As promised, I’d like to share with you some tips and tricks for feeding yourself with minimal resources while on the road. Making do with poorly equipped kitchens and poorly stocked supermarkets was tough at first, but I’d like to think that we can now put the “hostel dining” notch on our respective culinary belts.
Most hostels will have a space for you to cook, but it’s all a tossup from there. Salt and pepper? Maybe. Cooking oil? Probably not, unless they have a space for other travellers to leave things behind that they no longer need. You’ll learn to raid those boxes for hidden treasures (SPICES) pretty quickly. The pots and pans will be old, the teflon pans scratched, and you will often find yourself fondly recalling the days when you had access to knives that could slice (rather than bludgeon your way) through tomatoes with ease. But you, like those who came before you, will manage! It’s neither healthy nor time- and cost- effective to eat out for three meals a day (or even once every day), so this is one art you will be glad to have mastered.
A typical day for us food-wise looked like this:
Breakfast: Egg salad sandwiches, eggs scrambled with veggies and quinoa, or granola and fruit.
Lunch: Protein bars or rice crackers with tuna salad and some fruit. Quick and edible while on the go is the name of the game here.
Dinner: Pasta or a meal-sized salad made at the hostel, or dinner out.
Most hostels offer either a free breakfast or a 5 Euro-ish breakfast. In either case, they invariably consist of white bread for toast, nutella and jam, and a selection of sugary cereals. You’ll also get “juice”, milk, tea, and (ugh) instant coffee. The breakfasts you pay for sometimes include deli meats, canned fruit, and really sugary yogurts as well. The very first and the very last hostel we stayed at included hard-boiled eggs in their gratis breakfast, which was amazing, but an oddity for sure. Basically hostel breakfasts are my worst nightmare. There is literally nothing there that I could (or would) eat. I ended up buying myself a little 1-cup espresso pot so I wouldn’t have to spend money just to get a decent coffee in the morning. It was also adorable, so I really couldn’t walk away without it.
Hostel Kitchens: Surprise!
Keeping these things in mind, it becomes obvious that breakfast is a meal you’re going to want to cook for yourself. What some hostels won’t tell you is that their kitchen is closed in the morning because they’re using it as serving space for the offered “breakfast”. You can still access the fridge and the like, but no cooking allowed. This only happened to us a few times, since most places have worked out a way to keep the paid breakfast separate from the cooking area, but it was an unpleasant surprise the first time it happened.
For those mornings when you either a) have an early train to catch or b) can’t use the kitchen, cereal is going to be your best bet. I brought along a double batch of my Pumpkin Pie Granola and it was probably the smartest thing I packed for the whole trip. A bowl of that with some sliced banana and almond milk provides plenty of energy for a busy morning. I would prefer to have some greens in the morning too, but some sacrifices have to be made. If you don’t want to bring your own granola (why?!), it’s not too hard to find some decent gluten free ones at health food stores in the UK or regular grocery stores in Europe. Shar is a big name over there for gluten free products and they’re not bad, all things considered. We were lucky in Austria to stumble across an organic food festival and bought some amazing granola by a company called Verival – if you can find them, scoop some up!
Egg salad sandwiches became my go-to breakfast, because I could load up on protein, carbs, and healthy fats, while still injecting a liberal dose of greens to my morning. It’s best to cook the eggs the night before, since this will save you precious minutes in the morning that you’d rather spend sleeping, and avoid the issue of closed kitchens altogether. We usually just bought a package of 6 eggs and boiled them all the same night, storing them right back in the egg carton to avoid breakage and save space.
Egg Salad Sandwich (serves 1)
~ Gluten free, vegetarian, dairy free ~
- 1 large hard boiled egg
- 1/3 medium avocado
- salt and pepper
- 1/4 tsp mustard, if available
- 2 slices gluten free bread, toasted
- 2 thin slices tomato
- a handful of spinach, chopped (or whatever lettuce is available)
- a handful of sprouts, if available (easily found in UK health stores, more difficult in European markets)
- In a small bowl, mash together the eggs and avocado with a fork. Add in whatever seasoning you have on hand, and then fold in the chopped spinach.
