Going to university means being separated from a lot of things you love, and for me one of those things is undoubtedly food and everything that accompanies it: a kitchen full of everything you could possibly need; ingredients like fresh coriander, Bombay's mangoes, pomegranate, aromatic spices, tiny bananas; the ability to spontaneously bake; and perhaps most of all, cooking and eating with my family. But going to university also means the chance to explore new ideas, experiment with new things, and learn to manage on a much smaller and very different scale. While I love going to hall to meet my friends and relax, I still prefer making my own breakfast, cooking a nourishing lunch, and sometimes making dinner. In between there are a myriad lovely little places dotted around Cambridge, from crepe vans to authentic dumplings, which means you can't truly get bored. Cooking (and food in general) lets me 'productively' procrastinate, get out of my room, and enjoy a bit of comfort amidst what often feels like uncontrollable chaos.
Indian designs from Chumbak, a Chicago mug mailed all the way from the Windy City, and a stroopwafel tin – my self on a shelf.
Featuring the trusty french press and coffee thermos in the back; I don't know what I'd do without them.
The majority of my lunches consist of some sort of stir-fried vegetables, egg, and/or vegetarian meat, most of which I haven't included in the post because they are chronically unphotogenic. But evidently I decided to channel my essay planning into a bit of (remotely) artsy plating on this day:p
Oh, the crepe van...
Conveniently placed right outside the college, this van is heaven on wheels. The staff is fabulous, and this cheese-spinach-black pepper crepe comes out hot, with a perfect border of crispy cheese and delightfully melty on the inside.
The sauce on the left is a rich tomato sauce, cooked and reduced for a long time with home-ground roast cumin powder, coriander powder, curry powder mint, fresh coriander, smoked paprika, and tikka paste. On the bottom is a fresh raita, and some good old Sainsbury's falafel on the side. I made a spiced pea soup to go along, which was delicious but didn't make the prettiness cut compared with this plate.
This ice cream sandwich is both to die for and utterly deadly. We sat and ate these on King's Parade where we should have been people-watching, instead of other people watching us make massive chocolatey fools of ourselves...
I also learned that my sweet tooth is rather worryingly bigger than I realised.
Dark German (or Dutch or Danish, whatever you prefer) rye bread is probably not very high on most students' shopping lists, but I unashamedly love it. It regularly features in my breakfast or lunch, usually with multiple toppings. Above: St. Dalfour natural jam, natural peanut butter, banana, cinnamon, blueberries, and various combinations of them.
The end of exams meant the start of free time to read and enjoy a cup of coffee and Dutch speculaas before an afternoon row. A.k.a. luxury.
Work, stress and being away brings out food cravings I normally shove away, hence my rekindled love for Dutch chocolate sprinkles on toast <3 They do breakfast right.
Who can say no to pancakes? My go-to batter is made of oats, egg, bananas and milk, which allows me to totally justify having them as a healthy breakfast or lunch. Hidden underneath is a blueberry pancake, which I actually liked more than the chocolate one. :O
Cambridge has countless cute little cafes, several of which are about a minute from college. My dad and I had a nice leisurely breakfast and coffee on a drizzly morning when he came to visit, and everything was perfect – given that it takes less than 10 seconds from our gate to Stickybeaks, I think I ought to be there more often.
Crispy, melty, cheesy omelette. Can't go wrong.
This was a pleasant and refreshing change from the usual egg-vegetable combination, with a base of black lentils, topped with fresh tomatoes and mint, and a lightly spiced raita. Definitely going to make this again, maybe with chickpeas, too.
Caramelised banana, melted chocolate, natural apricot jam, all in one pancake.
Melting a stroopwafel on top of steaming coffee ^_^ Little things.
Beanissimo is a tiny little tricycle coffee shop up on the way to Homerton. My mum and I first went there last October, and although I look out for him every time I pass on my way to the Education faculty, I still haven't been back. His cycle is adorable, as if it's out of a toy set, and his coffee and bars were perfect for an outdoor autumn break.
