Cooking on tour

For the last few years, I’ve travelled with the fantastic TakeruKun rice cooker and have learned it’s possible to make healthy, inexpensive, vegan meals on the road.  It takes a bit of planning and diligence, but I can generally get by on about $5 a day and eat food I enjoy wherever we go.  I try and take advantage of local foods when possible, but tend to err on the side of preparing my own food. It’s hard to not waste food without a refrigerator, and shopping along the way tends to produce lots of trash. So I now cook about 70% of the food I eat when on tour.

Here’s what I’ve learned!..

The toolkit — cooking-related items I regularly travel with

  • Lunch bag – Re-purposed canvas bag for day-to-day meals
    • Re-usable utensils – chopsticks, plastic spoon, plastic fork
    • Food container – easy-to-clean Tupperware-style container, large enough for two meals
    • Travel salt and pepper shaker (made by Swiss Spice… love this!)
    • Kitchen scissors
    • Floss and toothbrush – aha moment: put my toiletries in lunch bag, rather than suitcase.
  • TakeruKun – inexpensive, compact, durable rice cooker for one or two people
  • Foodstuffs box – The portable pantry, with rice, curry, oatmeal, etc.  When driving, I transfer 3-6 meals-worth of food to my day-to-day suitcase and leave the foodstuffs box in the car.
  • The meals

    The ideal travel meals work well in the rice cooker and are lightweight and compact (dried goods are better than canned, for example).

    Here are four meals that I have been pleased with. They are rated in terms of simplicity in preparation, flavor, and overall nutrition. I also value recipes that allow me to reduce my trash production, so these recipes are rated on how amenable the ingredients are to low-trash procurement (bulk purchase, for example). Lastly I give each recipe a Novelty Factor, which is my sense of how fun and novel it is to make the food in a rice cooker.  Brownies on tour are a lot more exciting than packaged curry. :)

    Punjab Chole

    Simplicity — 9
    Taste — 9
    Health — 8
    Low trash — 5
    Novelty Factor — 2

    The go-to travel meal, Trader Joe’s Punjab Chole is delicious and nutritious. I’ve tried about 15 different chana masala package curries, and this one is the best.   It travels well and tastes good even when eaten cold or lukewarm.

    In addition to “white” and “brown” rice, there are intermediary types rated by percent of polishing.  I use Nijiya’s organic, “gobuzuki” rice, which is 50% polished.  The lower the percentage, the closer the rice is to unpolished, brown rice.  I’m not sure TakeruKun could handle 30% polished but it does very well with 50%.

    Cranberry and Date Oatmeal

    Simplicity — 8
    Taste — 8
    Health — 7
    Low trash — 10!
    Novelty Factor — 6

    1/2 cup oats
    5 tbsp dry soy milk (e.g. Better Than Milk)
    10 pecans, crushed
    5 dates (remove seeds)
    1/4 cup dried cranberries (or other dried fruit)
    1/2 tsp cinnamon
    1 1/4 cup water

    This is a fun recipe to prepare in advance.  Mix everything except the water for a quick and easy meal. 1/2 ~ 1/3 cup dry mix is one serving. 2:1 ratio of water to dry mix.

    Extra dry soymilk is also useful when travelling, to take advantage of hotel breakfast cereal.

    Rice Cooker Brownies

    Simplicity — 6
    Taste — 8
    Health — 3
    Low trash — 7
    Novelty Factor — 8

    1/4 package brownie / cake mix
    2 very ripe bananas

    On tour, we often receive lots of bananas from the various venues where we perform. I have often found myself hurriedly eating multiple, overly-ripe bananas to save them from the trash. Here’s a way to put the brown ones to more delicious use.

    Mix powder and bananas. I often do this in the sealable baggie in which I brought the mix. Dough will reach thick, toothpaste-like consistency. Squeeze into rice cooker. For an extra-fancy treat, push a chunk or two of dark chocolate into the center of the mix. It will make the brownies gooey, like hot fudge, or you can let the whole thing cool and the chocolate will solidify in the center.

    The rice cooker will often stop cooking early when making brownies (and other non-rice foods). This is because the mix contains very little water. Rice cookers monitor the temperature of the pot and when the water is absorbed or evaporates, the temperature of the pot spikes and the cooker shuts off. I’ve had success with simply continuing to hit the cook button until the brownies look done.

    Hiyayako with sprouts

    Simplicity — 3
    Taste — 8
    Health — 10
    Low trash — 7
    Novelty Factor — 8

    1 1/2 tablespoon alfalfa sprout seeds
    1 block brick-pack tofu (does not need to be refrigerated)
    tube of ginger (sold in asian food stores)
    soy sauce to taste (good opportunity to use those extra soy-sauce packets)

    There’s nothing like fresh veggies on the road! I find the amazing energy embedded in tiny sprout seeds inspiring when I start to tire of travel. Although it’s a bit of work, making sprouts on tour has been a fun undertaking.

    My parents gave me a set of sprout trays, but I assume any sprouting system (jar, bag, etc) would work as well. It takes 4-5 days for sprouts to reach edible size, and with a multi-tray system, you can offset the batches so that you have sprouts every other day. See the grow-by-grow here!

    Once sprouts are ready, simply prep rice the morning-of. To prepare, place block of tofu on rice, spread ginger on tofu, pile sprouts on top, add soy sauce, and enjoy.

    How much food to bring

    I think through each day of tour and take a guess how often we’ll be eating with friends and subtract this from a simple 2-meals-a-day-times-number-of-days calculation. I then assume there will be unexpected meals-out and food gifts received, and decrease the amount by 20%. For a three-week tour, for example, I might bring enough to make 25 meals.

    We usually eat 1/2 cup rice (dry measure) per person, per meal.

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