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Break-fast after sundown at UCSD’s Canyon Vista Food Hall

“I am lucky. UCSD accommodates us Muslim students.”

Sous chef Chris Basco points out the rules of healthy eating for Muslims.
Sous chef Chris Basco points out the rules of healthy eating for Muslims.

What Meshal is going through right now — “now” being the holy month of Ramadan, with its ban on eating while the sun is up — is not easy. But it has its consolations. “The first thing I eat, after the sun sets, is dates,” he says. “Three dates. At the end of a fasting day, there’s nothing more delicious than a nice sweet Al Madina date. I brought two kilos of dates over from Saudi Arabia to make sure I had them.” Why dates, before you have your main meal of the day? “That’s what the prophet, peace be upon him, recommended. People love especially Madina dates. He ate them. Their sweet taste brings your energy back.”

Place

Canyon Vista Food Hall

9500 Gilman Drive, San Diego

I’m sitting at a big table opposite Meshal in this UCSD eating hall called Canyon Vista. And I’m grateful to sit down. It has been a long haul. One thing you can guarantee at UCSD: at any given moment, there are 1500 people wandering around, totally lost in this forest-campus, just trying to get to class, get to eat, get home, remember how to get back to their car, how to get out into The World. Me, I left the trolley’s new Blue Line extension at the UCSD Central Campus Station an hour ago, and ever since, I’ve been humping around colleges, through trees, across game areas, asking, asking, always asking, “Have you seen the Canyon Vista Food Hall?” I am wiped out. I was trying to track it down because I heard it has the largest halal-certified residential dining facility in the nation. (That’s what the guide says, anyway.) And this being the fasting month of Ramadan, I was interested in what halal food’s all about.

Roots campus diner’s 3-bean chili - $4 and filling! - fab breakfast deal.

I heard about Canyon Vista at another campus eatery, Roots, in Muir College. It was a pleasant surprise to see the plaza among trees and glass and green grass spaces. Also the prices there, fabbo. I just wanted a snack, so I chose a simple dish, a bowl of three-bean chili. And guess what? Four bucks, with some buttered sourdough bread. Deal! I sat there, among students all hot into their laptops, remote-lifting their steaming coffees as they stared at their screens. In fact, every on-campus place (including the one that specializes in kosher food for Jewish students) seems to hold prices to below ten bucks. And good news: you don’t have to be enrolled at UCSD to eat here.

Pretty quick, though, I’m on safari again. The Hunt for Canyon Vista continues! Sun’s setting when I finally find it. I feel like Lewis, or maybe Clark. I pass a witty “Before I Die” chalkboard wall (“Before I Die, I want to kill myself.” “I want to kiss Alexis.” “Destroy China.” “Get Cozzi to confess his love.” “Love myself.” “Have a kid.” “Meet Shrek.”), and then somebody points me downhill. “Halal Certified Location,” reads a sign. Aha. I come inside this space outfitted with long tables and white tile walls and several big open kitchens. The sign is posted above a large rotating hot plate which servers are loading with different steaming piles of fried rice or noodles, plus chopped meats and veggies mixed in. A dozen piles, I swear, each wafting up nice savory smells.

Meshal, the Saudi engineering student dips in to his first food for 14 hours.

This is about 7 pm, and people are just starting to trickle in. Guess the sun has dropped below the horizon. Muslim students can at last break their fast. A large number of California’s million Muslims are probably farewelling the sun right now, hollow with hunger. “I haven’t eaten since 5:15 am,” Meshal says. He also hasn’t drunk water. That’s part of the rule. Meshal’s a Saudi student who’s studying for an MA in engineering. “This is my first Ramadan in the US,” he says. “I am lucky. UCSD accommodates us Muslim students. They offer meals early and late enough, and they always have a choice of Halal foods. These have been prepared according to Muslim rules. Animals have to be slaughtered by a Muslim. They must face Mecca. On other campuses, Muslim students have maybe only a single choice of halal food to eat. Often the same, day after day. Here, we always have plenty of choice.”

“It involves extra preparation,” says Chris Basco, the sous chef who’s in charge tonight. “Meat and veggies and sauces all have to be certified halal. So that puts the cost up. But students appreciate it.”

