If you are planning to head off on a long-term bike tour, you will most likely be buying and cooking your own food along the way. After all – If you had the budget for a gourmet restaurant every evening, the chances are that you are planning to either credit card tour, with few belongings on a sleek race bike or ditch the bike and go for a luxury car!
Once we sorted out a few initial glitches and had made a few mistakes, we managed mostly to eat like Kings, even on a mediocre budget. Mainly because we were prepared to eat whatever available, within reason and in season.
We cooked for ourselves over our Trangia type stoves but also took advantage of some eating out tricks of the European road, for example treating ourselves to a lunchtime Menu or Plat du Jour in France was much cheaper than eating out in the evening. With the amount of cycling we were doing we could indulge in as much wine, chocolate, cheese and patisserie goodies as we liked.
- TOP UP WHEN YOU CAN
Buy your evening meal food, as soon in the day as the opportunity arises, even though (yes!) you will have to carry extra weight for the day. It’s far, far easier than getting to the end of the day, being knackered and not only having to set up camp, but to go riding further in search of food. This way you’re more likely to buy the type of food you like. Rather than making do with all that is available which may not be so nice or nutritious. Never pass a farmers stall selling fruit fresh from the field, unless you already have more than enough peaches!
- SET OUT WITH THE BASICS
Leave home with a few bags of dried staples; oats, pasta, rice or cous-cous (those types of things). We didn’t do this as we naively assumed there would be more open shops on our route than there were in reality. This was a mistake we would not make again.
We did, however, set off with some small plastic bottles full of seasoning, dried herbs and spices. This was something we did right. Many an otherwise very boring meal was transformed and enjoyed instead of endured because of this small addition to our kit.
- LEAVE SPACE
As tempting as it may be to fill every last nook and cranny of your panniers, just in case you might need it. Don’t forget you will need some space to carry food! If it’s raining you won’t want to just strap it on top, in case it gets ruined. Although we can vouch from experience that boxes of wine don’t spoil in the rain!
Zip-lock bags – almost THE best bit of kit! My advice would be to take plenty – you will use them over and over again. Their uses and benefits are many: Perfect for transporting safely all dried goods. Not bulky or heavy to carry. Saves having to throw away any opened items. Prevents things from leaking into your panniers. Keep things fresh (eg tea-bags or coffee) for an entire tour. Plus more.
We also took a small (single packed lunch size) cool bag. This kept all of our fridge items cool for the entire day, even when temperatures were as high as 40*C. It only cost £1.99 (bargain). No ice packs needed. This enabled us to (for example) buy a pack of 4 yoghurts and 2 would still be usable the next day. And a small bottle of milk stayed fresh for a couple of days. Which obviously saved on buying and wastage costs.
- EMERGENCY RATIONS
We very sensibly took an “expedition type” de-hydrated meal, just in case. I’m pleased to say, we didn’t need it and ate it on the last day – just so we didn’t waste it. It was disgusting! In future I wouldn’t waste space taking one, at least not in Europe anyway.
Obviously, food is an individual thing, but this is what generally worked well for us.
You will need to take a small plastic container/bowl with a lid to do this. Pour the desired amount of porridge oats into your container the evening before you want to eat it. Cover porridge with fruit juice (works with any – we tried them all!) put lid on. In morning, add yoghurt (plus fruit – if you have any). Eat! Simple, nutritious, no cooking required – which is good when you want to just pack up quickly and get on the road. Great in hot climates. Or you could just eat pastries. Or both.
Mainly we didn’t cook, but carrying the tiny cool bag meant we usually had a nice supply of cheese or ham and just had to pick up a loaf of bread. Convenient as usually picking up pastries anyway!
It’s amazing how many different dinners you can make out of the same limited basic ingredients. Ordinarily I would cook onions and garlic, add meat or fish (doesn’t matter which – but each one gives a different flavour). Once meat is cooked add some veg. Then add either tomato – or crème frais – or both, depending on which herbs, spices or meat you’ve used or what has been available. This can be served with rice, cous-cous, pasta, bread or salad. Where possible accompanied by a glass of wine and rounded off with a bit of chocolate, perfect cycle touring fodder. Often in the hot climate, with plenty of salad and good fresh food available, we felt no real need to cook.
It’s probably sensible to have a few snacks handy. We didn’t at first and were pretty hungry as a consequence on a couple of occasions. Top up your water at every opportunity.