The View from Bryn Mawr’s Dining Hall

Bryn Mawr dining hall food is objectively better than Sharples food*. I’m sorry, but it’s true. I take a class there every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and as of writing this article, I have eaten exactly six meals at Bryn Mawr; I can confirm that their cuisine is superior. The dining halls I visited have a make-your-own omelet station, six flavors of ice cream, genuine liège-style Belgian waffles, udon noodles, impressively well-stocked salad and sandwich bars, and a myriad of other amenities. I eagerly look forward to the day when I might try their brunch scones, juk, rice noodle bar (with soy-braised eggs!) … are you drooling yet? And this is only my experience from my first several trips — I haven’t even explored the student center café or eaten their dinner yet. So yes, I may have a touch of culinary envy. Sometimes I feel a bit like I’m betraying Sharples, abandoning it for the new shiny dining hall down the block. Please forgive me, Sharples, but I need to eat lunch, and the Bryn Mawr food is, as I said, delicious. 

As I peruse the offerings in Erdman or New Dorm Dining Hall, however, I find myself missing Sharples. I know it’s ridiculous; I have only to wait until dinner to be back within its confines. But still, I miss saying hi to Sally at the door as I scan my OneCard, and the slightly dark and sticky but cozy ski lodge vibe, and the way that everything is a little bit too cramped, and running into random friends on my single-minded quests to obtain Hope’s Cookies. I even felt quite disappointed last week as I realized that I would be missing out on falafel bar — one of my favorite Sharples meals — during Friday’s lunch. I haven’t experienced enough Bryn Mawr cuisine yet to have favorites that I regret missing; all the dishes are new and exciting, but I lack that feeling of familiarity, that delightful anticipation when you know it’s salmon night and you’ve been waiting for four interminable weeks, or that wonderful surprise when you manage to acquire some unexpected leftover apple crisp. I miss knowing the ins and outs of how to navigate the endless lines and where to sit if you want to eat a quiet meal. I even miss the repetitive but somehow comforting patterns of the Sharples meal cycle.

My sense of dining displacement extends throughout my forays around the campus. Bryn Mawr is gorgeous: it has rolling hills and lovely Gothic architecture and flourishing trees. Yet, as I walk through the campus every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, traversing the halls of Park Science Center and strolling down the tree-lined walk, I find myself feeling out of place. This isn’t my campus. The hallways and I have no history, the traditions hold no roots for me, and the people laughing on the benches and the professors lecturing on the lawn are strangers to me. The campus is missing the friends I greet on the way to classes, the wailing of the fire moose, the peace of the Crum Woods, and all the little idiosyncrasies and annoyances that characterize life on Swarthmore’s campus. Perhaps, as I enjoy my time at Bryn Mawr and build memories, I will feel more at home and less like a tourist admiring the sights, sounds, and tastes, but such a mindset remains merely a possibility.  

I still complain about Swarthmore’s faults, like everybody else, and there are definitely days when venturing off campus feels like a refreshing escape. Believe me, in true Swattie (or S’more — I still can’t believe we don’t say that, sorry) fashion, I in no way believe Swarthmore is paradise on earth. Still, it’s home, and no amount of tempting gourmet food from Bryn Mawr’s dining halls can change that. Well … maybe if they started serving xiao long bao. But until then, I’ll fill my takeout container at Erdman or New Dorm, hop on the shuttle, and begin the bumpy but comforting journey back towards 500 College Avenue and twice-a-week pasta bar. 

*I really do appreciate the lovely Sharples staff, who work so hard to feed all of us with all the resources available to them and are so incredibly kind. I do not mean to discredit them at all with my commentary on the Sharples food.

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