If your idea of cooking on the road involves sticking a frozen dinner in the microwave, you’re missing out on a whole world of culinary delight. Traveling should engage all of your senses, and that includes not only seeing new things but tasting them as well. Eating out every night can take a huge bite out of your travel budget, but that doesn’t mean you need to settle for a bag of chips or the same greasy take-out you can get at home. Here are some travel-tested tips on how to cook nutritious and healthy meals on your next grand adventure.
You’re not always going to find a room with a kitchenette or a well-stocked hostel kitchen, so the first thing you need to do is create your own portable cooking kit. Almost every item in your own kitchen can be purchased in a scaled-down or compact size. That means all of your equipment can fit in a large zipper bag and pack flat against the bottom of your suitcase or along the back of your pack. The essentials include:
- A can opener
- A sharp knife
- A large spoon or spatula
- A collapsible colander
- Two collapsible bowls
- A collapsible pot
With these six items, you can probably prepare, cook and serve about 80% of the meals you make at home.
Unless you want to lug a propane stove or crockpot around on your travels, look for accommodation that provides at least one source of cooking heat. That can be a stove, a microwave, or even a toaster oven. You don’t need a hot meal every night, but every few days you’ll need a room or hostel where you can actually cook (as opposed to assemble) a real feast.
Find the Market
Almost every city, town and village on the planet has some sort of fresh produce market. It could be a bazaar, a souk, or simply a stall by the side of the road – but wherever you are, try to find out where the locals buy their fruits and vegetables. Along with the staples, grab a lime, a clove of garlic, or a handful of dried herbs to add a little extra flavor to your meal. Be sure to experiment with locally grown produce and ask the person who sells it to you how they like to prepare it.
Next, discover the local flatbread. Every culture has a different name for the unleavened or slightly raised bread that they use to wrap a mixture of meat, vegetables and spices. Pita, chepati, lavash, matzah, naan, roti and tortillas are just a few of the many examples. If you don’t have access to a stove, you’ve still got the makings of delicious meal if you’ve been to the local market and have some flatbread on hand. If you can get to an oven, your flatbread makes a great pizza base and you can use sliced tomatoes with a drizzle of olive oil in lieu of sauce.
Keep it Simple
The less you mess with your ingredients, the easier it is to cook a great meal. Start with one of three bases: eggs, meat or pasta. A couple of eggs can be whipped into an omelette or frittata by adding in a few chopped vegetables and a splash of hot sauce.
Meat-based dishes are best when you chop your beef or chicken into small pieces and brown them in a pot with a thinly sliced onion. Add your vegetables and you’ve got an instant stir-fry. Try serving it on couscous instead of rice for a great alternative that’s ready in 5 minutes. Pasta dishes come in an endless variety and most of them can be made in a single pot. Add vegetables, shrimp or any other ingredients that need to soften or cook a few minutes before the pasta is ready. Keep a little cooking water in the pot and add some Parmesan cheese for a creamy sauce.
Obviously, the high point of cooking while you’re traveling comes when your room includes a kitchenette or you’re staying in a well-equipped hostel. On all those other days, however, you can still cook a meal that doesn’t come straight from the snack aisle. If you can make it at home, you can make it on the road with a pot, some fresh produce, and a little imagination.