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Homeless With a Place to Lay Your Head: Cooking in Hostels

I’m changing things up a little bit with this blog because I had a little bit of a reminder the other night about my situation. And this is a situation that so many people have here in Australia and I’m sure around the world, it’s just not common at all in the United States. It’s the weird place of being technically homeless and living out of hostels. It’s cooking and eating your meals in a communal kitchen with typically few amenities. It’s not having a toilet even on the same floor as your room. It’s showering with flip flops on. It’s sharing a room with up to 15 or even more people. It’s getting used to stuffing ear plugs in your ears and hoping it’s not your snoring that’s keeping everyone up at night. It’s a completely different life which has become totally normalized to me and I hadn’t yet realized that until I cooked dinner the other night. Let’s talk about it shall we?

So, this came to me after meeting lovely Amera from Reno, Nevada; a fabulous fellow American who was traveling for just about two weeks. I met her with my travel buddy who has, like me, been traveling for a handful of months now, Becca.

We all decided to do dinner together and wandered off to the store together. There was free rice provided by the hostel so we decided on salmon and veggies and rice, simple aye? We got back to the hostel and Becca and I immediately got to it.

Our hostel had a steamer for our broccoli and we started in on seasoning the salmon and cooking up the rice, all while casually sipping from a mug full of wine, seeing as how the hostel was dangerously short on actual cups.

Amera was amazed by our antics. This was the most complicated hostel dinner she had witnessed or been a part of, and yet, to Becca and I, this was just another day in the life.

Living out of hostels is not something you become a pro at immediately (in fact I’m far from being a pro), and there’s two main forms. First off, there are a lot of people who are long term, paying rent for the dorm rooms while working in town. Some hostels will provide “free” accommodation for work, typically cleaning, and then those utilizing that will have a second “real” job which actually makes them money. Anyway, that’s a little different than actively traveling through the hostels, packing up every few days, getting comfortable and then heading back out, meeting people just to have to say “goodbye”, figuring out where the heck the freaking food labels are in the kitchen. It’s all gravy baby and it becomes normal pretty quickly actually.

If I think back, when I first landed in Sydney, I was doing very simple meals – pre made salad mixes,

granola and yogurt (pro tip, use the yogurt container as a bowl: less dishes),

spaghetti and sauce, toast and peanut butter, fruit, or eating out. Let me tell you, eating out gets expensive very quickly, obviously.

And eating spaghetti for dinner every day gets very…carb-y, and doesn’t make maintaining a healthy weight the easiest thing to do.

So, you adapt. I began slowly easing into making satays, veggie pastas, stuffed mushrooms, pan seared fish, participating in BBQ’s with friends from the hostels.

Soon enough, I had my go-to meals which I have basically perfected and can fix up for myself within half an hour. I didn’t have a second thought about it until Amera seemed so amazed by the ‘gourmet’ meal we were casually whipping up in the hostel kitchen. You adapt to the constancy of people cooking around you, maybe you start to learn to eat at weird times so as to avoid the rushes. Maybe you bake things in the toaster oven since you don’t have a real oven.

Maybe you take advantage of the simple joy of having a freezer for once and buy yourself a tub of ice cream to ward off the heat. Maybe you make portobello mushroom mini pizzas in a sauté pan instead of the baked, stuffed portobellos you were originally planning because you, yet again, forgot to check the hostel for the ever elusive oven.

One thing is for sure though when you’re in a hostel, if there’s something free, typically free food, you participate. And if you can go back for seconds, you absolutely 100% do. A lot of hostels will provide a free brekky, typically just toast and cereal, but sometimes you get lucky and get pancakes, and I’ve even stayed somewhere that provided eggs and bacon and beans. Pretty insane. But you don’t spend money on brekky if your hostel has free food, that’s a quick adaptation. Some hostels will have a free dinner night or a $5 dinner night ,or something else along those lines, you participate. Your hostel has free rice or pasta? Your hostel has free coffee and tea? Provided salt and pepper? Provided cooking oil? There’s one thing you actively start doing while living out of hostels, and that is accepting and participating in free things. Free food, free drink, free alcohol, you don’t even stop to think twice, it’s an automatic response at that point. Even if you just bought cooking oil, you save that shit for the next hostel you stay at that doesn’t provide free cooking oil. Simple as that.

It has simply become the way I feed myself now. You get to a point where you have to start feeding yourself properly. You get to this point where you’re tired of spending so much on food. You get to the point where it’s perfectly normal to be carrying around your bag of food along with your other two backpacks. The point where you’re doing the math on how long your “need to be refrigerated” perishable foods have been out of the cold and sitting instead at your feet on the Greyhound bus. The point where you learn how well you can start whipping up the most random ingredients into an actual meal so you don’t have to go to the store again, or because you’re leaving in two days and you need to get rid of some stuff or else you’re gonna have to carry it. I’ve become a pro at looking casually around the kitchen for the food labels for my bags. I’ve perfected the art of finding room in the fridge for my bag. And I’ve learned to casually carry my pocket knife with me when cooking dinner because hostel knives suck. Nothing beats making a meal with a few friends from the hostel, but either way, hostel cooking is definitely an experience that becomes surprisingly normal, surprisingly quickly.

Though it never hurts to have a handful of instant noodles in your food bag, just for those broke as, lazy days.

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