Hot iron revolving table is seeding plate for halal meals.

Meshal orders a beef bowl. (There are maybe a dozen bowls to choose from.) I’m doing the same. I get yakisoba noodles — I had a choice of three or four other noodle and rice combos — with baby corn, bell peppers, celery, and water chestnuts and a choice of halal sauces. I chose a house Mongolian sauce. I notice that Meshal falls silent as he prepares for his first food in 14 or so hours. Man. Not sure I could have that discipline. He starts with a quiet prayer and then a long sip of water. He curls noodles around his fork and lifts them slowly, his eyes closing with pleasure. Or is it prayer?

I dig into mine. Oh yes. Rich flavors. A fine mess of carbs and beef protein that gets richer as you go down into the mix. Nine buckeroos.

So what food does Meshal miss most from his life in Saudi? “I miss my mom’s rice,” he says. “It’s just the kind of rice, and the way she makes it. The flavors! You don’t get it here. In Saudi, rice is the heart of any meal.”

He also misses his Al Madina dates. “That’s why I brought over the two kilos of them from Saudi.”

Hope there’s enough. He’ll be fasting all month, 'til May 2. Me, I’m just getting a taste for all this UCSD setup. Like, they even have a rooftop BBQ going on-campus. I’ll definitely be coming back for that — if I can find it. ■

The Place: Canyon Vista Food Hall, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, 858-534-8003

Hours: 7am-9pm daily (Saturday, 10am-8pm; Sunday, 9am-9pm)

Prices: Breakfast burrito, $5.50; breakfast smash burger, $6.75; Florentine Benedict, $5; chicken tenders, $6; chicken asada bowl, $8; 360 Beef Bowl, $9; fish and chips, $6.75; crispy halal chicken sandwich, $6.75; grilled cheese sandwich, $4; mujadara lentils, $5; Kashmiri mahi mahi, $9; seafood chowder, $3

Trolley: Blue Line

Nearest Trolley Stop: UCSD Central Campus Station

Buses: Various campus buses, and 41, 921

Nearest bus stops: Gilman and Myers

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Sous chef Chris Basco points out the rules of healthy eating for Muslims.
Sous chef Chris Basco points out the rules of healthy eating for Muslims.

What Meshal is going through right now — “now” being the holy month of Ramadan, with its ban on eating while the sun is up — is not easy. But it has its consolations. “The first thing I eat, after the sun sets, is dates,” he says. “Three dates. At the end of a fasting day, there’s nothing more delicious than a nice sweet Al Madina date. I brought two kilos of dates over from Saudi Arabia to make sure I had them.” Why dates, before you have your main meal of the day? “That’s what the prophet, peace be upon him, recommended. People love especially Madina dates. He ate them. Their sweet taste brings your energy back.”

Place

Canyon Vista Food Hall

9500 Gilman Drive, San Diego

I’m sitting at a big table opposite Meshal in this UCSD eating hall called Canyon Vista. And I’m grateful to sit down. It has been a long haul. One thing you can guarantee at UCSD: at any given moment, there are 1500 people wandering around, totally lost in this forest-campus, just trying to get to class, get to eat, get home, remember how to get back to their car, how to get out into The World. Me, I left the trolley’s new Blue Line extension at the UCSD Central Campus Station an hour ago, and ever since, I’ve been humping around colleges, through trees, across game areas, asking, asking, always asking, “Have you seen the Canyon Vista Food Hall?” I am wiped out. I was trying to track it down because I heard it has the largest halal-certified residential dining facility in the nation. (That’s what the guide says, anyway.) And this being the fasting month of Ramadan, I was interested in what halal food’s all about.

Roots campus diner’s 3-bean chili - $4 and filling! - fab breakfast deal.

I heard about Canyon Vista at another campus eatery, Roots, in Muir College. It was a pleasant surprise to see the plaza among trees and glass and green grass spaces. Also the prices there, fabbo. I just wanted a snack, so I chose a simple dish, a bowl of three-bean chili. And guess what? Four bucks, with some buttered sourdough bread. Deal! I sat there, among students all hot into their laptops, remote-lifting their steaming coffees as they stared at their screens. In fact, every on-campus place (including the one that specializes in kosher food for Jewish students) seems to hold prices to below ten bucks. And good news: you don’t have to be enrolled at UCSD to eat here.

