One of the questions I get asked most about studying abroad is How is the food? Fortunately, food at Oxford is excellent! Today I’ll be talking about formal hall, a three-course meal in your college’s dining hall at which you have to wear your gowns (black cape things) and sometimes even gowns (long dresses). I’ve eaten at formal hall a handful of times now, so I’m definitely ready to gush about it!
Each college does formal hall a little differently. At Mansfield College where I currently study, we have formal hall every Wednesday and Friday; however, it’s pretty expensive compared to a regular meal so people usually only go every once in a while. Other colleges, such as Merton, have formal hall every night (this is a pretty good indicator of which colleges have more money). People always joke here about making a bunch of friends from other colleges so you can go to their formals, but they’re only half kidding: going to formals at other colleges is a blast!
When I first time I ate at formal hall I was taken aback by its fanciness. I had to ask people what silverware to use first, which glass to put wine vs. water in, how to open the weird glass bottles of water they place in the middle of the table, etc. A tutor speaks in Latin before we eat, resembling a sort of dining cultish chant (okay, that’s a little exaggerated– it was pretty strange, though!). Most importantly, the food is delicious!
Personally, the most impressive aspect of formal hall is the way they handle allergies. When you sign up to go to formal you write down any dietary restrictions you may have, which ultimately get written on a little card like the one shown above. You place this card in front of you during the meal to let the server know and they will adjust your meal accordingly. I’m always so surprised when they bring out a dessert that I can actually eat with my nut allergy because usually that’s the part of the meal that I have to skip. My favorite dessert so far has been apple pie…. how did they know I was craving autumn desserts?!
Formal hall may be expensive, but it’s definitely worth it for special occasions. Where else can you feel like you’re dining in the Great Hall at Hogwarts?
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Have you ever been to formal hall at Oxford? What’s the fanciest meal you’ve ever eaten? Let me know in the comments section below!