The campus culinary experience has undoubtedly improved over the years, with more food outlets and healthy eating options than ever before. But many recall some of the – ahem, interesting – concoctions that have been served up across the eras.
"I remember the 'Rutland Burger'," recalls Margaret Neill (Law, 1979). "It was a running joke because it always looked the same but you were never sure what was in it." Rosemary Hay (Law, 1979) adds, "I remember someone actually broke a plate by hitting it with a slice of pizza!"
"I distinctly remember the banana curry served up in Willoughby Hall," said Victoria Hodson (American Studies and English, 2005). "It was yellowy-brown and mushy, with some surprising crunchy lumps."
The experience of hall catering was enough to inspire leading South-East Asian chef Willin Low (Law, 1996) to start cooking. "Coming from Singapore, where we have such a wide array of cuisines, I was in shock. We had rice cooked in so much water that you had to fish it out of the 'soup'. I started cooking chicken congee, a dish my mum made. My corridor mates loved my food so I started cooking more."
But look past the unusual cuisine and there is a highlight from decades of hall living which conjures up magical memories for many – the formal dinner.
"We had formal dinners once a week," reminisces Samuel Asante (LLB, 1956). "We'd wear our gowns and host a distinguished personality on the High Table. I was elected to the Hall Committee in my second year and enjoyed the privilege of sitting on the High Table."
"Formal dinners felt like what a university should be about," said James Key (Mechanical Engineering, 1996). "It's the film version of university life but it made you feel really special."
Student staples and daring dishes
For generations, baked beans and pasta bake have been fuelling Nottingham students through the ups and downs of university life. Ask any graduate what their go-to recipe was and the familiar suspects are at the top of every list.
"It would be pasta Monday to Friday," recalls Bridget Wallace (Medicinal and Biological Chemistry, 2014). "I'd be coming home late or going out again, so pasta with sauce was perfect. At the start of each term, my mum made sure we re-stocked the cupboard – she didn't want me complaining that I had nothing to eat."
"I used to cook a panful of chips, pour over a large tin of Heinz beans and sausages and then melt cheese over the top," said Mike Walsh (Law, 1974). "My flat mates used to take the mickey, but it was cheap and tasty."
I set a piece of toast on fire and had to throw it out the window!
The core ingredient of many student meals, it's hard to get the humble piece of toast wrong. But it can be hazardous, as those who remember the frequent hall fire alarms will recall. "I was notorious for setting the fire alarm off when cooking toast," laughs Mollie Stone (Creative and Professional Writing, 2017
). "I set a piece of toast on fire and had to throw it out the window!"
Although most of us stuck to tried-and-tested classics, some brave students got a little more inventive. "My housemate would make sprout curry regularly for dinner and share it with whoever was willing," said Paul Geddes (History, 2002
). "He'd reheat it for breakfast, sprinkle it liberally with dried Parmesan cheese and settle down to watch Neighbours
. I can still taste it years later."
"I used to buy pigs' trotters from the butchers in Beeston to cook a very Chinese meal," said Adam Sheng (International Criminal Justice and Armed Conflict, 2001
). "They made a very tasty dish, which attracted my flat mates over to share. A young lady from Taiwan made friends with me just because of this dish!"
Friendships through food
The bonds we forge over shared meals can foster friendships for life. Many of our most enduring student memories are not special because of what we ate – but who we ate with.
"My favourite Nottingham memories are of sharing cultures through meals with my friends," remembers Kuemju Byeon (Work and Organisational Psychology, 2014). "I wanted them to experience South Korean culture so I cooked typical food such as kimbap, pancakes and spicy chicken dishes. We took it in turns to cook our country's traditional food – I tried ugali and chapati from Kenya, mushroom soup from Poland and curry from Oman."
"We had family dinners on a Sunday," said Bridget. "We all studied different subjects so didn't get to spend much time together during the week. So we decided to start a tradition where we'd all sit down for a proper roast dinner and just enjoy each other's company – those memories are so special."