- Spoon the mixture onto your toast and layer the other veggies. If you have extra egg mixture, it’s delicious right out of the bowl, so eat up!
For mornings when you have a little extra time and full kitchen access, this egg scramble is a really nice treat. It’s incredibly filling and will keep you satisfied for hours. Plus: veggies! My friend Maigan made it for us when we stayed with her in Leeds and it quickly became a leisurely breakfast staple. When making it for ourselves we just bought some pre-cooked quinoa from the supermarket (rather than carrying around a bag of dry quinoa and having to cook it at the hostel), but if you’re making this at home I would suggest just whipping up a small batch of quinoa, using some for the eggs and reserving the rest for salads or sides. These eggs also taste great the next day, so don’t worry if you have leftovers.
Scrambled Eggs with Quinoa and Veggies (serves 2-4)
~ Gluten free, vegetarian, dairy free option ~
- 4 eggs, or 3 eggs and 2 whites
- a splash of almond milk, or 2%, soy
- 1/2 cup cooked quinoa
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 small leek, sliced, or 1 onion, diced
- 1 zucchini, diced
- a handful of broccoli or rapini florets, diced
- a small cube of feta or goat’s cheese (optional)
- sea salt and pepper
- In a medium frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat.
- Sauté the leek or onion for about 5 minutes, until translucent.
- Add the zucchini and rapini to the pan and sauté until cooked through, about 10 minutes.
- In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and milk together. Add in the quinoa and pour the whole mixture into the pan.
- Using a spatula, gently push the eggs from the outside of the pan inwards. Keep folding the eggs until they are cooked, but not browning.
- Crumble your feta over top, if using, and season with salt and pepper.
- Serve immediately.
As I mentioned previously, we usually ate lunch while on the go. Gluten free protein bars – of varying degrees of quality and nutritional value – are easy to find in health food stores in the UK, the most common (and expensive) of which is Holland and Barrett. Bounce Balls are great, though unfortunately not vegan – my favourite is the Spirulina and Ginseng Defence Boost. We also stocked up on nut butters whenever possible, to slather on apples or bananas for a perfect mid-afternoon pick-me-up. Word to the wise: you will have a VERY hard time finding natural nut butters in Europe! Nutella, nutella, everywhere, but nothing without a pile of added sugar and oil. If we had known, we definitely would have stocked up in London.
Rice cakes are great to have with you at all times, and are very easy to find, since they’re considered a diet food rather than specifically gluten free. I often made tuna salad with avocado (like the egg salad above) and had that on top of rice cakes with some olives for a remarkably tasty and effortless portable lunch.
Oh, and let’s not forget fennel. Lots and lots of fennel! It’s a portable vegetable that you can eat raw and aids digestion – what more could you ask for in a travel food?
Here’s where we get to the really fun stuff. I don’t typically eat pasta very often, instead opting for a lighter spaghetti squash or zucchini pasta, but walking all day leaves you with one hell of an appetite, and pasta is quick, easy, and versatile. What’s available at the market that day is going to dictate what goes into your pasta, but the below recipe was our go-to dinner, with ingredients we found easily in every country. The best part is that you can add or substitute at will: If you can’t find leeks, use an onion or a few shallots. If you can’t find Japanese eggplants, use half a large one, or a couple of those little round ones. If you hate mushrooms, skip them! You get the idea. We scored some INCREDIBLE Genovese sundried tomato pesto while in Cinque Terre, so that was my preferred pesto to use here, but green pesto works just as well (and it’s what I used for the photo, since we brought home some equally incredible Genovese green pesto).
Perfected Traveler’s Pasta Primavera (serves 2)
~ Gluten free, vegetarian, vegan option ~
- 1-2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 leek, sliced
- 1 medium zucchini, diced
- 2 Japanese eggplants, diced
- a handful of chanterelle or cremini mushrooms, chopped
- 2 tbsp parsley, chopped
- 8-10 pitted olives (of any variety, but black works best), chopped
- 2 sundried tomatoes, sliced
- 3-4 tbsp pesto (use vegan pesto if avoiding cheese)
- 200g gluten free pasta
- Put a large pot of salted water on the stove to boil, and then cook pasta according to the package directions.
- In a frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat.
