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Four tips for dealing with 'food-homesickness' in the UK

Student canteen

By Aishah Prastowo 17 February 2016

Aishah Prastowo is an Indonesian student studying Dphil/PhD Engineering Science at the University of Oxford who has been selected to be a student journalist for the Education UK website. Here she offers four tips to international students who are missing food from their home country.

Living about 7,000 miles from Indonesia makes me homesick from time to time. I miss my family of course, but food is near the top of the list of things I miss from home. Research has shown that we develop memories of what we eat as a child, so it’s not a surprise that we find comfort in eating food from our homeland. Since the food I crave is not as easily available as when I am at home, I have to be creative to please my appetite. Here are my four tips on dealing with food-homesickness as an international student.

1. Learn how to cook

© Aishah Prastowo

Before leaving Indonesia, my mum taught me to cook simple dishes that could be easily modified depending on the available ingredients, such as stir fries, fried rice and soups. Starting from these key recipes, I quickly learned how to cook food to satisfy my own taste buds. At first I relied on instant spices I brought from home, but now I can cook a range of Indonesian food from scratch. Just don’t give up trying, you may find that cooking is a great stress reliever, while also saving you money.

My Indonesian friend Tracey – who is doing a PhD in Education at Oxford – has a passion for cooking that has turned into a small business. She now receives order from people to make Indonesian cakes for festivals and is my role model as a fellow student who cooks!

2. Go to a formal hall

© Aishah Prastowo

At some of the older universities in the UK, such as Oxford and Cambridge, students can go to a hall in their college wearing formal attire or gowns to dine. I don't eat there every day as I'm living outside the campus, but I come from time to time when I'm feeling like having a special dinner. While the food is nothing like it is at home, experiencing the tradition is something not to be missed. The Harry Potter-style dining hall and the grace before dining are some of the special things I experience in a formal hall at my college, plus the subsidised price (in most colleges) is a great deal for a three-course meal in comparison to the local restaurants.

3. Participate in international food festivals

© Aishah Prastowo

International or regional food festivals are held regularly in many universities and towns in the UK. As a committee member of the Indonesian Student Society in Oxford, I sometimes get invited to participate in culinary festivals to provide and sell food, alongside other nation-based societies. These festivals are always fun to visit while being an effective way to promote the culinary culture of the countries involved. Keeping yourself updated to culinary events around you is a good way not only to find your favourite food from home, but also to explore food from all over the world.

4. Be adventurous (even with your dietary restrictions)

© Aishah Prastowo

The important part of living abroad is to experience the culture of a new country, and food is no exception. The great part of living in the UK, especially near campus area, is that there are lots of good restaurants around serving different specialties. Although there are currently no Indonesian restaurants in Oxford, I have been to Malaysian, Thai and Chinese restaurants which have food that tastes similar. I also get to try new flavours - Italian, Middle-Eastern, Indian, and even the British fish and chips. As a Muslim who strictly eats halal food, my choice is a bit limited, but there are vegetarian options in most restaurants. Not all restaurants advertise that they serve halal meat so just ask the waiters! In the UK, the restaurants also try their best to accommodate people with food allergy - the key is to always communicate your needs.