How to be a kitchenless gourmond
September 2, 2019 8:39 AM   Subscribe

When I stay in hotels I eat at restaurants almost every meal. How can I flip the script and pack food that I look forward to eating in my hotel room? I don't mind a little food prep but all the dishes would have to be washed in a bathroom sink, and the most cooking possible is boiling water in an electric kettle. I'm particularly interested in meals with lots of healthy meat and vegetables, if that were possible.
posted by rebent to Travel & Transportation (26 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Meet has always stumped me, but textured vegetable protein can be "cooked" with just boiled water, as can couscous. Maybe quinoa as well?
posted by jb at 8:52 AM on September 2, 2019

When traveling, I bring a bunch of frozen burritos. They keep well, even on cross-country flights. I store them in the hotel freezer.

I use this recipe:

I also make my own granola. I buy some milk at the destination and store it in the hotel fridge. Every morning, I have granola and milk from the hotel mug.

Trail mix is another good option.

Salad and stir-fries obviously won't freeze well, but I bring them to eat at the end of a long day of travel, to avoid expensive room service after a late-night arrival.
posted by aquamvidam at 9:08 AM on September 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Compromise by buying things that are basically ready to eat and just require assembly. Things like chopped veg/raiding a salad bar/buying a salad kit and some rotisserie chicken or similar cooked meat. Ideally, you’d have access to a fridge in your room or your office to store any meat you don’t eat immediately.

You can then assemble the veg and protein into either a salad or you boil the kettle and make some kind of broth you can add to your meat and veg and then you have soup.

Where I live you can also get boxes of hard boiled eggs in supermarkets. They are not kept in a refrigerated shelf. Boiled eggs are also a staple of many breakfast buffets. Hard boiled eggs are pretty shelf stable so they would be fine to eat for dinner or the next day or to boil at home and bring - to consume as part of said salads or soup.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:09 AM on September 2, 2019

I expand my capabilities by traveling with an electric skillet. It's a bit heavy if you're flying, but you can put it in a suitcase and pack in/around it without losing much packing space. Cook in the bathroom where the smoke alarms have to be more tolerant because of shower steam. (I know this from awful embarrassing experience.)

There is a limited range of what you can safely do, almost none of it healthy, with only a kettle. You're going to pretty much be stuck making soup - vegetables prepared thinly with a peeler, julienne cutter, spiralizer, or knife, plus meat in small bits, plus seasoning - or soup-cooked but, wet meat and vegetables. You might be able to achieve some steam cooking using a deep microwave steamer with several rounds of boiling water poured into the bottom, but I don't know if you could even achieve softened vegetables (that still had any flavor) that way, much less meat cooked to a safe temperature. Canned vegetables might expand your repertoire, as they are generally already cooked to edible and you could reheat with steam.

Boiling water or steam *could* heat up safe "ready to eat" meats like hot dogs/non-raw sausages, canned meats and fish, deli chicken, lunch meats, and maybe the convenience packages of "grilled" chicken strips you can find in the cold case or freezer section.

If the hotels you generally stay in don't offer in-room microwaves, in my experience (in the US) they will have one or two microwaves for guest use. Usually they're near some vending machines or gift shop/snack shop, and it can feel like they're only for use microwaving the cup noodle and popcorn they sell in the snack shop but you absolutely can go in there with your own food and heat it. This expands your capabilities quite a bit, and there's 40 years of microwave cookbooks out there if you need inspiration. One good microwave steamer like the Sistema I listed above, and then travel with maybe a pair of microwave-safe plates (you can use one as a cover), plus a bowl or soup mug, and there's very little you can't make. If you don't have a fridge you'll still be stuck shopping for every meal (though if you're not in the US you at least have the advantage of counter-safe eggs, a big staple for my hotel cooking).

There are some stunt-cooking blogs and videos out there about cooking with an iron, but you would need to be incredibly careful with that or you're going to end up getting charged for rendering the iron unusable with cheese or chicken or something on it.

You can carry some oil in a travel toiletry container (ditto dish soap - you only need a very little), and seasonings in a pill container (or the screw-top cosmetic containers that often come with the usual bottles in sets of travel containers).
posted by Lyn Never at 9:14 AM on September 2, 2019 [5 favorites]

I'd probably do a nice salad or platter of fruits, vegetables, and (to make it more special/decadent) cheeses and cured meats. Plan a shopping trip when you get there for nice fruit and cheeses, maybe a bottle of sparkling water or a beer you like. You can also bring some fancy nuts and room-temperature-safe cured meat or special dried fruit and crackers from home.

