Cooking while you travel is a great way to experience the culture and exotic food ingredients of other countries. Nothing beats shopping at an open-air market, mingling with locals and returning to camp to cook an awesome meal with fresh ingredients that cost pennies. To me, this is the essence of travel. Good people, good food and the feeling that you’re connecting with your surroundings in ways most other visitors will never get to experience.
On the other hand, camp cooking can be a real pain in the ass. You have limited resources, you’re dealing with strange ingredients, exhausted from a long day -- and then it starts pouring down rain. As the resident chef of Team Life Remotely, I’m here to offer my advice for dealing with the bad situations and to help you get the most out of cooking while you travel.
Surviving the difficult times comes down to three points: learn to plan meals while you shop, make simple meals, and always have a backup plan. If you like to cook, you will enjoy experimenting with new ingredients and preparing meals you’d never be able to make at home. However, you won’t always have the means or the energy to be creative. Plan for simplicity and have food available if you can’t cook, don’t want to or make something horrible.
Shopping in a foreign country can be a challenge, but the staples are everywhere. Unlike meal planning at home, it’s not always possible to make a list before you shop. You have to become adept at planning while you shop because you can’t rely on finding everything you need. Learn to improvise and make use of locally available ingredients. Food you normally rely on at home may be completely unavailable. Ever try finding decent cheese in Tanzania?
Simple one-pot meals are a lifesaver. Especially vegetarian or dehydrated meals that can be prepared quickly without needing special ingredients. Always have a supply of pre-mixed, boxed, canned, freeze-dried or cold meals. For example: rice and beans, pasta salad, soup and bread or cheese and crackers. If it requires more than heating water, it’s not simple.
Establishing a meal-time routine, just like you do at home, is the best way to make camp cooking as painless as possible. Your cooking gear should be easy to unpack, setup, use, clean and put away. If it takes an hour to start cooking and another hour to clean up, you will have a hard time getting motivated to cook even the simplest of meals.
Choose gear that serves multiple purposes to cut down on the amount of stuff you have. The more you can live without, the easier it will be to cook and clean up.
Keeping your food and kitchen equipment organized is by far the best way to get into the camp cooking groove. Here are a few tips:
Shopping and eating like a local is a great way to make the most of cooking while you camp. Every region has its own specialties and seasonal ingredients, and there’s usually a good reason why they’re popular.
The best advice I can give you is to do your homework, especially if you’re a fan of new foods. Talk to the nice lady at the market, research regional dishes online, have a seat at the campfire next door and see what they’re having for dinner.
Markets are the first place I go to get a feel for the local food culture. The sights and smells are new and strange, but vendors tend to be very friendly and helpful. Produce is fresh and the price is always right. I’ll take a sprawling Asian market, wreaking of dried fish, without a soul who speaks English over an American supermarket any day.
If you really want to enjoy the experience of camping and cooking, plan to spend a whole day doing it. Hit the market in the morning, stock up on food for the week and grab some easy snacks for that day’s lunch. Then head back to camp, grab a beer and fire up the grill.
This is the only way you will have time to experiment with new ingredients and not feel stressed about making something edible for dinner before the sun sets. Spending a whole day buying and preparing food is also a great way to stock up for the week. You can do a lot of prep work for breakfasts and lunches. It helps to make those meals quick and easy while you’re out seeing the sights or driving down the dusty trail.
Camping and cooking shouldn’t be a chore. It should be a way for you to save money, eat better, and learn more about the culture you’re visiting. With a bit of practice, an adventurous spirit and some sensible planning you will be able to weather the rough times and make the most of cooking while you travel.