As I wrote after last year’s Challenge, I’m not one for astronaut food. I don’t like eating out of foil bags, I find the food bland and I am particularly averse to paying high prices for this stuff. I prefer to think ahead about food, cook using readily available ingredients and eat in cafes and restaurants whenever possible. I can’t be bothered with gram counting so I don’t know exactly how much more weight this entails than foil baggies but I do know that it’s a hell of a lot tastier and cheaper.
My basic approach is to start with a carbohydrate – either cous-cous or noodles – then add flavouring to this. Cous-cous, admittedly, is not generally available in small shops but noodles, in the form of super-noodles are – I throw away the revolting ‘cheese’ powder that comes with these. If you send parcels ahead, then availability is less of a problem. I have found the best cous-cous to be the Ainsley Harriot flavoured cous-cous and I use Sainsbury’s Chinese noodles. Noodles can be cooked with a pot cosy with the remaining cooking water used for soup.
For flavouring, I either use an instant soup (for noodles) – usually an Asian flavour such as Hot and Sour soup or add some sauces that I carry plus strong cheese (cheddar or stilton) or chorizo or something else if I’ve managed to buy anything that day (smoked ham is good). Chorizo keeps well – I used one for more than a week this year with no ill-effects. Cheese, of course, only improves with age. This year I carried three sauces – pesto in a small plastic tub which lasted for 3 meals (and which is quite widely available), a tube of sun-dried tomato paste and a tube of anchovy paste (which I hardly used). A spoonful of these is all that’s needed. Next time, I think I’ll take a chilli sauce instead of the anchovy paste.
I have no idea how these compare calorie-wise with baggie-food but on a two-week hike, having a bit of a calorie deficit doesn’t much matter. Beer makes it up for it anyway.
Places to eat
For variation, I eat in pubs and restaurants when I can. This year’s selection was:
Lochailort Inn (no alternative if you are starting here). Good pub food – I had an excellent venison burger.
Old Pines, outside Spean Bridge. I passed there at lunch time and went in after a heavy shower. It was completely empty. They have a good reputation for food but I was disappointed. Again, I had a venison burger. It was small and lacking in flavour, served in an insipid roll with a sorry excuse for a salad.
Old Station restaurant, Spean Bridge. Very friendly, good food, decent helpings and not too expensive. Real beer. I had fish for both starter and main. It was marginally overcooked but still very edible.
Bothy Bar, Blair Atholl. Very extensive menu so quite a lot of stuff is obviously microwaved from the freezer. However, I had seafood pasta which was very good and which hit the spot. Good beer.
The Old Bakery, Braemar. A Challenger favourite though it was quite quiet this year. They don’t attempt to be anything but a cafe serving unpretentious, simple dishes. They do Challenger specials – main course plus tea or coffee for just over 6 quid. But I splashed out on their excellent bacon rolls.
Braemar Lodge Hotel. I think there were 8 of us and the company was so good that I’ve forgotten what I ate. But the meal was excellent. Reputedly, the best place to eat in Braemar since The Bothy closed.
India on the Green, Ballater. The find of this year’s Challenge. A superb curry, with excellent company. Probably the best curry that I’ve had in NE Scotland. Highly recommended. Photo here on Fellbound’s blog.
Marine Hotel, Stonehaven. By far the best pub food and beer in Stonehaven. Goat’s cheese salad then fish and chips plus a couple of pints from their own brewery.
Park Hotel, Montrose. You don’t go there for the food!
Challenger and gourmet Andy Howell has published a list of places he ate in during the 2014 Challenge and may do so again this year. If you are in Aboyne, the Boat Inn is not to be missed.