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5 Meals Under $5 to Cook in a Hostel


Cook great meals on the cheap in a hostel kitchen.

Cooking in a hostel can be challenging. Some hostel kitchens are awesome and actually look like professional chef’s kitchens but some only have a hob, a sink and a couple of broken pans. (And blunt knives! Why do they always have blunt knives?!) So sometimes, you’ll have to get creative and make do with whatever is thrown at you that day. To help you with that, there’s 5 meals under $5 that are super easy to cook in a hostel!

Every recipe below is simple to cook in even the most basic kitchens and are designed to suit the tightest of budgets. Best of all, you can cook any of the recipes below for one or for many as they are easy to scale up. You can also tailor them to your liking or dietary requirements easily by swapping one or two ingredients. It’ll still taste great!

So fire up the hob, grab your blunt knife and broken pan and start cookin’!

First things first, What will you find on the Free Food Shelf?

In this article, we mention a lot of ingredients that are commonly found on the “Free Food Shelf”. Almost every hostel in New Zealand has a free food shelf/cupboard/drawer/box. This is what has been left behind by travellers that stayed in this hostel before you. It is free for you to use, so scavenge it at will. You will often find on a free food shelf:

  • Salt and Pepper
  • Other spices
  • Oil
  • Soy Sauce
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Pasta
  • Bread
  • Milk
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Awesome omelette ($3-$4 per serving)

Eggs are by far the cheapest source of protein for backpackers looking to save money on food while travelling around New Zealand. However, eggs are also the awesome canvas for the most outrageous omelettes out there. Get ready to feast like a king for only a few bucks.

  • Eggs
  • Sour Cream
  • Vegetables: we suggest a combo of mushrooms, spinach and tomatoes, but you can pretty much go with anything you like or whatever is on the “quick sale” shelf at the supermarket that day.
  • Other toppings of your choice (add chorizo to the selection above for a Spanish delight)
  1. 1. Break 3 eggs per person and mix them into a bowl
  2. 2. Add a spoon of sour cream to the mix
  3. 3. Fry a selection of toppings for your omelette.
  4. 4. Add the omelette mix in the frying pan and stir regularly for 1-2 minutes.
  5. 5. Serve hot topped up with a side of tomato sauce!

Treat yourself: Serve on buttered toast for an All-Day Breakfast feast.


Ramen Noodle Stir Fry ($2-$4 per serving)

Spice up that noodle cup of yours by throwing away the spice sachet. Who knows what’s in there anyway – probably nothing good for you. A great way to make a meal for cheap is to use one of those 50c noodle cups and make yourself and awesome (and much healthier) stir fry!

  • Noodle cup
  • Vegetables: we suggest mushrooms, capsicum, carrots, onions, etc. All can be found for cheap in a frozen veggie mix bag.
  • Soy sauce
  1. 1. Open that noodle cup and throw away the spices
  2. 2. Pour boiling water in the noodle cup, close it back and wait 2 minutes (stir occasionally)
  3. 3. In the meantime, start frying vegetables a big frying pan.
  4. 4. Scavenge the free food shelf of your hostel for soy sauce and other spices.
  5. 5. Add the noodles to the veetable mix and stir for a minute or two
  6. 6. Serve hot with a fresh veggie on the side.

Treat yourself: You can add proteins with eggs or diced bacon.


Bacon Rice Salad ($4 per serving)

Ideal to take somewhere with you in a Tupperware box for lunch, the rice salad is the go-to cheap but yummy meal. Easy to make in small or huge quantity, it is also a breeze to adapt it to the season to keep the ingredient cost really low.

  • Rice (basmati rice is non sticky and perfect for this dish)
  • Cheese
  • Selection of vegetables: we suggest peas, carrots and sweetcorn
  • Diced bacon
  • Mayonnaise
  1. 1. Cook the rice in a separate pan and keep it on the side in the pan with a lid on it.
    2. While the rice is cooking, dice a handful of cheese
    3. Fry your veggies and bacon together for a couple minutes. This is just to get a bit of water our of them and make your salad less soggy.
    4. Pour the veggies and bacon in the rice pan, mix it and let it cool down for 20 minutes in the fridge
  2. 5. Add 1 large spoon of mayonnaise
  3. 6. Add your diced cheese
  4. 7. Mix thoroughly
  5. 8. Serve cold with a slight drizzle of olive oil or balsamic vinegar if you can find some on the free food shelf.

Treat yourself: Mix it up by adding hard-boiled eggs, fresh cherry tomatoes or fresh capsicums to the salad. Or turn it into an Indian sensation by adding curry powder.


Hearty Veggie Mix ($4-$5 per serving)

Treat yourself to a homely meal with a hearty vegetable mix. The great thing about this kind of mix is that there is no set rules, you can make them taste just like home by seeking the same vegetables that you are used to at home or make it taste like New Zealand by using the awesome kumara. (For more kumara recipes, check out Why Every Backpacker in New Zealand Should Cook With Kumara.

  • Potatoes and/or kumara
  • Other veggies of your choice: we suggest the traditional combo capsicums, zucchinis, onions and carrots for a classic European meal.
  • Rosemary
  • Gravy sachet
  1. 1. Pre-heat the oven at 200 degrees celcius
  2. 2. Chop all your veggies at the desired size
  3. 3. Bake the potatoes and/or kumara for about 30 minutes (don’t forget to turn them over half way)
  4. 4. In the meantime, fry the other veggies with rosemary
  5. 5. Add the potatoes and/or kumaras to the frying pan and mix for about 2 minutes
  6. 6. Mix the sachet gravy with hot water until it has the desired consistency
  7. 7. Serve hot with the gravy on the side, not all over it! (Just a side note for the English out there).

Treat yourself: Add a nice piece of meat on the side for a fancy diner.


Burritos ($4 per serving)

That’s the ultimate hunger buster: full or carbs to shut up that hungry belly of yours. Make yourself 1, 2 or even 3 rice burritos and feel satisfied without breaking the bank. Like most recipes on this list, feel free to improvise and turn it into your own dish.

  • Wraps
  • Rice
  • Veggies: we suggest canned chick peas, mushrooms, onion and fresh tomatoes
  • Burrito mix (but to be fair, taco mix works about the same)
  • Sour cream
  • Salsa
  • Cheese
  1. 1. Cook the rice
  2. 2. Chuck your black beans in the frying pan
  3. 3. Add your selection of vegetables (not the tomatoes!)
  4. 4. Mix half a spoon of Burrito Mix with water
  5. 5. When your veggies have fried to your liking, pour the cooked rice and burrito mix in the pan
  6. 6. Mix regularly for a minute or two
  7. 7. Heat up your wraps in the microwave and spread them over your plate
  8. 8. Fill up the wrap with your salsa, sour cream, rice/veggie mix
  9. 9. Grate a bit of cheese over the mix
  10. 10. Add chopped fresh tomatoes
  11. 11. Close the wraps
  12. 12. Serve hot. If you realised you cooked too much filling for you rice, use it tomorrow as toppings for your omelette (see #1)

Treat yourself: Replace the rice with black beans and add any kind of meat to the selection plus a Corona for a real Mexican feast! Or for a fresher and healthier version, replace the wraps with lettuce leafs

more recipes to keep the hunger locked away

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