Meet Raina Uppal, a first-year student at Trinity College, studying Economics, Politics, and Mathematics. She is also Trinity’s very own food critic and the founder of the @RateMyStrachan Instagram page, a place where you can find her comical yet precise Trinity food reviews.
Aamyneh Mecklai, Staff Writer
“Among the Igbo the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten.”
This is Raina Uppal’s favourite quote about words being delicious from the novel Things Fall Apart by the Nigerian author Chinua Achebe. Combining words with diverse culinary experiences, Uppal started an Instagram page, @RateMyStrachan, which reviews the meals served at Strachan Hall and the Buttery. Our hour-long interview involved revering Strachan’s Aloo Gobi, discussing Hong Kong and India – both melting pots of diverse cuisines – and the possibility of donating extra dollars from our meal plans to local homeless shelters in Toronto.
When asked to describe herself, Uppal said, “So, I am British – as you may be able to tell from the accent!” But Uppal’s parents are from Hong Kong and India, and as a result, she grew up in a melting pot of diverse cuisines and cultures.
“Our kitchen would always have this warm, welcoming smell of steamed rice and fresh ginger,” she smiled. Naturally, food has played a central role in Uppal’s childhood and this extended beyond her early years, as she would admire Greg and John, the MasterChef food critics, with her friends. So, when asked about why she was pursuing this page or interested in food criticism, Uppal, a natural comic, exclaimed, “My logic was: If I’m going to work in order to buy food, I may as well get paid to eat, right? Since then, I’ve had many other career aspirations, from being a fortune teller to printing bank notes. Now I am glad to say that it’s come full cycle and I feel like I might become a food critic again. As a side career, of course!”
“Oh, and at one point, I also considered becoming a comedian.”
With every passing minute of this interview, it became more apparent that food is not the only principle element in Uppal’s life. She also grew up surrounded by jokes and a father who is “a very funny guy.” Now, Uppal finds that her mind is consumed by “puns and dad jokes.” So she combined her interest in writing about food with her love for making people laugh. Sounds like exactly what we might need this winter.
Just moments after describing this magnificent confluence of food and laughter, arguably the world’s two finest medicines, Uppal warned, “Often it is just myself laughing at my puns. But that’s okay too.”
Uppal, perennially armed with a pun up her sleeve, has found that her friends have been incredibly supportive of her page, offering feedback and allowing for Instagrammable pictures of the food that they all enjoy together. The page also invites anyone that is willing and able to submit their own food review with “one thing they liked about their meal and one suggestion for improvement.”
In terms of suggestions, Uppal’s feedback for Strachan was simple: Overall, she enjoys the food but recommends including more protein options for vegetarians. “Perhaps some veggie burgers instead of tofu? Or quorn sausages?” Take note, Trinity.
“Most people say that Trinity food is hit or miss. But I’d say that there are some real hits out there,” she emphasized. “There’s Aloo Gobi, which I love. It’s better than my grandma’s version of it, too,” she cautiously chuckled. “One thing I can never resist is the Chinese tofu and chicken. The sauce is both spicy and sweet. It just glows.” What followed this statement was a 30-second long, mouth-watering pause.
“Is there something you’d like to highlight in this article?” I asked Uppal.
“I’d like to say a big thank you to all the staff at Trinity. We’re constantly surrounded by people our own age, and so to interact with the staff who have kids and grandkids is really wonderful. From Dave, who enjoys shovelling the snow without gloves, to Sunita, who is one of the kindest people and serves us food at Strachan, to Peter, the porter who helped me out the first day I came to Trinity and didn’t know how to use the lock on my door,” she beamed.
Uppal, and this page by extension, is not all humour and puns. Uppal is committed to using this Instagram account as a capsule to pursue more than a celebration of food and laughter; she hopes to reach out to the Trinity community to find volunteers in order to help distribute food to local homeless shelters in Toronto.
“I realized that there was a solution to the problem of food waste at Strachan. If enough people donated a small amount of money from their meal plan, say $20 worth, we could buy eco-to-go containers and food for local homeless shelters, such as Good Shepherd Ministries, each month.”
A clever ship-name for Strachan and Toronto birthed Strachanto, through which Uppal aims to drive real impact on our shared community and environment. Elaborating on this initiative, she said, “If people donate a small amount of money from their meal plan, say just $20 per term, we can buy plenty of food for local homeless shelters every month forever. This could include fresh fruit and vegetables, cereal, protein bars, dried rica and pasta (if Strachan will allow it!) and more.”
Uppal is working on a cooking show this term and the trailer she created serves as an introduction to the cooking styles of the three main contestants: Chef’s Table, Showtime, and Trattoria. Sound familiar?
To those that are looking for a laugh or perhaps reviews on food at Trinity, give @RateMyStrachan a follow on Instagram. Uppal also has a website, https://ratemystrachan.wixsite.com/yummy that you can check out. If you’d like to get involved in Strachanto, you can message Uppal through her Instagram account or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Aamyneh Mecklai is a first-year undergraduate student at Trinity College, studying Finance & Economics at Rotman Commerce.