(text: Adriaan Wessels)
AfrikaBurn is far from your home fridge. Unless of course you have one of those small ones that plug into your car, or bring a generator, but that’s a different article entirely. What I present here for your delectation is a list of tips I have assembled over the years for providing tasty food beyond the fridge. If you have any suggestions of your own please add them in the comments section below.
- Store food in the shade and off the ground. Make sure your cooler boxes are in shade as well. Buy or borrow a decent cooler box. They really do make a difference, especially if you avoid opening them frequently.
- Use multiple cooler boxes. One for drinks, as it will get opened and closed a lot. Two (or more) for food, one for the first half of the event, one for the second half. Open these as little as possible and only when needed. This avoids letting heat in. For the same reason try to only open your food coolers at night. Put a list of contents on the coolers so that you don’t have to open them and search for what you’re looking for.
- Put your ice in zip lock bags. This stops your food getting damp when the ice melts. Better yet, freeze water in the bags at home (remember to leave space for the ice expanding).
- Alternatively, put your food in zip lock bags or Tupperware so that it doesn’t get soggy. I have discovered the hard way that prepackaged salads and veggies are not that well sealed, so take care when putting these in a cooler.
- Prepare food at home and freeze it in plastic containers or zip lock bags. This saves space, because the food becomes an ice block, removing the need for ice. Take it out of the cooler box a few hours before you plan to eat it so that it thaws and saves you using fuel to defrost it.
- Bring shelf-stable food. This doesn’t need to be fancy dehydrated hiking food. Use crackers (e.g. Provita) instead of bread, canned or dried food, oats, instant mashed potatoes, bulgur wheat, couscous, lentils, beans, rice and pasta (this uses a lot of water!) There are plenty of shelf stable sauces that will go well with that pasta, rice or other carbs. You have a vehicle, so you don’t have to pack light.
- Peanut butter and marmite are also shelf stable. Pickles and relishes are traditional preserved foods that last well without refrigeration, as are jams, jellies and marmalades. Make sure to use clean utensils when serving these foods, and keep them in the shade. Butter also survives without refrigeration, but won’t do well in the Tankwa heat, so bring olive oil or ghee instead.
- Grow your own fresh food. Bean sprouts are a simple way to get fresh food, and very easy to grow. Soak whole lentils for eight hours, rinse, then store in a jar with air holes poked in the lid. Rinse twice daily for the next three days, and you will have fresh bean sprouts. Start the process a couple of days before you go and you will have sprouts from day one. You can sprout more than just lentils – search on Google for ideas.
- Bring long-lived vegetables. Cabbage, carrots, beetroots, squash, potatoes, garlic and onions are all good ideas. If the veggies go limp, you can resuscitate them by soaking them in water. All of them are tasty if you wrap them in foil and roast them in a fire (yes, even cabbage, as I learned from some bikers), or in a potjie or stew.
- The right fruit lasts well. Oranges, apples and pears are classic examples. Grated apple and beetroot is a tasty salad, as is grated carrot in orange juice. Obviously dried fruit is also a good choice. Fruit salad is a fine thing, especially after a late night out. Fruit, both fresh and dried, can be cooked in a light sugar syrup to make a fruit compote that is great with porridge or as desert. If you prefer not to cook you can use canned fruit in syrup for the same effect.
- You can make tasty salads from the veggies above when the lettuce runs out: combine shredded cabbage and carrots for coleslaw, or grate the carrots and beetroot (add some sprouts). Add onion to taste (red onions are milder). Add salt, pepper and dress with oil and vinegar.
- Herbs and spices are essential. They’re also not perishable if you bring dried herbs.
- Take trail mix and granola or breakfast bars for those days when you don’t want to stop for lunch.
- Breakfast cereal and UHT milk are a no-brainer for breakfast. Oats, either traditional or instant, are a great option for a hot breakfast. Add sliced fruit, raisins, nuts, honey or a fruit compote (as suggested above) to make your oats more tasty.
- Cheese is a food preservation technique! Hard cheeses such as parmesan do not need to be refrigerated if used within a few days. Feta cheese stored in oil will last a lot longer, as will any cheese covered in wax.
- Eggs last well outside a refrigerator. You can easily test eggs to see if they’re still fresh by putting them in water. If they sink and stay down they’re fine, but if they float avoid them.
- For the meat eaters amongst us (I’m a vegetarian), consider salami, biltong, droëwors and other preserved meats. Canned tuna and other fish (curried fish anyone?) are also good. Canned meat is best avoided in my (limited) experience. Bacon is a favourite, but should be kept cold. You can cook with all of these instead of fresh meat. If you do bring fresh meat plan to use it in the first few days.
Don’t forget about cooking your food! Make sure to bring a decent supply of fuel, be it gas, liquid or solid. A wind screen for your stove is a good idea. To save on cooking fuel, use a solar cooker or a hot box (see http://www.mothercityliving.co.za/10-really-good-reasons-to-get-a-hay-box-or-make-your-own/). This is especially useful for beans.
If you’re going large and running a kitchen for your whole camp, have a look at http://www.burningman.com/preparation/event_survival/kitchens.html. The article is really detailed, and gives great advice and some recipes as well.
Another excellent article about cooking at Burning Man comes from the Google Chefs. They have a video at http://laughingsquid.com/google-presents-cooking-for-burning-man-101/ and notes at https://docs.google.com/document/pub?id=1fbN93Gw0R0swFVdZ8IHkDYPpWczlGt2cnyEkj0p-dXk.
Have fun, stay safe and eat well!
Photo Credits: Jonx Pillemer