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Cheap, Tasty Hiking Foods from the International Market

It turns out that Americans are not the only folks who want food whose instructions are “just-add-hot-water.” For hikers, this opens up a variety of new tasty options for those who have had their fill of ramen, instant mashed potatoes, and Knorr sides this summer.

Every time I’m back in California, I check out the International Market in Rancho Cordova to top off the international flavor in my food bag. Here are a few things that make it into my shopping cart and then into my pack:

 

Dehydrated coconut milk: One of the best calorie-weight ratio drinks you can find anywhere, international markets always sell this for a much better price than general grocery stores. I add it to granola to eat as cereal. You can also mix it into noodle dishes with almond butter to make a richer dinner or drink it with chia seeds as a quick calorie-heavy drink.

Dried mushrooms:

Another item that is a bargain at international markets compared to specialty grocery stores. Most dried mushrooms rehydrate well with hot water and can make most hiking dinners seem meatier and more fulfilling. Plus, there are probably all sorts of nutritionally good things associated with mushrooms that we haven’t yet discovered.

Instant Beef Pho broth:

I love Pho and especially like to eat at Pho restaurants after especially hot and dehydrating hikes (like the Highline Canal Trail) to replenish salts and liquids. Now, I can have that same rejuvenating effect with instant Pho broth. Most vermicelli rice noodles (same as the rice noodles in Thai Kitchen Instant Ramen popular with hikers, but available much cheaper in bulk or at an international market) rehydrate easily with hot water and a soak. Add some dehydrated veggies, freeze dried tofu or meat, and this Pho broth, and you’ve got a cheap and delicious dinner.

New flavors of “ramen”

Instant noodles in flavors besides chicken, beef, or ….uh, that’s it. Spaghetti flavored? Cheese flavored? Chili Citrus? Green flavored?? (Actually, that chorella noodle ramen is AWESOME and a really great hiking food). These tend to be around the same price as typical ramen with the spendier ones still being less than a buck and comparable to Thai Kitchen’s hiker favorites.

Calorie-loaded hot beverages

I’m not sure how this tastes, but it’s got a decent calorie to weight ratio.

 

Instant Thai Coffee

Allgood’s backcountry barista on the Sierra High Route turned this into a favorite treat on cold mornings or mid-day snow storms. It’s a great pick me up and it feels downright luxurious drinking a fancy coffee with all the fixings while far away from a Starbucks.

Honey powder

Lighter than actual honey with a lower glycemic index than table sugar, powdered honey can be added to beverages or desserts. You can make your own pineapple chicken by taking bulk freeze dried chicken, instant white rice, freeze dried pineapple, chicken flavoring, and honey powder.

Beat it, Nutella! There’s a new sweet butter in town.
Beat it, Nutella! There’s a new sweet butter in town.

 

Vanilla sesame butter or Pistachio Cardamom sesame butter:

I haven’t tried them, but am intrigued. They look like a creatively gourmet-flavored seed-based alternative to Nutella for people like myself who are allergic to hazelnuts. I imagine it tastes like halvah, which has one of the highest calorie-to-weight ratios of any food I’ve seen besides straight oil.

 

Goya Saffron Powder

For a decadent dinner, add this seasoning along with some powdered sour cream to instant rice (maybe throw in some freeze dried chicken or veggies, too). I remember discovering this meal on the CDT and being really impressed by the delicious flavor I could get out of a no-cook meal. I cold-soaked the ingredients it in a peanut-butter jar. That impromptu meal made of everything left in a few hikers’ food bags was one of the best and most memorable trail meals I’ve had anywhere.

Dehydrated Whole Milk Powder

Many hikers know about Nido, which is dehydrated whole milk from Mexico. Nido can be mixed in with creamy dinners to add calories or consumed with cereal. There are other milk alternatives out there, too. I love Milo, which is a tasty malted milk with vitamins. It makes a great breakfast drink and cheap alternative to the hiker favorite Carnation Instant Breakfast. Anyway, the canned bulk dried milk from the international part of the store is way cheaper than gourmet dehydrated gourmet milk.

Dehydrated Seaweed

For those trying to get their greens on trail who want a lightweight, inexpensive, and healthy vegetables, look no further than adding a bit of seaweed to all your meals. Dried veggies tend to be expensive or heavier than many seaweeds. Seaweed is light and helps to add bulk and nutrients to your meals. Remember to add some extra water to each store bought meal (Ramen being the least weird) to give the seaweed plenty of liquid to rehydrate. You can find Eden brand Wakame Seaweed at Whole Foods, but it is 4x the price of what I paid at the international market!

Joint Rebuilding Teas

I don’t know if these actually work, but if it does, after hiking your way through all that food, a hiker could probably benefit from a sip of these!

 

What are your favorite international store finds??? Share below!

 

Liz "Snorkel" Thomas

Liz Thomas is a well-traveled adventure athlete most known for breaking the women’s unsupported speed record on the Appalachian Trail in 2011. She has completed the Triple Crown of Hiking–the Appalachian Trail, the 2,650 mile Pacific Crest Trail, and 3,100 mile Continental Divide Trail–and has backpacked over 15,000 miles across the United States. While not on trail, Liz lives in Denver, Colorado.

Comments

John D

Thank you for this list. I’m confident that I won’t find a single one of these brands in shops here in the far north of Scotland but you’ve also provided plenty of ideas for me to work with this winter.

Any plans to visit the Highlands? All of the Munros in one hike is a worthy challenge for any backpacker.

Liz "Snorkel" Thomas

Glad I gave you some ideas. Does Amazon deliver to the far north of Scotland? Sometimes these items are hard to find if you don’t live in cities with big international populations, which is why I always do this kind of shopping when I’m in California.

Funny you mention the Highlands as they are high on my list and may just make an appearance this summer. It doesn’t look very hard, but the West Highland Way is on my list. The guidebooks I’ve read of peaks look pretty intimidating though…

John D

Amazon deliver but some companies won’t or charge extra.

The West Highland Way is justly popular and has had a lot of work so was dry underfoot this Spring despite the melting of late snow and plenty of rain. I hiked the northern two thirds as part of my 400 mile Kintyre to Cape Wrath hike.

You could use the WHW as a warm up for the Cape Wrath Trail, which is a much tougher and even better proposition. The 96 miles of the WHW are unlikely to take you long. Fifteen days would be good for the Cape Wrath Trail.

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Dogwood

This is what I like about you and your blog. You’re alive. You’re awake, alert, expanding comfort zones, and always willing to find value…even in an International Food market.

Thanks, for the new ideas. I’m thinking about adding what amounts to flavored Tahini(Sesame Paste) as you’ve brought it to our attention. I already do several types of seaweed at home and on trail. Check labels though as some varieties have higher cal/oz ratios and overall greater vitamin content. Even though I’m a coffee snob the Thai coffee was good although I don’t know if it was that specific brand I tried that you mention.

I was just in a large Asian market in the Atlanta area and had the same modus operandi. I’m always willing to try new things. And, as you, typically relating what I learn to some form of adventure or hiking. or just being grateful for be in some type of International environment.

I almost bought the Cactus Gold Dried Honey because I thought it was dried powdered honey, like honey from bees. Being a Foodie though I found it is actually a formulation of different ingredients some off putting to me but it’s largely the “juice” from the Agave plant that has been dried. I guess it might be likened to dried Agave Syrup with some other stuff in it. Legally though they can label it as honey.