If you think this is just an expression, I can prove you wrong. But more about that later. During graduation, I lived in a hostel where I got acquainted with a spectacularly indistinguishable world of cooked vegetables, weekly confections which called themselves apple cakes though there was nothing remotely apple about them except the shape, dreary meals that stuck to their weekly timetable with unfailing regularity and a weekly serving of crow.
You will well guess that I’m calling a poorly nourished specimen of chicken by that name, and you are right. A scrawny wing in a dreary brown gravy in a steel quarter plate would be waiting on the counter and despite the knowledge that there would be nothing more, that was something to look forward to every week. Sad, but true. It was also the day for floury, rather uncooked and tasteless chapattis, grated carrot (salad, in hindsight), some pea/chick pea curry, the sourest, thinnest buttermilk ever found on the face of this earth, and maybe it was the apple cake day as well, I don’t remember.
Good food was available only during a festival or event that was celebrated by the college, and those were pretty rare. Even then, those serving would be asked to go easy on the meat or the paneer so that everyone could have a little. Needless to say, those with robust appetites and even more robust expectations had to go to bed still hungry and unfulfilled.
So when it was time to move to another city and another hostel, both very different from the ones above, there wasn’t much to expect. In any case, I was too apprehensive about the rooms and the loos to worry about the food but happily, neither gave cause for complaint.
This new hostel was generous with the food. Not only was there more variety, there was taste too. And even though it followed a timetable, it didn’t seem so bad. Wednesday’s tomato rice and chips would cause a run on the mess, some reserving it in dabbas so that they could eat it later, watching a favourite programme on TV in the common room. Apart from the usual idli and dosa, there would be Maggi noodles and ketchup for breakfast, toast and jam, and I’m sure it was the real McCoy, because I would see tins and bottles of those brands being opened in the kitchen and brought out straight to the mess without a detour for dilution.
Of course, the mess bill was a good Rs 200 more than the previous hostel so they could afford to be generous. We also used to get a delicious vegetable pulao with coriander chutney. Chatting with my friend from the hostel a couple of years ago, I asked her what she made for lunch, and she said she’d made that chutney because she had liked it in the hostel. Another thing unusual we were dished out was the dal with bits of unpeeled potato in it.
However, all this good food was not without its blips. My tummy took a while to get used to it, and I took a while to get used to having tiffin for dinner - something that I hadn’t ever come across, but that wasn’t surprising, because I hadn’t lived in too many places.
Idlis and dosas for dinner seemed very strange, and so did the curd rice accompanying it. Once in a while, we would run off to the airport in our backyard to have the egg and chicken sandwiches available in the canteen there, and feel like we’d had something very special.
During exams, the cooks would brew kettles of sweet cardamom tea and leave them in the mess so we could stay awake to study - there were no touches like this in the previous hostel where it was lights out at a certain time and exams would give us light for a little longer only in the common room. Of course, some of the daring and enterprising ones would cover the vents and windows of their room with black paper and continue to use the lights, forcing Warden to come by and look for stray beams of light escaping from underneath the door.
What was your hostel food like? Did any of you like anything about it? Did you too eat crow?
Hostel food Memories Humour Eat crow