Do you prefer cooking or eating out when you’re in college? If you’re an international student like me, you know how much of a dilemma the question ‘what should I eat today?’ is.
It is a life-and-death situation since no one else is there to feed you.
That’s how it feels to be an adult.
Cooking your meals seems to be the right and responsible answer. It is also cheaper. But, in reality, being university students makes the whole situation more complicated.
Before you plunge into cooking all of your meals and stock up months’ worth of groceries, here are a few factors you must consider.
Cooking at home usually wins this one. However, in my case, this applied only to simple meals like Cantonese noodle soup or spaghetti bolognese. Anything more complicated than that or anything with Western imported ingredients (avocado!) would often not be worth the costs.
Let me explain.
Let’s take pasta as an example. You order spaghetti bolognese at a local restaurant, costing you around RM15.
On the other hand, you decide to make it yourself and come up with this grocery bill:
- Spaghetti: ~RM5
- Pre-made bolognese sauce: ~RM10
- Chicken/meat: ~RM9
Total = ~RM24
(I’d like to point out that it’s a very simplified pasta recipe, but it’s so cost effective that I personally use it. Besides, as a student, I don’t have to impress anyone; I just need to feed myself.)
The grocery bill may look more expensive than eating at a restaurant, but when you buy pasta, it can usually be portioned into 4-5 servings. The only issue would be the chicken because you can at most only divide one pack into 2 servings, so you can either stock up on meat or go vegetarian (which I prefer to do).
Simple dishes are great to cook on a student budget. Pasta and noodles are especially easy to portion and store.
Yet, cooking dishes like steaks may cost you as much as the amount you would spend at a restaurant (at least in Malaysia because the food is generally cheap). My friends and I had tried to cook something fancy (a.k.a. Western; I think it was steaks, mashed potatoes and something else) before and the bill turned out to be quite similar to eating out costs.
It may have been cheaper if we already had basic ingredients and if we could buy in bulk. However…
The reality of being a student who is living independently is the lack of space in the kitchen… or in any communal room, for that matter.
If you live in an apartment where your housemates are well-organised human beings, you may have a specific cupboard and a compartment in the fridge just for you. Yet, this is not always the case. You may have to fight for space or work around a ‘first come first serve’ basis.
This could ruin your cooking plans, because what if you had decided that you would cook every day and bought in bulk? Where would you store all of that food?
I do my groceries weekly because of that. The shared accommodation situation can be too unpredictable.
Besides, there are several appliances that could be missing: for example, I don’t have an oven or a microwave (I heat my food on the stove, but I don’t really mind). And I don’t want to buy these appliances with my student budget for a shared place that is temporary!
But even if you somehow have the space and the perfect set of appliances, you may not have…
University students just don’t have time to cook. Well, we don’t make time for it. It is way more convenient to eat out; cafeteria food is cheap (not everyone enjoys it but at least the option is there); food in Malaysia, in general, is cheap too; there are hawker stalls, delivery services…
And there are your friends.
Eating out is the best way to form social relationships, am I not right? It’s the perfect time to bond. If students are not eating, they are most likely hunched over endless assignments and projects.
If you are an international student and you end up cooking your meals on your own, you may lose a huge opportunity to make the best friends you’ll ever have, especially if you are studying in Malaysia.
So what would it be? Cooking or eating out?
Let me know in the comments below!
D. K. Waye.
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