I think the trick to making it an attractive and pleasant experience is probably environment as much as anything. Have some nice music or media you can play, open the curtains wide and get some sunlight, move the little table and chair if it helps.

Are you traveling by car or by plane? If you're able to bring a cooler that makes things easier, but my assumptions above are that you're flying and can't take an extra big item like that.
posted by Lady Li at 9:16 AM on September 2, 2019

Morningstar Farms burgers will keep fine if you leave them in the little plastic packets, and they taste surprisingly good at room temperature, especially with some hot sauce on top. The shelf-stable bags of Indian food are also fine at room temp.
posted by 8603 at 9:41 AM on September 2, 2019

Deviant is a well known fellow in the infosec world with an entire talk on how to cook healthy and tasty food on the road.
posted by Candleman at 10:19 AM on September 2, 2019

Patrick Smith (who writes Ask The Pilot) described making instant ramen noodles in the motel-room coffee maker, in a 2007 Salon column. I thought this was where the author suggested ditching the ultra-high-sodium flavor packet and using your own spices, and adding your own pre-cooked vegetables and meats, but I must've read that suggestion somewhere else.

Also, I never eat prunes normally, but I like to have a supply with me on travel to fight (usually, unsuccessfully) the inevitable constipation I develop.
posted by Rash at 10:55 AM on September 2, 2019

You probably don't want to go this far (please don't run chicken broth through a coffee maker that someone else will have to use later) but here's a video that might give some ideas: Can this chef make a 3-course meal in a coffee maker?
posted by Lexica at 11:37 AM on September 2, 2019

Response by poster: Thanks for the great suggestions so far!

The upcoming trip is a two-night stay on a resort island, rather than traveling for work. Lots of hiking, biking, and sitting in the sun! So, I'm really hoping for luxury / tradition ideas, as befits a sweetheart get away. We will drive and will take a cooler but won't have a deli around.

When you go on vacation, what do you love to eat? What luxurious meals don't need to be cooked, and pack light?
posted by rebent at 12:30 PM on September 2, 2019

That situation is what a whole grain baguette, a couple of hard cheeses, a bunch of grapes, a couple of clementines and a packet of sun-dried tomatoes was made for.
posted by nantucket at 12:36 PM on September 2, 2019 [18 favorites]

Ah, this is where I go for fancy picnic-style foods: our favorite meats (salami, prosicuitto) and cheeses, baguette and/or nice crackers, olives (ideally from the fancy store's olive bar, but you can also get quality jarred ones now), marcona almonds, nice chocolate, a bit of whatever fruit is in season. Maybe also a pate or a fruit preserve. That plus wine or pre-mixed flask of cocktail of choice is a lovely indulgent and romantic hotel room meal.

To make it even easier, be sure to bring a small picnic knife, a small cutting board, and an opener for whatever sort of bottles you're bringing.
posted by rhiannonstone at 12:47 PM on September 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

How about freeze dried meals? Most/all of them just require boiling water and I've had some that are quite tasty.

Instant rice and instant mashed potatoes also just need boiling water.
posted by duoshao at 1:02 PM on September 2, 2019

Baguette plus cheese plus fruit, yes, with maybe a super nice chocolate bar, fancy fig compote. When we travel with grapes, we pack in hard sided tupperware to keep them from getting squished. Apples also pack well in our experience, though we've never tried to travel internationally with fresh fruit.

Would also search for "romantic picnic foods" for other ideas and recipes. (On preview - exactly.) Pita with hummus, olive tapenade, baba ghanoush. Crudites and dip, cute little sandwiches. Sesame noodle salad. Couscous with cucumbers, tomatoes, feta, pine nuts. Etc.
posted by cdefgfeadgagfe at 1:03 PM on September 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

If you can get out to a grocery, I used to get a fillet of bot smoked salmon, a container of snow peas and cherries or peaches. Crackers would probably make sense to go with this, and I'd sometimes get a salad kit, but just having a bunch of "fancy" foods I liked to eat on their own was big for me.
posted by lorimt at 1:04 PM on September 2, 2019

Greek salad in Greece was feta cheese, greek olives, sliced onion, cucumber, tomato, olive oil, bread. Maybe a sprinkling of herbs and/or splash of vinegar. This can all be packed without refrigeration for a couple days.
Maybe add some salami and great mustard, which I recommend with any of the above suggestions for cured meats. Good condiments go the etra step.
Salade Nicoise can be made with the help of the (very well cleaned) coffee maker to boil eggs and green beans.
Smoked salmon, bagels, cream cheese, capers, tomato.
Things that keep (pack in double ziplock bags) saucisson, pate, picked beets and/or other veg, cooked bacon, kippers, crackers, sourdough bread, most cheeses. Many fresh veg last a few days out of a fridge.

