I recommend eating a banana soon after waking. It will aid the arrival to full consciousness and provide energy for the first few hours of the day. In winter, sleep with the banana inside your bed to prevent it freezing overnight.
BREAKFAST Take two handfuls of oats and sprinkle them into your bowl. Top with some of a packet of powdered seeds that you found in a supermarket in Sarajevo (you’re not quite sure exactly what’s in it but you see pieces of pumpkin, sesame and linseed and it was in the health section so it must be good. Plus it tastes of cinnamon which is nice). Add in other assorted nuts and seeds (make sure they’re not salted). Then some sultanas and some dried coconut. Add water and leave to soak for a while, perhaps as you’re counting out your vitamin supplements.
Optional extras are a spoonful of jam or fresh fruit, but this depends on what’s available and how much other food weight you’re carrying.
LUNCH/SNACKS Pack a variety of nuts and seeds with you at all times. Snack packets will vary in each country and you can use that to your nutritional advantage. Check the packets to ensure that the fruits contained in the mix are not candied, such as dried pineapple or mango, in order to regulate your sugar intake. Peanuts are cheap and available everywhere so will be a staple, although ensure that you eat them in small handfuls and chew thoroughly to optimise absorption. I don’t like to eat a big meal at lunchtime to avoid the downtime required of a heavy digestion period but crackers can be useful base for a light meal. Combine them with salami, cucumber (optional) and, if available, the type of processed cheese that comes in a small 100g tube. Just prick a hole with your knife and squeeze directly onto the cracker. Finish with an apple as a sprightly palate cleanser or sweets if fruit is not available. Sugary sweets are an easy energy boost but be careful of relying on them too much, especially in the afternoon. Overconsumption can leave you feeling empty and unsettled.
MAIN MEAL Take your dried carbohydrate, I like a mixture of potato and rice but you can also use couscous, corn and even oats in a pinch. Cover the bottom of the small bowl, no more than two centimetres deep and slowly add cold water, along with salt. Mix thoroughly and allow the water to completely absorb before adding a good amount of mayonnaise and tomato paste. Don’t add them too early as they’ll coat the carbohydrate powder rather than being absorbed, and you’ll end up with a grainy dinner. You should end up with a salmon coloured sloppy paste, calorific and (mainly thanks to the mayonnaise) delicious. Chop your protein onto the top of the bowl and mix through. This will usually be salami, of whatever kind you’ve found in the shops – beef or pork, variously seasoned (of course you’re picking packages in a foreign language so it’s kind of a lucky dip!). Ensure that you prepare the salami carefully to avoid spreading grease onto your clothes or sleeping bag. Also bear in mind that you will be repacking the remainder into your food bag so cover carefully. Keep a tissue handy to wipe your fingers and knife. Other variants are tinned fish, just drain and mix through. Small tins of sweetcorn or peas can be added (see below for weight considerations regarding tinned food). Half a cucumber or a single tomato will also work well, although you should be careful about how tomatoes are packed in your luggage. Pesto is delightful but very expensive in Eastern Europe, where it’s available at all. It does mix very well with kidney beans and a tomato however.
Other variants are dependent on the country. It’s difficult to find dried carbohydrates in rural Romania, although tinned beans in tomato sauce are readily available. Bulgaria is not so fond of tinned beans, but do include them in a nice range of tinned meals such as moussaka and ratatouille which are available in most small shops. The Balkans don’t favour tinned carbohydrates at all, although you will find beans occasionally as boil in the bag meals (which are larger and heavier but can be eaten cold). The tinned goulash in Bosnia looks disgusting but is actually passable. All countries will provide a selection of cheap pates which are useful as a last resort, although nutritional value/actual meat content is debatable.
WHEN YOU GET TO TOWN Eat hot protein as soon as possible, usually in the form of grilled meat. Revel in the heat and texture. Then proceed to eat whatever you want, as much of it as you like. Your suffering has earnt it.
NOTES None of these meals are dependent on the time of day and can be swapped around or substituted, depending on circumstances. Except for the wake-up banana, it’s that or a gulp of water.
The occasional tinned carbohydrate, such as kidney beans or chickpeas, is delicious and a welcome variation. It’s necessary to bear in mind though, that a single tin weighs 400g so it’s better only to buy these for the first meal after your supermarket visit and use dried carbs for the remainder of your journey section, until you come close to another shop again.
It’s worth considering how many jars you wish to pack at any one time, especially those where you will only use a small amount per meal such as pesto or jam. The weight of the glass is a consideration when you are carrying everything yourself. I recommend an absolute limit of two jars or you will soon start to feel overloaded, really one is more than enough.
Although you will doubtlessly pass a shop at least every other day, you cannot be certain of what they will contain – store cupboard essentials such as dried carbs and salami are usually only available in towns or bigger places. They are useful for top ups of fruit (depends on the health choices of the general population and size of the hamlet). Make sure you buy enough in a bigger town to last you around 5 days on basic rations, with the option to add items to your food bag in smaller village shops that are for enjoyment rather than nutritionally dependent.
Food purchases that you’re not going to consume in a single meal need to be assessed in terms of the leak potential of their packaging. Opening your rucksack to find a squashed banana or cheese juices all over your spare clothing is extremely dispiriting and will, if the practice is continued in the long term, lead to the general degradation of your smell and appearance. An important consideration for the long term traveller.
A nutritional supplement is advisable, due to the shocking lack of fresh vegetables in the rucksack based, travellers diet.
Wash the bowl using the following method – half fill with cold water and wipe your finger round inside it to mix as much of the meal traces into the water as possible. Drink the water, no point in wasting what you’ve carried, especially in summer when you are likely rationing your water. Wipe the bowl with a tissue to remove oily residue and leave to dry for a short while before packing away for the next meal.
One perhaps unsuspected satisfaction after every meal is calculating the weight of the food consumed and therefore how much less you have to carry!