Somewhere in Whitehall, the Houses of Parliament or Downing Street, it was decreed by the government many years ago that my student loan should be a pittance that barely covers my rent. I’ve never understood this; surely if I’m paying it back, I should be the one to decide how much I receive. There’s probably some sound financial thinking behind this, but it doesn’t change the fact that I’m living on a budget. And thanks to the same financial blue-sky thinking plowing the economy into an active volcano and eliminating all and any of my part time job prospects, I’m living off my parents too. They have my eternal gratitude.
Because of this combination, the contents of my food cupboard for the last few months have looked rather like this:
Tesco may have changed the packets but the contents remain the same; cheap, small packets of human feedstock. Pricing in at 11p a packet, they’re cheap enough for me to shovel two 20-pack crates into a trolley and leave with change from a fiver. They’ll keep you alive, but after the third day you will wonder what hell you have dug yourself in to. After the sixth or seventh, the sharp, salty, chemical taste of almost-but-not-entirely-exactly-unlike-chicken will pervade your mind and become inexorably connected with the concept of eating as the memory of the taste of actual meat drifts into murky history.
And don’t get me started on the curry flavour. The chicken one may not taste like chicken – or indeed, any earthly meat…
I’m sorry, I got distracted there by two children of about ten trading little green-filled baggies in my back alley. Where the hell am I living? When were Pokemon cards replaced by class B drugs?
Apologies. The chicken one may not taste anything like chicken, but at least the taste is vaguely palatable in its own artificial way. The curry is the real deal. No curry tastes this way. Articulating the exact flavour is difficult, but I’d pitch it as spicy yet salty with an oh-so-very vague taste of artificial chilli. I’m being extremely generous with the use of the word chilli. If I’m entirely honest, I think it tastes like a wet burp.
If you’ve only ever eaten these, it’d understandably soil your opinion of instant noodles in general. But don’t be put off, because after discovering a nearby Asian store the contents of my food cupboard now look like this:
Since then, I do my weekly shopping in an Asian supermarket. And it’s not all pretentiousness either; these noodles really are much better than the western ones. The price at this particular store is 32p a packet, which is almost triple the price of the value ones, but the packets are roughly twice the size so the loss is less than you might think. The two flavours are also bumped up to the five I chose out of a huge, huge array they had on sale, even including different types of noodles if you’re the sort of person who is bothered by that. I’m not. They had many different brands too; I chose Nissin because of a buy-five-get-one-free deal they were running. Also Nissin invented the instant noodle.
It was surprising in the extreme. For a small price increase, they actually tasted of pork, chicken, prawn, sesame seed and seaweed. I would be satisfied with these if I got them in a Chinese takeaway, or even in an – okay, realistically – low end Asian restaurant. They’re not as good as real Ramen, but they are certainly good enough to eat for most meals. Not terribly healthy though, I must concede, but on a budget that’s a low concern. And that’s just the Ramen, the same supermarket sold me a five kilo sack of rice for as many pounds. Combined with a few sauces and flavourings (I had no idea you could buy MSG in a bag) I have enough for 400 servings, according to the sack.
So if you’re on a student budget, give your local Asian supermarket some serious thought. You might be pleasantly surprised.