In this post I want to start a discussion about the food we carry while doing self-supported trekking and camping in India.
Taste is not a primary concern for me, anything tastes good if you are hungry enough. My priorities are that the food should be lightweight, cook fast and most of all healthy and nutritious enough to sustain me for anywhere between a week to 10 days while out on the trail.
Oats is my trekking superfood. It is light weight, cooks fast and is healthy with lots of fibre. I found that eating oats helps with my digestion in high altitudes, so that is a big plus. Frankly It is not the tastiest, but gets the job done.
Oats is also very versatile. It can be used it many different dishes from sweet porridge to soups and noodles. It bulks up the dish and makes it more filling. So Oats is one thing that I cannot do without on my camping trips.
Dry Fruits and Nuts
Raisins, Dried Figs, Dates, Walnuts, Cashews and Almonds. I carry whatever I can find. Apart from tasting good, they are also a very good source of proteins, vitamins and minerals.
They are great for snacking on the trail. So much so that I always skip lunch while trekking alone. I start and end my day with a heavy breakfast and dinner and in the middle just snack on dry fruits and some cheese. Any my delicious breakfast porridge would never taste as good without the generous quantities of dry fruits and nuts I add to it.
Poha (Flattened Rice)
Like Oats, Poha or Flattened Rice is another versatile food I carry with me. Poha cooks easily with very minimal effort. In a pinch it can be eaten raw by soaking it in water or sweetened milk. Growing up, I used to eat Poha in a cup with hot milk and sugar. It is delicious.
Along with Oats, Poha is a main ingredient in my breakfast porridge. Not so much in noodles and soups. It also tastes good when fried in oil with some onions, salt and spices.
Another item that always finds a place in my pack. I prefer the Amul cheese cubes over any other brand. Salty and sweet, they are great to nibble on and can be added to any type of dishes.
Channa and Mung Dal
On slightly warm days (when the water bottle doesn't freeze overnight), I like to carry some Channa or Mung Dal with me. I soak them overnight or during the day (if I'm camping) and like to eat them raw or lightly cooked with some salt, fried onions and spices. The dish is tasty and more importantly breaks the monotony of eating oats and soup all the time.
Glucose, Electral and Spirulina
Instead of sugar, I use glucose to make my porridge. I don't have any specific reason for doing this, except that i find the small glucose packets more convenient than carrying sugar in paper bags.
Electral, while not technically a food item, needs a mention here because it is very important to carry rehydration salts with you while hiking. On long hot days it is easy to lose a lot of salts from your body, not to mention the constant risk of diarrhoea associated with drinking water from open streams far away from their source. So a few packs of rehydration salts is a must while trekking out in the mountains.
Spirulina deserves a mention as well. Because admit it, the food you eat on the trail can never substitute for the fresh food you eat at home. So it is essential to take some vitamin and mineral supplements on the trail and I prefer to take Spirulina tablets for this purpose. You can also find Spirulina powder in some health shops and use in your dishes, but I prefer to take the tablets directly.
Fresh veggies : Onions, carrots and others
They are a luxury well worth carrying. I always small quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables whenever possible. Even in very small amounts they change the complete character and texture of a dish and make it more palatable. Onions and carrots are a must for me, followed by other veggies like cauliflowers and potatoes.
Apples if they are in season, but never any 'wet' fruits like mangoes, bananas or oranges.
Ghee and Butter
I use ghee or butter for my cooking based on their availability. They are both compact and not as messy as other cooking oils.
As a south indian, i always prefer the taste of ghee, but it is difficult to find ghee in small quantities in the markets of Leh and Manali. So I make do with anything.
Tsampa is the real superfood of the Ladakhis and Tibetans. Tsampa, for the uninitiated, is roasted barely ground into a fine powder. As such it doesn't require cooking and can be eaten as it is. The most common way to eat Tsampa is by mixing it with some butter tea and sugar. It can also be used to make a mean salty porridge by cooking Tsampa with atta and dried bits of yak cheese and meat.
I have to admit that I have not cooked a lot with Tsampa, but I am planning to use it more often in my upcoming trips. One dish i really want to experiment is to make chocolate tsampa ladoos by mixing Tsampa with some Hersheys syrup and dry nuts. That should be interesting.
Wild veggies on the trail
I look for edible plants or fruits along the trail and use them in my cooking. I'am not an expert in this matter, so i generally stick to the plants I know. Like the baby (fiddlehead) ferns in the photo above (locally known as 'Lingidi' in Himachal Pradesh) and other herbs like oregano and thyme.
It is always a good idea to check with the local villagers about the edible plants and leaves along the route and double check everything (preferably carry some photos of these plants in your phone) before eating them. With practise, I hope to minimise the risks and increase the rewards of living off the land wherever I go. After all that is the ultimate goal of hiking isn't it? To be one with nature.
Anyway, I hope you find this list interesting and useful. I'am sure that everyone has their own way of traveling and cooking on the trail. So please do leave a comment below with your thoughts and suggestions on this piece. Thanks a lot for reading.