Pan-fried tortellini, courgette, vegetarian meatballs and kale. I always have a leafy vegetable (kale or baby spinach) to throw into stir-fries and sandwiches because they're so perfect.
As if I could visit a crepe stall and not try something sweet. I chose the dark chocolate and banana, with added crushed biscuits... once again, to die for. I got chocolate all over my face, but I'd do it again any day.
Popcorn is such a fabulous and underrated snack. It's one of the first things my mum and I made after moving in to my room last year (Friday is popcorn day ^_^) but it quickly became a staple late-night study snack: it's filling, light, full of fibre, and easy to make it taste amazing. My 'signature' popcorn has smoked paprika powder, chaat masala, coriander powder, cumin powder, curry powder, and salt (Sainsbury's used to have smoked sea salt, which was the best). I have yet to figure out how to make chocolatey/sweet popcorn without it being too messy, but the few attempts I made were still a delight to eat through the night.
Apart from how much I love breakfast foods, I'm also a firm believer in it being the most important meal of the day. With early mornings, long days, lots of cycling, and often a rowing outing or an erg, I think I'd destroy something out of 'hanger' if I didn't have a solid breakfast. My mum sent me this article on power breakfasts from TIME magazine; I prepped all the ingredients for the dark chocolate oats with espresso yoghurt, kept boxes of them in the fridge, and they lasted me through a rotten week of the Lent Bumps rowing races and a handful of late-night essay crises.
Having the market right outside college is an absolute blessing – falafel wraps, quick thai noodles, dumplings, fresh bread, stunning pastries and pasties, Portuguese food, burgers, coffee, you name it. One of my favourites is Tom's Cakes, which only has a stall on Sundays but has the most delightful spread of cakes, cookies, tarts and breads. After spending all day debating whether to go try it out, I stepped out of the library to grab some tea and an apple from my room and instead decided there and then to head over to the stall – 15 minutes before it closed – and finally succumb to the idea of cake that I had been trying to resist. It turned into a nice little walk with my friend, topped off with a deliciously moist and rich apple crumb cake, and a much happier me in the library that evening.
Occasionally I make whole wheat pasta, with some vegetables, fresh basil, pesto and/or wholegrain mustard, cheese, and sometimes an egg.
When my mum told me to go treat myself for her birthday, I knew exactly where I was headed. The Belgian waffle stall at the market has a long list of exciting toppings and flavours, but a friend and I decided to go the whole hog and have 4 toppings on one: fudge, chocolate sauce, strawberries and crumbled speculaas. They're warm, gooey (perhaps fewer toppings would make them more crisp, so I've got to try that too) and for a moment sitting at that little stall you forget that you're really at university.
I had planned to try studying at the Waterstone's Cafe 2nd View (also conveniently just next to Christ's) all year, but only actually ended up doing so after all my exams were over. I spent a rainy afternoon there with a cappuccino, some music, and my little handmade Cambridge travel 'moleskine' that my mum sent me.
True, this isn't the most photogenic, but it's from a New York Times recipe for courgette eggs that I had wanted to make for ages, and it was one of the few recipes that worked perfectly for my limited college ingredients. It's a tad messy, but I used my food chopper/blender instead of grating the courgette and served it with some spinach and tomatoes on the side.
I finally bought a blender – a hand blender along with a vegetable chopper – and it's been brilliant. I use it for pancake batter, soups, and big filling banana smoothies ^_^
For the first term these sandwiches were pretty much a regular feature for my lunch: fresh multigrain bread, wholegrain mustard, pesto genovese, cheddar cheese (or old Dutch cheese when my dad brought my favourites from Holland), baby spinach/kale, an egg fried with smoked paprika, freshly ground black pepper, oregano and sea salt, and then the whole thing grilled to make it crispy and melty.
