Here's what you should know about cooking while on holiday
We share first-hand tips, near-effortless meal ideas and a list of items you shouldn’t leave home without
There comes a point when a self-catering holiday just makes more sense for some, especially – but not always – with the arrival of children. Suddenly, the appeal of leisurely perusing the hotel breakfast buffet, random restaurant-hopping, and deciding to dine in and order room service on a whim is overshadowed by the practical benefits of making your own meals, particularly over an extended summer holiday break. This gives extra space and freedom for the kids to roam, flexibility in terms of meal times, and enables picky eaters to be catered for (and served cereal for dinner, if it all goes wrong).
That said, cooking on holiday, particularly in an unfamiliar, often quite basic kitchen, can end up feeling like a real chore. Read on for first-hand tips, near-effortless meal ideas and a list of items you shouldn’t leave home without.
Start as you mean to go on
First, find out how well- equipped the rental kitchen is. Yes, you might assume that cutlery, crockery, pans, peelers and the like come as standard, but it’s well worth double-checking. Next, do an online food order and have it delivered to your holiday home soon after you arrive. That way, rather than shopping, you can spend your first day in relaxation mode / reading a book / seeking out the nearest beach / chasing the children around the pool with a bottle of SPF50 sunscreen.
Remember, if your final destination is relatively close by (that is, if you’re not flying), make a one-pan or one-pot meal that you can have for dinner on the first night and freeze it in advance. Pop that vegetable chilli, curry, tagine or lasagne into a cooler bag when you set off and it can defrost en route. Serve with rice, pasta or noodles and you’re set for the evening.
Put these bits and pieces in your suitcase, and we guarantee that you’ll be grateful to your pre-holiday self when you unpack.
Ice-cube trays: because a holiday drink without ice is no drink at all.
Your favourite cook’s knife: holiday rentals tend to fall down in the sharp-knife department, and there’s nothing more frustrating than trying to dice an onion with a blunt instrument. If possible, pack your own.
Tupperware: a small stash is ideal not just for storing leftovers, but also for transporting picnic food for days out (and housing snacks for the drive to your destination).
A grater: a slim, lightweight version is a great multitasker. Beyond the obvious, use it in place of a blender to make quick breadcrumbs, zest lemons and limes, mince garlic and ginger, and for shredding vegetables (think raw cabbage for slaw, carrots for stir-fries, cucumber for tzatziki, cauliflower for on-trend cauli rice).
A tin opener: because trying to open a tin without one is guaranteed to kill your holiday mojo in seconds.
Ingredients to pack
These hardworking products will benefit your holiday eating, thanks to their versatility or ability to take a meal from being good to properly memorable. Pop them in your case and be done with it.
Sea salt: it might seem excessive to suggest you’ll require two types of salt if you’re away for more than a week. However, while table or fine salt is just the thing for cooking in general (and is likely to already be in situ in your rental kitchen), you can’t beat a sprinkling of sea salt for finishing a dish and helping it to reach its full potential by way of textural crunch and a little explosion of flavour.
Good-quality extra virgin olive oil: with a bottle of the premium stuff on hand, you can elevate any number of meals and snacks. Use it to dress salads, toss with raw or roasted vegetables, drizzle over meat and fish before cooking, mix with balsamic vinegar and serve as a dip for crusty bread, or to make simple, herb-heavy chimichurri-inspired sauces. If you’re at a loss as to what to cook one night, spaghetti tossed with garlic, parsley, Parmesan and plenty of grassy extra virgin olive oil will quickly solve the problem.
Your favourite hot drink: if you don’t pack a stash of tea or coffee, we guarantee that on that first morning – before you’ve had a chance to do a big food shop or as you wait for the online delivery to arrive – you’ll wish you had. To save space, transfer some into reusable ziplock bags that will lie flat in your case.
The magic condiment: this is one for the parents. If your child or children insist on a side of ketchup / mayonnaise / sweet chilli sauce with every meal, this is unlikely to change when you’re away. Holiday meals are not the time for added stress or complaints from picky eaters and, in truth, they’ll be far more likely to try something new – sample the local fish, for example – if there’s a familiar accompaniment presented alongside it.
A selection of spices: we’re not suggesting you fill your bags with a jumble of half-empty jars, but if you decant a choice selection of your most used spices into small, sealable containers, the scope for creating truly flavoursome meals increases significantly. The humble compartmentalised pillbox organiser just so happens to be ideal for this.
Minimal fuss, minimal equipment ideas
- Think like a local. Early on in the trip, wander the streets of the nearest town and get a feel for the place food-wise: find out if there are any markets and keep your eyes peeled for a bakery, butchers and fishmongers. If you’re staying on the coast, head to the harbour and seek out the catch of the day. More prosaically, locate the nearest supermarket because chances are, you’ll need to visit it (more than once).
- Remember that dinner doesn’t necessarily mean cooking. The novelty of the at-home picnic takes some time to wear off when there’s good fresh bread, cured meats, wedges of cheeses and antipasti in abundance.
- If you’ve got eggs, you won’t go hungry. Make two-ingredient (whisked egg and mashed banana) pancakes for breakfast or scramble them slowly for brunch, stirring in crumbled feta and tomatoes right at the end. A jammy seven-minute egg served with hot buttered toast tastes all the better with a sea view, and is also great for bulking out soups, broths, salads and noodle-based dishes. Hard-boiled eggs travel well in their shells and are therefore excellent beach fodder. If you fancy flexing your culinary muscles, make home-made mayonnaise using egg yolks, and the sea salt and olive oil mentioned above.
- Take shortcuts. Holidays are for relaxing the rules, so give yourself a break and embrace a convenience product or two. For example, you can make Mexican-style tortilla soup with home-made chicken stock, baked tortilla strips and a chicken that you’ve roasted yourself, or you could utilise pre-made broth, a cooked rotisserie chicken that just requires shredding and tortilla chips from a bag.
- Fire up the barbecue (disposable or otherwise) and embrace three-step, no-recipe dinners. Here are four to try: chilli-marinated chicken, a cucumber salad and crusty French baguettes (for mopping up the marinade); olive oil and lemon-juice-drizzled salmon fillets with barbecued broccoli and noodles; grilled aubgerines and red peppers, rocket or spinach leaves and a yoghurt dressing; and garlicky king prawns with a mango and avocado rice salad.
- Mix things up. The responsibility of preparing every meal shouldn’t fall to a single person, so make sure everyone takes a turn. Similarly, if you can have dinner delivered one night, do so: no one is going to argue with the treat that is sitting in the garden / out on the balcony / on the living room floor eating takeaway pizza straight from the box. And lastly, go out for a meal; just because there’s a kitchen at your disposal doesn’t mean you have to use it every day.
Updated: July 3, 2019 07:30 PM