We've all heard horror stories about the Freshman 15--the legendary 15 pounds that college students, male and female alike, are apt to put on in their first year of all-you-can-eat dining halls, all-hours pizza delivery, and keg parties. Some of us may even have experienced it firsthand. But at Bon Appétit, we love food. We want college students to love food, too--not fear it. And so we're here to redefine the Freshman 15. From now on, let the Freshman 15 represent the foods that all college students should absolutely try in their first year of unparented liberty. From fermented cabbage to an almond upgrade, prepare to get schooled in the best possible way.
1. Good Bread and Real Butter
Bread is a daily staple for many, but how often do you encounter good bread? You know, the kind with a chewy interior and a crust that shatters into a thousand pieces when broken into. As restaurant and drinks editor Andrew Knowlton points out, it's definitely easy to find a good loaf: "Most towns (especially college ones) have at least one good bread baker. Always have a loaf on hand." Now you've got the bread, let's talk about butter. Real butter. "I grew up in a house that only had margarine," says senior web editor Carey Polis. "I didn't realize how much better butter could be. Good salted butter is a thing of beauty." Splurge on the stuff from Normandy if you can.
2. Crazy-Spicy Food
If you haven't yet built up your tolerance to capsaicin, this is the time to do so! (Especially since you've still got a youthful stomach of steel.) Get down with gnarly chiles like Fresnos, habaneros, Scotch bonnets, maybe even the occasional ghost pepper. And don't just eat them raw (unless you want to entertain your friends); learn to enjoy them in actual food, whether it's Mexican or Thai, Indian or Sichuan--or straight-up spiced-up American cuisine. Note: College is your last chance to eat food so spicy it melts your face off, then brag about it. Trust us, it gets considerably less cool with every year after graduation.
3. Anything That Requires Chopsticks
BonAppetit.com editor Matt Gross is serious about this one: "If you didn't pick this skill up as a kid, now's the time to master the World's Best Utensils! Work your way up from plucking bits out of stir-fries to scooping fried rice from a bowl to delicately gripping slippery pho and ramen noodles. Seriously, I won't let you graduate until you can use chopsticks to eat spicy Sichuan peanuts one by one." Note: Learning to use chopsticks opens up a whole new world of foods to try.
4. Black Coffee
Yes, black coffee is a little bitter. But that's the point! The difference between a good cup of espresso or an americano (espresso with hot water) and a sludgy cup of diner coffee drowning in sugar and "creamer" is monumental. Associate restaurant editor Julia Kramer stopped drinking syrupy coffee-house drinks, and you can, too: "Freshman year of college, my boyfriend drank black coffee and read Thomas Pynchon, and I wanted to be just like him, so I weaned myself off Starbucks soy chai lattes and 'trained myself' to drink black coffee." Grab some good beans and make your own cold brew coffee--you'll be the coolest frosh on campus.
Like mozzarella? Of course. Well, you're going to freak out about burrata. Made from buffalo milk, but creamier, oozier, richer, and all-around more decadent than mozzarella, burrata is amazing on everything from toast to salad to pasta. (It ain't cheap, though, so maybe wait for Parents' Weekend.) Start simple, with this not-too-virtuous salad, then ramp it up with a burrata pizza.
We don't know what kind of fish you grew up on, but now's the time to broaden your seafood horizons. If you're a fillet fan (or, no judgies, fish stick enthusiast), test kitchen contributor Jackie Ourman suggests eating whole fish with plenty of herbs and fresh lemon. It's crazy-flavorful, and allows you to come face-to-face with the fact that your food used to, um, have a face. This recipe for whole grilled fish with lime is a no-fuss showstopper. Once you've mastered the whole fish, it's time to try sushi, sashimi, and crudo. Let the kiddies chow down on deep-fried avocado rolls--you're going to seek out the purest, freshest, rawest fish you can find. Bonus points for loving uni, and go easy on the soy sauce!
Yeah, we like deli meat (we'll never turn down a good ham-and-cheese, and there's even a time and a place for bologna). But take Knowlton's advice and seek out quality cured meats. They're salty, fatty, meaty, and--bonus--can be enjoyed in your ovenless dorm. Grab some of that good bread and snack happily.
8. Marcona Almonds
Take a seemingly simple nut, fry it in oil, toss it in salt, and you've got the Marcona almond. What's not to love? Once Kramer first discovered Marcona almonds in college, they "truly heightened" her quality of life. These babies are light-years ahead of mass-produced salted peanuts, and infinitely tastier.
Do yourself a flavor favor and swap out beef for lamb. Production assistant Alex Delany says it's a grassier, gamier game changer for those who love meat. Ground lamb is a great entry point, and versatile to boot. This recipe for lamb burgers is supposed to be cooked on a grill, but if all you have is a George Foreman, go forth and conquer.
10. Ethiopian Food
What's more fun than a food you eat with your hands? Says special projects editor Ashlea Halpern, "Utensils down, injera up, with wats of every color and texture filling up your table. It'll change your life."
11. Quality Wine
Note: We didn't say expensive wine. You can drink the good stuff on the cheap if you know what bottles to buy. Pro-tip from Knowlton: Go for Gamay, which is often great steal at around $12 a pop.
Hot sauce fanatics will do well to try harissa, a spicy red pepper paste from North Africa. Many a BA staffer has a jar stashed away to liven up sandwiches, vinaigrettes, and otherwise ho-hum eats. Your best bet? Make a big batch of sweet and tangy harissa hummus and slather it on everything from pita to raw veggies.
A little spicy and a lot funky, this Korean fermented cabbage is one of our favorite condiments. It's awesome straight from the jar (use your chopstick skills), but we like adding it to everything from roasted chicken to eggs.
You're a big kid now, so it's officially time to retire squeezable yogurt. We love thick, creamy Greek-style varieties and labneh, Lebanese-style strained yogurt. Ready to take the next step? Swap the honey, maple syrup, and granola for olive oil, spices, and pepper. Consider it a 400-level course in savory dairy.
15. Crappy Pizza
Huh? Okay, we admit this last one is a bit of an outlier. But, as Knowlton points out, you've got to have a little balance. Cover with extra red pepper flakes--and save a slice for us.