It's freshers week. You got the grades, broke up with your sixth form boyfriend, and your parents have crammed you plus all of your worldly possessions into the car and up the M11 to the esteemed academic institute where, for the next three years, you will transform into the wise and accomplished adult you always knew you were (and perhaps become a small time weed dealer.) Now to celebrate with seven straight days of drinking and snogging strangers on the dance floor at Vodka Revs!
After the hangover clears and you sponge-wash the vomit from your going-out top, it's probably a good time to think about food. Your mum might have packed you off with a deluxe IKEA kitchenware set but, like, how exactly do you make an omelette? Does Crunchy Nut count as a meal?
Being a university student is basically an extended experiment into the levels of malnutrition the human body can endure before it develops scurvy or suffers a mini breakdown in the library and has to spend all of reading week drinking sweet tea at Nan's house. Put unsupervised 19-year-olds with limited cooking skills into a shared kitchen and you will end up with burnt saucepans and a disgusting amount of cook-from-frozen garlic bread.
In honour of freshers week and the many, many terrible "meals" that will be consumed in uni halls up and down the country, MUNCHIES gathered the worst student eating experiences we could find onto one giant microwavable platter. Serve with own-brand ketchup while watching BBC iPlayer on a dodgy Compaq laptop. Enjoy.
In my first year of uni, I was dating a bicycle courier who had zero sense of danger, along with zero culinary skill. One night he came round and offered to make me dinner, which I thought was very sweet of him as I was trying to finish an essay. I heard lots of crashing and banging in our communal kitchen and he walked into my room carrying his own unique creation: barbecue Super Noodle sandwich. He'd toasted the bread and stuck an entire pack of freshly made Super Noodles between it, along with a slice of processed cheese. I'm ashamed to say that I ate the whole thing. It was fucking disgusting. To this day, it remains the most bizarre thing that someone has ever made for me as a show of affection.
I once ate ten slices of toast in one afternoon when I was hungover and had no money to buy real food. My friends called me "Ten Slice Catherine" for a while after that.
I basically thought of myself as a great cook and amateur baker when I was at university and loved experimenting. I was really into making cakes for everyone (I always found you could make friends as a student if you gave them food.) I invited my friend over one night and said I'd bake her a cake. I think she asked what would happen if we put Red Bull in it (because I went to uni in the early 00s and everyone was drinking Red Bull.) So I did. It was a standard sponge cake: 6oz butter, 6oz sugar, 6oz flour, three eggs, and about half a can of red bull—much to the horror of my house mates. When it came out of the oven, it actually had a really nice rise and a lovely golden colour. It was by no means hideous and everyone enjoyed it, even the housemates who originally looked horrified.
I don't see myself ever making it again, but the experience did keep me experimenting in the kitchen and I like to think my taste is a little more sophisticated now.
"I used to make "Carbonara" by melting a block of cheese with cream and bacon and chucking it over pasta."
For me, it would have to be a Smash Instant Mashed Potato sandwich with Laughing Cow cheese. This beautiful dish came about when I was in my first year at Cardiff University and I had this weird obsession with instant mashed potato. I experimented with it and added loads of random stuff to "jazz" it up, from herbs to spices and cheeses. One day, I thought, "What would a Smash sandwich taste like?" So I got two slices of white bread, buttered them with a wedge of Laughing Cow cheese, and added my Smash filling. It sounds gross, but it was actually really creamy and super comforting. The texture, however, was a little weird.
I was one of those poor students who never had any money because I'd spend it all on booze. I was starving and I had nothing in the cupboard or fridge and I couldn't be bothered to get dressed to go and buy food. I had a sneak to see what my housemates had in, but their cupboards were locked. The only thing I had left were pasta and condiments. So I cooked up some pasta, mixed in some ketchup and mayo, and bob's your uncle. I dare you to try it, it's actually really nice.
Me and my friend Johnny White used to share a loaf of tiger bread from Tesco and a tub of hummus every day and that was it.
I had the best/worst thing I ever cooked myself after coming back from Glastonbury once. I was leaving final year halls the next day and had just got back after a mammoth journey from a soaking wet Glastonbury. It was also the day we got our degree results. Not much was left in the cupboard but pasta, some old pesto, and Bernard Matthews turkey. And baked beans. I cooked the lot (no point leaving any of it), piled my plate high, and topped it off with some cheap ketchup. The first few mouthfuls, having not eaten properly for a while, were some of best of my life. Get to half-way through, though. The opposite.
My worst meal, 100-percent, was boiled rice with Worcester sauce. It was beyond awful. However it did mean I had enough money to go to Fifth Ave! So a worthy sacrifice.
Note: this really happened and there was a witness. In freshers year, I put a frozen burger onto a scorching hot frying pan and BANG, the whole thing exploded out of the pan. Droplets of oil burnt my arms and the handle of a mug sitting on the adjacent worktop actually broke off, the explosion was that powerful. I never bought that brand of burgers again. (Later, I would find out that they contained horse meat.)
