What I eat as a stu­dent in Lon­don

For students, food is often more of a necessity than a gourmet experience. Add to that the UK food prices and the British cuisine’s lousy reputation and you might lose your appetite for a semester in London. But I’ve got some culinary tips to change your mind!

Tobi in front of a spice stand.
At Borough Market - I could spend entire days browsing these stalls! Photo: private

Contrary to the cliché of the falafel-feeding student, I like to cook my own food - sometimes I’ll spend my Sunday evening prepping meals for the whole week. And I don't just pay attention to the flavour: the ingredients and nutrients are also important to me - and of course I try to do it all on a budget. I have to admit: it's easier said than done, especially during my semester abroad in London.

Big changes: lifestyle, canteens and food prices

Even in regular Berlin student life it's not always easy to organise for optimal nutrition, especially during stressful exam periods. Maintaining my high standard during my semester at King's College London is an even bigger challenge for various reasons: I'm really pushing myself here in terms of my studies and also attending lots of events with the sports societies every week. This leaves me with less time than I would usually have to take care of my meals.

The changeover wasn't easy, especially at the beginning. At HU, I'm a loyal canteen customer: my favourite lunch option is going to Mensa Süd with my friends and getting a tasty, balanced meal for three euros. Unfortunately, the canteens at King's College don’t compare. The focus here is on ready-made sandwiches, wraps and baked goods rather than hot lunches. The prices for food are also significantly higher overall: a week's shopping at my local supermarket no longer costs around 40 euros as it does in Berlin, but the equivalent of up to 70 euros.

Apps that help me save money

Luckily, an English fellow student gave me a really helpful tip: the TooGoodToGo app. The concept is that, rather than throwing left-over food away at the end of the day, restaurants and cafés sell it for significantly less via the app. In London, this is really worthwhile: after a long day at university, for example, I like to pass by my favourite coffee shop Coco di Mama and pick up a bag of food containing a fresh salad, a crispy baguette and a healthy chia pudding for just four pounds. Not only does this save me time and money, but I'm also helping reduce food waste!

Another great find is the King's Move project. This app, which students at King's can download, counts the steps you take throughout the day. These are then converted into points that you can exchange for free hot drinks or baked goods in the university cafés. It rewards physical activity and acts as great motivation to exercise more. I use the app and regularly look forward to a free donut or brownie in the university café after my weekly sports programme of football and American football training. Not necessarily healthy… but well deserved!

A stand with herbs and other ingredients from all over the globe.
Another snap from Borough Market, where you can discover herbs and other ingredients from all over the globe. Photo: private

British classics and dishes from around the world

The classics of British cuisine, I have found, are not for everyone. Fish and chips is fine for most, Sunday roast or shepherd's pie are also delicious. But eating mushy peas or black pudding took a bit of effort on my part. If you don't want to spend a lot of money on these classics in a restaurant or pub, I recommend cheffing it up yourself! When I have friends over from Berlin, for example, I like to cook a typical English breakfast.

Otherwise, I can only recommend exploring London's culinary diversity. Borough Market is right on my doorstep, near London Bridge. It is one of the oldest and largest food markets in England. There are stalls specialising in truffles, olive oil or herbs and others selling street food from all over the world, such as Spanish paella, Polish pierogi or Indian dal. I also like to buy fresh multigrain bread here - one of the things I miss most about Germany. I could really spend the whole day at this market!

All you can eat - literally!

The Greenwich Market in the south-east neighbourhood of Greenwich offers a similar range of international fare. For hungry students, I also recommend the restaurant Street Pizza by English celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, where I have, on more than one occasion, eaten all-you-can-eat pizza for a reasonable price.

I have discovered that there is hardly any cuisine that is not represented in England's capital. Vegetarian and vegan alternatives are also easy to find. It remains true that food in London can be expensive. But if you follow a few tips, you will definitely get your money's worth. Enjoy!

(Published on 13 November 2023)