What are some good non-refrigerated food ideas for Burning Man?
August 19, 2010 6:34 AM   Subscribe

What are some good non-refrigerated food ideas for Burning Man?

So I'm going to Burning Man for the first time. I think I have everything in the survival guide figured out except for food. I'm guessing ice coolers don't last very long in the desert heat, and I will be there for 9+ days (going early to help set up)... so refrigerated foods are out.

What are some ideas for foods that don't require refrigeration and hold up well in the desert heat? (i.e. don't melt). I am looking for stuff that is healthy and natural that I can make ahead of time or easily prepare with minimum fuss. Other than trail mix, what are my options? I'm drawing blanks because I usually eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables in my normal daily life --- stuff that I obviously can't take to Burning Man (except maybe bananas and apples).

FYI, I will likely have access to a camp stove of some sort, so food that I have to heat is ok but I'd rather not have to. I am also not a vegetarian, but I don't want to live off of Spam, either... I normally eat meat only about twice a week :)

I've seen this previous question and this page on the burning man site. Just looking for additional suggestions and/or votes for particular items that you enjoy.

posted by buckaroo_benzai to Food & Drink (27 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Might want to check out coconut water (like vita-coco). It is nutritious, very hydrating, natural, tastes good and doesnt have to be re-fridgerated (until you want to drink). I know its not a "food" but it might be good to have along.
posted by Busmick at 6:41 AM on August 19, 2010

You can make an okay "Thai" green curry with a curry paste sachet, powdered coconut milk, tinned fish or chicken, freeze dried peas or corn, a little fish sauce, and a dried lime leaf leaf or two. Serve over rice and garnish with a squeeze of lime juice.

Also, a lot of convenience products from your average supermarket adapt just fine to fridge free camping. Flavored pasta packets, instant whipped/mashed potato, precooked rice, etc. If they need milk, use powdered milk, and if they need butter or margarine, use olive oil.
posted by Ahab at 6:50 AM on August 19, 2010

There is ice available at Burning Man at the 3:00 and 9:00 portals. Bring your ice chest (and some cash) and restock it daily. Bonus, you get to wash off with your icy melt water, which feels great. Ideally you'll get your ice chest elevated off the playa (a couple 2x4 scraps will do it) and if you really want to go crazy, make a cozy of insulating material to slide over it.

Oranges are great on the playa--they hold up well, and the peels aren't noxious as trash.

I had campmates that brought some kind of commercially packaged boil-in-bag food (don't recall the brand—not this, but something like this) and they ate well. I brought out some pasta salad that I had made at home—it didn't stay good quite through the whole trip (including 3-day car ride out), but I wasn't as heads-up about restocking ice as I should have been. I also had some kind of Thai noodles that was basically like Top Ramen for yuppies. Also, sandwich fixings. Again, meat didn't stay good through the end, but I was partly to blame for that.

Whatever food you bring, take into account the difficulty of cleanup and the amount of water that will be required for cleanup. Those boil-in bags are nice because you can eat straight from the bag and then throw it away, and only clean your fork. Also, bring a spray bottle of water for cleanup.
posted by adamrice at 7:00 AM on August 19, 2010

Instant oatmeal (recently tried this Better Oats brand, I think it is less gummy and chewy than Quaker instant). If you think apples will keep, chop one up and stir it in, or stir some dried fruits & nuts or granola.

Peanut butter (and maybe jelly? maybe you can get individual packets.) on crackers or flatbread, if you think bread won't withstand the heat very well. We take the sandwich thins or bagel thins canoeing and they keep ok outside the cooler (although my max trip length is 3 days).

Seconding the boil-in-a-bag backpacking meals, very handy and minimal cleanup. My only complaints are that they are kind of expensive and usually a little on the salty side. Had a decent Mountain House brand beef stroganoff whilst canoeing this summer, and last summer we had the Backpacker's Pantry pad thai, which is probably my favorite so far.
posted by sararah at 7:12 AM on August 19, 2010

Trader Joe's has a few great Indian Curries in a foil pouch at are shelf stable and rather good. I serve them with minute rice when I'm camping. We also have some other brands available in our local grocery chain and at Super Target of all places.
posted by advicepig at 7:18 AM on August 19, 2010

