Before I started traveling, I really didn’t think about how much my food costs. A $100 meal once a week was probably an average – and even regular meals at home were on the expensive side. Not to mention the fact that I’d cook huge amounts and invariably end up wasting some as well. There’s nothing like adversity, lack of time and a tight budget to change these bad habits!
Within a very short time of being on the road, I was experimenting with different kinds of meals and trying to find a good balance between health, price and ease of preparation. First I tried the student diet of heat-and-eat foods but I soon realised that I was flirting with MSG poisoning. It was only a matter of time. So I started reading blogs and health diets and soon stumbled across the following five staples of a backpacker’s diet:
The easiest thing on the menu to make, trail mix is your favourite nuts and dry fruits mixed together and eaten by the handful as a snack. Easily the healthiest thing you could ever fill your piehole with, trail mix is also sold retail, but you’d be a fool to buy it that way when its cheaper to just buy the ingredients and spend 5 seconds mixing them in a bag.
The good thing about salads are, again, you just mix them well. Spend a little bit on some nice olive oil and your dressing will be complete too. I always experimented with nuts, beans and the like. Sometimes, I would go crazy and put some shredded chicken in there to mix things up (see what I did there?)
Sometimes, you just need some raw protein. And usually, for me, it came in the form of USDA certified prime corn-fed Iowa beef. The single most amazing thing that I ate in the US. My personal favourite place to eat was the House Of Prime Rib in San Francisco, but I couldn’t afford that on a regular basis. (Nor would my arteries hold up to the assault)
My own healthier steak recipe is as follows:
1 New York flank steak
Assorted herbs (I usually used oregano, pepper, rosemary and thyme, sometimes a single sprig of sage for the smell)
Red pepper flakes
Red wine vinegar or soy sauce
- Marinade the steak for an hour (minimum) with all the ingredients – just a splash of soy sauce and a light glazing of olive oil on both sides.
- Preheat an oven with the broiler setting on medium for 5 minutes.
- Stick the steak in there for 8 minutes on one side, then flip for 5 minutes. If you want it well done (WHY?) then leave it in there for 6 to 8 minutes.
- Important: when you take it out of the oven, let it sit in its juices for a few minutes, so that it realises how awesome its going to taste.
Alternate preparation method:
- Use the exact same marinade
- Build a fire and let it get to a point where the coals are hot enough that you can’t comfortably hold your hands 6 inches above them for more than 5 seconds.
- Place steak on grill for 6 to 7 minutes one way and then flip. Grill for about 5 minutes and flip again till done. Try and get a nice criss-cross pattern from the grill, for presentation points.
- In this case, the trick will be to not get it too dry. The juice will fall into the fire, so remember to take the meat off the grill quick.
Breakfast just isn’t right without eggs. Although it’s hard to get eggs along when camping, they’re usually a staple of my city travels. Not much more to say here, beyond the fact that eggs are also awesome in sandwiches. Which make good lunches!
Soup (or stew)
Ah stew. My favourite meal for leftovers. All you need to do is have a pot on simmer, and fill it up with whatever veggies are on sale in the supermarkets and any leftovers that you have lying around. Go crazy. Add chicken stock if you can, to make it more awesome.