Camping is all about lists and thinking about a whole bunch of “just in case” scenarios. We are on a long-haul trip that includes housesitting as well as fancy-pants camping (close to a township and a variety of shops) and also bush camping. We have no clear schedule – we do what we want pending on the opportunities that present to us. We also make menus for each day on that day. For any professional chef the act of trying to get an ingredients list right for this situation seemed a lot of effort for not much in return. But it has to be done.

So I worked out a master list of non-perishable ingredients (or close enough) that can be either complimented with fresh veggies and meat bought from the local farmer markets of the place we am camping. In a worst-case scenario (i.e: isolation by bush fire or flood) it will keep us fed for about 10 days if rationed properly, and not mess up with an already tight budget.

There are so many things in our home kitchens that we take for granted… A few months ago we were in Chile and decided to go on a camping trip to Cochiguaz, a little town in the Elqui Valley, in middle of the Andes. On our way up we stocked up in the closest city. We had been organising this trip for a week or so and we had a major list of stuff we needed to get, our main concern though was the equipment, so we left the supermarket planning for the last minute and bought everything in one go on our way up there. Lucky for us the supermarket had the meat on special, and we were able to get our hands into a 2kg full piece of fillet for very little money. We bought everything we need (or so we thought) and kept driving for another 2hrs.

Lunch preperations in the Elqui Valley

The spot we chose to camp was unbelievable, 2500m above sea level, right next to the Cochiguaz river that feeds off melted ice from the glaciers, surrounded by 4,000m tall mountains and under the clearest skies on earth. We were one hour’s drive on a dirt road to the nearest shop and 2 hours away from a supermarket, alone and free. We quickly set up the tents, fire pit and kitchen areas and we started the fire to cook that fillet of meat! After 8 hours driving we were ready to have a proper meal.

Two hours later the meat was about to be ready, Benjamin, my best mate and fellow chef asks for the salt, the last touch to finish the delicacy…. But after checking the car, the tents, the luggage and the supermarket bags we couldn’t find it, we were all sure we bought it but no one was sure it made it into the bags, long story short, there was no salt and no place to go get it. We even went for a search around the area to see if we could find another human or a neighbour but we saw nothing, and the meat was ready to eat. Soon it would start drying out. Lucky for us while we were looking for the salt Monique noticed a Huaso (a Chilean cowboy) riding his horse across the river, not too far away from us.

Monique, being the only non-chilean in the group was super curious about the Huaso (thank god) and kept a keen eye on him, while we dismiss his presence to keep looking for the salt with no luck. We did not know what to do (eating fillet without salt was not an option), until Monique told us the Huaso was actually going home, and his house was not far, just there, behind those trees in the other side of the river. We gave my mate Benjamin a thousand pesos (about 2 and a half dollars) and send him on a mission to make friends. A five minute screaming conversation unfolded across the river: “Excuse me, we forgot to bring salt and our food is ready to be eaten, any chance to get some help?” the huaso was laughing so hard at us. Four poor city kid campers on the other side of the river begging to buy a bit of salt from him so we could eat our meat. Fortunately the guy was a total champ and sold us a full kilo of salt. Though he did made my mate cross the freezing cold river (the sun was already out) to pick it up. Oh man we laugh so hard once we had eaten… It was a really stressful situation we have not eaten all day, we had spent a lot of money in that piece of meat, our expectations were so high and we were this close to ruining it!

The moral of the story is that there is a few items that you can’t go without, and you should not forget, but when we are going camping we have lots and lots of things to think about and we are prone to forget stuff, especially the more essential stuff, those elements that are always there and are susceptible to be taken for granted and forgotten.

What to pack into your camp kitchen

Eco friendly dish detergent, a sponge, a few reusable cloths, and bleach tablets. You need to do dishes, and sometimes you need to disinfect stuff or clean surfaces. And you will need all of this from day one. Even if you just plan to make coffee.

Oil, Salt and a small but well thought set of spices.

DSC_0085Colombus discovered America when he was looking for an alternative route to get cheaper spices from India. It is fair to say that spices make the world go round, or they make it round, or… well I’m not sure but they will definitely make your food taste a lot better. This one was the hardest for me, I had such a hard time selecting the ones we were actually going to use a lot, from the one which were delicious in very particular occasions. I had to give a whole bunch of them a miss. I brought sweet paprika, oregano, cayenne pepper, cumin and half kilo of merken (a Chilean smoked & sweet dry chilli), I discarded all the dry spices I was going to be able to buy fresh (like basil, coriander, onion, garlic and parsley), and the ones I’d use in baking and making sweet treats (bye bye nutmeg, vanilla, cloves and cinnamon). And I concentrate in the ones that are clearly my favorites and always find a good excuse to chuck them in ( even when the recipe never mentioned them).

I also brought with me a massel chicken stock in powder since there was no way I was going to be making and keeping stock while camping but I refuse to just add water and loose the flavors just because its hard to adjust the heat when cooking in a fire. Select whatever you want then make sure you have them in shakers or containers that can be shut closed and wont brake while you are driving or cooking in uneven surfaces and dropping everything to the floor at least once. I shouldn’t have to tell you that you need Oil. I prefer coconut since has high smoking point – perfect for super duper high heats of the fire pit and it solidifies unless is very hot, this make it easy to travel with as in it spills a lot less than the thinner oils. Salt… I already explained that.

Our camping kitchen is always stocked with:

1kg of brown rice ($3)
1kg of Pasta ($1)
2 x tin tomatoes ($2)
4 x tin corn (little cans) ($3)
2 x tin beans, (red kidney) ($2)
1x tin of chickpeas. ($1)
1kg of sugar ($1.50 Mind due, I put 3 sugars in my coffee, most humans will need a lot less than this)
Coffee ($5)
Tea: be good and bring a couple of bags of herbal tea, they are not only a relaxing beverage, tea is a powerful medicine (mint for indigestion, chamomille for infections, etc) ($5)
A couple of spreads for bread: like vegemite, peanut butter, jam, nutella, honey, etc. (depending on what you get between $2 – $5)
Bread: any bread that can last for a long time, if you will be in isolation and wont be able to buy bread every 4 days or so, consider getting tortillas or mountain bread as it lasts a lot longer when you can seal the package. ($3)
Butter or margerine (perfect alternative to oil in case you run out) ($2)
Nut bars (between $2 and $5 per box of 6)
Dry crackers ($2)
Dry soups ($1 each)
Water ($5 for a 10lt gallon) (the first time, for the gallon, then get your water in public facilities for free)

Perishables which last a long time outside of the fridge:

(these can all live happily under the seat of your car or in the boot – if you keep them out of the direct sunlight – for over a week and they are great to turn the contents of a tin into something you will be happy to eat for dinner)

– 1kg of Potatoes
– 1 kg of onions
– 1 kg of carrots
– garlic
– lemons

cooking camping foodAlways be prepared:

We always make sure that before we head off into a National park or remote camping for a week or more, we have this full list in the back of the car. On top of these base ingredients we just buy whatever fresh fruit and veg, plus meat we find at the markets/butcher or on special at the supermarket to make ourselves healthy and yummy (plus cheap) meals!

Cooking equipment:

See the full article on our camping kitchen for details of what we use to cook on, with and eat off of!

elqui valley chile


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