Another one I like on shorter hiking trips is couscous (the almost instant varieties) served with a stew made from garlic, onion, carrot, dried celery leaf or parsley, tomato paste and water, semi-dried chorizo, and a potato. As would pumpkin/squash, but I've never wanted to carry a whole one.
posted by Ahab at 7:22 AM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

know this: you will crave salt. you will also not want to make a big fuss out of cooking. therefore, i do recommend noodle soups. also tortilla chips / pretzels / etc. pasta & sauce in a can. beef jerky. don't bother with red wine or chocolate--both turn ick in the heat. i love those little clif or odwalla bars. you will probably lose yr appetite in the first few days & those are nice to eat if you just need to choke something down.
posted by apostrophe at 7:27 AM on August 19, 2010

and i know you said you like to eat fresh vegetables, etc., in normal life, but your tastes will change. i am super salad face out here in the real world, but i wouldn't want that at bm.
posted by apostrophe at 7:30 AM on August 19, 2010

Some of the folks I know who go to Burning Man bring MREs. That may not be what they eat the whole time, but I have heard they are awfully handy towards the end, when your freshies have been eaten or gone bad.
posted by rtha at 7:55 AM on August 19, 2010

I'd suggest Clif Bars. Just avoid any of the bars with chocolate or peanut butter and focus on the fruit based ones?
posted by BZArcher at 8:13 AM on August 19, 2010

Nacho doritos and canned tuna! Also keep some canned soup in the dash of your car and it will still be hot for an evening dinner. For some reason I've never eaten it on the playa, but people also crave pickles, or anything pickled for that matter, I will bring a ton this year.

And don't bring peanut butter. You think you'll want it, but you won't.
posted by mewmewmew at 8:31 AM on August 19, 2010

Response by poster: Great suggestions... keep 'em coming! I apparently have a lot of food shopping to do this weekend :)
posted by buckaroo_benzai at 8:32 AM on August 19, 2010

Ditto re low appetite; you can bring less food than you think. I ate about 20% of what I brought last year.

Cereals, chips, dried fruit, nuts, Gatorade and lots of water worked fine for me. No need to fuss with a stove or ice. Center Camp sells coffee if you gotta have your morning cuppa.

Big regret bringing cheese; I should've known better.

A little good beer/ale can be quite nice in the evening.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:33 AM on August 19, 2010

One more thing...

"Gifted" food items I remember receiving from random people without even trying ...

--Grill cheese sandwich



--Breakfast sandwich

posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:37 AM on August 19, 2010

With a good cooler and regular ice restocking (every day or two) you can keep refrigerated stuff plenty cold at Burning Man. In 2008 I was there for 8 days and brought a bunch of chili and black beans I had cooked beforehand and frozen. I didn't it a lot of it on playa and it was still good when I got back!
posted by pombe at 9:55 AM on August 19, 2010

If you can swing it, having two coolers is an excellent idea. You keep cooler #1 with (preferably block) ice and items that you will need only occasionally / at meal time (proteins, veggies) and you keep cooler #2 iced up with beverages and snacks. The idea is that #1 keeps a deep chill and is seldom opened while #2 is your go to cooler for ice, drinks, and snacks. This works very well.

Things that I like out there:
* Tuna in a pouch (less mess, easy, requires no can opener)
* Sardines
* Instant mashed potatoes (just add water, tasty carb bomb)
* String cheese (yes requires a cooler)
* Canned things I would never eat at home, like Chef Boyardee Ravioli

If you have an adequate camp/shade/shelter then I wouldn't be too worried about being able to light a camp stove--this has never been a problem that I've seen except in the middle of a whiteout.
posted by donovan at 11:45 AM on August 19, 2010

Have you seen this website on freezer bag cooking? It has nifty recipes for trail cooking with little or no water. Some of them are really good, and some of them are meh, but I guess it all depends on your taste. Also, if you want to put the effort into it, you can make a Zeer pot for keeping thing cool (sans ice). I understand they work great in the desert. But since you're only gonna be there for nine days you might not want to go through all that trouble.
posted by patheral at 11:59 AM on August 19, 2010

A great resource to look would be backpacking sites, since it sounds like your needs are similar. Here are things I take backpacking (sorry if I repeat):

-Tuna in a pouch (goes great on crackers. I like mixing in mustard packets and hot sauce)
-Instant mash potatoes (these things are delicious! not very healthy though)
-Evaporated milk and cereal (hope you don't mind watery milk!)
-Canned stuff if your stove works
-LOTS of water, I mean a ton. Think of how much you were gonna take and double it
-Top ramen and cup noodle

As far as keeping the stove lit and happy: A great technique is if you can find a flexible and thin piece of metal about 2-3 feet long by 1-2 feet tall. You simply roll it into a cylinder, tie it to the radius that works, and put the stove in it. This will protect it from the wind and keep the heat in.
posted by mungaman at 12:11 PM on August 19, 2010

My favorite backpacking food is mini-bagels with peanut butter (honey is optional).

