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Cooking in Hostel Kitchens Tips | A Guide for Self Catering when Traveling

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When we stay in a hostel, one of the amenities we always look for is if there is a kitchen that we can use. Cooking for yourself while traveling is one of the biggest ways you can save money. It is also healthier and more sanitary. When I cook for myself I know that I’ve washed the vegetables and used purified water to make the juice.

That’s not to say that self catering isn’t without its challenges. Oftentimes, hostel kitchens are  ill equipped — with scratched-to-hell Teflon pans, sponges that look like they’re ten years old, and may or may not have a working refrigerator. That is even before you get to the challenges of sharing that kitchen with twenty other backpackers who all want to make dinner at the same time (and then on top of that having your baby playing with all the utensils at your feet while you cook).

Cooking in hostels tips

Here are some tips I’ve gathered (the hard way) from many hostel cooked meals:

1. Eat at weird times. The kitchen is busiest at normal meal times, and not everyone staying in a hostel understands that this means you should cook a quick meal and let other people cook, or to ask before taking that knife that was just momentarily sitting on the cutting board. It is far more relaxing to cook when there aren’t a bunch of other people trying to reach around you to get to their respective burner on the stove.

Preparing our meals at off times is not too difficult for my family because we have a baby and aren’t out partying all night. We can often wake up and cook breakfast before the party people even begin to stir, lunch we can eat out or do something quick and simple like sandwiches, and for dinner we can make our food when most of the hostel is getting ready to go out to party again.

2. If you’re picky, carry your own cooking supplies. I think we are still somewhat unique among other travelers in that we carry our own small stainless steel pots with us. Yes, pots — we carry two of them and sometimes even a frying pan too. Cooking with scratched up Teflon and aluminum just became too gross for us to continue doing. It’s also nice to have your own cooking rig because you know it is always clean and know that it will always be available when you want to use it (and not full of some chump backpacker’s three day old mac and cheese that he left for archiving in the back of the community fridge). Sometimes we even carry an entire basic kitchen set complete with two shallow bowls, two spoons, a vegetable peeler, and pocket knife.

Not only does having your own cooking rig come in handy for practical reasons, but it just plain makes me feel better to serve my kid food on a plate that I know where it’s been.

3. Wash everything before you use it. Do you really trust that dreadlocked hippie to have scrubbed the cutting board with soap?

4. Label and hide your food in the communal refrigerator. We put all our food in one plastic bag and stash it in a specific location when using communal refrigerators. A plastic grocery bag looks a lot less appealing then a pizza box to potential food snatchers rummaging through the fridge.

5. Recipe swap. Okay, so if I want to make a quick, cheap meal, I go to the old standbys: rice and eggs, rice and beans, spaghetti with meat sauce. If I only have one pot but I have a little more cooking time and energy I go for chicken soup, chili, or burritos. You see a lot of other travelers doing these same foods, basic, decent and get old pretty fast. But, once in awhile, someone cooks a shrimp stir fry and everyone else looks on impressed. Get inspired by local ingredients and other hostel cooks and you’ll have a much more interesting diet.

Cooking in hostels conclusion

Kitchen

That being said, I would like to hear from other travelers out there.
Do you have a one-pot recipe or quick recipe that you make while on the road? Do you have tips for cooking in a hostel kitchen? An amusing anecdote about a meal you made?

Please share below.

See also

How to make a tuna can travel stove

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Filed under: Food, Travel Tips

About the Author:

After traveling on her own for three or four years, Chaya met up with Wade Shepard, the editor of VagabondJourney.com. They were married in 2009, and continue to travel the world together with their young daughter. From time to time Chaya blogs about family travel and life on the road. has written 102 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

Chaya Shepard is currently in: Xiamen, China