Why did the student cross the road?

Having spent some time working in NUI Galway, I can justifiably lend my voice to those who say that the food available on campus is generally not that good. Sure, the pizza in the college bar is tasty enough, but it does not really count as a vegetable as the American government would have us believe. The Gourmet Tart Co used to supply the university with its freshly-made sandwiches, but these seem to be no longer available this year, replaced by a lesser sandwich to fill the gap. It is not, I am sure, because students don’t care what they eat — in fact a growing number of them are revolting against the banal food on offer.

Last year there was a ‘local and alternative food on NUIG campus’ petition started online for the attention of John Gibney of the Buildings Office. In this petition, some students and staff of NUIG added their voices to the growing number of people in Ireland “who support the availability of locally produced fresh and organic food of high quality. We would like to support the further growth of this sector as part of developing a sustainable and environmentally friendly food industry. We believe this is part of a larger movement away from fast food to healthier alternatives and the growing number of students who are choosing a vegetarian diet.”

It went on to say: “Unfortunately we feel that the campus at NUIG does not currently provide foods that meet these standards at prices that are affordable to the average unwaged student. We would like to see greater availability on campus of locally sourced foods, healthier meals, and great choice for those students who choose not to eat meat.”

The petition went on to propose that a number of fresh food traders from Galway’s Saturday market come to the campus one day a week with the aim of providing a local, healthy, and mainly vegetarian food option for students, as a means of supporting small local traders, locally produced food, and healthy affordable alternatives for students. It also aims to contribute to a healthier and greener campus by raising awareness among students of the importance of sustainable farming and production in a world where most of our food is imported, and also the promotion of healthier eating habits among students as a further support to the ‘healthy living week’ initiated by the students’ union. A good idea, I think, but maybe not possible in light of the catering companies that already supply the College’s main restaurants.

It is a subject that rears its head at this time every year without fail, along with parking and computer access. So here is my tuppence, for what it’s worth. There are some snazzy campus bikes after making an appearance this year, try them, you might like them. Ask Santa for a laptop, you are going to spend half of your first year life lining up for the campus computers and it will drive you crazy. As far is food is concerned, why not explore outside the campus? Wards On The Corner has reliably been filling rolls and baps for years. Mr Waffle has the happy position of being positioned between two large and similarly culinary challenged institutions, the uni and the hospital. Last but not least, the newest restaurant on the fringes of university life is 37 west. The one woman powerhouse behind this operation burst onto the social media scene long before she even opened the doors for business. On March 4 2013 she tweeted: “Finally got the keys to 37 West! #abouttime #watchoutworld”. Gill Carroll (no relation ) is a hardworking, motivated, fun lady who does little or nothing without hashtagging it first.

The cafe sits calmly looking across the busy road at the big businesses and campus buildings, a relaxed oasis from the hectic work vibe. There are a few tables beside the windows at the front, then a long seating area to the side, past the cake counter and open takeaway bar. At first this appears to be overstaffed, but as the lunch trade hots up it is easy to see that the brisk trade at the tables, as well as for take out, more than justifies the number. The appeal of the healthy, good value menu is broad, with plenty of students and women with young children in attendance, and college staff who seem to place their ‘regular’ orders. It’s an easy stroll from anywhere on the campus and there is usually nearby parking.

Galway’s very own wellness warrior, Pat Divilly, has a hand in the wholesome and nutritious end of the menu — juices, smoothies and shakes with optional wheatgrass and hemp shots and generous salads packed full of good things. There is a no-nonsense breakfast with proper Irish porridge or granola, packed with goodness and finished with homemade cinnamon apple sauce, or a power omelette with garlicky mushrooms and rocket. The scones come with real butter and are available gluten-free for those afflicted with allergies or vegetarian for those troubled by conscience.

There are melts, fishcakes and quiche with hot daily specials to round out the lunchtime menu. The most expensive item comes in at a very reasonable €10.50 for the 37 west burger, cheese, gherkins, chunky chips and salad.

On a recent lunchtime visit I ordered the much talked about 37 west melt. I am of the opinion that a handful of jalepenos and melted cheese can improve most dishes, with the exception perhaps of baked Alaska. Crispy buttermilk chicken with a slab of Bandon Vale cheddar and spicy Cajun mayo on Griffins sourdough makes this a sandwich with a cult following for a reason. Perhaps not one to have too often if you are on a health kick, but I thoroughly enjoyed every bite. My (mature ) student friend went for a healthier option of marinated chicken skewers with salsa and garlic mayo, pitta bread and more of the tasty salad, with a generous cup of tomato and roasted pepper soup each. Everything was presented beautifully on warm, tactile wooden boards.

37 west is a bit of a diamond in the rough, but Ms Carroll and her team are working flat out to perfect every aspect. They have a lady who comes to bake the desserts including lemon tart, brownies and carrot cake. The outside catering is proving popular and a favourite with Connaught Rugby who are big fans of the paleo superfood salad. They have a nice wine list, so are perfectly placed to do functions and Christmas parties at night for the many university societies. There is even talk of cookery courses.

There is excellent value from the takeaway counter with soup and sambo for €5, and all salads €7.30 with homemade Cuinneog buttermilk and treacle brown bread. They do gift vouchers if you are a concerned parent sending your little one to college for the first time. While the gift voucher can stop them spending your hard earned cash on crack cocaine and loose women, I can’t promise they won’t blow the lot on cupcakes. On the upside though, the cupcakes are freshly baked every day and are available gluten free and vegan, so it wouldn’t be a total disaster. 37 west offers a tasty refuge from the canteen queues.

37 west cafe, deli, and wine bar, 37 Lower Newcastle, Galway. Tel (091 ) 524 122.

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