x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

I can take bland food as long as fancy dinners are here to stay

What is less exciting about food in my college is the complete lack of spices. Even when we get poppadoms and chicken curry, they go no further than being slightly salty, and just don’t cut it with Indian palettes.

Food ranks pretty high on most students’ list of important things and consumes a huge chunk of our time. One of the nicest things in Cambridge is the Hall, where we have meals, with an adjoining servery. It’s a bit of a trek to get there, so it’s easy to work up an appetite. Coming down from the halls of residence, we have to cross the majestic Great Court, getting hungrier by the minute. Walking distances longer than a school corridor is not something I am accustomed to – back home there was never any need for it. Here, the timetables are sneakily planned to make one huff and puff from one end of town to the other, which is just as well, because you tend to comfort-eat more in the cold – but I digress.

It’s impossible not to be awed by the grandeur of the Hall when you finally do enter it through the heavy doors. You have to take a moment to pinch yourself to remember you’re not in Hogwarts’ Great Hall. Four long wooden tables cross its length, with another table running perpendicularly across the breadth at the far end – reserved for Fellows of the college. Dimly lit portraits of old Masters of the college line the wood-panelled walls. It’s a funny feeling to have Nobel Prize winners you see mentioned in textbooks, such as Amartya Sen, or Hodgkin and Huxley, stare at you eating waffles. Dappled sunlight filters in through the stained-glass windows under a soaring ceiling and the only other illumination is from softly glowing lamps and the candles on the tables. A huge painting of the Trinity College founder, King Henry VIII, dominates a wall, in a gilded frame set on intricate woodwork.

While it’s an absolute joy admiring the architecture, you can’t eat stained glass windows or elaborate candlesticks. A menu is published online every week and the food sounds satisfyingly fancy – red pepper and fennel frittata focaccia or chicken Kiev with Moroccan red cabbage and panettone. Most of it sounds exotic – I don’t even know what flageolet bean soup is. Often, there’s traditional English fare, from shepherd’s pie to suet roly-poly with custard – all delightfully rustic. What is less exciting is the complete lack of spices. Even when we get poppadums and chicken curry, they go no further than being slightly salty and just don’t cut it with Indian palates. I have never appreciated mum’s parathas more.

Nevertheless, I can manage blandness as long as we’re made to feel like royalty at the special, formal dinners. We had a matriculation dinner recently, a black-tie event with special robes over our dresses or tuxedos. Predictably, Harry Potter comparisons once again dominated our erudite dinner conversations. Over candlelight, we tucked into a five-course meal; half the menu was in French – and doesn’t every­thing sound better when you don’t know what it means? There were name cards in front of every chair and toasts at the end, like in the old movies your parents watch. The cheese platter was beautifully arranged, there was blue fungus growing on some of it, and it was agreeably, inedibly smelly. That just seals the evening as the epitome of class, of course.

Lavanya Malhotra is an 18-year-old student who grew up in Dubai

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