While my first class may have not turned out exactly as I had hoped, being back on campus where I went to college was a big dose of nostalgia. Yes, I’m teaching my course at Boston University, the same place I went to undergrad so it was a bit of a trip to be back. It made me smile to see students toting oversized bags of brand spanking new textbooks from the bookstore and rolling big blue carts filled with clothing and dorm furnishings. Even the student union seemed to be buzzing with back-to-school chatter. I’m not going to lie, walking past buildings were I once sat in lectures and dorms where I used to live, made me long for college days again. If nothing else because my college friends and I are scattered across the country and seeing each other has become a rare luxury. When I returned home I was determined to relive college…in my kitchen. I know when most people think of college food it’s pizza and beer or bad cafeteria offerings. But for me, what first springs to mind is Pad Thai. That’s because until I came to Boston as a freshman Thai food was completely foreign to me. It seems silly to think of that now and makes me feel incredibly uncultured, but it was true.
I had my first taste of this heavenly dish freshman year. My roommate and a friend from down the hall had decided to skip the dining hall and order takeout instead from Nud Pob, a hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant a couple of doors down from our dorm. It’s a tiny, unremarkable looking place where students and professors a like crowd around simple cafeteria-like tables. The kind of place where you order using a combination of letters and numbers and before you have time to grab some chopsticks and sit down your order is called. I returned to the room to find them sitting on the floor with styrofoam containers and sodas spread out between them. One of the containers was brimming with steaming hot Pad Thai and generously they offered me a taste. I was immediately hooked on the kaleidoscope of flavors -the salty, sour, savory, and sweet. Texturally it was great as well. I loved the chew of the tofu (an ingredient that was also new to me) alongside an assortment of crunchy vegetables and peanuts. Nud Pob became a college staple for me. Whenever I needed a study session pick me up or a quick lunch with friends I popped in cycling between Pad Thai, Pad See Yew, or a Cashew Nut dish, depending on my mood. It was even popular among my parents, who requested a visit whenever they were in town for Parents’ Weekend or to move me in or out.
I’ve gone on to eat a lot of Thai food since then, much of which is probably better culinarily speaking (I have a strong love for the restaurant Brown Sugar), but somehow it’s hard for any dish to surpass your first. Still, I decided to try anyway and whipped up Alton Brown’s Pad Thai. While it’s no exact carbon copy of Nud Pob’s Pad Thai it definitely satisfied my craving. I served it in a slightly more upscale way than I did in my college days dishing my Pad Thai into Lorena Barrezueta porcelain take out container with a glass of Riesling (I’d not yet learned to appreciate wine in college) on the side. I ate while watching Sex and the City, which was consistently my background din when doing homework in college.
What about you? Is there a particular dish that screams ‘College!’ to you and have you ever tried to recreate it at home?