What to Include in an Overlander’s Kitchen
We are planning to start a section with vegetarian, easy to prepare “on the road” recipes. Some of these rely on useful equipment not every overlander thinks to include in their kitchen, or contain ingredients, like sauces, not commonly found in Latin America. These are the little things which can spice up ordinary day-to-day supplies!
Many of you might look for different things in a ‘Packing List‘; items like camping gadgets, rescue equipment, or vehicle spares. All of these are certainly useful, but what keeps us going every day is the food we eat. Supplies in many regions of Latin America can be rather limited and boring, so we want to show you a few ways we have learned to make tasty vegetarian meals out of ordinary fresh supplies combined with a few extras we tend to carry.
Kitchen Equipment we’re glad to have packed in our overland kitchen
You won’t find some of these things in Latin America or, if so, of substandard quality. So better pack them at home and bring them along. We have listed these by frequency of use during our full-time overland trip. So let’s start with the essentials!
Simple Stove-Top Toaster : we like to camp away from settlements, so we often carry bread which is a day (or more) old. With our small toaster on the gas flame we can revive most bread and make it palatable. Ours is the typical Australian version, but you can buy similar toasters in outdoor stores or on Amazon. Most of these toasters rely on a fine steel mesh to spread the heat evenly; this mesh will burn through after some time, so pack some spare mesh (ours last between 6 and 10 months of constant use, if you toast for 4 people this time might halve). Don’t buy one of the type where the slices are stacked around a centre pyramid, as these only work with sliced bread of a particular shape and size. We use ours also for bread rolls, baguettes, etc.
Wok Shaped Frying Pan : we have one from Ikea™ with a flat base, so it is more stable. The flat base can also be useful if you want to fry some egg dishes. We use our wok regularly to prepare stir fries, fried rice, fried potatoes, risotto, pre-fry eggplant, and, and, and. A fitting lid is essential to prepare some dishes. Don’t buy the largest wok as burners on camping stoves are often too close together; a smaller wok will leave more room for another saucepan on a second burner.
Stainless Steel Grater : in general, good cheese is difficult to find in Latin America, and grated cheese can be near impossible to buy outside large cities – and then it’s often imported and expensive. Many of our recipes call for grated cheese as a way to add flavour and protein. A grater can also be used for many vegetables, like carrots. You will have to pack it well so that the blades don’t become blunt (from the vibration of driving on rough roads) by rubbing on things next to them; we have ours wrapped in a bubble wrap envelop, laying on top of a plastic storage box.
Plastic Storage Containers (Tupperware™ style) in various sizes: to store dry food, put left-overs into the fridge, mix ingredients. We even use some to store things like pens, camera cables, spare batteries, and USB thumb-drives. Make sure the lids fit well and don’t come off on rough roads. You can find replacements along the way, though quality might vary. Tip: if they can be stacked into each other when empty they take up less room. We have (among others) these from Ikea™ ; and find them good value for money.
Salad Spinner : nice to have and useful, but not a ‘must have item’. It’s just nice to eat lettuce which is not full of water. We find a salad spinner is not a single use item, as the outer bowl can be used for other purposes too. One thing we use ours for is to soak all fresh produce in a vinegar solution .
Whisk : take one, or better two – they don’t weigh that much, but can get entangled in other cutlery. Beat egg whites, make scrambled eggs or omelets, mix salad dressings or sauces, create a desert – you will need one of these (a large and a small one are a good combination).
Pressure Cooker : yes, they’re bulky and heavy, but they can save a lot of energy and time. A vegetable stew can be cooked in a pressure cooker in minutes. If you include legumes, an important source of protein, it would need to simmer for well over an hour in a normal saucepan. We know of other overlanders who use theirs even more frequently than we do.
Measuring Cups : they don’t take up much space (or weight). Many recipes provide the required quantities by cup sizes.
Stainless Steel Steamer : commonly used in Asian cooking. We tend to use it a couple of times every month, particularly to cook (steam) broccoli or cauliflower. The simple collapsible steamers seem to be the best as they fit into different sized pots (occasionally you can find them in Chinese shops here in Latin America).
