Daigaku Z: Itadakimasu

Daigaku Z is a weekly column about what it’s really like to study the Japanese language and culture at a major university. Z is enrolled as a student at the University of Pittsburgh after an over ten-year career in the information technology industry, and is pursuing a second degree with the aims of being a translator. This is the story of that degree.

One of the things that most college students do is expand their culinary horizons. Most of the time this takes the form of trying something different in the dining hall, but on occasion this includes finding a favorite take-out place and becoming a regular there. Depending on which campus you’re on, this can also include the resurgence of food trucks, which offer low-cost specialized meals. Pittsburgh is blessed to be part of this renaissance, with vehicles such as the Pittsburgh Taco Truck, Oh My Grill, and Mac and Gold being well-known and well-regarded when they come around. I’m fond of food trucks as a concept, especially in how the Taco Truck implements it, because they increase the variety available in an area relatively easily and create a sense of their appearance being a special event.

Except they’re not legal in Oakland, which is where the Pitt campus is. So instead we have three ancient trucks that were grandfathered in when the ordinance was passed, and cannot move from their spots. I ate at two of them this week, and quickly realized why Oakland might outlaw food trucks.

That said, there are plenty of very good permanent places to eat in and around the campus so that one never really gets too bored. Last semester, most of the 4pm recitation class invaded the Korean tea house Chick’n Bubbly, where there’s great bubble tea and very good small meals. Very close by on Oakland Avenue is my personal favorite, Oishii Bento, where one can find Japanese meals alongside the expected Chinese standbys. A little further away– closer to Carnegie-Mellon– there’s Lulu’s Noodles, which I really enjoy whenever I’m out that way. And I would be remiss in failing to mention the distant yet worth-the-trip Ramen Bar in Squirrel Hill.

Then again, even if you’re not looking for Asian food, Oakland has a lot of variety right in front of everyone’s face. Schenley Plaza is home to Waffalonia, a Belgian waffle stand that is much better than I make it sound. It’s also home to the incredibly controversial, yet very tasty Conflict Kitchen, who serve up meals with a heaping side of empathy. For something a little closer to home, though, there’s also the Burgh-renowned Pamela’s P&G Diner, or the Burgh-infamous Primanti Bros. sandwiches.

Of course, even with this map of the world on our plate, it’s important to remember that a masterfully-made meal is made even better with the company of good friends and a pleasant conversation. I’ve been to all of these places alone, and I’ve been to all of them with friends. They’re only truly great when I’m not alone, and I’m pretty sure that’s not a reflection on the food.

So let’s eat.