Thursday, 20 August 2015

Eating Well While Camping: a guide

Unlike in New Zealand, most campsites in Europe do not have kitchen facilities apart from sinks. This came as a rude shock to me when I underwent my first European roadtrip in 2013. Ever since then, I've been trying to think up new ways to eat well with limited resources. Two years later, I feel I've compiled a list of top tips for beginners (or those who want more ideas). 

1. Choose your equipment carefully
When camping, you have a tightly controlled space in which you can keep food and everything you need to eat that food. If you're travelling with only a backpack and tramping/public transporting around the world, or you're on a bicycle, skip to list item three. 
If you're travelling by car and have more space, you have some more options of what to do with it. One of the best things we bought was a chilly bin (or ice box/cold box/eskie depending on where you're from). This allowed us to buy bags of ice and keep a select number of refrigerated items on hand. This is perfect when you want chilled drinks, or to keep easily spoilt items like dairy products and produce edible for longer.
Please note that depending on which country you're visiting, ice can be found in different locations. Your best bet is to try petrol stations and large supermarkets or hypermarkets. 
Aside from a chilly bin, you'll also want cutlery, plastic crockery (we had not purchased bowls at the time of the photo above, and had to eat from tin cans), scissors, a sharp knife for chopping veggies and slicing bread, a bottle opener if you drink beer or wine, and a can opener. If you decide you want cooked food and not just sandwiches and salads, you will want to purchase a small gas cooker and some pots and pans. All this depends on the space you have - we are three people in a car, so we utilise the remaining seat area to store all of these supplies. 
You'll also want a scrubbing brush, detergent and a washtub for the aftermath. A roll of rubbish bags should be kept on hand as sometimes bins are far away or nonexistent, especially at picnic spots. 

2. Create a stockpile of long-lasting foods
Canned food is your friend as a camper. My favourite go-to meal is a can of lentils cooked in a can of chopped tomatoes with herbs and seasoning. Super easy and quick. But to make this, you'll also want to have salt, pepper, and any dried herbs you like. We chose basil as it complements most of the types of food we prepare. These take up a small amount of room and add so much flavour to meals. 
We also have a small bottle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar to make vinaigrettes for salads. The olive oil is also useful as a cooking oil, and the vinegar can be used to drizzle over sandwiches or tomatoes for flavour. We keep a cheap bottle of cooking wine to enliven the flavour of sauces, but that is optional as per your taste. 
Dried pasta or rice should always be kept on hand for a quick meal option. Jam, Nutella or honey can be stored if you enjoy having spreads on bread for breakfasts. If I had to choose one, I'd pick honey as it is useful to have a sweetener for yogurt and cooking. 
This was an interesting white chocolate spread we got our grubby little hands on. While we bought it with the intention of spreading on bread as breakfast or dessert, we ended up eating it with a spoon as it tasted so amazing. 
Keeping a box of muesli bars on hand is always useful, as you never know when you'll need a quick snack or have forgotten to buy breakfast. Similarly, potato chips or crackers make a good snack or can be used on the side of a meal to bulk it up. I love trying the unique flavours each country has to offer - paprika is an immensely popular flavour in the Netherlands, as is ketchup in Germany and jamon in Spain. 
Drinks can be kept on hand for a nice change to boring old water - we like Orangina (though soft drinks and sparking water have to be drunk quickly or the bubbles will fizzle out), Prosecco, and iced tea. These are of course better when chilled, but when unopened they will keep. 

3. Buy fresh food for the day
Many enjoyable meals can be made solely from the long-life foods in number 2, but eating fresh and healthy foods is astronomically better. Pick fruits and vegetables that are in season, and try to attend farmers markets rather than supermarkets whenever possible. In France, the vendors will choose the produce for you depending on when you are going to eat it - a peach selected for eating in the evening will be different than one for breakfast the next day. I love having nectarines or apricots to accompany my breakfasts, so I make sure to buy some the day before. At some markets you can find all kinds of great treats like olives, cured meats, cheeses and baked goods.
Note that in many countries in Europe supermarkets are closed on Sundays and have shortened hours on Sarurdays, so plan ahead! 
Visit bakeries beloved by locals for scrumptious fresh bread. Many bakeries can slice loaves for you for sandwiches. While you're there, why not try a specialty from the area or an attractive pastry?

4. Sandwiches are your best friend
Even if you only assemble a couple of slices of bread with vegetables and herbs thrown in, sandwiches are a cheap and simple meal. If you choose the right ingredients, they can be very healthy as well. I prefer to opt for whole grain breads over processed white breads (but occasionally indulge with a good ciabatta).
My advice is to compile a list of all the different toppings you like. Be creative! Think of all the foods you could keep, whether that be in a chilly bin or not, and brainstorm. My favourite sandwich consists of pesto (either green or red as per your preference - I like to alternate to mix things up), rocket or lettuce, and grilled capsicum from a jar. Tomatoes, mozzarella and balsamic vinegar is an easy sandwich, as is hummus with sundries tomatoes and olives. Salami or ham with a slice of cheese and lettuce is a good choice with or without a chilly bin, as most supermarkets have a decent deli section where you can ask for the exact amount of meat and cheese you desire. 

5. Be imaginitve!
When it comes to meal creation, you not only have to think outside the box and maybe even try recipes you've never made before. While there are parameters that hinder complex meal design (it's easier to make a meal using just one pot or pan rather than using all your equipment at once) don't let it hold you back. As long as you plan out exactly how you will cook different parts of the meal, you can eat wonderful meals from the comfort of your camp site. Fabienne, one of my travelling companions, has been posting recipes of our most successful creations on her blog: A Vagabond in Europe. My favourites have been Caesar Salad (see above - we had to serve it in our wash basin as we didn't have a bowl large enough), burgers, and bruschetta
For nights you don't feel up to preparing a complex meal, I'd recommend researching one pot recipes. Jamie Oliver's 15 minute meals are a good start, but choose wisely and always keep your particular equipment in mind. Unless you are going on a very fancy camping trip, you're not going to have access to a blender. 

6. Enjoy what you eat
Some nights, you're not going to want to cook and you're probably sick of sandwiches. A feast on fruit and that block of chocolate that melted during the day ain't too shabby! (We knew that the car was too hot from sitting in the Amsterdam sun all day, so we brainstormed what we could do with it and had a lovely dinner of chocolate covered strawberries.) A well timed evening out a restaurant is also an option, but try to plan for which days this will be if you can as some towns are very small and only have a couple of options. When those options are out of your budget, it's not ideal.
My main piece of advice is that whatever you eat, eat it with gusto and a smile. Enjoyment of food is an ancient concept, but many people eat on the go and pay no attention to what they're consuming. Eat slowly, and preferably with friends or an amiable cat.