I think I'd make a point of finding a good food store when I travel, and trying new things. I usually bring oatmeal & brown sugar and decent coffee for breakfast,
posted by theora55 at 1:20 PM on September 2, 2019

N'thing the suggestion for cured meats and picnic-style things. You don't even need to pack anything other than a knife, necessarily - hit up a supermarket for a good cured hard sausage, a couple of crusty rolls, a couple pieces of fruit and some good cheese. It's kind of like a ploughman's lunch and can be adapted to whereever you're staying.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:35 PM on September 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

Our go to hotel meal is cous cous, a tin of peas/carrot/corn mix, and a tin of flavoured tuna. Add boiling water to the cous cous in a bowl, wait about 30 seconds for most of the water to be absorbed, dump in the other two tins, and cover with a plate for 5 minutes.
posted by trialex at 3:13 PM on September 2, 2019

I should clarify, I mean you should make (or buy from local fancy deli section at home) all those delicious things (spreads, dips, sandwiches, salads, etc.) in advance and pack them with you to your travel location. Also, although not meals, on a recent trip we made up a batch of brownies in advance, which held up quite well for several days (wrapped in wax paper in a large ziploc bag, taking turns tearing off chunks).

More not-meals, but you could bring fancy tea and hot cocoa mix for warm drinks at night with the kettle. Maybe also bring some nips from the liquor store to spike up the cocoa.
posted by cdefgfeadgagfe at 4:14 PM on September 2, 2019

Kenji Lopez-Alt put out an interesting recipe for DIY instant noodle soups, like ramen but better. Those would work with just a boiling water source, but probably only last a day or two.

In addition to looking into the ploughman's lunch and charcuterie tray, you can prepare a great mezze platter with foods that are often better after a day or two and/or survive well with limited refrigeration. I highly recommend finding a really good pita, that makes everything with mezze that much better. Figure out your local shwarma place's supplier.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 4:18 PM on September 2, 2019 [4 favorites]

If you can actually get a rolling boil going in a kettle, and get thinly-sliced steak, could you not make a kind of poor-man's pho, using fresh herbs and that sort of rice noodle that just needs a quick soak? The hard part would be the broth, I think.. it would need to come from concentrate, since you're not able to simmer.
posted by Rat Spatula at 4:50 PM on September 2, 2019

I used to bring an all-in-one cooker that could sauté, boil water for pasta/rice and slow cook. Nowadays I’d probably bring an instant pot to accomplish the same set of tasks.
posted by carmicha at 6:42 PM on September 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

homewood, residence inn and staybridge have full kitchens in their rooms
posted by brujita at 8:53 PM on September 2, 2019

for what it's worth, the challenge of: "how do I make hot, delicious meals when I don't have reliable (or any) access to refrigeration and can only boil water?" is pretty much the basis for lots of ultralight backpacking recipes.

For my camping trips, I have definitely relied a lot on the suggestions in this thread (the postmodern ploughmans, the Alt-ramen, the couscous + tuna/salmon packets + sauce + antipasti veg) and can nth all of them.

But if you're doing a lot of multi-day traveling and may need even more variety/choice, and are open to investing more time in the process, then I'd encourage you to look into getting a food dehydrator and researching dehydrated food recipes for camping. Linda Yaffe's Backpack Gourmet has been a standby of ours for years, and Google Books has a preview if you're interested.

It's a little more work and advance prep, especially since each recipe is about an hour of cook time and 5-6 hours of dehydration time; but it's the sort of process where you can make a big batch of 10 meals on a Sunday and then put it into a bunch of ziploc bags that can be stored in your pantry until your next trip.
posted by bl1nk at 5:56 AM on September 3, 2019

Last night I went to the grocery store across the street from the hotel and got tabouli salad into which we mixed a can of chick peas (need a can opener). Also samosas with sauce and some pre cut cauliflower raw. The containers serve as plates. They provide plastic cutlery
posted by canoehead at 6:42 PM on September 3, 2019

Not a hot meal, but delicious and easy to prepare: your favorite hearty crackers, artichoke tapenade, prosciutto or other cured meat (or shelf-stable smoked salmon), extra sharp cheddar cheese (will be fine at air conditioned room temperature for quite some time), cashews or your favorite mixed nuts, something nice to drink (dry soda, craft soft drinks, or a small bottle of wine).
posted by reeddavid at 9:13 PM on September 3, 2019

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