Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Onions and Garlic, Cooking on the Road

When I started traveling in earnest, I wanted to cook on the road to save money, and eat the way I should eat, without any grains. Now few people in the world can imagine a food-life without grains, I'm no exception. It's doubly hard on the road as nearly every bite of street food has either corn or wheat in some form of bread making it easier to eat. Tacos, hotdogs, cuernitas (pastry horns with pudding), cookies, snacks of every kind.....are all off the list.

So out of necessity I've discovered a few things about long term travel and cooking.

1. Tools: There are no good knives on the road. Doesn't matter if you stay in a hostel, with friends, or rent a vacation home, the knifes suck. I can't believe the number of people who think a steak knife is fine for cutting. One wrong move and a serrated knife, slipping off a carrot, will cut your fingertip off. The solution? Bring a sharp paring knife by a good manufacturer like Henkle, and a small hand held knife sharpener. A simple cover made out of cereal box cardboard and tape will suffice to keep the knife safe.

2. Preparation: Most cutting boards in the real world are wooden, chopped up, and probably crawling with the worst kinds of rotting meat germs. I carry a small plastic one that's thick enough not to slide around, and a thin super absorbent towel that dries quickly and is perfect for all kinds of cleanup. Small bottles of biodegradable camp soap and disinfectant for produce are good to have on hand.

3. Spices are abundant in every country, but it's tough to buy 1/4 ounce unless you can find a spice shop. Most come in largish packets and by the time you've accumulated nine or ten spices, you're out of space to carry it all. REI and other outdoor stores sell a backpacking kitchen, with salt and pepper shakers, and tiny containers for spices that zip up nicely in a little bag. Load up before you leave home with your favorites. Mine are cumin, garlic powder, basil, oregano, cardamom, cinnamon, and hing (an Indian spice made from the sap of a tree, super powerful and excellent with eggs and potatoes). I also carry cubes of different boullions. Knorr makes chipotle, herb, vegetarian, and tomato in addition to the standard beef and chicken.

4. Meals: Lots of people like to eat breakfast out. In some countries like Mexico, breakfast is eaten around 10:00 which is too late for me. Plus in many cultures breakfast is mainly breads and pastries.  When I set up a kitchen in a new place I buy garlic, onions, potatoes, cheese, and whatever other vegetables and fruits look good in the market. Almost everywhere you can buy a roasted chicken. So I usually get one of those, and a couple cans of garbanzo beans or refried beans. Then I'm set for a few days. I save the skin and bones from the chicken to boil with carrots, onions and potatoes for soup, which is also quite good for a quick breakfast.

5. Other stuff: It seems like most places I've stayed have plastic zip lock bags and maybe plastic wrap. I usually purchase a few storage containers for leftovers, as I almost always travel by myself. I also don't mind purchasing a spatula, slotted spoon, tongs, and other utensils if I'm going to be staying in a place for a month or more. For a six month stay in Mexico, I even bought a blender.  I've left some fairly well stocked kitchens in my wake.

6. The fun stuff: Cooking school!! In places famous for their cuisines, like Oaxaca, Mexico, there are cooking schools, culinary shops, and even people serving incredible street food who are happy to talk to you about their creations. In San Cristobal, I became friends with a woman who owned a small restaurant. She showed me how to make Mole Verde. I can make it at home some day, after I find the seeds and grow the secret ingredient, an herb called Epazote.

Long term, and round the world travel means keeping possessions at a minimum. Many people like to try every restaurant, but after a while, a nice home cooked meal is more satisfying. For fans of weird flavors of ice cream, like me, eating at home means saving calories so there's room for the cool stuff.

Peppers in the market.....
these turned out exceptionally
HOT!