The Student
Lifestyle
The Student’s Isolation Series: an Introduction
by Manvir Dobb, 22/05/20

Food has always been a focal point in my life. Until the age of fourteen, I lived in a lively household with my parents, brother, uncle, aunt, cousin, and grandmother. It was overwhelming at times to say the least, but it wasn’t anything abnormal in South Asian culture. Everyone had their own agenda for the day, but (without wanting to sound too much like a Dolmio or Uncle Ben’s advert) what united our household was coming together at the end of it to have dinner. 

That, however, was not where the thought for food stopped. With my grandmother in the house, the esteem of having the matriarch meant that phones were constantly going off, and visitors unexpectedly arriving at the best or worst of times. Again, nothing new to the Indian lifestyle;  and a notable reference to make is that a lot of family pride comes from how tight your guests’ trousers are by the time they leave the house. So, yes, much like our guests, food was constantly coming and going out of our kitchen. 

Fast forward to university, a lot of students miss their mother’s cooking, myself included. As well as that, I also just missed the hustle and bustle, and familial feeling that came with the cooking process. In these moments, I would get out my little scrapbook of recipes my mother had taught me through the years; the pages covered with miscellaneous stains from the amount of times I’d referenced them despite knowing that when I wanted to know how much garlic to add to a dish I would be met with the words “however much you feel”; and I would feel my family surround me. Of course, I could just FaceTime my mother and get the same feeling, but that’s much less poetic. 

When the corona pandemic presented itself as a serious threat to the UK, my first instinct was to cook. At the time, I did not think much of its significance seeing as my tiktok was swarmed with people showcasing their stress-baking of banana bread. But it turns out the phrase “fight or flight” in the twenty-first century was missing the ending, “with food”. 

I started documenting my cooking and recipes on my Instagram stories as a little mock series I had entitled “Cooking with Corona”. It was far from serious, and in truth represented a show of British behaviour in using awkward humour as a coping mechanism for anything life throws our way, whether it be an everyday mishap or a global pandemic. Yet, around two months into isolation, and it is still running (equally, if not more than all those people doing 5k for the NHS).

The first ‘episode’ (let’s use that word with extremely heavy inverted commas) was all about finding an alternative to the British staple of baked beans. Stocks were running low in the supermarket, so it inspired a creative alternative in which I used red kidney beans and made my own sauce to go along with it. The practical cooking dwindled shortly after, however, and I started showcasing food which I purely enjoyed cooking. This varied from family favourites such as deep pan pizzas, to more controversial dishes such as savoury porridge: which I have since found out is a traditional Scottish dish, so any Edinburgh student who tries to knock it I will argue has simply not embraced Scottish culture.

When I was asked to write about this as my isolation activity, I appreciated how it had managed to resonate with someone else besides my own foolery. As much as my documentation of my cooking has helped me cope with isolation, it has also helped me stay connected with a lot of friends and family; and that cannot mean that it is only me who is benefitting. When people reply to my story to say that the food looks great, or what I said made them laugh, or that I am an embarrassment (in the most loving way possible), I like that it sparks a conversation. 

It has surprisingly helped me stay connected with a lot more people than I would have messaged had I not been in isolation. And that’s my silver lining to quarantine. 

To an extent, this is why this series has been created. Isolation is, in short, isolating; and whether you are extroverted or introverted, we are creatures of community. With that in mind, we are offering The Student as a platform to keep Edinburgh students together, in spite of being outside of the walls of the institution itself.

People are adapting to isolation in different ways, and hopefully by sharing our stories, we can learn new ways in which we might want to self isolate better; whether that be focused in terms of mental and physical wellbeing, or simply learning a new skill. More importantly, we hope it helps make you feel that little less alone, and acts as a welcome reminder that The Student community is as connected as ever.

Image Credit: Manvir Dobb