Before I went on and resided at an actual hostel, I believed word for word what Enid Blyton had written about Malory Tower adventures. Yes I sincerely believed that they served scones with cream at tea time, boiled eggs in charming egg cups and treacle puddings and all such delightful stuff that makes you just whimper with want.
I thought that everyone in boarding schools changed into their pyjamas at night and wore smart pigtails and lifelong friendships were forged after lights out, as girls huddled around discussing the adventures of today and planning for the grand ones of tomorrow.
How naive I was!
Because it turns out the only part that the books were right about was the friends we make and adventures we have.
One thing Enid Blyton did lie/exaggerate about was the hostel food. Oh boy! Did she give a knocker about that? But its impossible to stay mad at her for too long. She led me through many glorious years of believing in goblins, fairies, talking dolls, magical trees and children who solved mysteries with the help of a dog. Special mention to ‘Thirteen O’clock and Other Stories’….books that held places of reverence under my pillows before many an afternoon nap.
Three words sum up hostel food – bland, watery and meagre.
– If it’s supposed to be a hot, spicy, chat-pata preparation, its hostel version will be bland.
– If it’s supposed to be tea, coffee, or payasam/kheer/rice pudding, then you can be assured our hostel cooks (Masterchef dropouts) will add about 200% of extra water to make up for volume to feed its starving, deprived residents.
– If it’s supposed to be tasty and they couldn’t add too much water, then yes it will be meagre. A stampede will ensue in the mess hall to get to the food. Famous examples include the odd ‘parippu vada’, the’ rarer- than-Hailey’s-comet ‘cake piece, etc.
My student life was divided between 4 hostels, 2 run by nuns and 2 by equally enterprising non-religious folk.
Not going into the gory details of each of these institutions. Like queuing up for toilets, the elegant methods of sanitary napkins disposal and not to mention cupboards stolen from Barbie’s doll house to keep your personal belongings in.
I think I’ll write up an entirely different post on that. I’m sure a lot of the readers will relate with it. Keep an eye out for that.
I am going to mention below three hostel food staples that I absolutely loathed:
1. The Wednesday cake curry
I skipped breakfast every Wednesday for weeks at my first hostel. I, who was so lovingly, brought up on daily fried fish and rice, bread and butter…oh what culinary horrors awaited my teenage palate.
Bread and cake curry was the Wednesday breakfast menu. The curry was a mash of all left over vegetables from last week’s menu combined with whatever the convent cats didn’t eat either, seasoned with Fevicol, resulting in a gooey mess. Greasy hair acted as garnishing at times.
Finally after a month of starvation, I learnt to pick on the bread alone. Survival skills honed.
2. Watery Tea (or rather tea-ey water)
Boil a cauldron of water, add pinch of tea powder, add two drops of milk from the bottom of the milk bottle, add pinch of sugar and voila tea is ready. Sugar is optional. Recipe may be substituted for coffee too.
For years I suffered from insomnia and heartburn if I ever sipped on real tea/coffee served at home. The caffeine and sugar levels were too much to digest.
3. Rice and Lentil ‘lava’ cakes
The cooks who manned the hostel kitchens were no less than Iron Chefs. How else do you explain idlis that were so hard on the outside, that you could play ping-pong with them. But if you broke it open, the batter flowed out uncooked and oozy. Delicious ,eh? A culinary puzzle to all. And the cooks guarded their lava cake secret selfishly. The world has lost out on another great recipe.
Advantage of being reared up on such food is that you learn to beg for more pocket-money from parents to buy the redeeming egg puff or Hide n Seek packet. And yes, you learn to appreciate your mother’s cooking more. No more whining at meal times at home.
So there it is – my hostel cuisine. Feel free to add any more that you can think off 🙂