Eating a hearty meal in the backcountry is one of the great pleasures of overnight hiking. From satay tofu to grilled wraps, here are my five most memorable experiences.
All of the meals here are relatively lightweight, use ingredients that hold up well in your backpack and are easy to cook. Many can even be done in a single pot. I also favour fuel efficiency (i.e. meals that can be cooked quickly).
1. Back Country Cuisine Thai Chicken Curry, Kosciuszko National Park
Starting off a “best meals” list with a commercial freeze-dried product might seem odd but sometimes the easiest meal can be the best one: add hot water, leave for 10 minutes and you’ve got yourself dinner.
Let me put this particular meal in context too: my dad and I had just arrived at our campsite after a full day’s hike in the Snowy Mountains. We had lugged overloaded packs up a service trail and bashed our way through thigh-high scrub to get there. Did I mention that it was our first overnight hike in 20 years?
So there we were: in the middle of stunning remote wilderness with granite-topped ridges rising either side of us. We had good wine, an amazing sense of satisfaction and the meal didn’t taste half-bad either.
2. Vegetarian Biryani, South East Forests National Park
I’ve perfected this meal over the course of many hikes (recipe below). It’s pretty simple, fry some chopped vegetables and spices, add some water and then stir in pre-cooked rice. Finish with a handful of nuts and you’ve got a cheap, nutritious meal that can easily be cooked in one pot. Thanks to a simmer ring, I can make it on my trusty Caldera Cone meth stove.
Luckily my finest effort to date coincided with my partner Jane’s first overnight hike to Alexanders Hut. As the temperature dropped, and rain and mist approached, we ate a nourishing meal, hopefully marking the start of something new and wonderful in our relationship.
3. Satay Tofu, Heathcote National Park
This is hands down one of the best gourmet backcountry meals you can make. The secret ingredient is the Indonesian satay sauce block available from most Asian supermarkets (I often buy the Enak Eco brand). About ½ a block for 2 people will be more than enough.
Again, it’s dead simple to make and can be cooked in a single pot: cut-up some hardy vegetables like green beans or carrots. Boil them in water (enough for the sauce – check packet instructions) and then add the satay sauce block (cube it first). Once sauce is a nice consistency, throw in the tofu. For a gourmet touch, fry some dried Chinese sausage and garnish with chopped fresh chilli. Serve with rice.
I’ve made this a couple of times on the track now but my favourite will always be my daughter Marilla’s first overnight hike. I made a meal for 3 adults and 3 children, using only a couple of pots. Thanks to chopping up everything at home, it was pretty quick too. Everyone gobbled it up.
4. Lunch, Jagungal Wilderness, Kosciuszko National Park
So it isn’t a hot meal but lunch is actually one of the great pleasures of any hike. Why? First, it’s usually low-key and quick to make. But the best part is that you are not limited by campsite location. Within reason, you can stop at the most scenic point imaginable, or use the break to catch your breath after a hard slog up hill.
My dad and I did both when we hooked into some mountain bread with Grana Padano cheese, fresh tomatoes and home-made dried sausage (courtesy of my Serbian neighbour). We had just walked up from the Tumut River valley, onto the sub-alpine plateau north of Mount Jagungal. As we ate in the shade of a snow gum, a cool breeze rose through the valley. We took our time, savouring the food and the landscape before us.
5. Toasted Breakfast Wrap, Brisbane Water National Park
The best breakfast I’ve ever eaten on the track was a beautiful accident.
On a walk from Girrakool to Patonga, I had unwittingly brought up my nesting pot-set’s frying pan (nestled, as it was, in the bottom of the pot-set’s mesh bag). However, my friend John put it to good use the next morning. He had the good idea of making toasted wraps using the cheddar cheese, rocket and salami we had brought for lunch that day.
Having a crispy toasted wrap, with vintage cheddar melting into the salami fat was pure heaven. Admittedly, it did burn through the gas a bit but it was well worth it.
And what did we do for lunch, I hear you ask? We only had a short day’s walk so made it to Patonga by lunchtime, just in time for a pub meal that was nowhere near as tasty. It goes to show: everything tastes better when you’re bushwalking or camping.
Bonus recipe: Vegetarian Biryani
Dead simple to make, this meal is a one-pot wander that uses fresh vegetables and spices to create a warm, filling meal. This is my version but the variations are endless.
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp ground coriander
½ tsp turmeric or garam masala
½ tsp ground chilli or chilli flakes (optional)
Pinch of salt and black pepper
½ tbsp oil
1 x carrot, diced
¼ cup dried peas
½ cup water
1 pack instant rice (double serve)
1-2 handfuls fruit and nut trail mix (optional)
1 small fresh chilli (optional)
At home: chop up carrots and put in a bag. Mix spices and place in a small bag or container.
In the field: heat oil in a 1.3-1.5 L pot, fry spices until fragrant. Throw in carrots and stir until coated. Add water and bring to boil. Add dried peas and simmer for 1-2 minutes. Add rice and stir through. Remove from heat and place pot into a pot cosy (or wrap it in a jumper or jacket). After 6-8 minutes stir through trail mix and serve. Garnish with chopped fresh chilli if desired.
Note: this can be cooked without the oil by just adding the spices to the boiling water but the dish won’t be quite as fragrant. You can also cook on a low simmer for a few minutes instead of using a pot cosy though a pot cosy is a great way to be fuel efficient. It also keeps your meal hot.