How to make the most of when you eat out

by Toula Nikas

It was my nineteenth birthday when I had my first experience dining out as a university student. All of my friends and I were originally from out of town and didn’t think twice about the restaurant’s location in the heart of Toronto’s business district. It turned out that even the cheapest item on the menu was steep for our student wallets, and the night was dedicated to calculating what our bills would amount to rather than celebrating my ability to legally drink.

Needless to say, we could have saved a lot of trouble had we been a little more savvy.   

Having lived in Toronto for almost five years now, I am confident in my ability to choose a restaurant without having to worry about crunching numbers under the table. Here are a few tips when it comes to planning your special dining occasion:

Ask around

Ask your fellow classmates, residence dons, or TAs for suggestions. Chances are if they’re students, they will also be operating on a budget and thus suggest affordable yet tasty cuisine. To me, nothing beats word-of-mouth suggestions, especially when it comes to food. Often times, the person you ask will also recommend a particular dish they enjoyed, helping you narrow down your choice should you choose to go there.

While visiting my family in San Francisco, I asked a local where I could find delicious yet affordable Mexican cuisine. Without hesitation she said, “Go to Papalote’s and get the chips and salsa, then get the burrito. You will not be disappointed.” And I wasn’t.

Do your research

Though word-of-mouth is a great way to help guide your decision, doing a little bit of research won’t hurt either. Whenever someone suggests a place to eat, I still look it up on my phone to see what the Internet has to say.

However, it’s always important to take the opinions of online sources with a grain of salt. Keep in mind that the people who tend to write online reviews are those who were either ecstatic with or entirely underwhelmed by their experience.  It’s important to remember that experiences on both ends of the spectrum are normal at any establishment and that no restaurant is perfect.

Share with friends

One of my best friends and I love celebrating special occasions at Pizzeria Libretto on Ossington in Toronto. We like to save money (and calories!) by splitting a salad, then a pizza and having one glass of wine each. We then ask to split the check right down the middle, resulting in a very affordable night out.

Indulge your sweet tooth somewhere else

Of course, a meal isn’t complete unless you have something sweet at the end, but desserts can be pretty overpriced at restaurants. Consider venturing down the street to your local ice cream store, bringing your friends back home for coffee and cookies or, if you’re me, resort to the emergency Starburst reserve in your purse.

How to make the most of when you eat out
Do I want to see the cheque?

Why I adopted or would never adopt a gluten-free diet

by Emily Davies

Let me first get things straight, gluten is not wheat.

Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat and other related grains. When someone is diagnosed with celiac disease they are unable to digest the gluten protein. They do not have the enzymes to break down gluten, which can cause many uncomfortable problems along the digestive tract. If you are someone who has been diagnosed with celiac disease, you should definitely avoid gluten. However, if you find that after you eat foods which contain gluten (i.e. white flour, soy sauce, grains from wheat) you feel tired, bloated or gassy, you may be intolerant to gluten. Thus, I highly recommend getting a gluten test done at your MD (medical doctor) or ND (naturopathic doctor). Furthermore, if you feel fine after eating gluten then by no means do you have to avoid it. As I mentioned earlier, gluten is a protein, which is good for us, assuming we are able to digest it.

Why I adopted or would never adopt a gluten-free diet
I see your hand in that bread basket

Now that the facts are straight, I’ll tell you about my relationship with gluten. I do not have celiac disease. I can eat soy sauce, marinades, and other products containing wheat with no problems. Although I don’t do well with overly processed foods such as cakes, cookies and white pasta. Yes, these foods do contain gluten, but the reasoning behind my upsets is the overly processed factors. Most of the time cookies, cakes and all those addicting sweets contain pretty much zero nutrients. Thus, our bodies have to work extremely hard to break them down without receiving any “natural help” from the enzymes and nutrients in those foods. To sum this up, yes I eat gluten, although 90% of the time, I only eat nutrient-dense foods (i.e. whole wheat pasta, spelt bread).

On another note, I think it’s fun to cook and bake with gluten-free alternatives because it allows me to think outside the box for example making breads out of nut flours or pancakes out of bananas, flax seeds and chickpea flour. I find there is more creativity when you adapt a partially gluten-free diet. Also, you’ll avoid that awkward moment when you bake cookies for your friends and one of them is gluten intolerant; “No cookies for you,” is a sad phrase.

I suggest that you try to connect with your body a bit more before you jump right onto the gluten-free bandwagon. Reflect upon how you feel after you eat nutrient-dense foods with gluten versus overly processed foods with gluten. It’s pretty simple, we want to feel good after we eat, not down and sluggish. So do what feels best for you.

The sweet or savoury debate

by Josh Racho

The sweet or savoury debate
Just put the chocolate down

When it comes to day-to-day eating I tend to bounce back and forth between sweet and savoury flavours in general. I find if the body is well-tuned it will tell you what it needs, or does not need.

