It’s a backpacker eat backpacker world in a hostel kitchen but I’ve discovered a few recipes which have pulled me through the hard times when there was nary an oven nor a spatula nor a sharp knife in sight.
SO cheap, so tasty, and all you need is hot water and a bowl. Serve with your favourite fresh fruit, and don’t worry if the fruit is not quite ripe – the hot water will soften it up. This is a great way to start the day in hostels that don’t offer a free breakfast.
Grab some pancake mix from a store. It seems kind of expensive, but not when you break it down per pancake – trust me. If the mix calls for an egg you can add a banana instead to keep things cheap and cheerful.. In fact, don’t be fooled, no matter WHAT the mix calls for you can JUST ADD WATER and your pancakes will still WORK and also be tasty. However, don’t be afraid to get creative with local ingredients; coconut water is a delightful addition to pancake batter. Serve with syrup and a generous side of fresh local fruit.
Here’s the thing. You can throw together avocado, tomato, onion, garlic, cilantro, lime and salt in whatever proportions you like, as long as there’s a LOT of guacamole at the end. There is literally (not figuratively) no such thing as too much guacamole (okay, figuratively). The ingredients cost next to nothing in Latin America (especially if you buy from a market or street vendor, not a grocery store) and you can make it with almost zero utensils. I mean, you could use your hands as a bowl if it came down to it.
DIY Nacho Chips à la Gilly Bean
Cut tortillas into pieces then fry them a few at a time in a frying pan with just a tiny bit of oil. Use two forks to turn the chips and remove them from the pan. It’s a little awkward and slow but cheaper than buying a bag of nacho chips and way tastier. You can add garlic and salt if you want. Use the chips with the amazing guac you made earlier.
Tacos Tacos Tacos
You can put anything inside a tortilla. Seriously. Guac, fresh veg, banana, potato chips.. They make for awesome bus snacks and they also work well as a ‘family’ meal at a hostel – everyone can make their own specialty – beans/ guac/ sauteed veg/ mushrooms/ heavily garlicked fried potatoes/ sauteed sweet pepper and onion – and then everyone builds their tacos to their own taste and/or dietary needs.
Did you know you can make garlic bread without an oven? Just throw some garlic and oil in a frying pan then mush the bread down on top of it till it’s golden brown. Scoop up any leftover garlic from the pan and add it to the bread after (because wasting garlic is a CRIME). Delicious!
Sick of street meat? Desperate for some veg? Simmer some lentils while you chop up potato, yam, carrot, onion, garlic and whatever other root vegetables you can find/fancy and add them to the pot. Broccoli, cauliflower, and other softer veg can be added near the end so it doesn’t over cook. You could also boil a cob of corn in the same pot and then serve it on the side. A little bit of salt goes a long, long way and if you garnish the soup with cilantro and serve it ideally with a squirrelly sourdough but in reality with whatever bread you can find you’ll feel like you’re dining at a 5 star restaurant (give or take 5 stars).
Brownies 3 Ways, What?!
Mug Brownies: Celebrating a birthday in a hostel calls for drastic action when there’s no oven to bake a cake. I knew that mug cake was a thing.. But what about mug brownies? A box of brownie mix will set you back a few dollars, but I mean… brownies, so, need I say more? Follow the instructions for adding whatever the mix calls for but substitute banana for egg. Scoop a serving into a mug and microwave it for +/- 1 minute. Let it sit for a few minutes before putting it inside your face.
Scrambled Brownies: No microwave? No problem! Scrambled brownies! Not even kidding! Throw the mix into a frying pan and keep it moving, the same way you would with scrambled eggs. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t cook evenly, no eggs = no salmonella and the uncooked part acts like a kind of sauce. Serve with a sprinkling of granola, nuts, oats, dried fruit.. Whatever you fancy!
Raw: Oh.. You have brownie mix leftover? NO PROBLEM! Just eat it raw.. Serve on top of more of that granola, nuts, oats.. Delish AND healthy (health benefits not endorsed by science). I closed an evening with friends eating the mix straight from the bowl, taking two spoonfuls before passing the bowl and giggling like idiots the whole time.
Top Tips For Cooking On The Road
- Buy your fresh ingredients from markets – the food is fresher and cheaper compared to grocery stores.
- Get yourself a pocket knife. Never trust anyone who doesn’t own a good knife (or machete) (…or axe, although axes are less useful for food preparation). I use mine ALL THE TIME and not just for food. Apart from the knife, one that comes with a fork and spoon and OBVIOUSLY a bottle opener is super useful. And look after it – clean it after using it and keep the knife sharp.
- I think it’s worth investing in one or two small plastic storage containers for leftovers. You can stuff socks or underwear in them when they’re empty so they take up hardly any extra space in your bag and it means you avoid being that jackass who uses the only pot in the kitchen to store your leftovers in the fridge. You can also use them as bowls when you’re camping or on long bus rides.
- I usually keep a little bit of salt, garlic and oil in my bag. Double-bag the oil, you don’t want that leaking on your clothes. I use these in almost everything I cook but they’re not worth buying for individual meals. For me it’s worth the space in my bag.
- The best rule for backpacking is share, share, share. Share your dinner, your leftovers, your salt and oil, your beer. You might make someone’s day and more than likely your generosity will come back to you in kind.
- Peanut butter on burgers. I discovered this for the first time at a couple of restaurants in Colombia (shout out to Brunch de Salento). I’ve never made hamburgers in a hostel kitchen but I NEED to remember this when I get home. Life changing.
Soundtrack: The Stranglers – Golden Brown