The Foodie's Guide to Surviving Summer
Some seasonal culinary advice for the jet-setters amongst you, courtesy of a comedian making meals in kettles, a student cooking dinner on his engine, and some 21st century bushcraft
Summer holidays are difficult beasts – ostensibly all about relaxing and enjoying new experiences, they often devolve into the kind of sun-drenched logistical nightmare that would make Werner Herzog blush. The blind panic to 'do all of the stuff' puts everyone on the trip on edge, and the people around you seem to be talking in some kind of funny, almost foreign language. Being an urbane sophisticate, you pretend to understand, but end up mumbling in broken English (even though that’s the one language you can speak) and pointing at the air as though you’re trying to work a giant invisible touchscreen. That’s a summer holiday.
All that being said, chances are you’ll go on one of these 'holidays' at some point, so we’re here to help. You see, while diving headfirst into a new cuisine is one of the joys of travelling, there will be times when the fates conspire against you. Maybe the great little patisserie will be closed for the afternoon, or the seafood restaurant might have run out of razor clams, or perhaps you’re trapped in an airport for nine hours and don’t fancy paying six euros for a granola bar that appears to have been sat on or otherwise molested. Fear not traveller, we are here, and we’ve brought back-up.
George Egg: anarchist cook
We’ll start with hotels, where many a holiday has been sullied by a late-night argument over whether the desire for a ham sandwich justifies a double-digit outlay. Comedian George Egg has been there, but rather than biting the room service bullet he has taken a somewhat different tack – he makes his own meals “using the equipment that the hotel unwittingly provides me with – iron, kettle, trouser press and so on.”
Egg, a self-styled ‘anarchist cook’ who will bring his cooking styles to next month's Edinburgh Fringe, explains the thinking behind his guerilla gourmet skills like so: “It’s a habit born of necessity as a touring comedian who’s frequently finding himself in hotels. And being a passionately obsessed self-taught cook with a dyed-in-the-wool urge to bend the rules, some years ago I started experimenting.”
And experiment he did, producing all the meals of the day using the pieces of hotel kit most of us either ignore or try not to trip over. His tricks are ingenious in the extreme, from heating pitta bread with an iron – “set it at its hottest setting (‘linens’ usually)” – to cooking fresh fish in a sink full of hot water. Pancakes, mussels, a full English breakfast; if you can eat it, you can cook it using stuff you’d find in a hotel room, apparently.
Egg’s tip for a recipe to try out in the comfort of someone else’s room is a rather fitting scrambled egg, cooked in a kettle. He explains: “A stout freezer bag of beaten and seasoned eggs lowered carefully into the just-boiled kettle (careful on the heating element at the bottom) will poach with the most delicate and gentle heat producing the creamiest scrambled egg you could imagine. You’ll not go back to the conventional method once you’re back home, I assure you.”
So that’s your hotel breakfast sorted, and now you’re off out exploring your new surroundings. Some of you will be fine – if you’re hanging around in a big city, most of them tend to have food strewn about all over the place. If you can’t find anything to eat in Berlin or Barcelona during the daytime in the height of summer, you are doing life wrong. However, if you’re on some kind of 'road trip', pootling about the place in a car down windy coastal roads unsure of where your next snack is coming from, there is an easy solution to your problem. It’s called engine cooking, it sounds mad, but, shockingly, it actually works.
Alfred Cary's car engine recipes
The concept has been around for decades, and carries connotations of vast American freeways cracking in the sun, drivers who look like they belong in a ZZ Top tribute band, and bacon being fried on the pavement for some reason or another. In Carbecue, the engine cooking book by Edinburgh student Alfred Cary, things are different. More refined. In fact let’s call a spade a spade – they’re a bit posher.
Carbecue’s recipes include oriental seabass, cooked on the manifold of a Ford Ka, or a baked camembert that takes just 30 minutes wrapped in foil under the hood of your everyday family car. The principle is fairly straightforward – take some food, wrap it tightly in tin foil, lay it on top of the really hot bit of the car you’re going to be driving anyway, and you’re literally on your way to a tasty lunch. Can’t really get away with it on the bus, but then that’s one of the benefits of having your own vehicle – baked cheese, any time you want.
Cooking while camping
Of course, some of you won’t be so lucky as to see a hotel room-turned-breakfast bar, or a motorised oven. You’ll face a darker, much more unsettling fate. This summer, you’ll be camping. The thrill of the outdoors! The smell of the wild! Lying on the cold ground like a dog! While we can’t totally turn around your holiday, we can do the next best thing, and give you some food-based craft projects to add some fun to camp life.
You could add some flavour to your meals by smoking some fish or meat in a portable smoker. Just light some oak chips in a biscuit tin, put a grill rack inside and a lid on top, and you’ll add a nice smoky note to whatever you put inside (please don’t set yourself on fire). Alternatively, you could fashion a solar oven out of a reflective windshield shade, some wire racks, a pot and one of those baking bags from The Great British Bake-Off – point the contraption at the sun and you have a rudimentary oven that will genuinely cook stuff. Your friends may think you're a witch, but who cares when you've just built a magical cooking device out of some shiny plastic and the awesome power of the sun.
So no matter where you end up this summer, keep your newfound box of tricks by your side, and you'll be ready to turn an unsuspecting piece of office equipment into a vital part of your cooking arsenal in no time. Alternatively, you could just forego all this and just go out for dinner, but come on – you're on holiday. Live a little. Just try not to break anything...