How to Cook in a Hostel

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Dundee Backpackers in Dundee, Scotland

One of my favorite things about traveling is the food. After picking a destination, and maybe plotting out a few major points of interest, the next thing I do is search for the best restaurants, holes in the wall, and street vendors to visit.

While I love trying local specialties and grabbing meals around a new city, eating out can quickly add up and strain your travel budget. If you’re staying at a hostel, you’ve got the opportunity to cook for yourself and save your hard earned money for other things.

Through my travels, and the various trials and errors they have entailed, I’ve learned a few tricks for making the best of hostel kitchens, no matter how shabby or under stocked:

Take Stock of the Kitchen

Before you ever make a grocery list or plan a time to cook, visit the kitchen and see what you’re working with. Check out what appliances, cookware, and tools are at your disposal. I’ve seen everything from well equipped kitchens featuring several ovens and stovetops, to a hostel that only had a single hot plate. While you’re there, see if your hostel provides a “Free Food” cabinet. Many hostel goers buy too much and leave behind their leftovers. This means you can sometimes find a wealth of staples like rice, pasta, oils, vinegars, and spices for free.

Shop with the Locals

Take notice of where the locals shop. Avoid the convenience stores usually found near tourist districts because of their lack of variety and high prices. Instead visit farmers’ markets and local grocery stores to do your shopping. One of the fun things when visiting another country is seeing all the foreign (to you) foods available. Plus if you’re choosing to cook a local specialty, you’ll have no trouble finding all the ingredients.

Avoid Peak Times

Even during off seasons, hostels can be packed with fellow travelers. This means the kitchen area will likely be full during peak eating hours around lunch and dinner. If you can, try and cook a little before or after regular mealtimes. Though cooking side-by-side with other hostel-goers can be a great way to get a conversation going, you might save yourself some time (and stress) by choosing your timing wisely.

Add Some Spice to Your Life

There’s no better way to quickly improve a meal than by adding a hearty dose of spices. Here are a few simple solutions to avoid overloading your backpack with spice bottles while still creating tasty meals:

  • Base your meal choices around the spices available in your hostel’s free pantry. This can lead to some really creative recipe creation.
  • Buy one or two spice blends (cajun, Italian, lemon-pepper, etc.) to just sprinkle on each meal for a serious flavor boost. This works best if you’re traveling for a week or less, so you don’t get tired of the recurring flavors.
  • If you know you’ll always want certain spices on hand, your best bet is to pack your favorites in a travels spice container like this one.

Keep It Simple

Nobody expects you to make a luxurious five-star meal at your hostel. If that’s your thing, more power to you. But I like to stick with simple “recipes” that require little ingredients. Since I’m usually cooking for myself and Peter, and we don’t mind leftovers, most of the meals I cook makes about four servings. If you’re traveling solo, make sure you only buy how much you need for your stay. Some of my favorite simple hostel recipes include:

  • Creamy Lentil Curry: Cook red lentils in coconut milk, vegetable broth, and curry powder. Top with chopped pineapple and cilantro.
  • Shroom Pasta: Cook pasta. Sauté a chopped onion and a few handfuls of mushroom in olive oil. Toss with pasta and sprinkle with red pepper and nutritional yeast.
  • Hearty Soup: In a large pot sauté a chopped onion in olive oil. Add a can of diced tomatoes and a can of white beans. Add a chopped potato or any desired veggies you have on hand. Pour in enough vegetable broth to cover everything and simmer until veggies are tender.
  • Super Spuds: Poke a few holes in a russet potato. Microwave for 5-7 minutes, or until soft. Top with a handful of spinach and chopped green onions. Dollop on salsa and guacamole before serving.

Christmas Travels

Merry Christmas (and any other celebrated holiday) to all my readers! Peter and I just got back from a fantastic trip to Philadelphia, New York City, Brooklyn, and Salem.

Between that and going to holiday festivities, it will be a few days before I start posting about the actual trip, but for now be satisfied with photos of pre-trip lunch in Atlanta at Kafenio.

This quirky little Greek cafe is located a convenient five minutes from the airport and sports a large amount of vegan and vegetarian food.

We were mostly just excited about the all-day breakfast. Peter ate the Atalanta (not a typo but the name of a Greek mythological huntress) omelette which was stuffed full of veggies and served with a side of cheese grits and toast. I partook in the vegan bowl which was piled high with hashbrowns, tofu scramble, and fresh vegetables.

A great meal to start a trip full to the brim with good food!

Louisiana Renaissance Festival

Sorry for the lack of postings guys, I’ve had practically no free time to blog between work and school. But I’m three weeks away from freedom (aka graduation)!

Looking for a getaway, Peter and I, along with our roommate Connor, took a day trip to the Louisiana Renaissance Festival on Saturday.

Peter wore the chainmail he’s been working on for the last few months and I dressed up a mythical faun. DSCF6183Connor also wore a tabard and was rocking his Cthulhu hat. DSCF6187The festival was surprisingly large, with a sprawling map of vendors, performers, and events.DSCF6235We got there about noon but had waited to eat all day in anticipation for good festival food. We were not disappointed.

Connor got some beer cheese soup in a bread bowl.DSCF6190I was pleasantly surprised by there being a vendor that advertised having vegan food! Phil’s Mediterranean Grille had an item called vegan medley that could be served in a sandwich, on fries, or with hummus. They also had other vegetarian options like the black bean gypsy burger that Peter got.

The people running it were extremely friendly and hilarious to listen to. They were also very knowledgeable about what was vegan-friendly.DSCF6197I went with the Greek fries option (which were tender red potato fries with seasoning) and asked the server to top it with everything vegan, which I expected to be two or three things. Because of this mistake glorious accident I ended with a smorgasbord of toppings. DSCF6203Here is my monster of a meal (which I struggled to finish half of) with the toppings of black beans, curry rice pilaf, steamed vegetables, sauteed onions and peppers, and fresh tomatoes.

Oh my gosh, so much food and so good. Honestly it wasn’t a bad deal either for $10, because most festivals you get half the amount of food for that price.DSCF6206After stuffing ourselves, we wandered around the rest of the areas.DSCF6194There were plenty of shops selling various wares (dragon puppets, glass trinkets, drinking horns, etc.) and several weapons shops too. DSCF6211DSCF6218One of the best things about Renaissance Fairs is the constant streams of music coming from different performers. We saw people playing lutes, pipes, guitars, bagpipes, and even didgeridoos.DSCF6269A dueling competition took place. It looked very similar in technique and rules to the fencing I did in high school, just double the fun because of the two swords.DSCF6230DSCF6224We decided to try out some weapons of our own at the crossbow shooting range. None of us had used one previous, so I’m sad to say Connor is the only one who managed to hit a target.DSCF6255DSCF6260DSCF6261This festival had more learning demonstrations than any other I’ve previously visited. There was a blacksmith forge with people creating knives, horse shoes, and jewelry. The young girl below was a silver smith creating a key.DSCF6239My favorite demonstration was the woman making natural dyes. Everything from turmeric to onion skins to ground acorns. We stood and talked for a while as she dyed yarn and learned about different techniques and easy beginner projects.DSCF6248DSCF6254The day had a grand finale with a performance by Paolo Garbanzo, a comedic juggler who we’ve previously seen at the Tennessee Renaissance Festival.

Armed with juggling pins, flaming sticks, a lobster hat, and D&D jokes, Paolo had us laughing until we were in tears. A great way to finish a fun-filled day and we wouldn’t hesitate to return next year.DSCF6275