The night was humid and the students were hungry.
The Hecht/Stanford dining hall was not in its usual early evening lull: vibrant salsa music soared to the ceiling, stations were draped in streamers, plastic chili peppers and balloons, and the room’s centerpiece was lined with posters depicting the diverse countries that make up Latin America.
This was “Latin Café,” the kick-off night to Hispanic Heritage Month last Wednesday and a showcase of colorful cuisine.
The month’s events include movies, discussions, a soccer tournament and community service, but it was this first night which attracted dining hall patrons most, luring them into what the rest of the month may have to hold.
The “Dish” station was serving the main course, sweet plantain lasagna with ground beef and rice with beans, and for dessert there was flan.
The other stations seemed empty in comparison, diners forgoing the usual hamburger or stir fry to sample the sizzling flavor of Latin America.
“It’s awesome,” said Billy Gerdts, a senior who came to the Hecht/Stanford dining hall for dinner by chance. “I loved the plantains and rice, and the flan was really good. I can definitely get used to this.”
But it wasn’t all about taste.
“Each country has its own special dishes that showcase the ethnic and cultural diversity of Latin America, and each dish is comprised of different ingredients and spices found in specific regions,” said Isabel Bonilla-Mathe, a member of the Hispanic Heritage Month committee.
Entering the dining hall, students faced tables and counters covered with traditional Mexican table cloths, maracas, artesania (folkloric art), and masks from Quetzaltenango, a city in Guatemala.
The waiting committee handed out fliers that detail the month’s programming (this year named “Sazon”, the Spanish word for “spice,” fittingly).
“We really wanted to make sure that we reached out to the freshmen on campus, which is the primary reason why we had Latin Cafe at the Hecht-Stanford Dining halls,” Bonilla-Mathe added.
Tracy Cancro, marketing director for Chartwells at UM, showed full support for the students using the dining hall as a resource to promote the diverse programs the university has to offer.
“The students essentially take over: they submit recipes to us and we create menus from the ideas they give us. It’s a great way for our associates to be involved with on-campus activities, and for the staff to have fun too. Our chefs always love a new challenge,” Crancro said.
The possibility of a repeat with another group from the MSA is likely; Crancro hinted that there might be a Caribbean culture night before the semester ends.
For more info on Hispanic Heritage Month events, visit: http://www.sarc.miami.edu/msa/mainsite/public/studOrgs/hispanic.aspx