As a third year with diminishing free time, when I’m waiting for my food to cook in the evenings I find myself looking back wistfully on life in catered halls. I spent my first year in Pennsylvania Court, which I loved for various reasons, quite a significant one being the food.
Let’s start with the most important meal of the day: breakfast. Each morning we were greeted by a broad choice, including porridge, toast, fruit, and various cereals. Despite all the healthy options, I inevitably went for Coco Pops most mornings, or, more dangerously, the full English breakfast that was served every day. There was also tea and a hot drinks machine for those all-important caffeine boosts, offering different kinds of coffee and hot chocolate (pro tip: the Chocolatte option is so much nicer than Hot Chocolate). Breakfast was open from 7:45-9:30 during the week, which can be a bit of a struggle for people like me who chronically oversleep, but it’s pretty feasible for functional people, especially as the possibility of a bacon sandwich is pretty good motivation for getting out of bed. Also, to be honest, if you go out the night before an 8:30 seminar, sometimes that full English breakfast can feel like the only thing keeping you alive.
There was no lunch, which wasn’t ideal, but on the bright side it did bring me the essential university experience of relying on pot noodles and Cup-a-soup for survival. Luckily my flat had a kitchen, though it was practically empty barring a microwave, a fact which didn’t really affect me except for the fact that only having four chairs between nine people made hosting pre-drinks a little tricky (first year priorities). Also, I think not having to cook does make for a more harmonious flat, as no cooking means no arguments about washing up or the occasional stealing each other’s food.
the possibility of a bacon sandwich is pretty good motivation for getting out of bed
On weekends, however, there was not only breakfast but also brunch – something that my unsustainable lie-in habits prevented me from discovering straight away, but once I did, it was life-changing. Breakfast was ‘continental’ breakfast, lasting from 8:00-11:00 and replacing the full English with mini French pastries. Never fear though, because the bacon returned from 11:15 onwards with brunch, which included wraps, bagels, and baguettes, soup, and usually even some sort of cake or biscuit. Honestly, as someone who usually went out during the week, I basically planned my mostly-empty weekends around food.
Dinner was served between 17:30 and 19:15 every day, which is quite early and therefore annoying for those with late-running lectures, but then again, it meant we were always left with more than enough time to get ready for Exeter’s early-night-out lifestyle. There were always four choices of main meal, with sides of vegetables available as well as a salad bar. I have to say I’m glad I ate meat because there was often only one vegetarian option, but despite being a picky eater I usually managed to find something I enjoyed, barring the odd anomaly (for example the day they for some reason put mushrooms in every single meal?). We also got special menus for different events – Chinese New Year, Christmas dinner, and Pancake day were particular highlights – and every Sunday we got a full roast dinner.
I’m so glad I spent my first year in catered halls, as not having to learn to cook gave me one less thing to think about as I adjusted to university life, and allowed me to delay my entry into the real world by another year. It was also great for settling in as mealtimes became social occasions where you could arrange to see friends or meet new people by just sitting down at a random table. Now I have come to really enjoy cooking for myself, but sometimes when I’m really knackered in the mornings I would love to just have scrambled eggs magically made for me.