Benet's on King's Parade is cute, surprisingly large, and perfect for a cosy tea when it's rotten and windy outside. My fabulous friend from Bombay is studying in France and when she came to visit we had a lovely afternoon with hot chocolate (delicious, but not as amazing as the one from the chestnut/hot chocolate/brownie stall on Christ's Lane) and cake – the almond cake was our favourite.
Pre-exam: protein from the vegetarian steak, sautéed spinach, fibre from the rye bread, and a generous dose of yum peanut butter, chocolate, cheese and jam.
Although they spoil a bit too quickly, these multigrain pitas are even better than the regular bread. They have a wholesome nuttiness to them, the insides turn warm and pillowy when cooked, and they work great for grilled sandwiches or filled with spiced grilled peas and raita.
On the last day of Lent term, when I really ought to have been packing, a big group of us went out for a massive dinner at Zizzi's, and my friend and I worked our way through two amazing pizzas between the two of us. This one is a classic zucca: a creamy pesto base with mozzarella, roasted butternut squash, caramelised balsamic onions & spinach; topped with crumbled goat's cheese, pine nuts & rosemary after baking.
One of the best things about my friend who visited is her flexibility and love of trying new things. We took a walk out to Mill Road (also very under-known and underrated) and somewhere near Anglia Ruskin turned off onto a side road to find this tiny authentic Chinese restaurant. The dumpling plates were large, fresh, cheap, and it was really nice to get away from the usual beat of the main city.
Aromi is almost always busy, but it's 100% worth the wait. Their Sicilian sandwiches are always grilled fresh, and this one with cheese and mushrooms is one of my favourites, either to eat in the cafe or to take out and sit by the river. They have lovely little desserts, and they're known for their coffee and gelato, both of which I have yet to try.
My friend is a total foodie, but she vouched for the Chinese restaurant's hot pork dumplings.
The second pizza my friend and I devoured was the rustica primavera: goat's cheese, aubergine, artichoke, peppers, olives, mozzarella, balsamic tomatoes, super green pesto & rocket on wholemeal, white and spelt base.
A simple curry of tomatoes, spices, vegetarian meat, cauliflower and broccoli – not pretty, but super flavourful.
After a long day of walking and organising everything for moving in, there's nothing quite like a warm English pub and a hearty burger with your mum. I want to go back to try out their riverside balcony with blankets and a nice drink.
When my homemade peanut butter finished I bought this big jar and it became one of my favourite things ever. Between rowing snacks, breakfasts, smoothies, topped on banana, oat crackers, ryvita or apple, I polished off the whole jar myself:p
Rice and dal will never be the same as at home, but it's a start. Paired with a bit of a Modern Family dinner break, it's good enough for me.
Jamie's Pizzeria can't not feature: I first went there with my mum when we came for my interview, and it's been a favourite ever since. The ambience is perfect, the service is great, and everything I've tried has been a delight – they even managed to convert me to loving tiramisu and garlic bread.
Tucked away off a market side street and largely known for being a favourite stop for drunk food when people stumble out of the clubs, Gardenia's is so much more than that. Their portions are hearty, authentic Greek food, and just what you need when you want a pick-me-up. This veggie special burger was absolutely loaded with feta, but felt amazing given the blistering cold that night. It's one of the few easy places that stays open past 7 and my friend from France and I enjoyed a big meal of dolmas and kebabs the night she arrived. They're also super friendly and welcoming, and after a stressful work day a bunch of us had a nice long dinner there to unwind.
Grilled courgette and kale, quinoa, and a light chickpea curry.
After all our exams were done, my Education and French friends and I treated ourselves to 4 big slices of cake at Benet's, and freedom couldn't have felt better.
Work can stressful, the weather can be awful, and missing home can get you down when it's the last thing you need. But the comfort of cooking, going out to eat with friends – whether it's a stroll to the market, a long dinner out, or a food party in college – and even just grocery shopping together lets you relax for a while and enjoy the little things in life, and I can't wait for more.