Duke needs spicy food

My senior spring couldn’t feel more different from freshman spring, and not just because of the absence of a global pandemic. 

As a freshman, I used to feel a constant low-humming excitement, uncertainty and anxiety about the next three years. Now, I just feel senioritis — the highs and lows of my Duke career have quieted this background noise. Duke blue face coverings and mandatory outdoor dining are relics of the past, thank goodness. Alas, so are Cafe’s Nutella crepes and other nutty delights.  

Duke Dining’s last attempts at spiciness are also part of this bygone era. Ginger + Soy used to serve a punchy sambal sauce, and Sazón served a fiery habanero sauce, but both disappeared my sophomore year.  I haven’t enjoyed a mouth-watering meal since their removal. I believe that spicy dishes should return to WU to reignite that exciting taste I was fortunate to experience during my underclassmen years. 

First, spicy food adds something new to WU’s flavor rotation. Spicy sauces would break the duopoly of sweet (eel sauce, barbecue sauce, sweet chili sauce) and creamy sauces (cilantro aioli, spicy mayo). Spiciness also helps to cut through — or perhaps necessitates — bread or rice, both of which abound in WU’s bountiful bowls, sides and sandwiches. Spiciness also helps to mask funky flavors or textures, such as occasionally overcooked chicken. 

Not only does spicy food taste good, but it feels great too. It is the perfect antidote to Durham’s humid weather, which combined with summer heat, makes everything (save for free LocoPops) seem unappetizing. Eye-watering dishes or condiments can make eating stimulating and enjoyable despite the mugginess outside. Additionally, sharing spicy food with friends can make for everlasting memories consisting of tingling mouths, cry-laughing and the communal relief of gulping down ice water after indulging in a fiery meal. Neither sweet treats nor salty bar eats create connection as intensely as life-or-death spicy foods. 

Finally, spicy food helps fulfill Duke Dining’s mission of delivering a "fresh-thinking, world-class" culinary experience to students, faculty and visitors. Given how much Duke Dining trots out its international inspirations, it’s ironic that spiciness — a sensation beloved in the American South and around the world — is conspicuously absent. American consumers are increasingly preferring spicy food, driving restaurant chains and frozen food companies to launch new products to accommodate changing tastes. If Duke Dining wants to uphold its reputation as "one of the most innovative, dynamic and cutting edge collegiate dining programs," it should get ahead of this shift and proactively provide genuinely spicy options. 

To be fair, there are some spicy offerings: the jalapeños at It’s Thyme, the habanero coleslaw at Sazón, the spicy tuna at Ginger + Soy, the chicken-65 at Tandoor and the wings at Il Forno are just a few examples. Yet, few of these foods are as spicy as they sound or could be.

Of course, spicy food is not universally loved. Some students cannot physically tolerate spice, while others do not prefer it. However, I hope that students at least have the option either to enjoy something familiar or to try something new. 

Spicy food at WU is not a need but a want. Students currently enjoy food that is healthy, plentiful and delicious. From a culinary and nutritional standpoint, we don’t need much else. 

We also don’t need to beat UNC, nor do we need six NCAA championships or Metro Boomin for LDOC. But we kind of do. These events engender intense passion, leaving Duke students craving more. Spicy food is a delicious way to bring some heat to the Duke experience. 

Jessica Luan is a Trinity senior. Her column typically runs on alternate Fridays.


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