Over the past week, I received a couple of emails regarding backcountry culinary options. It reminded me of an article I wrote in June, 2013…………….
Food tastes better outdoors.
Maybe it’s a combination of fresh air, beautiful surroundings and all that exercise you’re doing.
Over the years, many of my hiking journeys have been marked by memorable meals which resulted from unexpected invitations.
Luck? Chance? Perhaps.
But I have a feeling that an open mind, a forgiving digestive system and itineraries that are rarely set in stone have also played their parts. Without further adieu, here are my five most memorable hiking meals:
As we weighed our transportation options, an aroma reminiscent of barbecued chicken came wafting our way from one of the nearby huts.
Climbing 19,000 ft volcanos does wonders for a hiker’s appetite. That being the case, after a millisecond of contemplation, I knocked on the hut’s door, channeled my inner-Oliver Twist and humbly asked whether my friend and I could procure some food. The lady of the house gave me a huge smile, complimented me on my Spanish and invited us both in.
She mentioned off-handedly that cuy was on the menu. Rolf cracked a knowing smile and nodded his acquiescence; I also nodded despite having no idea what “cuy” was. Rolf refused to satiate my curiosity, telling me to be patient and it was better left as a surprise.
Turns out that “chicken” smell was actually guinea pig, a traditional staple of Peruvian cuisine.
Served up spread-eagled (google for photos) and much to my chagrin accompanied by a large glass of Inca Kola (my all-time least favourite beverage), I could have sworn I saw our benefactress break out in a mischievous grin as she ambled back to the kitchen.
Hakarl | Stafafell | Iceland, 2000
Hakarl. Fermented or rotten shark. An Icelandic delicacy. One of the most disgusting foods I have ever tasted.
Whilst on a day hike in Stafafell on the SE coast of Iceland, I ran into a local farmer and somehow struck up a conversation about Bob Dylan and Miles Davis.
After chatting for some time, he invited me back to his nearby residence, where family and friends had gathered and Hakarl was part of the menu.
How was it?
Smells like ammonia and tastes like a spongy, chewy, gritty urinal cake that has seen one too many big Saturday nights.
Thankfully when washed down with liberal quantities of Brennivin, the aftertaste soon disappears and becomes nothing more than a disturbing memory. That being said, to this day I can’t pee at a public urinal without having flashbacks. Thank you, Iceland.
There is a timeless quality to the Shimshal Pamir; which can be attributed in equal parts to its natural beauty as well as the fact that no one seems to wear a watch.
Situated in the Karakoram Range of the Pakistani Himalaya, the inhabitants of this region are a herding people who’s place of residence is seasonal dependent. Fortunately for myself and my hiking partner, Dani from Switzerland, we happened along only a week or so before the livestock were due to be shepherded down to lower altitudes.
Upon reaching our destination at the end of day two, we gratefully accepted an invitation to join one of the herding families for supper. Chalpindok was on the menu, a traditional Shimshali dish which consists of a type of chapati bread, combined with a thick cheesy sauce and liquid butter. Sounds basic, but the food was delicious.
Equally memorable was the kindness of our hosts. Despite the language barrier, we all got along famously, communicating by the tried and true methods of facial expressions, voice inflection and sign language.
As we said our farewells, the lady of the hut gave us both a large chunk of cheese along with one of the most memorable smiles I had ever seen. The beaming countenance was striking for its genuine warmth, infectiousness and for the unmistakable fact that our host sported no more than three teeth…………..a timely reminder that I was long overdue for a dental checkup upon my return home.
Caked from head to toe in desert grime, I wandered into the tiny Bedouin village of Tagout.
Within a few minutes I had found accommodation along with a steel wire dish brush and a bucket full of semi-clean H2O. With rustic cleaning instrument in hand, I proceeded to remove my hard earned sandy coating along with multiple layers of dead skin.
Feeling reborn, I was invited to dine with my hosts who promptly brought out the largest Tajine I had ever seen. Tajine is a North African stew or vegetable dish which is named after the clay hot pot in which it is cooked.
The incredible food and hospitality were topped off by a post-feast waddle out into the surrounding desert.
As I stood outside my lodgings and gazed at the horizon, I was treated to a kaleidoscope of darkish shades as a huge storm rapidly approached the village. Within 15 minutes it was pouring down. I’ve always loved desert rain; it’s like a reminder from Mother Nature that anything is possible as long as you believe and have patience.
Witchetty grubs are wood-eating white larvae that are found in central Australia.
They can be eaten either raw or cooked and are a traditional staple of the Aboriginal diet. I was introduced to this ‘bush tucker delicacy’ on the Larapinta Trail courtesy of Don and Jules, two amateur botanists from the east coast of Australia.
My new found friends were doing an overnight trip in the MacDonnell Ranges. Pack weight was apparently not an issue; they carried in two bottles of wine, cheese, German-style bread and a cooking set-up that would not look out of place on MasterChef.
We ate the witchetty grubs raw. How were they? A little like a mixture of raw eggs and nuts. When washed down by a couple of glasses of Bin 555 Shiraz, they actually tasted pretty good.