Thursday, March 8, 2012

Adventures of Cooking in a Hostel - Part 1

Pre-packaged Risotto, Yogurt and Breakfast Bars??

Over time, my food blog has evolved into somewhat of a traveling foodie blog.  I've discovered that my international foodie adventures have understandably garnered a great deal of interest.  I mean, what's more interesting than exotic foods and customs from far away lands?  In this new series, I plan on showing you how I've been eating while traveling abroad.  You'll see how my food has evolved over time and perhaps even get some ideas for your upcoming backpacking trips!

First, contrary to popular belief, my overseas diet doesn't entirely consist of eating live animals or finding new, interesting ways to consume desserts.  For a serious foodie like myself, you'd be quite surprised to see how I've prioritized food while traveling.  It all depends on where I'm at, my food options and of course, budget.  

Second, I'm not rich, so I do travel on a budget.  I know, I know, sometimes people wonder if I've secretly won the lottery.  Unfortunately, I did not.  I often stay with friends, at hostels and even with wonderful strangers I've met on  This also means that I eat on the cheap.  I do give myself small indulgences on occassion, but to be honest, the majority of REAL food you'll find in any culture is usually "cheap".  I love searching for real food that locals eat.  That's where I get my kicks.  A majority of the people on this earth don't eat at fine dining establishments and local cuisine must fit within the budget of an average worker.  This doesn't mean it's bad. It often means it's likely more simple, sometimes more interesting, and always adjusted to the local palatte.  It's really hard to find restaurants in touristy towns that serve local food.  You have to look hard for them and ask the locals for recommendations.  Most people I've met overseas don't eat out nearly as much as the average American, so this means that a lot of times, people cook at home.  Unfortunately, if you don't have access to a kitchen or get invited to dinner at someone's place, this option is not available to you while you travel.  This concept of "cheap" local food is also adjusted for places where the standard of living is higher than in the US.  For example, in Europe and Australia, everything is expensive.  I can't think of anything that's more expensive in the US than in those continents - this includes food.

In my most recent trip to New Zealand, I was shocked at the great value I got for the hostels I stayed at.  I often paid less than $30 NZD (~$25 USD) per night in a nice, clean hostel with access to a large, open kitchen.  This is in stark contrast to the hostels I've stayed at all over Europe that have cost more than 30 Euros (~$40 USD) a night in a dilapidated room without access to a kitchen.  I consider myself lucky if I get access to a fridge and a microwave and it's within walking distance to a local laundromat.  Anyway, I took advantage of the fact that I had kitchens to use, so I used them!  New Zealand can be quite expensive, so saving on food is imperative.  I don't think New Zealand and Australian cuisine is intrinsically different than American cuisine.  That was confirmed with my frequent trips to the supermarket.  Sure, I find a few interesting things here and there, but nothing really amazing and different than what I get back home.  This means that I don't feel like I'm missing out if I don't try something new and super-kiwi at every meal.

My first stop in New Zealand is Christchurch.  It's sad that the city is in such ruins from the incessant earthquakes.  I wasn't able to see much of the city and I basically came in for an overnight stay, then left to Queenstown the next day.  I had a particularly tiring entry into the country.  I've never been so scrutinized by customs in any country, EVER!  I had to wait in several long lines because they check everything!  If you've brought medicine, you need to declare it.  If you've brought any outdoorsy gear, you need to have it inspected.  I only brought my hiking pants and hiking boots, but those boots had to be inspected for foreign flora and fauna.  Honestly, who shows up to New Zealand without ANY hiking/camping gear??  That's why the lines were so long.  After a 4 hour flight from Melbourne, a few hours of waiting in inspection lines at Christchurch Airport and a decently long walk to my hostel in unexpectedly chilly weather, I couldn't be bothered with food prep.  I was tired, cold, cranky and needed to eat NOW!  So I walked to a supermarket about a mile away to pick up dinner.  All I thought of was to get something quick, warm and decently healthy.  After traversing the aisles, I ended up choosing a refrigerated package of risotto for dinner (which really came out more like a soup), some yogurt for breakfast the next morning, breakfast bars for quick food whenever I want it and some water.

Does it look like a sad little dinner?  Yes.  However, there are times when all you want is food - NOW!  It could be because you're really cold and had an unexpectedly harassing day or because you're just too exhausted from your amazing day to have time to make a proper meal.  Either way, sometimes food just has to be functional.  I was hungry and cold.  Check and check.  This "risotto" soup was made with good ingredients, minimally processed and had good nutritional value.  It didn't cost much either.  It was about $5 NZD and it was large enough to split into two meals.  I ended up having some of the yogurt as dessert and the rest of the risotto for breakfast the next morning with again, yogurt as my chaser.  The yogurt and some of the breakfast bars ended up being consumed during the 6 hour bus ride to Queenstown the next morning.  Sometimes you just can't be too picky.  All that food cost me $16 NZD (~$13 USD)  for a decently nutritious 24 hours worth of food and some breakfast bars for later.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the tip and a fun read to start my day. You're right, Australia is freaken expensive and cooking for yourself is a good way to save money, have fun, and also meet other travelers while cooking. Although I would feel bad when my food turns out really good and other backpackers are eating ramen noodles. Keep the posts coming <3 it! Richard