Image description: an empty Oxford college dining hall.
To all those unlucky souls on inflexible, expensive or unappetising college meal plans, my heart goes out to you. I won’t dwell too much on my own circumstances, like the closure of all students kitchens during Michaelmas, but, as a daily navigator of hall food, I’ll share my top tips to squeeze every penny out of the ridiculous sums you’re paying for some questionable grub.
Nutella and naan: Yes, you heard that correctly! Yesterday’s carb-overloaded curry might have been overwhelming at first glance but saving the naan in your opportunistic Tupperware could be the answer to your hangover. When Hall are providing poppadoms and naan, tucking in to both at once without delicately spiced sauce might be a bit much. Meanwhile, free breakfast is always a win. I promise that the plainer naans Hall provide are sufficiently malleable to be guided and dominated by the sugary Nutella, whilst a flavoured naan works wonders when re-toasted and dunked in some mango chutney or even topped with hummus for a cross-cultural lunch encounter.
Yesterday’s carb-overloaded curry might have been overwhelming at first glance but saving the naan in your opportunistic Tupperware could be the answer to your hangover.
Revitalised salad: I am unsure who decided that iceberg lettuce, badly chopped tomatoes and scattered cucumber constituted the perfect salad, but I do know that this on top of a questionable Hall meal can tip me over the edge. Take a breath, decant your salad into a cheeky container and pop it in the nearest fridge until you have calmed down a bit. Enter tomorrow’s virtuous post-tutorial lunch. A variety of textures is the answer- I’m talking crunchy pumpkin seeds and popping pine nuts, alongside chewy chickpeas and dried cranberries. Enter the saltiness of peanuts or cashews and you are thriving. Or maybe you fancy the sophistication of a walnut? It’s dressing time! We all know the college budget would never stretch that far, so the sky (aka the offer section at Tesco) is the limit. Will you choose a tangy, balsamic one? Indulgent and creamy? Rad and fruity? (hello mango!). Toss in some feta, chuck it in a wrap, add it to the gorgeous grains of flavoured supermarket couscous- it’s up to you. Yesterday’s sad salad is today’s locus of flavour.
The underrated funkiness of fruit: This may be dismissed as painfully obvious, but I impel you hangry students to give fruit another go! Not only that, grab it in bulk from hall, slip it into your pocket, and you’ll be grateful when you need that 4pm library pick-me-up. Fruit is an item they are rarely reluctant to give out and it can easily be reworked into something delicious. Not to overdo the Nutella theme, but I promise that it pairs wonderfully with chopped apple, as does peanut butter. I’ve barely bought fruit since I came here because hall is my fruit bowl, and my room-to-library commute is my snack time. If your college is fancier than mine and berries are on the cards, they shine with melted chocolate, in cereal and on toast over a spread, but the same effects can be achieved whatever the sophistication of the fruit. For a nutritious twist to your booze up, use your dreary orange juice cartoon as a mixer (you can’t go wrong with vodka), or even integrate apples into some Pimm’s perfection. Little do college know what they are providing… Perhaps your college grows mint? Sounds like mojitos to me! (with permission from any gardeners, of course.)
I’ve barely bought fruit since I came here because hall is my fruit bowl, and my room-to-library commute is my snack time.
Ultimate iced coffee: Hall’s straight-from-an-urn coffee not hitting the same as Pret’s? Whip out your Keep Cup, decant half a mug of the dull stuff into it and dash back to your room. Add a further teaspoon of instant granules if still hot, or make a fresh, (budget) instant coffee ‘espresso’ (2 tsp coffee powder, ¼ mug boiling water). Top with your favourite milk (I stand by soya) and ice cubes and you might as well be at a hipster roasting house.
Spice it up: By now, you know the deal with your Hall’s flavours, which includes where they’re lacking. But instead of yielding to the painful expense of a high street takeaway, be brave, and work with what you’ve got. Some call it a culinary sin, but sometimes we do need condiments. When the curry runs out way earlier than the rice, mango chutney will rescue you. Soy sauce is your friend and may well have been waiting in the wings since your last Wasabi jaunt. Bring along your saved sachets in wait for the moment when a meal is utterly dry and tasteless.
By seizing snacks, condiments, and seasoning for their future starring roles, you go on, equipped with the knowledge to save on your meal deal tomorrow because of your thrifty accumulations, and attend hall with a smile and plenty of Tupperware.