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Lightweight Healthy and tasty Backpacker/Hostel Meals? Recipe ideas for next time???

Hey all, just got back from backpacking for two weeks through the South Island of New Zealand, staying overnight in backpacker hostels (the ones here are awesome... like hotels where you just share the water facilities and kitchen). The surroundings are wild, giant mountains and waterfalls and heaps of native bush... not a lot of grocery stores where things aren't ridiculously priced because they known travellers don't have options!

The kitchens in the hostels were all stocked with dishes, cutlery, fridges, microwaves and ovens. Everything else, backpackers bring with (even oil, milk, salt and pepper). Now mind you, everything needed to cook must be able to be carried, often kilometres at a time in the backpack. And this wasn't "camping", it was just travelling by day, and staying in the backpacker accomodations at night.

I always kept meusli in giant baggies, great for snacking , and carried a lunchbag sized insulated bag where I kept a few individual sized yoghurts and a small block of cheese. Took tons of nut mixes and chocolates (hey I was using up a lot of energy with all of that walking!), some coffee, sweetener, and lots of power bars. Had a few tiny tins of baked beans, and a couple of those microwaveable rice bag things for brown rice (in case there was a crowd using up the burners at the kitchen). And I carried some of those flat wheat tortilla like wrap things. That was it. Every third stop or so (sometimes three or four days) could grab fresh goodies like fruit and veg and the odd piece of poultry or meat.

Now, not to brag at all, but I do know how to cook. But when I found fresh meat I realised that I didn't have my spices with, and anyway my spices would've been in too big of containers for me to carry. So am planning on taking my spices in tiny little travel containers next time. Plus, travelling alone, I just couldn't use up a lot of things I came across to possibly cook.

So here's how my days starting looking: Meusli and yoghurt for breakfast. A sandwich I'd made the day before with the tortilla like wrap bread and whatever pre-cooked piece of meat I could find at the last grocery, if there wasn't a grocery, then a power bar. Nuts and candy for snacks, plus fruit if I had it. I fell in love with beans and rice again. Just dump the precooked rice (half the bag) into a bowl, top with beans, slice up some cheese on top- zap it in the microwave and I'd be full in minutes. In the meantime, I'm smelling garlicky meats and seeing all these gourmet looking backpacking meals coming out of the kitchens... of course these were larger groups cooking together.

The trip was awesome and I've been bitten by the backpacking bug. Will be going again in a few months when I get my next vacation.

Does anyone have any quick, lightweight, healthy hot meals to cook up while on the go... for one person only??? Thanks in advance for your ideas!

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  1. I trekked more than 800 km in Spain this summer, and my go-to meal was pasta with marinara, tuna, and olives. Cheese if available. Actually really delicious, and I hate tuna. Sometimes "marinara" just meant canned tomatoes or on a bad day tomato paste. Everything was canned and easily scalable if I was cooking for more people (one tin of tuna per person...). You should also get a big dried hunk of cured smoked meat.

    Other ideas:
    - Make tomato sauce more interesting and protein-packed with a spoonful of peanut butter
    - Use cream of mushroom soup or other canned soup to spice up some pasta or make "risotto".
    - sundried tomatoes, with the oil mostly drained, is a very sensible, space-saving option.
    - you could make freeze dried meal packets, but I don't know how to do this.
    - you could easily, easily carry a clove of garlic.

    1 Reply
    1. re: clacidic

      Wow, clacidic, wish I'd seen your post before my most recent trip. Figured out the carrying of the clove of garlic, and also got some tiny little plastic bottles (I think they are to put shampoos and lotions into when traveling) and put spices, salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar and oil into. Can't stress how awesome those were to have. Took a little twist top "pill holder" and filled it with hot pepper flakes, that woke up many an impromptu sauce or even salad. Altogether, in a very lightweight package I had an all purpose spice rack, just the basics but versatile enough to cook a surprising range of dishes.

      Next time (have decided to backpack every school holiday; and we get four a year!) will take those sundried tomatoes, and will also try out your tuna/olive/pasta marinara dish (always have pasta and usually canned tomatoes). The challenge with pasta is that while it is cheap and filling, it can take me ages to eat all of it, even when traveling with someone else, and it takes up a lot of room in the bag (though could try a flatter variety, got spirals last time).

      I wonder if parmesan cheese can be kept for a week unrefrigerated? A little hunk might be very good to keep on hand in the food bag.

      Thanks for your suggestions, and if you think of any more, please keep them coming!

    2. Don't know where you live but in my town there is a large Indian spice store, and they carry a line of ready-to-heat meals in aluminum pouches by MTR--they are various spicy legume meals for the most part; very nourishing and tasty and the pouches are very light. I keep a stash at work for when I don't have time to pack a lunch. I ate the dal fry on Thursday--never knew anything that looks so much like baby poop could be so good!

      7 Replies
      1. re: kleine mocha

        Kleine Mocha, I'm in a remote part of New Zealand but do have a U.S. address... do you think the pouches can be purchased online? I can order them in, then either have them shipped to me or pick them up when I'm stateside. They sound brilliant! Thanks!

          1. re: kleine mocha

            kleine mocha, thank you for the link. Will see if I can contact someone in the NZ office! Forgot to ask if you found the pre-packaged foods salty at all...

            1. re: ideabaker

              You carried a meat sandwich overnight in your pack and then ate it??

              1. re: jvanderh

                Ha ha, no, Jvanderh-wouldn't be alive to post this if I made that a habit!

                At each new location I'd buy a few slices of shaved sandwich meat and put them into the hostel refrigerator. The night before the next day's travel, I'd go to the refrigerator, take out ingredients and make the sandwich(es), re-wrapping it and placing back in the refrigerator. On the next morning, I put the cold sandwich(es) into my insulated lunchbag which fits into my food bag, and carried it as lunch. All backpacker hostels (in New Zealand) have refrigerators...not sure about other countries, though I would think they would have at least one.

                1. re: ideabaker

                  Ah-- well, that's a relief! Can you get that crispy fried garlic in an Asian market? It's pretty dried out so should be light. That might go a long way toward garlicky meats. . .

                  1. re: jvanderh

                    Dried crispy fried garlic? Hmmm never even heard of that one. But should be able to locate it in one of the large Auckland Asian Markets. I just hope I can tell what it is (often the packaging is not in English, and workers there don't speak English well... perhaps I should take a clove of regular garlic and try to get the concept of "dried" across by grabbing something dried off of the shelf). Will definitely look for it next time I'm in a city! Thank you!

      2. my standard dinner is a packet of dry soup mix, I'm not talking about those ramen things, but something like Knorr or Maggi. Boil the liquid, chop up some veggies (I'd usually use a small head of cabbage or some chopped frozen veggies) drop in a sausage or two and cook unitl done. The hostel usually had a soup pot and a burner.

        1 Reply
        1. re: TIRGL

          This sounds like food, though I am a bit concerned about the healthiness of it (wouldn't they be salty and doesn't sausage have a lot of fat?). I wonder if cutting strips of leaner meat would work (do need the protein)-like steaks, and chicken?

        2. How about couscous or bulgar for a change of grain? These can be cooked with just hot water. Hardboiled eggs are also easy to make and carry. Also I think in NZ flavoured tuna like this is pretty common: http://www.sealord.biz/product.asp?id...