There’s a story I’ll tell over and over again, because it’s a great example of how the decisions we make — which may seem small and insignificant in the moment — can end up being one of those major checkpoints in our lives that have big, meaningful consequences.  

The setting is Boston, Massachusetts, first week of my freshman year of college. My roommate/best-friend-from-home, who’s a big boba fan, finds out there’s a Kung Fu Tea just a few blocks from our dorm, and I, the extrovert, put a sign on my door that reads, “Wanna go to Kung Fu Tea with us today? Just knock!”

Yes, I was that kid, and — fun fact — I still have that sign. I don’t know exactly where, but I still have it, because the girl who saw it and knocked on our door that day quickly became one of my college besties, and eventually my roommate’s significant other (if y’all are reading this, you’re welcome).

I made a few other signs that week (all with similar outcomes) but for the sake of this article, I’ll fixate on this one. It’s just one of the many examples of how food impacted my social life, the relationships I built, and the memories I made throughout my freshman year. 

Joseph Labrador

At the beginning, food introduced me to new people. I met one of my first friends at college on a boba run, and my first interactions with my roommates were over a dinner featuring cold pizza and sad dining hall fries. Throughout the semester, my meal swipes connected me to upperclassmen whose friendly and welcoming personas were only outshined by their cravings for a Popeyes chicken sandwich combo, obtainable with a freshman's meal swipe. 

Food also led me to new places. Cravings for Chinese food brought me, my friend, and our longboards on a trip down the Charles River and into Chinatown, for my very first egg tart and a delicious meal from Hong Kong Eatery; while cravings for Italian pastries sent me and my friends on countless trips to Boston’s North End, for cannolis from Mike’s Pastry, or late night treats from Bova’s (24 hour!) Bakery.

On many occasions, food was a way for me and my friends to celebrate. Shared plates of budae jjigae, tteokbokki, and a kimchi pancake at Haju Kitchen formed a yummy group meal for Lunar New Year. Sprawled out on a picnic blanket, thirty plus dim sum containers from Winsor Dim Sum Cafe created a feast for my friend’s 20th birthday. And after my biggie-smalls reveal, all-you-can-eat hot pot made for a perfect dinner with my “fam.

Joseph Labrador

I had a moment during the year, where I paused and thought: why is it that every time I make plans with people, the first (and sometimes only) thing I think of is to go out for a meal with them? I saw it as lame, like, “Damn, Joe, you really can’t think of anything else to do with your friends?” But someone wonderfully explained this gravitation/infatuation with group meals, saying, “it’s because we associate meals with positive social experiences.” And I was like, yup. That’s it. That’s exactly it.

There’s this romantic idea that good food is the ingredient that brings people together, because food is a universal language, and good food, a universal pleasure. That’s why it’s so easy for us to have a good time just by grabbing a few friends, gathering around a dinner table, and sharing a meal together.

Joseph Labrador

I carried this idea with me throughout my freshman year of college, but I did it so subconsciously that by the end of the year I was left wondering why meals with friends were such a big part of my first year experience — big enough that I constantly felt their absence when I moved back home for the summer. I wanted to be back in the Willis dorms where we squeezed entire dinner parties into the common rooms of four-person apartments; or at Dumpling Palace where we ventured to on many Friday nights to satisfy our midnight munchies; or at Vivi’s where my friends and I crowded in, an hour before closing, for our weekly post-Barkada-meeting boba trips.

I missed these moments that made me laugh more and smile wider. They turned dining halls, kitchen tables, and restaurants into happy places, and made Boston feel more like home and not just the place I lived. So, dear food, thank you. Thank you for the adventures you led me on, the people you brought me closer to, and the memories we made along the way. 

Joseph Labrador