Ask what’s cooking in your hostel kitchen and there’s one dish guaranteed to be on the menu. Staple of the lazy backpacker, the crème de la crème of uninspired cooking: sludgy pasta with gloopy, tinned tomato sauce.

Believe me, there is another way. Hostel fare is hardly going to be the stuff of gastronomic dreams, but cooking a decent meal really isn’t difficult or time consuming. More importantly, it gives you energy for your daytime adventures (and night time drinking exploits), and helps you avoid piling on the dreaded travelling pounds.  

The following recipes are unlikely to earn you a Michelin star, but they will help you prove your salt in the kitchen and might even make your mum proud.

1. SO MANY EGGS: The omelette

Hostel omelette

A dish that can work for any possible meal, the mighty omelette is your new best friend. As adaptable as it is delicious, just don’t get overexcited and stir; it will cook. Patience.  

Ingredients

2-3 eggs per person, whisked and seasoned with salt and pepper

1 handful of mushrooms or tomatoes or bacon (or all of them), chopped smallish

1 handful of cheese

2 small lumps of butter

Salt and pepper to season

Fry the mushrooms/tomatoes/bacon in the butter before you begin and remove from the pan. Heat the other lump of butter, and then put the eggs in the pan and leave to cook. Take the time to relax/ have a chat/broker world peace. When the middle is finally starting to firm up, add your veg and cheese and gently ease the omelette away from one side of the pan, folding it in half. Leave to cook for a few minutes until golden brown underneath, then serve with bread and maybe a salad if green things float your boat.

2. How to judge new travel friends: macaroni cheese

Hostel mac 'n' cheese

While it’ll never be as good as at home (only Europe seems to ‘get’ cheese), macaroni cheese should be a staple of your cooking repertoire. And it’s a great dish for sizing up your new travel mates: believe me, you should never trust someone who doesn’t like cheese.

Ingredients

3-4 of handfuls of pasta per person (shells, penne, fusilli, whatever)

Enough milk to just cover the pasta

As much grated cheddar cheese as humanly possible

Salt and pepper to season

Cook the pasta in the milk until done, but don’t let it boil. Make a few cheese puns in the interim, then add the cheese and seasoning. If you’ve got a grill to brown it, go for it. If not, no crunchy top for you. Throw it on a plate with a salad or some boiled veggies and this cheesy feast is yours.

3. The “piss the Italians off” risotto

Hostel risotto

Ok, having lived with an Italian, I know how much it annoys them off when people cook their dishes but refuse to play by the rules. This recipe does exactly that: it sticks two fingers up to Italian cookery, making it both edgy and delicious.

Ingredients

3-4 handfuls of rice per person (screw arborio and just use whatever rice you can find)

Half an onion, diced

1 garlic clove, mashed

1 chicken breast or a few slices of bacon, chopped into bite sized chunks

Vegetables such as half a courgette (chopped), 5-6 florets of broccoli, or 2 handfuls of peas

1 stock cube (vegetable or chicken)

Salt and pepper to season

1 handful of cheese for sprinkling

Whack the onion and garlic into a pan to soften. Chuck in the chicken/bacon until the meat starts to golden and add the vegetables (unless they’re peas; add these a few minutes before the end). Chuck in the rice to cook for 1-2 minutes while keeping it moving so it doesn’t burn. Add enough boiling water to cover the mixture and a crumbled stock cube. Stir regularly to keep it from sticking and keep adding water until the rice is cooked and the mixture is slightly gloopy - around 20-30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with some cheese, and serve. Wave at any Italians in your hostel while making loud grunts of satisfaction.

4. The humble, but delectable queen of the quick eats: the stir fry

Hostel stir fry

While I wouldn’t go as far as suggesting that stir fries qualify as haute cuisine (sorry, not sorry, ex-boyfriend), they are a flawless fusion of veg and meat. Important warning: if including chili, be careful what you touch with your hands if using the toilet afterwards.

Ingredients

Half an onion, diced

1 garlic clove, mashed

1 chicken breast, a handful of prawns, beef, or pork, chopped into bite sized chunks

Half a red pepper, sliced thinly

Half a courgette, chopped into smallish chunks

2-3 of tablespoons of soy sauce

Optional: A quarter of a chilli pepper, chopped as small as possible; 1 handful of bamboo shoots.

Throw the onion and garlic to cook in a pan for a couple of minutes until starting to brown. If you like it hot (ooh, matron), add your chili now. Then chuck in the meat and fry until almost cooked. Add your veg and cook for a few more minutes before throwing in the soy sauce. Eat with boiled noodles or rice and a garnish of satisfied smugness.

5. 100% NOT dog meat homemade burgers

Hostel burgers

Burgers are the number one backpacker’s food. But instead of being tempted by the dodgy street stalls selling their 100% prime dog meat hamburgers, try this recipe. Alongside being the easiest recipe on this list, it’s much friendlier to canines.

Ingredients

120g of minced beef

Half an egg, whisked

Half an onion, diced

A small handful of chopped parsley, if available

Salt and pepper to season

Mix the ingredients together and form individual patties. Chill them in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up. Heat a little oil in a pan and fry on each side for 6-8 minutes until cooked through. Serve in a burger bun with condiments of your choosing and a bit of lettuce and tomato. Wash down with a beer and bask in your own awesomeness. You deserve it.

Useful Suggestions

All of these recipes feed one person, so multiply up if you’ve got friends. Carrying a bag of salt, pepper, and a small bottle of oil in your backpack at all times might feel a bit mum-ish, but it’s a genius plan when it comes to making your food taste goood. 


Steph Dyson writes about adventure travel and meaningful volunteering on her website, Worldly Adventurer. She left her job as an English teacher in the UK to travel the world in 2014. So far, she's made it to Bolivia and Peru. Follow her on Twitter @worldlyadventur