After switching to a vegan diet around 10 months ago, it became much easier for me to recognize and treat these cravings guilt-free. When such cravings arise I adjust my meals accordingly. Days when I desire something sweet it’s usually satisfied with the addition of shredded carrots and beets in a salad. This adjustment pleases not only in taste, but also texture and appearance. On the other hand, on savoury days I find myself adding extra cinnamon to my cooking or putting nutritional yeast in a sandwich of some kind.

My tendency recently has been without a doubt towards the savoury side. The bounty of root vegetables and cold weather beg to be remedied with wonderful warmth and comforting food. I find myself caramelizing onions to put into hummus and tossing all manner of squash and okra into savoury Indian dishes.

I encourage anyone who enjoys cooking or even is just starting out to get into what is in season and let that dictate which side you take on the sweet or savoury debate. Ask me again come spring and I’ll likely tell you that all the crisp, bright fruits and vegetables are pulling me towards a clean and somewhat sweet feeling. Roll with the punches and settle into the season.

How to eat with grace on transit

By Madeleine Brown

As a child and into my teenage years, my parents were adamant we sat down as a unit for dinner every night. (If I ever wanted to make a point, requesting to eat my dinner by myself in front of the television downstairs in the basement did the trick.)  However, over the course of my undergrad between extra-curriculars, meetings for groups projects and (somewhat of) a social life I became accustomed to eating on buses, trains and subways. While mealplanning and bulk cooking solved the issue of what I could eat for these on-the-go meals, how to eat them with grace and without upsetting my fellow travel companions was another issue in itself. I share with you my advice for navigating this potentially socially destructive situation. I spent four years developing it through plenty of first-hand research—which is certainly more effort than I put into any other assignment.

No soup for you

When it comes to eating on transit, your number one goal should be to not spill the contents of your meal on not just yourself, but also other passengers. It seems obvious, but let me tell you I’ve been tempted by one too many soup recipes only to regret the decision to prepare them come the speed bump-filled exit out of my university campus. This same logic applies to other liquidly stews, chilis and—unless you have a secure lid and straw—smoothies.

What’s that smell?

Ask any of my high school friends what my greatest legacy was during those four years, they’ll likely respond with my salmon sandwiches. Yes, I ate canned salmon sandwiches for almost the entirety of my high school career. (On occasion I switched things up with tuna sandwiches.) While I never minded putting them through that—hey, they’re my friends—I realize in the company of strangers you get away with far less. So, aside from eventually tiring of canned salmon, I also tired of disapproving glances on transit. (I hope those were about my food and not something else about me…) Save your smelliest dishes for meals at home where beloved roommates can escape the unpleasant fumes. That said even if your food doesn’t have an unpleasant scent, should it have one at all you may consider securing your Tupperware lid between mouthfuls.

Don’t forget the cutlery

The subtitle says is all, but in case you didn’t get the message: don’t forget the cutlery. I think back to the a delicious ratatouille with polenta from last spring that I had to eat with my bare hands on the subway. Yes, I know this is common practice in many cultures, but it’s not in student culture. (Actually that too could be argued, but for the purpose of this post let’s not get into it.) First off, it’s awkward, secondly, you’ll definitely garner the odd look or two and, finally, unless you carry an endless supply of wet wipes where there’s transit, there’s often not a sink.

Such a show-off

Finally, above all, while eating on transit, keep your meal to yourself. Whether your mode of transportation officially bans the practice (I’ve broken that rule many times) or not, typically transit is not the time or place to show-off your culinary capabilities. Everyone is tired, hating life and hungry. So while they weren’t as smart as you and packed food, save the bragging for another time. Hide your Tupperware container in your backpack or purse and quickly fork or spoon out bitefuls. You’ll keep everyone else happy and your reputation intact.

How to eat with grace on transit
A student’s typical dinner table

Follow the recipe

by Madeleine Brown

I learned to cook through recipes and now meal plan around the opportunity to test new ones. I am not a cook with a specialty or signature dish. In fact I strive to make two unfamiliar recipes every week, one for a week’s worth of lunches and another for dinners. However, aside from teaching me a variety of techniques and introducing me to a world of dishes, this approach has crippled me as a cook. Now, I don’t consider any dish I make without a recipe, well, a dish. I see it as a pile of stuff I didn’t weigh or measure out, haphazardly tossed together for no approximate cooking time and served in no particular fashion. And, ultimately, yes, that’s what a dish is, but somehow since it’s not codified in a recipe I can’t bare to designate it as such.

