University of Maryland Dining Services is looking to diversify the cuisines and menus offered at dining halls by adding more cultural foods in the 2023-24 academic year.

This university recently added Indian food options to the Yahentamitsi Dining Hall and Ethiopian and Peruvian cuisines to 251 North last spring. Dining services hopes the new initiatives will introduce students to new cultures and bring students togethers over diverse cuisines.

“We’re trying to make [the food] as authentic as possible,” dining services director Joe Mullineaux said. “I think we are exposing a lot of students to new tastes and cuisines and I personally feel that you can bring people together over meals.”

Dining Services is also trying to unite students from various backgrounds using food by incorporating common cuisine types, such as barbecue, that appear across cultures, Mullineaux said.

In the past, Dining Services has also offered Mediterranean, North African, South African and Vietnamese cuisines, Mullineaux added.

In addition to international cuisines, Dining Services is also planning to add more regional American specialties to dining halls, according to Mullineaux. So far, Creole, Cajun and southern foods are available, Mullineaux noted.

To aid with these efforts, Mullineaux said a dining services chef from New Delhi helped add Indian foods to the menu and other chefs who grew up in southern states work will help incorporate dishes such as gumbo, grits and hushpuppies.

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In an interview with The Diamondback, university president Darryll Pines said the dining services initiatives mark another way of catering to this university’s diverse community.

“It’s always an ongoing, evolving process to make sure that we can offer various selections to make sure people feel at home and they can find food choices they like,” Pines said.

Last year, Mullineaux said Dining Services took a different approach to creating dining hall menus.

Rather than having Dining Services’ senior executive chef create all of the menus, dining hall staff members from more than 70 countries came together to create new dishes and menus, Mullineaux added.

“We’re trying to show where we are similar, where we are separate, but how we can all come together,” Mullineaux said.

Students at this university had mixed opinions about the new dining hall cuisines.

Freshman bioengineering major Jothika Saravanarajan said some Indian food flavors at the Yahentamitsi Dining Hall were different from what she was used to eating growing up.

She said the chicken biryani — a mixed rice dish with chicken and spices — was just “fried rice with chicken in it.” It didn’t include the actual flavors Saravanarajan associates with the dish.

Despite the lack of authentic flavor, Saravanarajan recognized Dining Services’ efforts and said having Indian food available has helped with her transition to college.

“I really appreciate that they do include Indian food,” Saravanarajan said. “At the end of the day, Indian food is my comfort food.”

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Like Saravanarajan, junior psychology major Laila Syed said South Asian food served in dining halls is not the most authentic representation of the cuisine.

But Syed said she still loves the “heartwarming” food, including yellow dal — a lentil dish — and rice.

Sophomore biology and information science major Michelle Aken said she has tried Indian, Mexican and African foods at dining halls.

Aken said the incorporation of foods from other cultures has introduced her to more “complex dishes.”

“I think it definitely helped me broaden my taste buds,” Aken said.

Mullineaux hopes the new initiatives encourage students to learn more about different cuisines.

“I hope that everybody is joining me and learning about different cuisines of the world,” Mullineaux said.