For a student, I'm a bit lucky. I don't have a tiny room in halls, I don't share my living space with eight or ten other people, and no-one's dodgy music (or worse noises) keeps me up at night coming through the walls.
I'm a lucky bunny. But it's when it comes to comparing most first years' kitchens and mine that I really appreciate that. I've got more spices, condiments, and flavourings to make my food tasty. I've got a blender and a freezer. Most of my fellow students share a kitchen with a number of others, share a fridge, and only have a microwave and toaster to supplement their fridge. Some have a freezer, some don't.
While I'm a big fan of cooking your own food, I can understand why students have to resort to readymade meals - tins of soup and the like.
So, I thought I'd venture out and see what sort of readymade and friendly to student budget. My first discovery was a range of Indian food made by a company called Ashoka. They're handy because of cheapness (£1.50 for two at Asda recently) and they don't need to be kept in a fridge or heated in a microwave - just heat the contents in a pan, boil in the bag style.
Not all Ashoka meals are vegan, but many are. Here's a look at some that I liked, and some I really didn't.
My first meal was this Punjabi Choley - a pouch of chick peas in a rich sauce. Apart from a sauce to chick pea ration skewed too far to the former when all you want is the latter, I was pretty impressed - the sauce was full of flavour, medium spiced, and nicely complex.
The next was a packed of Bombay Biriyani - a mix of rice and vegetables, according to the description. Only there was much of the vegetables (the colourful flecks on the picture) in amongst the huuuuuge amounts of rice.
I ate the biriyani on its own and maybe that was a mistake - it wasn't strongly flavoured, and it got a little monotonous towards the end. I can't remember what spices the packed said were used, but I wonder if there was a lot of cinnamon - I was left with the impression that the dish was rather sweet, despite there being no added sugar.
Not an amazing dinner, but I suspect half a pouch of Punjabi Choley and half a pouch of Bombay Biriyani, and I'd call that a decent student meal.
Next up, a Bhindi Masala. I was looking forward to this - I love bhindi, or okra, a great deal.
Did I love this okra? Not so much. Check out the amount of oil for a start - I don't mind a bit of lipids on my lunch, but this seemed like an unnecessarily large oil slick. The taste though was also pretty grim - there was an acrid flavour, more burnt than smoky, that made every bit like chewing on a bonfire. This one's not going on the repeat buy list.
After my experiences with Ashoka's ready meals, would I be tempted to give up cooking for a bit? Nope, I'd still much rather have fresh food than stuff out of a packet, but I'd still not say no to keeping a packet of the Dum Aloo or Punjabi Chole in the cupboard. If I were a student, I'd doubly see the advantage - something I could keep in my room and then whisk to the communal microwave for dinner in a couple of minutes.