Today, I will not write the general cultural knowledge that you might see somewhere else before. Instead, I’m gonna to introduce something more authentic and more closely related to Chinese young generation’s eating habit – what does Chinese university dining court look like?
I had studied in China Agricultural University (CAU) for 3 years before I transferred to Purdue. During that time, I preferred order food online rather than went to the dining court. Because the food can be delivered within 30 minutes. But if you meet the meal time, there will be tons of people in the dining court and you have to wait for a long time to get food. Some of those people are the students of our university, others may be the local residents or students from nearby schools. This is mainly because the food provided by CAU’s dining court is not only delicious, but also very cheap.
I have tried all four main dining courts when I still studied in CAU, and today I will use the Second Dining Court, the most popular one, as a representative.
Most of the typical university dining courts in China are managed by the school, or contracted by small catering company. And most schools will receive the financial subsidy given by the government, therefore, the price of food is much more lower than the restaurants or any other dining institutions. One of my friend’s university is serving vegetable dishes at 2 yuan/plate (about $0.3) and meat dishes at 5 yuan/plate ($0.7). However, as the price is relatively low and some of the contractors or schools are lack of experiences and effective management, the taste of some dishes are not very good.
The Second Dining court is actually running by a professional catering company (this is also a popular business model used among university dining courts), which is selected through the market tender, rather than running by school itself or small companies. So it has a bit higher price, but also a much better quality of the dishes.
The Second Dining Court is separated into several areas: staple food area (rice, mantou, noodles and so on); meat area; vegetable area; fruit area; dessert and beverage area; soup and porridge area; and appetizer area. The dishes which are largely demanded by customers and more similar to the traditional university canteen foods will offered by the staffs behind the glass cabinets. Other featured dishes will be placed in the open area, and people are free to choose whatever they want because those dishes are served in small individual plates.
If you have a bigger appetite as I do (I usually ate more than all my other friends when I was in CAU), the advantage of price will be immediately reflected. I often take two meat dishes, one vegetable, a small cake, a bowl of soup, and a plate of noodle (I love noodles). All those stuffs will cost me about only 25 yuan ($4). The outside restaurants near CAU, such as a Korean restaurant that I have ordered a lot, one Spicy Korean Beef with rise will cost me about 20 yuan ($3). So that you can understand why there are so many people having meals in the school’s dining court.
Students and the university faculties can save money in their ID to pay for the meal. Other people who are not belonging to CAU can use cash instead. People have to take an orange plate at the entrance of the dining court and then take whatever they want at different food areas. The dining court offers 6 cashiers. The cashier will calculate the price by the types of dishes in the orange plate, which is quite simple. This method will also make it easier for you to control the amount and price according to your eating habit.
I asked my friend Xi Li in China to help take all those nice photos of the Second Dining Court for me last Sunday. Hope those pictures and my post can bring some new and unique knowledge about Chinese food to you. Compared the Chinese dining court with the U.S. one, there are many differences as well as common points. I really like the dining courts at Purdue, and if you are planning to visit China one day, try China Agricultural University’s Second Dining Court in Beijing and it will be a very special journey for you.