"The memory of preparing our Bridgemas dinner lingers in my mind as fully encompassing this practice of cooking, eating, and, enjoying something all together"Mahvish Malik

My first interactions with my flatmates are memorably marked by some interesting food encounters. The first time I saw my college wife, CD*, was soon after she’d rubbed chilli couscous in her eyes (truly love at first sight); RT is still affectionately saved in my phone as ‘beans on bread’ in honour of her first, ‘uni-cooked meal’; and only after a day of us all knowing one another, we debated whether AB’s ‘curry’ really deserved that title, or whether it was more a ‘spicy stew’. Whilst this article may have begun as an exposé of my friends’ freshers food flops, it was from these very humble beginnings that a beautiful community began, as we grew to understand, comfort and help one another through the trials and tribulations of uni life.

Rather than forging bonds over a table at Cindies, it was over a reduced pack of Pizza Express dough balls picked up from Sainsbury’s that we spilled stories of school, interview horror stories, and fears for university. The act of breaking bread with each other, though infinitely less symbolic than its traditional connotations, brought us all together, and became a simple way for us to take a shared moment amidst the hustle and bustle of term, and nourish ourselves with some carb-y, buttery goodness. I don’t know what kind of hive-mind spirit possessed us all to become hooked on them, but we now ensure there’s at least one pack in the fridge at all times, and it’s since become embedded in the general life of our flat.

“We’ve attached emotional value to both the foodstuffs and the experiences of eating them”

I feel like this practice of uninhibited sharing with each other was the impetus for us to become so receptive to one another’s food habits and, consequently, to each other. Within a couple of weeks, we were helping the rest of Cambridge’s student population wipe out Sainsbury’s stock of oat milk, and cycling to college with our bags weighed down by a ten-pack of Innocent Smoothies. These shared purchasing habits only came to be through the generosity of individuals who were happy to let everyone try whatever they adorned their fridge and cupboard shelves with. This culture of sharing and consuming as a collective has since meant we’ve attached emotional value to both the foodstuffs and the experiences of eating them.

Now, it’s rare to walk past an entire roast dinner in the supermarket aisles to trigger a flashback, but the memory of preparing our Bridgemas dinner lingers in my mind as fully encompassing this practice of cooking, eating, and, enjoying something all together. After compiling a spreadsheet detailing all the prep needed for every component of our dinner, what emerged from this procrastination-driven activity was, not only a delicious meal, but a bustling kitchen, the genesis of a flat playlist, and an overall sense of togetherness. The taste of our meal has long left my memory, but the pride we felt having fed each other with the fruits of our labour still warms my heart.

“Food acts as the desperately needed grounding and comforting force”

We’ve also learnt that it doesn’t take grand events like Bridgemas to experience the domestic comforts of food and routine. In Lent, RT and I opted to order Five Guys as a pick-me-up after a particularly grueling essay crisis, and the coupling of our emotional fragility with Five Guys’ unexpected kindness in randomly doubling our order turned them into our go-to food for when we felt especially downtrodden. Essay crisis routines then also came to include a kitchen break to brew a hot chocolate, over which we could vent our frustrations about uni and how we wanted to sack off our degrees, before returning to our desks to finish up the 50-page reading we’d abandoned in our pursuits of some chocolatey goodness.


Mountain View

Cooking my way through Covid

Julia Tershen’s essay ‘Food is a bridge to community’, in In the Kitchen, acknowledges the warmth of feeling known through food, and thus feeling loved — ‘It’s a small gesture, but it warms our hearts and makes us feel thought of. And isn’t that what we all want? To be thought of? Whether it’s a dog treat, or a warm bowl of soup or an ice cream cone or a family recipe, food is a tool of thoughtfulness. It’s a way in.’ It’s this very way-in that’s allowed us all to provide some non-verbal comfort to each other amidst the stress of term — be it a packet of veggie cocktail sausages chucked onto CD’s fridge shelf, or a pack of chocolate buttons snuck into RT’s pidge. It’s not much, but in the flurry of university life, it acknowledges the person behind the books as more than just their academic grind.

With remote exams blurring the boundaries of home and work ever closer, food acts as the desperately needed grounding and comforting force; after three terms, multiple packs of dough balls consumed and UberEats ordered, it’s been the food made and consumed in our own flat that has truly engendered that sense of comfort, community and routine that’s otherwise been absent this past year. Whilst we may go for the odd meal out as the world opens back up, we know it’ll be the talks and teas we have in more domestic settings that’ll carry us through to the end of term.

*initials given to save everyone some dignity