The gas station diet – nutritious meals for unconventional travellers

Carbeque – meals on wheels.

In case you’ll like the “Gas station diet”, I’ll make it a regular column on Travelling Scrittori, as I reckon what I’m about to share it’s a true must-read and try for adventurous travellers, who don’t think stale sandwiches from burger chains are the answer to their appetite.

The gas station diet – A Roadhouse in the middle of no-where. August 2010, photo by the author

Yes, in fact you don’t need to be Jamie Oliver to express culinary creativity! This is what I’ve told myself a number of times in the past while on the road.

I’ve always been a bit fussy about my meals, I’m sure some of the Greenpeace ships chefs are now giggling, thinking about the lack of greens in my plate, but, as many, travelling the world, I’ve largely evolved my tastes throughout the years and refined my cooking techniques.

As most of the Italian born population, I adore the Mediterranean cuisine, and for many years I’ve been told it is the best the planet has ever seen. Well, I was told a big lie.

The world is awesome, especially when seen from the dinner table; food and drinks are the highlights of my days.

As an amateur road cyclist, I think a good part of my bike obsession comes from the fact that I can go wild with my meals after consuming thousands of calories a week and still maintain a decent form.

So, let’s dig into it, shall we? Here is the first recipe I want to share and where I’ve first experimented.

Roadkill and eggplants – The scent of the outback.

Just to contradict what I’ve just said, I’ll go with an Italian classic, but if you put your imagination to play, you can carbeque pretty much anything that makes you salivate.

In August 2010, I was, for once, travelling for fun. A two weeks drive from Brisbane to Darwin, via Alice Springs and the almighty Uluru.

The gas station diet – Uluru. August 2010, photo by the author

We drove a total of 5000 Kilometers, across one of the most remote roads on earth, with only a handful of roadhouses where to stop for fuel, water and food.

The gas station diet – From Brisbane to Darwin via Port Augusta.

For those living in Europe, it would be like driving from Portugal to Greece. But, if you take a look at the map and compare the colors of the terrain, you’ll notice that the desert tan is predominant for the largest part of the route across Australia.

I was thrilled months ahead at the idea of seeing such a wild place, a bit less at the thought of driving endless hours in a straight line.

The Australian outback isn’t really well known for its gourmet food. Beside the abundance of road-kill, every roadhouse has a small fruit and vegetable counter, where you can buy those essentials, preventing you from scurvy.

See you in NT!

One day I got excited at the sight of an eggplant and decided to mark the crossing of the border between South Australia and Northern Territory with an experimental dish, at least for what concerns its cooking technique.

I’ve heard before that about carbeque, and it still makes me giggle, but I must say it bloody works, it’s fun to do and the “casserole” is cooked to perfection…

Carbeque consists of using the top surface of your engine just like an oven plate, so you can cook your lunch as you drive between the engine’s head and the bonnet.

Added value for celebrating the border crossing was the generous .08 BAC drink-driving threshold in force in NT at the time (now .05), indeed a good meal calls for a rich bottle of wine!

The gas station diet – Desert art, near Coober Pedy (SA). August 2010, photo by the author

I honestly don’t know how a human can possibly drive safely with a BAC of .08, but there’s no much use for the steering wheel so far north.

Anyway, don’t try this in the Alps or on a very windy road!

The gas station diet – Eggplant Parmigiana Carbeque

Difficulty: EASY

Cooking time: 40 minutes

Serves: 4

Ingredients: 2 medium eggplants, 1 pack of shredded mozzarella, 1 can of chopped tomato, salt, pepper, herbs, Parmesan cheese, olive oil

Tools: 1 roll of aluminum foil, Leatherman multitool  (with cork opener)

Recommended wine: Shiraz

Here’s how-to

A 4WD works best, but also a campervan will do.  Diesel or Petrol

In order to avoid disappointments, do not use a Tesla or a Toyota Prius, as it will simply not work.

If you work for MSF, Red Cross or the UN and have a Toyota Land-Cruiser at your disposal, you can feed the entire team in one go. If, like me, you work for Greenpeace, you’ll have an Hilux if you’re lucky and need to make sure the internal food policy is laminated and well visible to everyone, and don’t forget to fill in the risk assessment!

So, considering this day and age and the decline of the internal combustion engine, I can state that this is a cooking technique bound for extinction…enjoy until it lasts.

Ready in 40 minutes

You’ll need an aluminum tray and/or a lot of aluminum foil.

First things first, prepare a tray (unless you have one) using no less than six layers of aluminum foil.

Prepare your eggplants by salt them, in order to eliminate as much water as possible.  Try as much as possible to eliminate the water from the can of tomato and use shredded mozzarella instead than fresh.

Layer the aluminum plate (properly oiled) with tomato, eggplant slices and mozzarella. Top with more tomato, season with salt pepper and herbs. If you have some Parmesan cheese, added only before serving.

Cover the tray with not less than six layers of more aluminum foil and roll the edges, in order to create an airtight container.

Open the bonnet and find a sweet spot where to wedge the plate, in order to remain horizontal, never mind the road surface.

The gas station diet – Roads of Northern Territory. August 2010, photo by the author

Close the bonnet carefully and drive for approximately 40 minutes at cruise speed, avoiding potholes.

Now, pull over and bon appetit!

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