Cuisine from around the world on the menu at College’s Global Cafe

April 7, 2023 — Prior to the Global Cafe opening this school year, the availability of many international food items required planning a trip out of Grinnell or waiting until a specific holiday or festival. 
Now it just requires a few minutes between classes or taking a coffee break from work. Tucked inside the atrium of Grinnell College’s Humanities and Social Studies Center (HSSC), the Global Cafe has been a popular culinary addition.

Jivyaa Vaidya ’23
  Jivyaa Vaidya ’23

“I think the Global Cafe was a much-needed addition, especially from the international community perspective,” says Jivyaa Vaidya ’23, president of the International Student Organization (ISO). “It’s nice because these items are available without stepping foot out of the College. I also think give us a chance to tell more people about our cultures. Not a lot of people have heard of these foods.”

Run by the College’s Dining Services, the Global Cafe serves several drink items and baked goods from around the world. 

“For me the fun part is we’re not serving typical things,” says Scott Turley, executive chef and chief culinary officer for Grinnell College. “We have a good mix of European, Asian, and Indian items. We’re touching on lots of different cultures.”

And what are Turley’s personal favorites on the menu?

“I like the new, ka’kat, a middle Eastern snack bread,” he says. “It’s excellent with coffee. The apple ponchiki with thyme, which is like a German fried donut hole, is really good. All the crème brulees are delicious.”

A place to get coffee had long been part of the plans for the HSSC as a way for faculty, staff, students, and visitors to connect with one another or in some cases unintentionally run into each other as they went about their day. 

While it was not originally conceived as having a global theme, it made sense given the proximity of the nearby Office of International Student Affairs, Institute for Global Engagement, and Marcus Family Global Kitchen. The kitchen promotes and celebrates the diversity of foodways. Several events celebrating international cooking have been held in the kitchen.

Two Grinnell College students help customers at the Global Cafe
Two Grinnell College students help customers at the Global Cafe. Run by the College’s Dining Services, the cafe serves several drink items and baked goods from around the world.

“In conjunction with the teaching kitchen, it just fit,” Turley says. “The teaching kitchen and the associated student life has been tremendous. I think we’re carrying that theme through with the Global Cafe. You can go over there almost any time of the day and see students hanging out. That was the goal.”

Karen Edwards, dean of international student affairs & exchange visitors, says every campus function has a role to play in supporting Grinnell’s global student body. “Dining Services is especially important in this regard, so I am always pleased when Chef Scott and his team feature cuisine from around the world,” she says.”

Turley says Dining Services quickly realized there wasn’t enough space in the cafe to make entrees, so drinks and desserts would be the focus. The items are baked or brewed in the Joe Rosenfield Center ’25 (JRC) and brought over. 

Scott Turley
   Scott Turley

“We are producing 400-500 individual desserts, and they sell out almost every day,” Turley says. “We had a menu for the whole fall semester and now we have changed it up this semester, so it’s not boring. We plan to keep the menu fresh all the time.”

The menu is influenced by student input. Earlier this school year ISO conducted a survey among international students about what they would like to see on the menu. They received over 100 responses. Some students even provided recipes for the items they suggested, Vaidya says.

Many students requested bubble tea. A committee of students was convened to taste test bubble tea options. After multiple rounds of testing, the Grinnell College Bubble Tea – GCBT for short – was selected. The menu board even notes that the bubble tea was approved by ISO.

“We had the time of our lives doing taste tests,” Vaidya says. “We ended up with a great product that people were really happy about.”

The cold brew and matcha lemonade also have been popular drinks, Vaidya reports. Some of the other drinks on the current menu include Vietnamese coffee, a ginger turmeric latte, and a dirty chai latte.

Fatin Wahid ’26, an international student from Bangladesh, frequently orders a matcha latte. Matcha is a green powder made from ground green tea leaves that is traditionally consumed in East Asia. 

“That’s my go-to drink to wake me up,” he says. “It’s a bit harsh but I enjoy the matcha flavor. I think having the Global Cafe here is great. It’s got options you can’t find anywhere else in Grinnell.”

A few of the Global Cafe baked goods items from last fall are displayed.
A few of the Global Cafe menu items from last fall are displayed. The cafe menu will change each semester. 

An India native, Vaidya previously had to go to Iowa City to find Indian and other international cuisines. Since many international students don’t have their own transportation, it required finding friends with vehicles or waiting until the College’s Saturday Shuttle made trips there. 

Vaidya said the convenience of having the Global Cafe in an academic building can’t be beat. She and her best friend have a routine of going to the cafe during a 10-minute break between classes.

“It’s a really nice place to grab a snack,” she says. “It’s really good, too. In my Japanese class, there’s some other international students sitting beside me, and we compare the crème pots flavors. Us sweet tooth lovers have a great time discussing that.”

— by Jeremy Shapiro

For your information:

During the academic year, the Global Cafe is open from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Community members and alums visiting campus are welcome to stop by the cafe.

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