Cooking in the hostel kitchen presents a unique set of challenges: limited pans and utensils, few basic ingredients (if any at all) and overcrowding at meal times. How does a traveling foodie plan meals with those limited resources? After all, nobody likes living on a steady diet of pasta and red sauce. Here are a few easy hostel meals that are budget-friendly, space-aware and easily customizable based on your location. Now, let’s put those minimalist culinary skills to work.

Overhead view of caprese salad with san marzano tomatos and mozzarella di buffala, all drizzled with basalmic vinegar; easy hostel meals
Caprese salad isn't just limited to tomatoes – use whatever's local and in season © Westend61 / Getty Images

Local fruit caprese salad

Hostel life can be carb-heavy, so lighten things up with a simple caprese salad. The best part about this meal option is it’s easily adaptable to your destination. Stick with the tried-and-true tomato variation, or get a little crazy with local fruits to pair nicely with savory touches.

1 large mozzarella ball
Whole basil leaves
Fruit of choice (tomato, watermelon, pineapple, etc)
2 tbsp olive oil
½ cup Balsamic vinegar (boil, then simmer until reduced by half)

  1. Cut your fruit into slices and chop your basil to preferred size (we like very thin strips).
  2. Slice the mozzarella, halving the slices into semi-circles.
  3. Combine all ingredients in shallow bowl, drizzling with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. If a balsamic reduction is preferred, bring to boil in saucepan; then reduce heat and simmer until the vinegar is reduced by half (though be warned: you won’t be making any friends by making the common space smell like vinegar all night).

Traveling solo? Try these tips for meeting people on the road.

Shredded rotisserie chicken on a green plastic cutting board and carving knife against wood plank background; easy hostel meals
Shredded chicken can add some extra protein to a variety of quick, easy hostel meals © RondaKimbrow / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Buffalo Chicken Lettuce Wraps

An option with a little kick, these wraps don’t require much prep time and, if you’re really pressed for space or time, are perfectly delicious served cold. 

1 cooked/rotisserie chicken (about 2 cups of white meat)
1 head of lettuce (romaine or iceberg)
⅔ cup hot sauce (Buffalo or regional specialty)
½ cup shredded Colby-Monterey Jack OR cheddar cheese (optional)
½ red onion
1 tomato, diced
Ranch dressing

  1. Remove breast meat from cooked chicken, pulling into small strips.
  2. Combine hot sauce, chicken, red onion and cheese in bowl, using a fork to shred and mix.
  3. Heat chicken mixture slowly in a skillet until warmed through.
  4. Slice off bottom of lettuce and separate leaves to make cups. 
  5. Place chicken in lettuce cups, drizzle with ranch 
  6. Dice tomato and use as garnish.
Pasta sticking out of a chrome pot over a stove; easy hostel meals
Pasta makes a quick hostel meal, but you can make it more interesting with some extra garlic and vegetables © PBNJ Productions / Getty Images

One-pot vegetable pasta 

When it comes to hostel cooking, minimizing the number of required pots is a useful trick; this tasty one-pot pasta is easily customizable and serves as a welcome alternative to pasta with sad canned sauce.

12oz spaghetti or linguine pasta
1 can diced tomatoes (with liquid)
4 ½ cups vegetable broth
2 tbsp olive oil
5 cloves of garlic (sliced or minced)
½ sweet yellow onion
1 red bell pepper
Mushroom of choice
Chopped basil
Grated parmesan (or cheese of choice)
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Combine pasta, tomatoes, mushrooms, olive oil, garlic, onion and bell pepper in pot.
  2. Pour in vegetable broth and bring all items to a boil, stirring occasionally.
  3. As everything cooks, sprinkle in salt and pepper. 
  4. Continue cooking until pasta is al dente and vegetable broth is reduced (8-10 minutes). 
  5. Add basil and parmesan as garnish.

Serving tips: When you are cooking the pasta and reducing the broth, be careful not to cook too long; the broth will start to get sticky and the pasta’s integrity will be compromised. 

Read more: These excellent hostels could be mistaken for fancy hotels.

Overhead view of two bowls of ramen with veggies and boiled eggs, with chopsticks in the middle; easy hostel meals
Instant ramen can go from boring to roaring with a few extra veggies © Westend61 / Getty Images

Fancy instant ramen

Instant ramen is an obvious choice for the minimalist hostel traveler, but adding your own flair to these storied noodles is way easier than you think. Adding a few vegetables, an egg and fresh green toppings amps up this old favorite.

2 cups water
1 package instant ramen
Chopped green onions
Green veggie of choice (snap peas, spinach, etc)
Mushroom of choice
1 egg
1 tbsp minced garlic
½ sliced ginger root OR 1 tbsp ginger powder. 

  1. Bring water to a boil, and add instant ramen, green vegetables, sliced mushrooms, garlic and ginger. Boil for three minutes or until noodles are soft.
  2. At the same time, boil water in a separate pan for your egg. Use enough water to cover the egg’s surface and boil for 6 ½ for the perfect soft-boiled egg.
  3. Once noodles are done cooking, drain ⅓ of the water and add desired amount of flavor packet.
  4. Garnish with chopped green onions and add sliced soft-boiled eggs. 
Close-up of couscous over a wooden table; easy hostel meals
Kick up the couscous with some sweet potato and tomatoes © Michelle Arnold / EyeEm / Getty Images

Roasted veggie couscous

This dish is a great comfort food option when all you want after a hard day traveling is a savory, filling meal. Plus, couscous is quick to prepare and you’ll be in and out of the kitchen in no time.

1 cup couscous
1 ½ cup water
3 tsp olive oil
1 sweet potato
1 box cherry or grape tomatoes
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp salt
Pepper to taste

  1. Bring water to a boil, adding 2 tsp olive oil, curry powder and 1 tsp salt.
  2. Stir in couscous. Then cover and remove from the heat; let stand for 5 minutes.
  3. Heat 1 tsp olive oil in skillet, and then add peeled and sliced sweet potatoes. Once potatoes are about halfway done, add sliced tomatoes to skillet. Cook until softened.
  4. Combine potatoes, tomatoes and couscous.

Serving tip: if you can’t find a decent skillet, sweet potatoes can also be cooked separately in the microwave. Pierce potato skin with a fork 4-6 times and microwave for 5-8 minutes. This dish is also delicious with fresh, uncooked tomatoes. 

Top Tips: 

  • The recipes above can be easily doubled if you are feeding a group.
  • Try and avoid cooking 'rush hour' by preparing your meal at odd times. 5pm-7pm usually means hostel kitchen mayhem.
  • Daily shopping is essential when cooking at a hostel, where refrigerator and storage space are at a minimum.
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