Oven: this last item on the list is certainly a ‘nice to have’, but not everybody will have the space for it. There are two possible versions: a built-in gas oven, usually part of your stove, or a stove top oven. Coleman sells a fold-down, stove top oven which many travellers praise (see photo on top of post). Since I first wrote this we had dinner with friends, who baked a quiche in their Coleman oven – it tasted delicious and was very nicely baked. So now I can truly recommend this oven! (PLEASE NOTE: the Coleman Stove-Top oven isn’t available in all countries, you might have to order it in the USA!)
A smaller stove-top version is the Omnia oven , which looks like a round baking dish with fitting lid. If you’re planning on regular camp fires you might also consider a Dutch Oven.
We don’t use our built-in oven as frequently as expected, but that’s partly because we still haven’t mastered the art of bread making. Also, often when we need bread and would like to make some, we’re in a place too hot to want to warm up our camper with an hour of baking bread.
As a general recommendation we believe that you should look for good quality stainless steel items to use in your kitchen. We spent considerable time looking for a suitable set of camping saucepans without the annoying fixed handles (which make storage so inconvenient). The commonly sold aluminium camping cookware carries some serious health risks, which you probably don’t want to expose yourself to for an extended overland trip.
There are some ingredients we also like to carry as regular supplies
These are solely dependent on our personal taste. You might come up with a completely different list. Some are easy to replace in all countries along the way, others can be outrageously expensive in one country and cheap in the next, and a few are near impossible to find anywhere.
Vegetable Stock in cubes or powder: we won’t cook with meat or chicken stock – in many countries that’s all you will find. Occasionally you might be lucky in a large supermarket in a capital city, particularly if it’s close to the residential area of diplomats or foreign company executives. Some that you find consist of nothing but palm oil, salt and MSG. So do yourself a favour: stock up on it before you leave and re-stock whenever you find some along the way (even if it appears to be overpriced). Stock powder tends to lump quickly in tropical humidity, so you might as well buy cubes in the first place.
Asian Sauces: we love to add flavour to various dishes with these! We carry a whole collection: plum sauce, sweet and regular soy sauce, fish sauce, several chilly sauces. Sometimes half a teaspoon (or less) will add the desired change in flavouring. Some of these are easy to replace, and others not, e.g. regular soy sauce can be found almost everywhere, but sweet soy sauce is very difficult to find (although not impossible). Same suggestion as with vegetable stock: stock up before leaving, re-stock every time you find some. Search for Asian speciality stores, which can be found in most large cities.
Asian Noodles: we’re actually surprised how often we find these. We usually carry some rice noodles and egg noodles to make an Asian inspired stir fry. This is a quick dish, where the chopping of vegetables takes almost longer than the cooking; a good way to prepare the standard fare of limited vegetable supplies in a different fashion. This also requires the above mentioned sauces.
Dried Spices and Herbs: most things can be re-stocked along the way, only more exotic things are harder to find; these include tarragon, cumin seeds and powder, ground ginger, etc. We love to use pine nuts in some dishes, like Risotto and salads. They are near impossible to find, and some border inspections might not let you carry them.
Coconut Creme: a must-have ingredient for most curries. In some countries you find imported cans for a near-fortune ($5 or more), but then in Brazil it’s a very common item, often sold cheaply in small cardboard boxes, which are easy to store (we’re now in Europe and still have some packets left from Brazil).
Arborio Rice is a special variety used for Risotto, which we love to create occasionally to vary our diet. We still remember our last trip, when we circled a supermarket in Bogota for several days until we finally bought a kilogram for over US$15 – this time we almost overstocked. It can be found along the way, but prices might deter you from buying it… TIP: if you love Risotto then stock up on Arborio rice in Southern Brazil; locally grown, cheap, and of excellent quality!
Couscous is another base ingredient we like to use. It is made from Semolina wheat and originates from Northern Africa; the best packaged couscous seems to come from Morocco. The supply situation is similar to the above mentioned Arborio rice: you find it, but often expensive (last we checked a price in Chile it was ~$5 for 500g!).
Disclaimer: links on this page are primarily for illustration purpose; these are affiliate links for Amazon (where we get a small commission) – that doesn’t mean we encourage you to buy there! Although our recommended stove top toaster can be difficult to find in outdoor shops, or you’ll find the Primus™ toaster for twice the price, but no better quality…
Some images are Creative Commons from Flickr (I narrowed the search specifically down). Risotto, Rice Noodle Salad, Grating Cheese. A couple of other images are product photos from Amazon.
Which items do you carry? What can’t you do without in your kitchen on any trip?
Please share in a comment below!