and a mezze bar that looks like a game of Tetris. What more could a girl want? Nothing, except perhaps the all-natural peanut butter jar I carry around in my backpack every day. (No, seriously). 

So let me tell you how to make Yale’s dining halls the best underrated dining experience in New Haven.

First, take advantage of the little things: sliced almonds or walnuts, the pickled pink onions and banana peppers, figs in the brussels sprouts salad and, obviously, fresh-ground black pepper. I dust a little table salt onto the rocky road brownies and — brace yourself — to the cantaloupe. I also, now this is basic, slice the apple (it’s difficult but doable with the dining hall knives) before I dip it into peanut butter to avoid this look

Second, politely ask the grill staff to add sautéed onions to your burger. Game changer.

Third, take advantage of your flexibility in the mornings. On occasion, I purchase fresh berries to top my overnight oats, acknowledging the risk they go moldy in our MicroFridge. (Orange gunk has pooled in the bottom drawer of said fridge, having escaped from a carrot and ginger juice that doesn’t belong to anyone in my suite.)

Finally, plating. Don’t underestimate the bowl — it transports you to sweetgreen, I promise. I pair items carefully and take care to avoid the serving spoon drippings. We’re lucky to have the ability to choose from multiple cuisines simultaneously — particularly those in Morse and Stiles — but that doesn’t mean mussels need to sit on the saffron chickpea stew with tzatziki.

Honestly, a good dining hall experience comes down to having no shame in keeping a little paprika or Italian herbs seasoning shaker in one’s backpack and leaning into the absurd amount of olive oil we consume

And, remembering that Yale Dining is truly remarkable food for a college campus.