Thursday, September 25, 2008

Eating Crow

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?


  1. I have never ever stayed in a hostle. And i was always really jealous about my friends who did it.
    Well reading your post three cheers for not staying in the hostel.

  2. Hi Sra, what a great post. Took me right back to my hostel days, but I was a day scholar 90% and a hostel inmate only 10% in a year. So, I loved the food! :-)
    Regarding the raw mango marinade, my mangoes were not too sour, they were the ones in which the seed had not developed the shell yet, but still large enough, if you can guess what I mean. Which is why I decided to use tomatoes. You need not add the tomatoes if the mango is very sour. Use more onion paste as you suggested. The dish was not sour at all, and tasted very different from the normal chicken curry, and you can always adjust the spices to suit your palate. Please try and let me know if you like it.

  3. brings bak notalgic memories of my hostel days..We had food something similar to your first hostel!

  4. Everytime one of my friends complained about their hostel food (in India), I would tell them that they still had it better than me. Being 1 of the 4 vegetarians (of a total of couple 1000s) in my hostel in Singapore, I had to make do with rice, doused with just soy sauce and topped with boiled bitter melons, so much so their bitterness had soaked into the rice. At that stage in my life.. I considered rice + maggi chilli sauce a treat, if I could manage to pry away a small part of the white rice untouched by soy sauce. Anyway.. it was just for a year before I started to cook for myself... (read: MW rice, dhal+ vegs with salt and eat the resultant goo with yoghurt)... :)

  5. I never stayed in hostel, but always wonder the hostels gals were happy :)
    Ur post is hilarious, u re pretty strong to survive after eating the crow :)

  6. There was this thing called "disc" that they served in my hostel. Everybody hated it. You could smell its awful smell a mile away....every time they served it for breakfast, my friend and I would skip the mess and go to a restaurant. I didn't mind the food too much at that time, but I don't think I could ever eat at that mess again. Nor do I think I could use those loos now though at that time I found nothing wrong with it.

  7. For a minute i really thought they served crow in college. Cos during that time, K used to tell me that in certain part of the town they catch crows when they fell short of chicken.I wouldn't have believed K but there were others who endorsed this... ughhh. But I like the canteen samosas and the apple cake.:)

  8. Happy, it could be fun too, if you find friends. The food was a very small part of it.
    Shreya, thanks. I know what you mean about loving the food! Thanks for the clarif. abt the recipe.
    Divya, maybe we were in the same hostel and things haven't changed!
    Laavanya, that must have been tough! I would have been happy for the weight lost, though, or would I?
    Cham, I ate well anyway, I guess, good food or not!
    Jayashree, what the hell is disc? I don't miss the hostel at all, esp having to do the washing.
    Vidya, the crow hostel wasn't our college hostel, it was the one earlier. I don't remember the canteen samosas, and did they have the cake?

  9. my office food used to be like that.

    i remember friends telling me about how they ate raw maggi because that beat the hostel food.

  10. That was a fun read :-)

  11. Sra, u have kindled lots of memories actually. Our college hostel food is pretty good and only thing it took sometime for me to get along with the rural taste of already known dishes. Te one thing I hate was pongal as I continued hating until recently even though amma makes "the too good" pongal and gotsu. That much hated I had for that dish. But most of the time the food is ok. And I was a poor eater then and none of my college friends would ever believe that I talk so much about food in a blog haha!

  12. Hostel food, that's being on another planet altogether!
    I studied and stayed in hostel in a place where being vegetarian was stranger than an alien from Mars!!
    So the fact that I could go home for the weekends was a boon. I would come back with food from home and friends would be waiting to finish it off.
    We were lucky to have kitchenettes on our floors so we could cook whatever we wanted to, but mostly we didn't have the time or energy to take this on too.:)
    But some of us would regularly get together and cook the most interesting vegetarian one dish meals ever with whatever we had on hand. Each recipe was an original and some of the tastiest food then.

