It’s no secret that life in the capital comes at a high cost. The student loan may be higher here, but it certainly doesn’t burn a hole in your pocket.
When it comes to food, there are plenty of ways to make your money go further. I’m lucky enough to have catered accommodation (I say lucky, but let’s face it, they’re school dinners), so I only have to cook sporadically. In theory, this means I should make all my own lunches and all weekend meals. In reality, I cook when I can be bothered and buy meals a lot more than I should.
That said, my Italian heritage counts for something, because I’m more than happy to spend an hour in the kitchen indulging over lunch when I have time. Where some of my friends don’t even know how to chop an onion (you know who you are), my fridge is often choc-full of Tupperware. It’s the cheapest and easiest way to eat: one big dish, one load of washing up and three meals. The only downside is the repetition – chicken curry tastes great the first time, but three days later it’s so boring it may as well just be rice.
My neighbour is the king of Tesco’s reduced isle, and knows exactly what time of day to go for the best bargains. This is a great way to save money, especially if you have access to a freezer. If that isn’t the case (or your freezer breaks on a regular basis, like ours) you end up with dishes like this: a Brick Lane bagel (25p and worth more than every penny) topped with taramasalata, bacon and mushrooms. Surprisingly, that’s not so odd a combination in the context of university halls.
Eating out in the middle of the day doesn’t have to be expensive. You can justify spending £6 on a burger from the Farmers’ Market one day if you get curry for free the next. Food For All (a charity associated with Hare Krishna) distributes free curry and rice (and occasionally hot cross buns, if you’re lucky) every day just five minutes from UCL. It’s a 20-minute queue, but worth the wait if your stomach’s rumbling and your wallet’s empty.
Lazy Saturdays are best spent at Camden Market, a food-lover’s paradise. The vast mess of stalls offer some of the best street food in London, from flame-grilled jerk chicken wraps to Peruvian anticuchos. And for dessert, there are deep-fried Oreo doughnuts (by no means the most impressive culinary creation Camden has to offer, but they taste pretty damn good).
Even eating in restaurants can be surprisingly affordable. London has hundreds of restaurants where you can eat cheaply, including a whole host of pizza places. Franco Manca serve their pizzas up with sourdough bases while Pizza Union (see photo below) pride themselves on speedy service (and it’s incredibly cheap, even by Northern standards).
Last term, Byron Burger launched a new burger by giving them out for 25p each. It felt like daylight robbery, but a B-Rex never tasted so good! The beauty of being in London is that restaurants (especially chains) are always running giveaways and offers. Just recently, I got this beauty of a breakfast (main image) for free from Kua ‘Aina – for FREE.
The main difference with London universities is the lack of kebab shops. Say what you like about calories and carbs but I need chicken and chips after a night out (don’t judge me, I’m Northern). But that’s something that my area of central London just doesn’t have. Compared to Fallowfield’s quality offerings of Mega Chicken and Abdul’s, it’s disappointing at best. Unless the nightlife of Camden or Brixton beckons, we have to make do with whatever’s in the fridge (usually houmous and pitta). Chips’n’gravy? I wish!
By Isabel Webb
Chips ’n’ Gravy is Isabel Webb’s blog for Northern Soul. It charts her attempts to navigate student life in London and wear her Northern roots proudly on her sleeve.