Treat yourself: An anthropological study of the dining habits of hostel dwellers

Sometimes, things just fall into place. You meet someone who happens to have a room available for a steal. Your first job application gets met with a rousing approval and a decent wage. Everything moves smoothly and, within a week, your life is up and running.

Though, of course, that never really happens. Getting a house and a job both take serious work, and while some people do get lucky, for most of us it takes weeks or more to get settled. Which means experiencing one thing:

Hostel living.

For the plague of Aussies and Kiwis that swarm into London every year, the first real experience of the place is through the lens of dorm rooms and relative poverty. Some stay for a few weeks, while others use it as home for a longer term, but either way most will experience the unique lifestyle.

The hostel diet can be dangerous. Similar to the diet of university students and any other groups of people at the intersection of youth, low income, and lack of responsibilities, it isn’t known for its nutritional content.

It is, first of all, largely liquid based. The hostel dweller is a thirsty creature, especially after dark. Developing a close relationship with their local off license, they are able to keep well stocked with large cans of Fosters, Stella and Carlsberg, or perhaps some strangely potent cider. While this does not supply much sustenance, it does form a major part of hostel entertainment, particularly when drunk as part of a game. Beer pong and Kings Cup seem to be the main favourites, though there is something to be said for “riding the bus”.

Following alcohol, the main food group seems to be carbs. Regularly appearing are large piles of pasta with very basic sauces, about as cheap as food can be. Cooked using rudimentary tools, these vast plates of simple starches often provide the sustenance for the aforementioned drinking.

Pizza is the other main option, usually of the delivered type. These allow reasonable flavour and laziness to combine, with delivery people arriving at the door all hours of the day.

If a hostel dweller is really in the mood to treat themselves, they might head out for a meal. It seems that most hostels have a nearby restaurant that is reasonably cheap and provides decent food for these special occasions. In the hostel I am staying in here in Kensington, this is Da Mario, the Italian joint around the corner that was reportedly Princess Diana’s favourite.

It seems that the Queen of Hearts had some taste, as this is some surprisingly good Italian, considering it’s served amongst the most out-of-date, op-shop chic jumble of pictures and knickknacks that I’ve seen in years. The whole place is ridiculous, but it doesn’t matter when the pizza comes out, unsliced and topped with quality ingredients. The cheese in particular, flown in from Naples, is spectacular. Although they need a rethink on how they serve desserts.

The hostel dweller life is a good one, and the rotating door of new friends that come from around the world is wonderful. But it takes its toll. There are only so many days in your life you can live on just booze and carbohydrates, and I used most of mine up at university.

I am making sure to supplement my hostel living with some other dining habits. It may cost a little more to do your research and eat out at a few more interesting places, but I know my body appreciates the variety.

Soon, with a little luck, I will find somewhere else to live, somewhere where the kitchen is a little better and beer pong is not a weekday activity. But until then, it’s time for a trip to the off license. I’m going to treat myself.