As a Materials Science and Engineering major who resides in W1 for a large portion of my day, I could not help but be excited to hear that there were going to be three new places to eat around the west side of campus this semester. But excitement soon turned into disappointment. Mind you, I was not disappointed at the quality of the food, but at myself, for expecting better of what the school could bring us.
First it was the west cafeteria, where the meals used to be provided by IB Food. It has been replaced by Matna Food Service, which now serves food starting August 26. I visited the following Monday after its opening, and was initially taken aback by how hectic it was. The cafeteria had brought in two self-service kiosk machines, and the queues overlapped with the queue of people getting food, who were lining up facing the other way. I mean, fair enough, it was only their first weekday. Since the previous company had been kicked out due to considerably low ratings, one would have expected an improvement. But the food was frankly indistinguishable from the meal I had eaten at the same cafeteria a week prior. The unidentifiable fried-something was too tough and the greens were the opposite of fresh. One difference was that before, everything tasted like high blood pressure — IB food definitely wasn’t sticking to the daily recommended sodium intake. But the cold seaweed soup by Matna that day was too bland, actually. If the quality is always going to be this bad, I’d rather have IB Food back, which gave us free fizzy drinks at least.
Then came Cafe EAT, in W2-1. Despite having opened a whole month ago, when I visited last week, there still seemed to be a lot of confusion amongst the staff. There were two staff members clumsily trying to close a single plastic cup of coffee together, and the person at the counter was looking somewhere far off in the distance, as if trying to figure something out in her head. So despite having three people at the counter, I had to awkwardly stand there for a few minutes until one of them decided to finally take my order. The drinks were definitely more affordable than Coffee Bean ever was. My iced americano was cheap enough to compensate for how bad it tasted — rather sour, I’d say. I would recommend it to those looking more for the caffeine shot itself to survive the day, rather than for actual good coffee.
The Big Dosirak, which opened only on September 23, has moved into where Peppers used to be in W2. I tried their jeyuk (stir-fried spicy pork) dosirak, and stole a bit of the curry dosirak from a friend. It’s worth noting that these meals were served at a fair price for students, ranging from around 3,000 to 7,000 KRW. However, in KAIST, where a standard cafeteria meal costs around 4,000 KRW, the price may not be too much of a merit. I personally thought the 3,500 KRW jeyuk available in Kaimaru is better than the 3,300 dosirak, considering the portion size and the proportion of vegetables. However, there are almost 70 different dosirak meals available, along with a few side menus like fries. So if you are looking for a menu that’s not sold in any other cafeterias, The Big Dosirak could be a satisfactory option. The fact that it’s dosirak is also appealing, as it is one of the healthier takeaway options in school, and it could make a good picnic meal for small groups especially in the spring, during the strawberry party season. But a downside to the venue is that most tables were for four people, which makes it awkward for those coming alone or in pairs. The food also took a long time to be prepared, considering how simple the dishes looked. The curry dosirak, for example, took 20 minutes to come out, but it looked and tasted like the 3-minute Ottogi curry on just plain rice.
For busy KAIST students, mealtimes are often the only time of the day to get a break. The quality of such hours is largely determined by the food, and the three new places in the west are hardly helping. In fact, I still go all the way to the East Cafeteria after my classes in W1. I am casting my final hope on the new cafe opening in the KI building on October 14, where Mango Six used to be. But will this anticipation only bring me more disappointment?