- Saute the leeks for about 5 minutes, until translucent.
- Raise the heat to medium-high, add the eggplant and zucchini, and cook for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. If your pan is quite full, it will help to cover the pan so that the vegetables not directly touching the bottom still cook.
- Remove the lid, if it’s on, reduce heat back to medium, and add the mushrooms. Lightly season with salt and pepper – the pesto is already seasoned and will do the rest.
- Cook for another 5 minutes. Everything should be cooked through and the zucchini and eggplant should be starting to caramelize a little bit.
- Take the pan off the heat and add in the pesto, starting with 3 tbsp and then adding another if it’s not enough to coat the pasta. Different shapes of pasta will need more or less sauce.
- Add the olives and sundried tomatoes.
- Strain the pasta and add to the frying pan. Mix thoroughly until evenly coated, adding more pesto if necessary. A drizzle of olive oil can also help stretch the sauce out if you’re running out of pesto!
- Divide evenly between two bowls, and sprinkle with the chopped parsley.
Our other go-to dinner was a big salad. I absolutely love meal salads, and it was the easiest way to get in our requisite dose of greens with minimal effort. It’s also cost effective when you’re travelling on a budget and takes almost no time to prepare. As with the pasta, the exact ingredients and proportions of the salad will depend on what is available where you are, but I’ve listed what was typically easy to find. Raw beets are the only thing that were a bit of a struggle; in the UK we often only found pre-cooked ones. Some markets we went to were able to supply all the ingredients for the salad and the pasta for like 6 Euros, so it’s totally worth your time to search them out!
One other thing! You will often stay in hostels that don’t keep large bowls. You may be wondering, “How am I going to make a large salad without a large bowl?”. Use the largest pot you can find, my friend, and feel no shame.
The Cup Salad
I’d like to share a little salad story with you first, since it was met with so much laughter when we complained about it to friends while overseas. The hostel we stayed at in Cinque Terre, which used to be a convent and is accordingly pretty cool structurally, did not have a kitchen. Well, let me rephrase that: they had the barest bones of a kitchen, but it was off-limit to guests, which we were unaware of when we booked it. Breakfast was complimentary, and consisted of packaged toasts (are you as confused as I am?), packaged croissants, and the worst imitation nutella I’ve ever eaten. It tasted like pure sugar and weird processed hazelnut flavouring forged into a grainy paste. Granola and almond milk to the rescue there, but what to do about dinner? Our first day in Cinque Terre we bought lunch and really didn’t want to have to buy dinner as well. In fact, all we really wanted was a salad – no cooking required!
We asked the woman at the front desk for some cooking utensils so we could prepare our meal, and in return, were given two plastic cups, forks, and knives. We went back to the kitchen. Through a locked gate-type door, we could see knives and cutting boards. I reached through the bars, stretching for all I was worth, and managed to take a butter knife off one of the breakfast trays. We searched some more, desperate, and found some plastic plates atop the guest fridge. We then set ourselves to the ridiculous task of trying to chop tomatoes and peppers with a butter knife. But how to toss the salad? We had no bowls to speak of, nor even a pot, which we would have gratefully accepted. Then I remembered we had a large tupperware in our food bag filled with various little odds and ends. Out go the things, in goes the salad, give it a shake, and… success!
Big Salad (serves 2)
~ Gluten free, vegan ~
This salad also works really well with some canned tuna rather than the beans; we usually alternated between the two for variety. If you eat fish, give it a try. For these photos I used some organic salmon that I baked in a honey mustard glaze the day before, along with a honey mustard vinaigrette for the salad.
- 4 big handfuls of baby spinach or other salad greens
- 1 raw beet, peeled and grated, excess juice squeezed out over the sink
- 1/2 red pepper, thinly sliced
- a handful of cherry tomatoes or 1 tomato, diced
- 1/2 small avocado, diced
- 2 shallots or 1/3 small onion, thinly sliced
- a handful of fresh dill, chopped
- 1 can of white beans, drained and rinsed
- Place all ingredients in a large bowl (or pot!).
- Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, or a vinaigrette if you have on.
- Divide evenly between two bowls (or eat straight out of your bowl-pot if there are no clean plates left at the hostel!).