Don’t let the idea of cooking in hostels intimidate you - there’s plenty of room to add fun into the hostel food mix!
With a little know-how and forward-thinking, your experience cooking in hostels can include meeting cool people and eating seriously yummy food without spending all your travel savings.
Looking for healthy hostel recipes? Here’s our guide to 7 easy meals to cook while traveling.
The travel tips outlined in this article are designed specifically with hostel life in mind for the budget traveller. We tried and tested every one of them.
The 9 Tips for Cooking in Hostels are...
- 1. Avoid peak cooking hours
- 2. Buy cheap staple foods & carry them with you
- 3. Always check the hostel kitchen’s free food shelf!
- 4. Make one pot/pan meals
- 5. Check out local farmer’s markets
- 6. Cook more than you need
- 7. Check hostel cooking utensils BEFORE you plan your meals
- 8. Eat vegetarian/vegan
- 9. Ensure the hostel has a kitchen before you book!
- 10. EXTRA: Need a break from cooking in hostels?
- 11. FAQs about Cooking in Hostels
- 12. Summary
1. Avoid peak cooking hours
To avoid unnecessary stress, it’s a good idea to pick a time outside of typical busy cooking hours to make your meal. So, instead of cooking dinner at 5:30pm, arrive half an hour early to get the prep done before others start arriving.
The same goes for breakfast and lunch, though lunchtime is often the quietest time as people are out exploring. If you can afford to eat out for one meal a day, we suggest dinner (especially if your hostel offers a free breakfast).
2. Buy cheap staple foods & carry them with you
Rather than spend a fortune each time you move hostels, it’s a good idea to buy some staples that can be taken with you and buy ingredients that don’t cost the earth. Some cheap staple ingredients we swear by when cooking in hostels include:
- Olive oil (buy a small bottle)
- Peanut butter (versatile)
- Soy sauce
- Sweet potato (yummier than white potatoes)
- Instant ramen
- Red onion (good raw or cooked)
- Minced garlic (easier)
Yet, before you stock up your staple cupboard make sure you firstly…
3. Always check the hostel kitchen’s free food shelf!
Many hostels collect food that’s been left behind and put it in a designated place for others to take. This is one of our favourite parts about cooking in hostels because it can save you a lot of money. It’s always a lucky dip and some hostels don’t have a shelf. Once you’ve checked into your room, head to the kitchen and have a look to see what’s there before you hit the supermarket.
Tip: Make sure you check the fridge as well as there’s usually another free food box inside.
4. Make one pot/pan meals
This is obviously going to reduce stress levels - one pot is easier to find in a hostel kitchen than 5 pots, one frying pan, a grater… you get the picture. Making one pot meals also requires choosing simpler recipes, such as soup, pasta or stew. Reducing down to one pot also makes cooking easier. Usually all is required is chucking in all of the ingredients, easy!
Tip: Find your desired pot before you prepare all of the ingredients. It might turn out that the hostel only has a pot half the size of the one you had in mind which equals to halving the serving size.
5. Check out local farmer’s markets
Buying local ingredients from a farmer’s market is a brilliant way to save money. It also means you’ll be feasting on fresher food that’s in season, and supporting local people (and they’ll love you for it). Definitely ask the hostel staff when and where a local market is happening so you don’t miss it!
6. Cook more than you need
Leftovers are always a good idea to have whilst staying in a hostel. Why? They can be used for tomorrow’s lunch or second dinner, or as a much needed sobering meal after a big night on the town. Just make sure you label your leftovers to avoid it being thrown out by the staff.
Also, it’s worth considering carrying your own storage container as not all hostels provide them (or it might be an absolute mission to find a lid that fits).
7. Check hostel cooking utensils BEFORE you plan your meals
It’s all well and good being prepared and organised, but all of your efforts may go to waste if you go to cook an extravagant meal only to find the hostel is missing 9 out of 10 of the utensils and appliances you need. D’oh! This is especially necessary if you’re hoping to use ‘unusual’ appliances such as a blender or food processor.
So, always take time to scout out the kitchen before you hostel meal plan or do the grocery shopping.
8. Eat vegetarian/vegan
One sure fire way to save money, time and prep stress is to cut out meat and/or dairy. It’s no secret that animal products are pricey ingredients, especially when they aren’t absolutely necessary to include in your meals. Even cutting down can help a lot. For example, if you usually eat meat in every meal, cut it down to every other day or even to once or twice a week.
9. Ensure the hostel has a kitchen before you book!
Ok great, you’ve established there is a hostel kitchen before booking. But! Just because the hostel has a kitchen, does not mean it will include good hostel cooking appliances.
There is a difference between kitchenette and fully-fitted kitchen. The former usually only comes with a kettle, fridge and microwave. This is fine if you like to eat out or want to live on instant noodles. Otherwise, check that the kitchen includes gas stove tops at least. A working oven is a bonus!
Tip: Shoot the hostel a direct message via their email address and ask if they offer a shared kitchen.
A good shared kitchen is just one of the 11 things that make a Great Hostel.
10. EXTRA: Need a break from cooking in hostels?
If you’re travelling solo, cooking in hostels every night can get tedious. Yet, as a budget traveller you may also want to avoid spending a fortune on eating out.
Depending on where you’re travelling, street food is an excellent food hack that’s both cheap and yum. Street food is popular in places like Southeast Asia and South America, yet is pretty much non-existent in New Zealand other western countries.
Street food vendors offer up all kinds of local delicacies and all time favourites that are super cheap. From meat on a stick to fried rice and Indian pakoras - there is so much to try in the world of street food!
Some of our favourite countries for street food include China, India and Thailand.
11. FAQs about Cooking in Hostels
How to cook chicken in hostel?
Cooking a chicken properly will definitely require an oven. Be aware that hostel kitchens do not typically include an oven. Our guess is because of the high costs involved. Always check this! Otherwise, you could opt for buying a pre-cooked chicken at the supermarket.
What are the best ready to eat snacks for hostelers?
Sushi, crisps, chocolate, biscuits, fruit, nuts, raw vegetables dipped in hummus, cheese & crackers, muesli bars… the snacking world is pretty endless these days.
What are some food ideas for hostelers?
We’re glad you asked. Here are 7 yummy hostel recipe ideas you cannot miss. They’re easy, affordable and, well, yummy!
Which are the food items I can keep in my hostel room as mid night or evening snacks?
Many hostels have a rule to keep all food out of the rooms, especially hot food that creates lingering smells. However, as long as it’s not too messy or smelly, a few snacks are usually fine. Foods such as crisps, biscuits, nuts.
If you do wake at midnight and feel like snacking, do your roommates a favour and take your snacks elsewhere to enjoy! No one enjoys waking up to the sound of someone scoffing their face.
Also: We hope this is obvious, but cooking in hostel rooms is an absolute no-no.
By now, you're all set to cook in hostels with confidence. Whether you're a cooking enthusiast or the very idea causes you dread, these 9 effective tips will surely help lessen the stress that can be caused in hostel kitchens.
Remember; cooking in hostels not only saves you money, but it's also a great way to make new hostel friends!
We'll be in the kitchen making coffee, see you there!