The fine flavor of fresh kosher falafel is back at Carnegie Mellon University, and if a recent day was anything to go by, students are appreciative.
Moments after Judah Cowen, of Elegant Edge Catering, opened Tahini at the Tartan Express Food Truck on Sept. 3, a stream of hungry patrons, complete with caf-cards in hand, began to form.
Timothy Liu, a CMU junior studying decision science, was excited about purchasing food from an outdoor vendor. “A food truck provides a different atmosphere,” he said. “You can see what’s happening in the back.”
Indeed, Cowen and several employees could be seen systematically preparing meals then delivering them through a sliding glass window.
Jackie Wang, a CMU freshman studying design, tried the falafel bowl. “It was new to me, but I liked the flavor,” she said.
Elan Biswas, a CMU freshman studying computer science, liked his lunchtime boureka, and lamb and turkey pita shawarma. “It was all good,” said Biswas.
Such satisfaction is consistent with the university’s goals of keeping students happy and well nourished, explained Pascal Petter, director of dining services —student affairs.
“Our vision is to be a top ranked dining program that offers a diverse portfolio of dining destinations,” he said. Bringing Tahini to CMU is “really a win-win not only for our Jewish students on campus, and not only the broader community around Oakland, but for those looking for Mediterranean cuisine. It’s delicious, very healthy, and there are vegan and gluten-free options.”
Roni Sosis, a CMU sophomore studying global studies and creative writing, appreciated Tahini’s abundance of specialty offerings. “I got their vegan bowl. I’m vegetarian. It’s amazing to have multiple vegetarian options on campus,” said Sosis.
Tahini isn’t the first kosher provider on campus. In years past, CMU students were able to purchase Vaad certified meals, but when the previous vendor’s contract came to an end, it was important to ensure the dietary option remained, explained Petter.
“When we learned that Pomegranate was closing, I had students, parents and faculty approach me and say, ‘What is going to be the kosher food option at CMU?’” said Dan Marcus, Hillel JUC’s executive director.
“For students who keep kosher, it’s a necessity,” said Sosis. “Having access to food is a basic right.”
There’s also the fact that many students on campus have a dining plan, said Alex Zissman, director of Jewish student life at CMU. Without kosher food, “observant freshmen” would be paying for “something they couldn’t consume,” said Sosis.
Marcus worked to “make a shidduch” between Elegant Edge and Petter, added Zissman. The choice of Cowen came from the fact that “he caters our Shabbat dinners and we know he’s a good option for dining services to work with.”
Marcus is pleased by having made the partnership, but said the praise really belongs to Petter and the university at large. “Pascal has always been tremendously helpful and supportive of the needs of Jewish students,” he said. “It shows how Carnegie Mellon appreciates its Jewish students.”
Vaad certified food is “well-received on our campus,” said Petter. That’s true even of students unfamiliar with kosher food, like Justin Wang, a CMU freshman studying computer science. Wang said he’d never tasted Mediterranean food before and had no idea the shawarma and fresh fruit bowl he ate that day were kosher. “It was better than most of the food on campus,” he said.
The cultural exposure and connections are a real benefit on campus, said Sosis. “Food can bring people together.” pjc