I am attempting to correct this outlook. I recently got over making salad dressing without the “accepted” ratio of oil to vinegar, instead eyeballing the amount I added of each as well as whatever in my cupboard took my fancy. I even felt a moment of pride earlier last fall upon tasting a carrot pasta in a creamy tahini sauce I made that was only inspired by a recipe. I am also quite comfortable with substitutions. I can’t remember the last time I actually bought buttermilk—milk with a teaspoon or two of lemon juice or yogurt for me, please. Smoked paprika, you say, Mr. Nacho Recipe? Well, you’ll have to make due with just plain, old paprika. That said my recipe sensitivity only lets me go so far especially when it comes to baking.

I know a day will come when I no longer have the time or patience to work from a recipe. My pantry and fridge are also tiring. It’s like some sort of mind game finding recipes to use up every condiment and spice I’ve collected over the years. I just don’t know when this magical, freeing day will come and how. Recipes are sacred in my mind. We don’t have the time, opportunity or patience anymore to repeat a recipe enough with a friend or family member to learn it. The last thing I want to do next time I’m back home is spend it over a stove with my father—trust me. And, sure, there are many proponents of straying away from recipes, like PEI celebrity chef and friendly giant, Michael Smith. But, I’m sorry Mr. Smith you can’t make that claim and publish award-winning cookbooks. You won’t console me when I come crying to you over my failure of a peanut and jelly cookie because I thought, “Hey, why not replace honey with brown sugar. It’s basically the same, right?”

I have the same kind of respect for the jazz musician as I do the real, bona fide chef. They know their craft so well that they can break the rules and get away with it. For now I cling to the printed recipe. If anything it means should something go wrong, I can blame the recipe tester that wrote it. I promise I’ll grow-up and accept the responsibility someday. Maybe.

It's a love/hate relationship
It’s a love/hate relationship

Calorie counting

 by Caitlin Hart

Full disclaimer: I don’t believe in calorie counting. You won’t see me pulling out my calculator trying to decide if that muffin will put me over my daily calorie intake. I practice what I call the 80/20 rule. This means that 80 percent of what I eat is healthy and the other 20 percent is food that brings me joy, but may not be the healthiest.

Because what is the point of life if I can’t have my beloved Pringles?

Calorie counting
Sometimes all that’ll do is a potato chip

The way I see it you are going to go over the number of calories you should have in a day sometimes and that’s okay. I do notice that when I eat all unhealthy greasy food, that’s how I end up feeling: greasy and unhealthy. But, at the same time I would be miserable if I had to stick to a strict diet and being a student I have to make sure the food I eat is easily accessible. So, what’s a student to do?

The real deal authentic

by Claire Matlock

Lunchtime on university campuses features a range of international flavours. Both on campus and off, you can pay ten dollars or less for a Chinese, Korean, Greek, Indian or Italian meal. Features articles in our school newspaper and even entire websites are devoted to navigating these multicultural restaurants. But, can we really call bubble tea, butter chicken, and pad Thai “authentic” worldly cuisine? Not everyone has the opportunity to travel the world and dine on locally-prepared delicacies, so I recommend taking these transplanted dishes with a grain of salt.

Salt and pepper

by Madeleine Brown

When I moved into my university residence dorm room I was adamant I pack my red rubber boots, black ballet tutu and childhood teddy bear. Meanwhile, my friend, Kira was adamant she pack her pepper grinder. I think we can see who was ultimately more sensible at the time.

As first year went on I realised Kira had the spicy, savoury hit my meals needed. I eventually made the splurge and bought my own grinder in third year when I moved off-campus. And, even despite the bad rap it gets, I can’t ignore what just a pinch of salt can do a dish. In first year I had to rely on those little mass-produced packets and then bought a salt grinder in third year.

Maple on a plate: searching for a Canadian (food) identity

by Danielle Del Vicario

A few days ago, I asked some of my British friends to describe “Canadian cuisine”. After a fumbling silence, they all mumbled something about moose and maple syrup and my dearest roommate replying, “Maple leaves. Just maple leaves on a plate…”

Today, our societies (and our universities) seem to revolve around the idea of ethnic cuisine. As students, we eagerly await Indian night and spend more hours searching out the best sushi bar than we do studying. But, what do we eat the rest of the time? Is there such a thing as Canadian cuisine?

Nose to tail cooking for the apprehensive student (Part I)

by David Kitai

Nose to tail cooking isn’t always the easiest food trend to explain to people. It’s certainly not the prettiest. The idea, pioneered by the British chef Fergus Henderson in the late 1990s takes two forms. The American champion of offal (an animal’s internal organs), Chris Cosentino, says that if you’re willing to eat an animal, “You had damn sure be ready to eat all of it.” I prefer to see nose to tail as more positive movement that says our old approach to a cow, that it was made up of only two tenderloins, two striploins, two prime ribs, and a whole lot of hamburger, isn’t just wasteful, it ignores some of the tastiest bits our animal friends have to offer.