Having now spent roughly two weeks as a newly initiated Spromer, I have become more familiar with the workings of the University of Dallas Due Santi Campus: the gorgeous vineyards, the communal layout and the famous cafeteria building called the Mensa. Don’t be fooled by its description as a cafeteria though! The eating experience at the Mensa is quite different from a typical day at the Caf back at Irving. Many of these changes are welcome; others have been challenging.
Although it has only been two weeks since our arrival, there is already a general consensus about what we enjoy about the Mensa compared to the Irving Caf and what we miss from our home campus.
Let’s start with the most important thing, that of course being the food. In terms of quality, it is not a contest: the native Italian food, particularly the various pasta and meat dishes are always welcome after long stretches of classes or study sessions.
What’s more is that the food is much healthier than the options in Irving, but still tastes delicious. And for those who enjoy a nice glass of wine with their meals, everyone is allowed to bring wine into the Mensa, making their dining experience feel even more authentic while on campus.
Aside from food though, there are other aspects that are greatly appreciated at the Mensa. For one, the atmosphere is built to foster community among the students. The service is far more friendly at the Mensa as well — they take tremendous care when preparing the meals, and make a genuine effort to interact with and know the student body. Because the workers, such as chef Nino and his wife Nuccia, are native to Italy, time in the Mensa is also a great opportunity to gain practical skills such as speaking Italian and learning the words for various foods.
The Mensa is only open for an hour slot, three times a day. This results in everyone eating at the same time; teachers, staff and students all eat together as one community. In other words, while Irving feels like a school cafeteria, the Mensa feels like a family.
Yet it’s not all pasta and wine while watching the sunset. The Mensa does possess some weaknesses, and ones that cannot simply be adjusted to. The portions are far smaller than at Irving, and contain usually the same options for every meal: croissants and bruschetto at breakfast, followed by pasta, meat and various sides for lunch and dinner.
As mentioned earlier, the hours are also not as flexible as the Irving campus, meaning if you miss the time to get food on campus, you are out of luck. And while the service is better at the Mensa, the catch is that it is much slower. The wait in line is a much longer ordeal than in Irving, so unless you rush from class or get in line fifteen minutes before meal times, you’re in for a long wait.
It’s common to stock up on snacks from Top, the local grocery store, or to go out to eat to hold over until the next meal. One such dining spot is Ristorante Di Madre. It’s about a 25 minute walk away from campus and is both a tasty and cheap option.
The lack of variety also means that some UD classics — fries, bacon, blueberry donuts, and the one and only panini press, are not available, so you may have to try your luck with either a supermarket or one of the many restaurants nearby.
The Mensa is a great way to begin learning the cultural norms of Italy, though it may take some adjusting to for the first few weeks. My general advice is to be as open as possible to trying new things and to take advantage of the communal aspect of the Mensa, especially by developing friendships with the other students in the Rome program.
After all, it’s not every day that you get to develop this sense of fraternity in a foreign country, let alone be in a foreign country, so make the most of it!