I have long been told that I do not pack light when I travel. I tend to chuck in a little of everything, including a part of my kitchen – no sink, but definitely a mini cooker and some key items.
No, I am neither a super picky eater nor someone who has a constant need to stuff her gob. Alas, when one has numerous food allergies, the world becomes a culinary minefield when you have to travel. Being allergic to peanuts, soy, beef and prawns, among other things, means I can’t just grab something from a nearby café or rely on room service.
It’s much easier and safer for me to pick up groceries from a nearby store and rustle up something in the room. I generally have a hectic schedule when I travel, so it makes sense to prepare snacks or meals to take along to work.
Also, I love cooking and it’s nice to be able to make something using ingredients that are not easily found or generally expensive in Malaysia but affordable and easily available in the country that I am in.
It all started with a working trip to Australia a few years ago. The general practice in my industry is that meals are provided but this trip was the exception. I ended up making a simple ham salad with poached egg for dinner and hardboiled eggs to snack on for the other meals.
My cooking “starter kit” today comprises a small bottle of chilli oil, sachets of instant soup, Cheerios cereal, oats, dried fruit and Milo. I then drop by a supermarket or convenience store for additional items. How much I get depends on the duration of the trip – the longest I’ve had to plan for has been two weeks.
There are times that the neighbourhood convenience store closest to the hotel may not have what I need so a trip to a supermarket or hypermarket further away is then necessary.
I love grabbing groceries from Walmart in the United States because they have a wide selection of items at good prices (plus they are open 24 hours). I usually get berries and spinach in addition to my usual staples of salad, canned/smoked salmon, eggs, dairy products and fruits. This year, I added kale, canned baby clams and crab meat to the list.
In Taiwan, the Carrefour in Taipei’s Banqiao District is open 24 hours as well and offers an interesting selection of local ingredients. When I was last there I was able to make a soup for dinner using such interesting ingredients as pig’s blood curd, chrysanthemum leaves and fresh oysters.
The trick to cooking in a hotel room is to keep things simple and practical. As long as you have cups/bowls, a kettle and hot water, you can work something out. I usually pack a collapsible bowl, a camping saucepan, cutlery, a microwaveable soup mug and a multi-tool kit which has knives, scissors and can/bottle openers.
If you have a kettle and a mug or jug, you can make soft-boiled or hard boiled eggs with a soft centre. Pop the egg into the mug and cover with just-boiled water. Cover the mug with a lid and let stand for 10 to 15 minutes for soft-boiled eggs. How long depends on the size of the egg and the mug. I suggest buying the smallest size eggs. To hardboil the egg, repeat the process three times. One thing I would never do is to boil the egg in the kettle itself. Like seriously, no.
Couscous is the perfect carb for travel cooking – it’s easy to cook and goes with anything. All you need is a cup of couscous, poured into a bowl. Cover it with boiling water (one part couscous, two parts water) and stir in flavouring like salt, butter, tomato puree, instant soup or a can of something tasty like tuna in oil. Cover it with a lid and let it sit for around 10 minutes. Your dish is pretty much ready when the couscous has absorbed all the liquid and is easily fluffed up. Top with cubes of tomato, capsicum, etc, and olives, if you like.
If you have the cooking and baking chops and think you can handle something a little more complex, there is so much more that can be done with a mini rice cooker. I’ve made shortbread biscuits, soda bread, butter flatbread, spinach florentine and quiche in my cooker. Note that measurements here are based on the cup that came with the mini rice cooker, where 1 cup equals 160ml.
Makes 2 portions
4 eggs, beaten
1 to 1½ cups chopped or shredded cheddar or mozzarella cheese
2-4 tbsp milk (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
choice of vegetables, chopped or sliced – spinach, mushrooms, olives or a combination of any two
choice of protein – ham or salmon
Set some cheese aside for garnishing. Combine the eggs, cheese, milk, salt and pepper in the rice cooker pot. Add vegetables and protein, and gently stir to blend. Cook in the rice cooker until the eggs have set, between 20 and 30 minutes – timing depends on cooker, wattage and voltage. Let it cool slightly and sprinkle with remaining cheese before serving.
Note: If you are unable to get hold of milk, substitute by adding some water and a little more cheese to the egg mix before adding the protein and vegetables
FLUFFY BUTTER BREAD
Makes 6 portions
2 cups (320g) self-raising flour (if using plain flour, add 1-2 tsp baking powder)
100g butter, chilled
1/2 cup (80ml) milk
pinch of salt
1-3 tsp sugar, or to taste
Preheat mini rice cooker by switching it on to Warm. Mix flour, baking powder, sugar and salt together in a bowl. Cut and then rub butter into flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs.
Make a well in the centre of the butter and flour mixture. Pour in the milk and stir until just combined.
Knead slightly until the dough is smooth – this is a light dough and does not require much kneading. Add extra flour if the dough is too sticky.
Cut dough into 6 pieces, roll into balls and then flatten into 0.3cm to 0.5cm thick rounds. The size of the flattened dough should not be bigger than the inner diameter of the rice cooker pot.
Place one piece of bread into the rice cooker, cover and switch setting to High and cook for 5 to 10 minutes. After five minutes, if bread is looking golden yellow, check for doneness – the bottom of the bread no longer sticks to the pot and the top does not stick when you touch it.
Put it on a plate to cool and continue baking the remaining pieces.
May be served warm or cooled, and eaten on its own or with jam.
Note: This is a light, fluffy bread so avoid prodding or pressing too hard when testing for doneness as it will not bounce back. The texture on the inside is somewhere between that of cake and bread.