Also, the Mountain House freeze dried meals are really good, if not exactly what you're looking for. A windproof stove might be a good idea, though.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:49 PM on August 19, 2010

posted by Bruce H. at 1:08 PM on August 19, 2010

I would advise against Cliff Bars, I brought a box my first year and couldn't stomach them. They require a lot of water to digest and taste like a sweater.

You're going to be tired, the wind is kicking up, your SO is flirting with some built dude in dreads and all your campmates hate you; and you're in no mood to dig your portable stove out of the bin. You're going to want no-cook food with a high 'reward' value because after a day in the desert, a simple pleasure goes a long way. The best food is something with a high-water content with either a high-fat, salt or sugar amount. And variety, eating the same food item everyday for a week will bring you to tears.

The Trader Joe's ready-to-eat Indian food, its also sold in other stores under its brand name Tasty Bites. They're perfect. Pair it with a 'microwave rice' pouch, you can boil them both together.

Super-spicy ramen bowls. Everything taste like dirt, you need oral stimuli.

Spaghettios or some other Chef-boy-ardee cans. Sugary, salty, psuedo-meaty.

Canned fruit in heavy syrup. You're going to thank me for this, you will be the envy of you camp.

This one is the kicker. Powered gatorade or some salty/sugary drink powder. Drinking warm water everyday sucks the most. Gatorade makes that all better. Avoid protein powder, as it will make the water taste like chalk.

Now just before you check out, take half of what is in your cart and put it back. You've bought too much stuff. No one in their right mind is going to want to eat a 3lbs bag of chex mix and beef jerky. I know, I know...so you can share with your campmates, they have their own 3lbs bag of bar snacks and jerky. Put it back. You'll be sick of jerky before the car ride is over.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 1:37 PM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, salami. Lots of salami.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 1:39 PM on August 19, 2010

better than powdered milk: horizon shelf-stable milk cartons!

also, I second the coconut water, but recommend Amy & Brian's way over Vita Coco & One and the others. it's available at whole foods and similar stores.
posted by changeling at 2:15 PM on August 19, 2010

MREs. They have a built in heater that doesn't give a damn if it's windy and they seal up nice in the trash to reduce stink. Honestly, you could bring no food at all and mooch at a different camp each meal. Everyone brings too much food. Water and liquor are different matters but food is easy to come by.
posted by chairface at 4:27 PM on August 19, 2010

You also just don't get hungry in the same way - it's too hot, and your belly is just full of water all the time (or should be!). As mentioned above, you'll crave salt, so nuts & pretzels are useful. Otherwise, some dried fruit & jerky and things like that will mostly get you through. I found one "real meal" a day was plenty, and for that I had the Tasty Bites Indian food mentioned above, and other things like that.
posted by judith at 8:56 PM on August 19, 2010

Not ideas for food, but something to keep in mind when picking it: trash/MOOP. Wherever possible try to limit the amount of trash you create that has to be hauled out at the end of the week. Stuff that comes in paper bags or cardboard boxes can be burned, as can most fresh fruit/vegetable remains (cores & peels). There'll be big fireboxes called burn piles you can toss burnable items into, scattered on the inside edge of the Esplanade.
posted by scalefree at 9:10 AM on August 20, 2010

Nthing the comments about the amount of food you'll want/need. I've had good experiences with a typical cooler and typical camp stove at BRC - eggs for breakfast, bacon for all the time, grilled cheese sandwiches for a lifesaver. Those foods, though, were used up within 4-5 days. Imagine having to eat in a car with the windows rolled up in the direct sun -- though that is only the daytime. My first year, I packed a lot of canned food and soup, which was fine, but when it began to cool off at sundown and my neighbors fired up their grills, my stomach forced me to come begging.

So, as others have pointed out above, you can get some great food through gifting. You can plan for this (either offer something as a trade, or give something in return for someone's culinary generosity) and incorporate it into your food plan.
posted by anotherbrick at 11:24 PM on August 22, 2010

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