  13. I never stayed in a hostel .. all my frnds who stayed said it was real fun, except for food .. but they also ha an option to cook for themselves in the common kitchen. some of my frnds had an small electric stove in their rooms n secretly made maggi at nights without the wardens knowledge .. i guess its a different life altogether & its makes you adjust to thngs real fast somethng which does not come easy for ppl who havent experienced hostel life. No wonder Iam such a fuss-pot :)

  14. never been a hostelite..
    My mum still thinks I should have been sent to one... she sent my siblings..couldn't send me off...:)

    I have heard more than enough about the hostel glad I didn't have to survive on that....

  15. uuuhhhhhhhh!!! Dont event get me started on hostel food. the timetables that they have are always so disgusting...and they dont seem to change for years!!!!!! One good thing that was available in our hostel was coke/pepsi. we could pick up the drinks as n when we want and the price would be added to the mess bill at the end of the month. One of my friends almost survived only on pepsi!!! :D
    Very well written post :)

  16. Ohhh I felt like I was reading my own story. Though we din't have a constraint on using lights, food was as bad as you have explained. We had one mess both for boys and girls hostel and it was near boys hostel. It was such a pain to go to the mess for dinner. Then we started ordering dabbas from other messes. But everytime we were disappointed. Then we started cooking in the room. It took a while to convince our warden for cooking in the room. We frequently got yelled for that. I am so glad those days are over.
    Btw..our hostel was purely vegetarian. So no crows there ;).

  17. hostel life is one which i wanted to experience but i never had a chance!lovely post!made me envy hostel life!

  18. Never stayed in a hostel... always had my Mum's food .. but there were times when I would wish staying in a hostel..

    Reading your post, thank god I didnt have to bother about all these things but I bet you had loads of fun too ...

  19. i was in england. i ate ostrich and kangaroo because the veggie stuff was atrocious and beef was banned because of mad cow disease.

  20. that was a nice read Sra! Never had the hostel experience, but heard a lot about hosted food thru my hubby who stayed in hostel during his phd.

  21. Cynic, you're joking!
    Shyam, thanks! There was one more hostel but I was there only for short while, the food was no good there either!
    Ni, maybe the escape from the hostel to mum made you appreciate good food and hence the blog! :)
    Aparna, that must have been fun! So what did you do when the food from home/self-made ran out?
    Deesha, yeah, I learnt to eat every single vegetable after going to the hostel.
    Rachel, it was okay, the food was the least of my problems.
    Ramya, after seeing your comment, I tried to remember if we had a menu change ... Maybe we did, but I can't remember any improvements.
    Shilpa, I don't think we even had a plug point in our first hostel. We did in the second but most people used to use it for irons, which invariably caused trouble.
    Sangeeth, thanks. It will be fun if you have friends, otherwise it can be very lonely.
    Swati, oh, yes, we had fun. I just used the food example for the post, it didn't bother me much.
    Bee, that's certainly exotic! The most unusual I've eaten is octopus.
    Uma, when I was in Intermediate, the boys in our college hostel are supposed to have dumped the cook in the vat of sambar because it was bad!!!

  22. hi sra
    you know..all of us seem to share the same memorabilia of our hostels years...your story reminds me of my own..during preparation for competive examinations et al.

  23. Anamika, I can imagine!

  24. ah hostel food...we used to eat out whenever we could. There was the quarterly chicken biryani day to look forward to though..... oh btw, the malnourished skinny chicken is my favorite type, since I love the bones more than the meat... :) All the chicken we get here are too fat :(

  25. i have never lived in a hostel and would be jealous of ppl. who did...i have given my mom hell fo not letting me stay in a i guess i kinda understand why she did not let me...but trust me...u should have heard me whine ;)


  26. This is the kind of food one is subjected to while in U.S. hospitals, which does not inspire confidence in our healing practices.

    Great story, though I couldn't eat a real crow if it was the last wing on Earth. I consider them backyard pets. : }

  27. I remember the endless complaints we girls made about the runny dal and the thikka subzi! The subzi was mostly kaddu:(. They used to add lots of masala and I ended up with UTI - suffered for nearly 7 to 8 months. But the fun aspect was always there to compensate! We had nuns who were strict about the night timings and I remember making one poor nun run all over when she heard noises coming from a room whre all of us had gathered for a midnight long chat!! Story too long and must feature in a post:)