Truth be told, I left for my 4-month exchange trip to Scotland as a poor cook.
I returned a poor cook. By this, I mean that I still had zero experience with an oven, avoided pans or woks, and got by with one-pot meals out of sheer convenience.
Here’s what I subsisted on, just in case you are a kindred spirit!
I didn’t bring much food in my luggage, but I did pack a few instant noodle packets for when the cravings hit. I also packed a few plain noodle types for soups: mee hoon kuay, Japanese-style thin noodles, mee sua. When I ran out, I picked up a few packets from the Asian supermarket a long walk away. Macaroni was a great substitute, too.
Bring some noodles. They make life easier.
2) Stock cubes and dashi
Couldn’t have survived my exchange without em’! ^
I’m not a fan of adding salt or sugar into my meals if I can avoid it because many condiments already include these. One of these is the trusty stock cube. In case I missed spice (I did), I brought the Knorr Tom Yum ones with me. These were very well used: just buy some fresh vegetables from the local supermarket, toss in some minced meat and an egg, and done!
I also used dashi powder for lighter meals. These come in powder sachets or stock bags that you boil.
When you’re buying groceries for one person, it’s common to end up with a surplus of the same ingredient. This was me most days because carrots went for 50p per 500g bag, and that was incredibly affordable. (Bless you, Aldi).
For the week, I often tossed carrots into my soups or salads. The surprising part was the tinge of sweetness they retained while giving the soup flavour. Safe to say, I now enjoy tossing some into my meals now and then!
Kale was another vegetable that was surprisingly affordable. Curly kale, Tuscan kale… I picked up a few bags and used them in soup, too. Trust me; they work decently if they’re baby leaves! I introduced kale to my family once I returned, and we always get some if they’re reasonably priced now.
Unlike most people who prefer sweet oats, I grew up enjoying savoury oats. They are my go-to base for various toppings like vegetables, cheese, eggs, ham, and even avocado.
Oats are not only versatile but also quite affordable, with a 1kg bag costing as low as a pound. If you find yourself on an exchange in the UK, I highly recommend experimenting with cooking oats. You can even try making overnight oats for a quick and nutritious breakfast option.
Depending on where you go, cheese varieties can be plentiful and affordable (that’s the key word here). Exchange was when I got to explore Leicester cheese, Halloumi cheese and more. I had a great time placing slices on top of salads comprising fresh lettuce and tangy olives and then warming everything up in the microwave. Easy meal hacks!
When brioche and pan au chocolat were cheap and easy to get (grocery store quality notwithstanding), they were my go-to for breakfast! If you happen to be in the UK, I highly recommend exploring the bread aisles of Aldi or Lidl to find these delectable treats! They can be eaten on their own without any spreads.
You’ll also find blueberry waffles and bagels, just to name a few…
8) Miso paste
Pro-tip: bring some shelf-stable miso paste with you because it honestly goes well with just about anything. You can use them in soups, as a dry pasta or noodle base, on top of soft tofu if you find it, as part of salad dressings…and a tub goes a long way! Miso is high in protein, vitamins, and gut-healthy probiotics, making it a nutritious and healthy addition to your diet.
When using it in soup, however, wait till you take your food off the heat! The fermentation process that creates miso paste produces probiotics and “good” bacteria that support gut and immune health, but these probiotics cannot withstand very high temperatures. You’ll lose the health benefits that way.
So, if you’re embarking on an exchange journey of your own, consider adding these food items to your shopping list. They’ll not only keep you well-fed but also make cooking a little easier, especially if you’re not exactly a culinary expert.