A guest post by Sienna Rodgers at York University.
"You don't make your own chips?!"
My mother looks at me wide-eyed, horrified at the thought of oven chips. No, surprisingly I do not peel potatoes, cut them into slices and hover over a frying pan that is spitting oil, while the rest of my housemates try to cook their food around me in our cramped kitchen. I am a 20 year old Politics student living at the opposite end of the country from home, ergo my diet can at best be described as 'simple'. Some people, the harsher type, would even say it has no nutritional value whatsoever.
In first year, my flatmates were... eccentric. They were very weird but there was never a dull moment. We'd decided at the start of freshers' week to cook group meals so we could get to know each other better and save money. We each took our turn to make dinner for everyone. This resulted in some strange concoctions in the kitchen and the arrangement fell down after a few days after a particularly awful dinner of burnt vegetable risotto. The highlight of this experiment is when my dear friend Lizzie, a talented baker and now housewife, turned my world upside down. She emptied some dry pasta into a baking tray, filled it with water and readymade pasta bake sauce, placed it in the oven and topped it with cheese a few minutes before taking it out. I was scared. The sauce was remarkably orange and I didn't see how this could ever work. Je suis snob. But I was proved utterly wrong. With some added salt (nobody at uni uses salt, what the hell is that about?), I would happily eat this again. I'm not joking. Ok, it's not better than a homemade tomato sauce with bronze-die pasta, but it's fairly tasty and definitely easier.
|Lizzie's easy tomato and cheese pasta bake|
Lizzie soon became the matriarch of the flat and fed two of us regularly. She is the kind of person who makes weekly meal plans, so we always knew what was for dinner. Our classics were pasta, nachos, pizza, chips and sausages and veggie roast. Looking back now, it seems quite weird to have Doritos for dinner but I didn't question it at the time. My diet then was certainly more varied; now that I cook for myself every day it's just pasta or rice with tuna. The food I eat is more boring than weird - a previous flatmate stunned my mother by having a packet of Angel Delight as a dessert. She said she hadn't seen this since the 70s.
|Veggie burgers, roast carrots and broccoli, mash, gravy and Yorskshire puds|
|Doritos with Quorn mince in Lloyd Grossman chilli tomato sauce and cheese|
I will begin my third year of uni in September and have just moved into a new house with my second year halls flatmates. (I stayed in halls on campus for two years.) Most of the students in my house live on pasta, pizza and chips. Other carbs are occasionally introduced when an adventurous mood takes us, but dinner is largely just penne covered in a shop-bought tomato sauce. Or should I say 'tea', as the Yorkshire natives do. (Confusion arises when someone says they're going to make dinner, meaning the evening meal in the South and lunch in the North, or tea, meaning a cup of tea in the South and the evening meal in the North.) There are six of us in our new house - there were eight in halls but the married middle-aged man from Hong Kong didn't speak to us and another was a 33 year old Manc who was too busy writing his dissertation or chatting up women to socialise with us. Out of these six students, three are vegetarians and the other three tend to stick to ham and chicken for their meat fix. I think it is quite common for students to become more veggie at uni due to the price of meat.
I personally tend to spend around £10-15 a week on food shopping, which isn't much. I always order my food online, usually with Tesco, but I've started to just add my measly requests onto everyone else's orders due to the minimum basket charge. My housemates use Asda thanks to its abundance of deals. My shopping list will typically consist of:
- longlife milk (I don't use milk every day as I don't bother drinking tea at uni, much to my family's horror) - 56p
- easy cook brown rice - £1.75
- potatoes - 34p each
- whole wheat penne - £1
- pesto - £1.20
- chopped tomatoes - £1.50
- Warburtons seeded bread - £1
- peanut butter - 62p
- cans of tuna - normally £6 but I only buy this when on offer, so around £3.50
- garlic baguette - 32p
(This comes up to £11.79 and I don't even have to buy all these things every week. The prices quoted are those currently on Tesco online.)
I will buy avocados as a treat, but rarely. Other items I do not have to buy regularly: olive oil, tahini, garlic granules (*hides*). I try not to buy any chocolate because if it's not there, I can't eat it! Great dieting method. There are some luxuries in my cupboard, namely balsamic vinegar and Maldon salt, which I nick from home. I am the daughter of a foodie, after all. My biggest indulgence is dining out, although none of these excursions ever costs me over £15. To explore York, I used to eat at a new restaurant every 1-2 weeks, but now I just go to YO! Sushi every so often.
The chef of our house fills up the kitchen every evening with mouth-watering aromas and my pale and comparatively tasteless dinner simply cannot compete. He spends approximately £50 a week on his food shop. This extravagance makes Dom skint but he cannot bear living off non-perishables as I do, preferring to spend his money on fish, meat, fresh fruit and vegetables. He also has the most fancy pants equipment, boasting a large, heavy coffee machine that would look overly-professional even in Starbucks. My only appliance is a rice steamer (it cost £8) that I use far too often because it's totally brilliant. I stick rice in with some water, watch an episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and come back to a bowl of perfectly cooked rice. What more could a lazy student want?
I think what we buy depends largely on our family backgrounds, maybe even more so than our budgets. A friend says she has "low expectations" when it comes to food, so she finds everything she cooks for herself (and this is mostly pasta, without salt!) delicious. I have been brought up with high expectations for food. If I'm lucky, when I visit home I'm greeted by home-smoked salmon on homemade sourdough toast or some other deliciousness I cannot afford at uni. Upon asking others what their parents cooked for them as children, I found out that baked beans with chips and a fried egg was normal. Apparently that's an actual thing, not just a joke in The Royle Family. Naturally, I come across as an utter wanker when I look shocked at these replies. I must admit to being absolutely outraged when I discover they have never tried sushi. Trying to imagine a life without sushi or pesto or gnocchi (because all of these things have reportedly never been eaten by some of my Northern friends) brings on an empty dreadful feeling that pours over me, which I suppose is how my mother feels when she hears tales of oven chips. Fortunately, Monique, my favourite housemate, has now experienced the wonder of avocado maki and I have never seen her happier than when she tucks into a green plate at YO! Sushi. (Disclaimer: YO! Sushi is the only Japanese(ish) restaurant in York, if we'd been in London I would obviously have taken her to somewhere proper like Asakusa.)
While I scoff at their use of table salt rather than sea salt flakes and patronise them in my middle class London way because they've never tried an avocado (come on though, really), at university our cooking pretty much levels out. We are all equally as lazy, apart from Dom who is a Proper Adult with spices and everything, so our food is equally basic.
What did you eat as a student? Did you find culinary communism or were there tense class divisions in the kitchen?