The Hostel Kitchen or: Why cooking while travelling is an ill-advised endeavour

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Sampling the many distinctive and prestigious cuisines of the world is among the bigger reasons that motivate people to travel. The consumption of the local fare and drink is often considered to be an essential component of fully experiencing the culture of a place.

Especially for the more superficial individuals, seeking out the most exclusive and visually appealing foods is a highly sought-after objective, since an Instagram full of well-plated exotic dishes serves as a great façade to cover-up a dull life.

That being said, a culinary driven jaunt around the globe is never going to be the most budget friendly activity. As such, it’s perfectly reasonable that not every traveller is so flushed with cash that they can afford to dine at a different Michelin starred restaurant for each meal while on holiday. I would even say that I have a certain level of admiration for those daring enough to venture off into the world with no real plan for financing the whole ordeal.

These frugal travellers, usually backpackers on extended trips, often attempt to stretch their meagre budgets by forgoing dining out and opt instead to prepare all meals themselves. Therefore, you’ll undoubtably frequently encounter these individuals in the kitchens of many hostels around the world.

However, it doesn’t take someone diagnosed with OCD to sense that the typical hostel kitchen is a filthy cesspit. Dishware is questionably greasy; the cutlery is covered in hardened old food residue; and that highly scratched non-stick Teflon frying pan is definitely going to leech chemicals into your food.

I suppose hostel kitchens being in such conditions should not come as a surprise to anyone since a good proportion of backpackers already struggle to regularly bathe themselves, let alone adequately clean dishes.

In addition to an utter lack of hygiene, these kitchens are inevitably going to be limited in usability with cluttered spaces and decrepit appliances. Even the more talented travelling cooks will certainly find themselves restricted in what they can concoct in terms of a palatable meal.

Hostel kitchens can also not realistically be expected to be anything but poorly stocked, with any semblance of fresh food being mouldy and rancid. This means that any would-be cook must procure all of the necessary ingredients from scratch and is hence required to make a trip to a grocery store.

Locating and navigating a supermarket in a new country could be considered a fun light-hearted experience the first around, although this novelty soon dissipates as any subsequent shopping excursions only results in frustration and inconvenience. Furthermore, since most travellers tend to stay in the centre of urban areas, the nearest supermarket is not going to be anything more than a Carrefour Express.

With the sub-par ingredients eventually procured, the resulting ‘meals’ are usually little more than an uninspiring slop of overcooked pasta noodles with a gloop of tomato sauce scraped fresh from a can. Alternatively, the entrée may also be an uninspiring bowl of sugary children’s cereal served at any time other than breakfast.

Once the mealtime is over there is bound to be a good proportion of leftovers or unused ingredients. However, since backpackers tend to prefer travelling light, bringing this food along with them is not usually practical and so it is often thrown away or left behind to rot for the next would-be hostel chef to discover.

A quick Google search for ‘backpacking recipes’ yields countless flashy blog posts depicting appetizing foods tailored for the modern nomad. However, upon closer inspection, putting together the suggested dishes would likely be neither time nor cost-effective as compared to simply eating out somewhere reasonable.

When the time needed for the shopping detour and actual food preparation is taken into consideration, it will probably total at least a couple hours. So logically if a traveller were to do this for most meals while away, it would add up to literal days of their holiday being squandered. And in the end, doesn’t this ultimately contradict one of the underlying fundamental reasons that drives people to travel – to get away from the monotony of their regular routine?

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