Pretty quick, though, I’m on safari again. The Hunt for Canyon Vista continues! Sun’s setting when I finally find it. I feel like Lewis, or maybe Clark. I pass a witty “Before I Die” chalkboard wall (“Before I Die, I want to kill myself.” “I want to kiss Alexis.” “Destroy China.” “Get Cozzi to confess his love.” “Love myself.” “Have a kid.” “Meet Shrek.”), and then somebody points me downhill. “Halal Certified Location,” reads a sign. Aha. I come inside this space outfitted with long tables and white tile walls and several big open kitchens. The sign is posted above a large rotating hot plate which servers are loading with different steaming piles of fried rice or noodles, plus chopped meats and veggies mixed in. A dozen piles, I swear, each wafting up nice savory smells.

Meshal, the Saudi engineering student dips in to his first food for 14 hours.

This is about 7 pm, and people are just starting to trickle in. Guess the sun has dropped below the horizon. Muslim students can at last break their fast. A large number of California’s million Muslims are probably farewelling the sun right now, hollow with hunger. “I haven’t eaten since 5:15 am,” Meshal says. He also hasn’t drunk water. That’s part of the rule. Meshal’s a Saudi student who’s studying for an MA in engineering. “This is my first Ramadan in the US,” he says. “I am lucky. UCSD accommodates us Muslim students. They offer meals early and late enough, and they always have a choice of Halal foods. These have been prepared according to Muslim rules. Animals have to be slaughtered by a Muslim. They must face Mecca. On other campuses, Muslim students have maybe only a single choice of halal food to eat. Often the same, day after day. Here, we always have plenty of choice.”

“It involves extra preparation,” says Chris Basco, the sous chef who’s in charge tonight. “Meat and veggies and sauces all have to be certified halal. So that puts the cost up. But students appreciate it.”

Hot iron revolving table is seeding plate for halal meals.

Meshal orders a beef bowl. (There are maybe a dozen bowls to choose from.) I’m doing the same. I get yakisoba noodles — I had a choice of three or four other noodle and rice combos — with baby corn, bell peppers, celery, and water chestnuts and a choice of halal sauces. I chose a house Mongolian sauce. I notice that Meshal falls silent as he prepares for his first food in 14 or so hours. Man. Not sure I could have that discipline. He starts with a quiet prayer and then a long sip of water. He curls noodles around his fork and lifts them slowly, his eyes closing with pleasure. Or is it prayer?

I dig into mine. Oh yes. Rich flavors. A fine mess of carbs and beef protein that gets richer as you go down into the mix. Nine buckeroos.

So what food does Meshal miss most from his life in Saudi? “I miss my mom’s rice,” he says. “It’s just the kind of rice, and the way she makes it. The flavors! You don’t get it here. In Saudi, rice is the heart of any meal.”

He also misses his Al Madina dates. “That’s why I brought over the two kilos of them from Saudi.”

Hope there’s enough. He’ll be fasting all month, 'til May 2. Me, I’m just getting a taste for all this UCSD setup. Like, they even have a rooftop BBQ going on-campus. I’ll definitely be coming back for that — if I can find it. ■

The Place: Canyon Vista Food Hall, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, 858-534-8003

Hours: 7am-9pm daily (Saturday, 10am-8pm; Sunday, 9am-9pm)

Prices: Breakfast burrito, $5.50; breakfast smash burger, $6.75; Florentine Benedict, $5; chicken tenders, $6; chicken asada bowl, $8; 360 Beef Bowl, $9; fish and chips, $6.75; crispy halal chicken sandwich, $6.75; grilled cheese sandwich, $4; mujadara lentils, $5; Kashmiri mahi mahi, $9; seafood chowder, $3

Trolley: Blue Line

Nearest Trolley Stop: UCSD Central Campus Station

Buses: Various campus buses, and 41, 921

Nearest bus stops: Gilman and Myers

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