We were idly chatting in the pub on Friday about our student diets, and my thoughts turned to the menu were I to host a dinner party based on my undergraduate cuisine (1993-1996).
First year was easy: I was still vegetarian, and no cook. Life was far too interesting to stay in the kitchen (other than at parties), and so I lived mostly on bags of carrots and the crisps which inevitably accompanied beer (real ale from the start apart from the occasional vodka and frequent recourse to Chateau Manville from Kwik's: 99p a bottle for this mid-strength perry; I assumed the Chateau was a derelict house in Bolton, and even then suspected that the plastic 'cork' wasn't a sign of quality). This was also the year I was introduced to the curry, a life-long love affair. Our local takeaway was the Shahin in Bangor, run by some Bangladeshis who'd moved first to Sweden then to North Wales (they left Scandinavia for a British education - the fools). In return for helping the teenage lad with his homework a couple of times, excellent free curries were occasionally proffered.
Gradually my palate widened, mostly thanks to housemates with a) cooking skills and b) parents who would pack them off to university with a big box of frozen home-made meals. Left to myself, I bought packets of Sos-Mix vegetarian 'meat' and such things. Other meals I'm particularly ashamed of are packets of dried pasta in dehydrated sauced (Knorr? Batchelor?) which were completely disgusting and took longer to cook than actual pasta in real sauce, the same stuff with rice and Fray Bentos pies served with oven chips.
I think I started eating meat again by the end of first year, and so second year saw an explosion of taste. Suddenly, the world of disgusting cheap frozen food was open to me, mostly sourced from Kwik-Save, Farmfoods and Iceland. Cardboard pizzas. Chicken Kievs, Scampi. 4p loaves of white bread (brown was compulsory at home, so white felt, to quote Mark Corrigan, like pudding - for a while). Every student kitchen I shared had the obligatory 10kg sack of rice: basmati when I got the chance, horrible brown rice if someone else bought it. Marmite (on crumpets, another verboten foodstuff at home) formed a large part of my diet - the vitamins in that alone kept me alive, and I gradually picked up some culinary skills from housemates. So did Kwik-Save's huge, cheap bags of Broken Biscuits. Mmm.
The joy of being completely new to cooking was that there were no rules. I could put any flavour with any food and be happy. One of my favourite treats was a novel twist on Italian: cooking a good plateful of salted spaghetti, then putting it in the microwave with a bar of Dairy Milk perched proudly on top. I recently bought a bar of Lindt's plain chocolate with salt flakes - sadly, it failed to reproduce the deliciousness of my own invention. The vanilla alternative was vats of macaroni cheese which would last a week.
Sometimes, I'd wildly and randomly swing from cheap horrible food to stupidly extravagant ones. We'd buy steak fairly often, but occasionally I'd appear with a slab of venison and a greedy grin. I have no idea from whence it came, but it was good - probably reduced at the supermarket on Sunday afternoon, just before closing time. I also had my first prawns and mussels at the Bangor Mussel Fair down the docks, and acquired a wok for interminable stir-fries.
I actually can't remember when I started to cook properly. Vegetables did appear at some point, often from Cefni Fruits, the Pot Noodle of grocers: rotting rubbish bought at the wholesalers when the other grocers had gone home with the good stuff. Old Man Cefni was a mean and uncaring character. The windowless rooms above the shop he (illegally) rented to my friends stank of decay, corruption and desperation, to which they could do no more than acquiesce.
Needless to say, I put on roughly 4 stone between fresher's week and graduation, most of which is still, unfortunately, with me. I literally don't remember ever thinking about the health implications of anything which passed my lips, and discovering that I had a gut and needed jeans in more than a 28" waist was a huge mystery. I did give up alcohol for some years but not for health reasons: I was just bored.
Right, your turn. If you're a student, on what are you dining? If you're past that, or never went to university, what did you eat in those early years of independence?
Of course, this is the perfect excuse to play these: it'll happen to you!