South Asian students find ways to bring authentic cuisine to campus

Hanaa Irfan

The savory scent of homemade chicken biryani floated through a West Campus apartment as Kavya Sethi cooked her favorite dish for her friends. 

“Even though most of my friends aren’t South Asian, just being able to cook them Indian food and try different recipes has been really fun,” Sethi said. 

From driving 30 minutes to certain grocery stores to bringing her parents’ home-cooked meals back to campus, students like Sethi are finding ways to enjoy their childhood dishes despite a lack of authentic South Asian cuisine nearby. 

Sethi, a government and economics sophomore, said she is constantly on the lookout for traditional Indian food, but many of the restaurants and grocery stores around campus lack authenticity and flavor. 

“I look for classic Indian or Desi cuisine. A lot of the food here is pretty basic … You can tell it’s made for white people,” Sethi said. “It’s just not very authentic, (and) it’s not super flavorful.” 

Marketing junior Kiran Patel grew up in South Austin and said she would often make the trek to North Austin to access traditional Indian grocery stores and restaurants.

“Living in Austin for the past 21 years, I’ve been able to see that market shift more to the South,” Patel said. “But living in West Campus, I have seen that there aren’t many options for South Asian grocery stores.”

Marketing sophomore Manshal Brohi said eating Pakistani food reminds her of her mother, who would cook traditional Pakistani meals for her family every day growing up. 

“It definitely does remind me of home and of my mom,” Brohi said. “I just love Pakistani food, and it’s like me bringing a part of that to Austin.” 

Every time Brohi visits her family in Houston, her mom packs her some Pakistani dishes to take back to Austin with her. 

“A lot of South Asian restaurants are pretty far,” Brohi said. “If you don’t have a car, they’re not that accessible.”

Patel said she has seen some students taking an active role in bringing authentic cuisine to UT students. 

“During finals, (the Indian Students Association) partners with a local Austin organization called (South Asian’s International Volunteer Association) to cook meals for UT students,” Patel said. “I think that’s really nice to have, especially during finals because you’re so stressed, so being able to have a home-cooked meal is really comforting.” 

Some members of the South Asian community at UT have made a collective effort to share their favorite dishes from back home with one another. 

“One effort in the brown community that people try to make is just reaching out and asking people if they ever need anything any time they go to the Indian grocery store,” Patel said. “Besides that, I’ve seen a lot of people get together, and they’ll just cook Indian food together.”

While their cuisine might not be quite the same as their mothers’, students like Sethi are continuing to fill their apartments with the comforting aromas of the food they grew up with.

“The food around campus is not classic to us,” Sethi said. “For a lot of South Asian students, we want food that is authentic to us and reminds us of home.” 

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the March 26 issue of The Daily Texan.