College Culinary Experience: Duke

As my summer starts to wind down, so do many of the college visits and college town experiences I so cherish. One area I have never been to is the South, and this summer went to visit a couple of colleges there, namely North Carolina. While there, after a nice walk around the picturesque Duke campus on a beautiful but equally sunny day, we stopped by the famed Alpaca chain, specializing in Peruvian style chicken. Rotisserie chicken can be genuinely amazing when prepared. The crispy skin combined with the bold flavors and smokiness from charcoal, rounded off by incredibly juicy meat with choice bits on the thighs and wings, you just cannot beat the experience. It can often be difficult to nail the balance between cooking the white and dark meat, but the spinning rotisseries gives an equal exposure while not putting on the side of the meat in too much direct contact with heat. I would go as far as to say that a rotisserie chicken like this should be a staple in American households instead of the classic dry overcooked turkey, but that’s a debate for another day. Aside from the chicken, the sides were a perfect combination. The rice was cooked nicely with a hint of cilantro and lime to bring some acidity to cut through an otherwise heavily savory dish. The green beans were also sauteed until they were fully cooked through but kept their alluring bite, covered in a light garlic sauce that brought some color to the plate and freshness. If you are ever in the Triangle (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill), definitely check this place out. 

Another place to check out near Duke is JuJu’s in Durham. Maybe the most iconic option for a nice night out, JuJu’s brings a new take on Asian fusion by reaching out to various Asian cuisines for inspiration like Chinese, Japanese, Korean and even Vietnamese. For example with their fried chicken buns, they use a Japanese style tonkatsu chicken, Chinese style buns, and a Vietnamese Nuoc Cham. 

One of my favorite dishes here was the Garlic Ramen Noodles. Taking inspiration from a common Singaporean or Chinese noodle dish, JuJu’s brought a unique twist with their sides to this dish. Instead of the typical parmesan cheese topping found in some places, they added beansprouts, pickled red onions, green onions, chili oil and cabbage. Each component brought a different flavor or texture rounding out the dish in a refined manner. The green onions brought a certain freshness, the pickled red onions brought a pungent acidic kick, and the cabbage and bean sprouts provided a nice crunch and something to mellow the strong garlic forward flavor of the dish. 

The other dish that impressed me was the cauliflower crumbles. Cauliflower is often dismissed as a bland or mushy vegetable. And absolutely, when overcooked, I see no flaws in that perspective, but when done right, I’d wager many would change their mind. JuJu’s first crumbled up the cauliflower, similar to a rough mince, and proceeded to fry it. They then prepared this incredibly flavorful base of coconut milk and buttermilk which the crumbles were placed on, all topped with a drizzle of hot honey. As I described with the noodles, the balance of textures and flavors here were perfect. The cauliflower was well seasoned and incredibly crunchy without being overly greasy. The base had a nice balance of fatty and sweet from the coconut milk, cut by the acidity of the buttermilk and complemented by the spice and sweet back and forth of the hot honey. Overall JuJu’s was a wonderful experience, food wise but also just in regards to ambiance and service quality. More than their ability to fuse Asian cuisines, it was their ability to balance flavors and textures, making sure to balance sweet with spice, fat with acidity, savoriness and freshness which is often a widely overlooked staple in some of the best restaurants, regardless of price, location, style of cooking or cuisines. 

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