All Colleges provide a canteen service; typically breakfast, lunch and dinner are provided during the week and a reduced service operates at the weekends. Outside of term, provision varies by college. Food is typically of a reasonable standard, with several options, and fairly cheap.
Some Colleges have reciprocal dining rights for canteen meals, allowing students to use other Colleges’ canteens. This tends to happen where colleges are far from each other. For example, New Hall, Girton and Churchill have reciprocal rights with Pembroke. Ask your College.
Formal Hall is probably the aspect of Cambridge that most corresponds to the Cambridge image: a three-course meal served by waiters in an ancient, candle-lit hall with sherry, wine and port. In most Colleges, formal wear (including an academic gown) is required, Grace is said at the beginning and end of the meal and the Fellows sit at a different table to the students. The food is generally better than typical College food and Formal Hall is often a good way to get involved in college life and to see other colleges.
Kitchen Fixed Charge (KFC)
The KFC is a charge that some Colleges require graduate students to pay as a contribution towards the overhead costs of catering. Each college has its own policy regarding the KFC and the amount charged varies from nothing to more than £100 per term. Your College will be able to tell you about their KFC policy. If you are unable to eat college food, for example for religious reasons or because you work in a lab far from town (though not usually simply because you find the food inedible!) you may be able to claim an exemption from paying KFC – again each college has a different policy on this, so talk to your tutor or your MCR.
If you don’t spend this much in college catering facilities in each term, you’re charged this amount anyway.
Gyp Room / Kitchen
A gyp room is the traditional Cambridge term for a food-preparation facility within a college. It dates back to the times when students would usually eat in college dining halls, and even nowadays some college accommodation provides little more than the essentials to make a cup of tea or a sandwich – a sink, a work surface, somewhere to plug a kettle in and maybe a fridge and a gas ring. Some college accommodation (especially for undergraduates) still only has these basic facilities, while other college accommodation has more fully equipped kitchens with freezers, ovens etc. The distinction between “gyp room” and “kitchen” is pretty vague; if anything a kitchen may be slightly better equipped.
Canteen Meal / Formal Hall
The typical catering provided by a Cambridge college includes both a regular canteen service (often 2 or 3 meals are available every day of the week) and “Formal Hall”. The latter is the archetypal Cambridge dining experience: a three-course meal served by waiters in an ancient, candle-lit hall. Wine may be served with the meal, or a bring-your-own policy may be in force. Most colleges hold several Formal Halls each week.
There are a multitude of shops selling foodstuffs from around the world in Cambridge, including kosher and halal products. Good areas to look in are:
- Mill Road [ map ]: Asian, African and Indian supermarkets, including fresh vegetables and exotic fish and produce.
- Junction of Histon Road and Victoria Road [ map ]: Nasreen Dar – Indian and African supermarket, which also sells boxing gloves.
Regular kosher meals are served throughout the week, including Friday nights and Saturdays at the student-run synagogue in Thompsons Lane.
Shops and Restaurants
The main supermarkets in central Cambridge are Sainsbury’s on Sidney Street and, for a pricier alternative, Marks and Spencer on Market Square. Larger supermarkets can be found slightly further afield:
- Asda: Beehive Centre, Coldhams Lane
- Sainsbury’s: Brooks Road
- Tesco: Cheddars Lane, Newmarket Road
- Waitrose: Hauxton Road, Trumpington
There are dozens of restaurants and pubs that serve food in Cambridge. Some useful websites are: