It is both exactly like and entirely different from how I remember it: despite aggressive colonization by fast-food franchises, the University of Ottawa cafeteria still sprawls across the second floor of the main student building, surviving, somehow, despite the onslaught of raw capitalism.
Which isn’t to say that it isn’t all too aware of the competition: unlike the grimly utilitarian service counters of old, you now choose from food stations emblazoned with slightly desperate monikers that almost, but not quite, sound like universally recognizable brand names. Missing in action—at least, as far as I could tell—was that staple of university days of old, the poutine. In fact, unless I managed to miss that counter, there were no french fries on the menu at all, even in their slightly less artery-clogging natural state.
Deprived, then, of what had seemed the perfect excuse to dig my way to the bottom of a plate of fries and gravy, I went to the other extreme: “Extreme Pita.” It was a decision I would soon come to regret. After placing my order—a chicken caesar, small, to go—I stepped back to watch the pita construction process.
It was at that point, however, that it became clear that, despite their professed extremism in pita-related matters, these wrappers had only the faintest appreciation for the adaptability of even the most unassuming pita: rather than rip it carefully down the seam, thus allowing it to be stuffed, then rewrapped, and optionally rolled in tinfoil for added portability, the woman making my sandwich simply tore a small hole in one end, and shovelled in the filling, until it resembled a half-inflated balloon, with bits of chicken protruding from the sides. After jamming it carelessly in a loose-fitting plastic bag, she handed it over. “Can you cut it in half?” I asked, a request that was met with blank confusion.
I end up forking out $5.97 total—definitely on the high end for what was, fundamentally, a tragically misguided wrap. Leaving aside the logistical challenges involved in actually eating the thing, the sandwich itself is passable—just—the chicken grilled sufficiently, and without distinguishing characteristics, bad or good; the bacon limp and cold; the croutons too crunchy. The pita runs out before the innards, leaving me to consume the last bit of lettuce with my fork, and by the end, I’m no longer hungry, but not remotely satisfied. An educational experience? Perhaps.