Why No Backpackers Cook Their Own Meals In Asia

I miss cooking. In college, I couldn’t cook a thing, but once I moved out into the real world I soon realized the value of the skill. I found cooking skills attractive in girls, so it seemed only fair that I be capable as well. Plus, its good on your pride, your personal taste buds and your savings account. So I made it a personal mission to learn how to cook, at least at a respectable level. Cereal and chips and salsa no longer counted. Breakfast, being so easy and simple to make, seemed like the logical first step, so I began by perfecting an omelet. Easier said than done, but it got me started. From there I took baby steps up to other easy dishes such as spaghetti and stir fries and before I knew it, I was cooking legitimate meals on a regular basis.

Fast forward to Asia. At first, I didn’t even think about cooking my own meal. Why would I? The food is so good and cheap here it didn’t seem to warrant the need. But noodles and rice can get old after a few weeks, much less a few months. On top of this, the serving sizes aren’t… American. A two egg breakfast just seemed a few eggs short of a real meal, so the idea of cooking my own meals was at least worth looking into.

Turns out, there are a few good reasons why I had never heard of any Southeast Asian backpackers cooking themselves, besides the fact that the food was quite tasty, a quick stroll through the market could turn even a normally strong stomach. Raw meat sits out in 95 degree heat. But past that, the food was, surprisingly, not cheap. By US standards, sure, it’s cheap, but compared to what I was paying for a full dish at a restaurant or food stall, it wasn’t cheap at all. Either they had a foreigner price, a much cheaper bulk price, or restaurants weren’t making any money. In my opinion, the first seems the most logical, but either way, that fact made it much less appealing.

Yum, I’ll take those pig head and hooves

But even if the price wouldn’t stop you, something else inevitably would: a lack of available kitchens. In Central America, just about ever hostel had a kitchen that the guests were welcome and encouraged to use. Not the case in Asia. Free wifi is everywhere but I guess the idea of a kitchen as a marketing ploy never made it this far. Out of all the places I’ve stayed on my trip thus far, only one had an available kitchen and that was in the highly westernized hippie town of Pai in Northern Thailand.

I wanted to cook my own breakfast, create an eight egg, pepper, tomato, mushroom omelet masterpiece, but alas, it was not to be. I’ll have to stick to the local menus for the time being. Luckily, some of these menus have two hundreds items apiece. That should keep me busy.