My funds for the month were at an all-time low but knowing that a huge night out downing shit cider and dancing with morons to Flo-Rida and T-Pain's "Low" was approaching, I thought it would be wise to buy some hangover food from Iceland. I believed I had picked up a trusty ready meal lasagne, unfortunately, the reality was far darker. I woke up at 2 PM and put the sloppy meaty concoction in my mouth hoping it would sooth the hangover from hell. However, an unfamiliar taste brutally hit me. It tasted like someone had vomited a curry on the top of a pile of burnt plastic cheese. Desperate to prevent myself from being sick, I rushed to the fridge and grabbed what I thought was a nice familiar red can of Coke. It was my housemate's Tizer. I fucking hate Tizer. Turns out I had accidentally purchased Iceland's Willy Wonka ready meal invention of chicken tikka lasagne by mistake. I couldn't go out the next night because I had to spend my budget on chewing gum and Listerine. Always read the label, lads.
When I just left school and went to college, I used to make "Carbonara" by melting a block of cheese with cream and bacon and chucking it over pasta. When I was attempting a cookery degree, I used to go between the extremes of Michelin-starred restaurants some nights and three cans of cherry Coke, a multipack of Monster Munch, a Galaxy Ripple, and ice cream for dinner the next. Thank God I learned to cook!
Chinese curry sauce with slices of wafer-thin chicken and microchips. Sometimes I'd put it all in a sandwich. And when I say Chinese curry sauce, I don't mean lovely drunken takeaway sauce, I mean the powdered stuff you need to make up yourself. I couldn't afford lovely takeaway chicken curry and chips, so I whipped up a pot of the packet stuff, threw in some chips, and finished it with slices of chicken.
I didn't eat this, but I had a university flatmate whose two favourite foods were "pizza toast." That is to say, tomato puree on toast and Jetters, which are Bernard Matthews turkey pieces shaped like planes (he was properly into planes.) Another time, he once went to make curry with an Iceland jar of korma sauce, but didn't have any meat, so just poured the sauce over rice.
When I was in first year at Leeds, I lived in a halls which was really far from any shop. It was a Sunday, my flatmates were all away, it was in the middle of winter, and I was deeply, deeply overdrawn. I was more or less at my lowest ebb and extremely hungry, but there was nothing—and I mean nothing—in my food cupboard apart from a few stock cubes. Not OXO cubes or Knorr pots or any of the fancy shit, just Sainsbury's own-brand stock cubes. So I ate one, sort of nibbling it slowly like the vermin I am to try and at least put some sort of flavour in my mouth and some small substance on my stomach. It pretty much just tasted of salt, and I didn't tell any of my housemates what I'd done when they returned that evening out of a burning sense of shame. And no, it didn't fill me up.
Before I went to uni my big sister gave me two pieces of advice: don't drink beer because you'll get fat, and don't have sex with anyone in your first week because you'll get a bad rep. I managed to stick to the first one—beer is gross! But the second one went out of the window when I accidentally started a sex story about myself on day three of freshers week. I'd been hooking up with a second-year with a shit indie haircut because I was dumb and thought second-year boys were cool. Let's call the boy in question Oli, because that's his real name, and he was a dick (he later dumped me for the hottest girl in my year—fuck you Oli! Also, I think I was in a Facebook relationship with him by day three of freshers, which is honestly the most excruciating aspect of this whole story in retrospect.) So, we'd been at some lame Oxford party where people were wearing blackface or some shit like that, because that's what people do at Oxford. I brought Oli back to my halls—he probably had his thumbs tucked into his skinny jeans and his head tilted to one side all the better to maintain his shitty side-swept haircut—and I slung a Sainsbury's Basics cottage pie into the microwave, because I was drunk and I've always enjoyed the mouthfeel of microwave mince.
"I had a flatmate whose favourite food was 'pizza toast.' That is to say, tomato puree on toast."
At this point, for reasons unknown to me, I started to give Oli a blow job, in our communal kitchen, and I swear to god, he came in my mouth the exact second the microwave went off, which was precisely three and a half minutes. I spent a long time feeling really pleased about my blow job technique, especially as this was like, only the third blowjob I'd ever given (I wasn't an attractive teenager), but as I get older I realise he probably just hadn't had his dick sucked for a really long time, on account of being a shit person. Because I was a moron I told one person, my supposed best friend Sarah (that's her real name too), and obviously she told everyone, because teenage girls are trash, and then everyone knew and I was known as "Ping Girl" for the whole of uni. And now I listen to my older sister when she gives me advice, because big sisters are wise.
I first made "bean curry" when I was starving and had limited resources to work with. I had a bag of microwaveable rice but was concerned about the dryness of just rice on its own. Upon further inspection of the cupboards, I discovered a tin of beans, and it was then, with rice pouch in hand, that the combination struck me. Bean curry. I knew that the sauce from the beans would add the moisture and flavour I craved. Also Heinz claim that beans are one of your five-a-day, so I felt assured about the health benefits of such a concoction.
The nature of the bag of rice meant that it retained its heat nicely while the beans were cooking. When the beans were done, I tore open the rice bag and poured them over the top.
And indeed it was satisfying. I felt full for ages as both the tin of beans and the bagged rice claim to "serve two," but are cheap so I just ate the whole lot. Since then, I've learned to finesse bean curry by seasoning it with black pepper.
My personal highlight was in first year. I had prepared a tuna pasta in a freshly washed dish that I had forgotten to rinse properly. I was about four mouthfuls in before the taste of Fairy Liquid hit me.
Some names changed to protect identities.