Celebration by kamshots
Dignified Oxford Students After Exams

When planning my food post for this week, I was suddenly struck by this thought, “What do British students eat?” I know the American college student stereotype–slovenly, ramen-slurping–but what do broke and busy British scholars typically cook? 

After doing a little research, it appears that the stereotype is pretty consistent on both sides of the pond. Universities (called “unis”) are expensive in the UK as well as the US, and young people everywhere are largely dependent on dirt cheap noodles for sustenance during their long years of higher education. There is actually an urban legend that tells the sad tale of an Aberdeen University student who ate nothing but fried porridge cakes and came down with scurvy (other versions of the story have him surviving on pasta, Kraft dinners, hot dogs, beer and potato crisps, or pork pies and Guinness). British students seem to indulge in cost and time-efficient fare like chilli con carne, shepherd’s pie, any recipe with “speedy” in the title, curry, and of course, takeout food and alcohol. 

My Facebook followers insist that baked beans on toast is a perennial student favorite. It’s certainly economical, and quite tasty in my humble opinion.

However, there seems to be an underground movement of college students who are getting fancy in the kitchen. According to an article by Fiona Beckett in the Guardian, “a young man surrounded by a string of Peking ducks…isn’t what we normally associate with student cooks, but however unlikely the scenario, it seems that things are slowly moving towards a healthier attitude to cooking on campus.” Popular food sites like Nutmegs, seven and StudentCook are run by students, and they are chock full of scrumptious-sounding recipes for dishes like Singapore Hokkien Mee, risotto with prawns, and strawberry French toast with basil sugar. These recipes are usually quick, cheap, and easy, but they’re a far cry from fried porridge. The day of the stereotypical student dinner may be going the way of the red telephone box, at least for some scholars.

Here’s a video from StudentCooking.tv showing you how to make a delicious fish dinner on ¬£5 or less, with nothing but a stovetop (“hob”) and microwave. Below you’ll find a recipe for that staple of British cookery, chilli con carne, from Good Food.

“It’s so eas-ay!”

Chilli Con Carne

Chili con carne by cyclonebill
Chili con carne, a photo by cyclonebill on Flickr.
  • 2 large onions
  • 700 g lean stewing beef, fat removed and cut into 1-2cm cubes
  • 5 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 800 g canned chopped tomatoes
  • 2 green peppers, sliced
  • 3 green or red chillies, chopped, seeds left in if you like your chillies fiery
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tinned red kidney beans, 400g
  • 1 tsp brown sugar


  • 125 ml soured cream
  • 2 tbsp coriander leaves, chopped
  • 4 tbsp cheddar cheese, grated


  1. Heat the olive oil in a casserole or saucepan and fry the meat until it changes colour–about 5-7 minutes. Add the onion and garlic and stir for a minute or so before tipping in the tinned tomatoes,chopped chillies, peppers, and a good pinch of salt. 
  2. Cover the pan and simmer for about an hour, until the meat is tender and the liquid reduced to a thick sauce. If it gets too dry during cooking, pour in a little more water.
  3. Add the cumin, kidney beans (and a little of the bean liquid, if you like)and the brown sugar. Simmer for a further 10 mins before serving with rice, a spoonful of sour cream, grated cheddar cheese and coriander leaves as a garnish.  For added spicy kick, serve this dish with hot chilli sauce.

If you’re a college student in Britain, you might want to check out this guide to student food, which includes information on how to get the cheapest eats at Tesco, along with the low-down on Old El Paso Dinner Kits.

First Photo: Celebration, a photo by kamshots on Flickr.

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Written by Abigail Young

I've had a passion for everything British my entire life, despite being raised as a small-town girl in the American Midwest, After years of dreaming, I got the chance to live and work in England for an entire year. Now I write about my favorite country, and hopefully inspire my fellow Britophiles to get over there and experience it for themselves.

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