5 classic campfire meals from around the world
Summer is in full swing and campers and backyard chefs around the country are firing up their grills. To celebrate cookout season, we’ve collected some of the most iconic—and sometimes surprising—campfire meals from around the world. No burgers or hot dogs in this list.
Food can tell us so much about the geography and history of a nation. For example, the preparation of Tibetan tsampa has remained practically unchanged since 5,000 A.D. and South Africa’s national dish, bobotie, has roots that date back 400 years and extend across the world from Indonesia to the Netherlands.
Whether prepared by Bedouin or Sherpa, gaucho or safari cook, our favorite campfire meals all focus on local ingredients and simple cooking. From pillowy bread bursting with wild berries, to Argentine steak paired with chimichurri, here are five of the most interesting campfire meals from around the world.
Bedouin tea, Middle East and North Africa
If you visit Bedouins, you’ll immediately be welcomed and offered a glass of hot, sweet Bedouin tea brewed from desert herbs, such as habuck (tastes similar to sage) and marmaraya (tastes similar to thyme with a hint of mint). To make your own Bedouin tea, simply substitute habuck and marmaraya for their equivalents.
For two servings, add two teaspoons of dried thyme or sage to three cups of water. Plonk in a cardamom pod, a cinnamon stick, and two good-quality black tea bags. Bring to a boil, then simmer for five minutes. Strain, and add a swirl of honey if you have a sweet tooth. Et voilà, the piping hot tea of Arabian dreams!
P.S. For those interested in foraging for their own ingredients, dandelion tea is an easy choice in North America. Pick a few of the ubiquitous flowers and wash and dry the youngest leaves in the sun until they’re crisp. Then, scrunch the dried leaves into tiny pieces. Now you have your tea flakes. The whole flower is edible, so you can also pop the flowerheads in salads for a little extra color. (Just as Bedouins—and all the other cultures on this list—make the most of the food sources that are local to them, we can too!)
Steak and chimichurri, Argentina
Ah, to be a gaucho in Argentina—herding cattle and riding horses past glittering lakes and mountains that pierce the sky. Okay, so maybe we’re romanticizing a little, but we like gaucho style, especially when it comes to steak. We’re talking beautiful, grass-fed steak grilled over a hot charcoal flame. Serve it with homemade chimichurri sauce (spicy tomato salsa) and a glass of Malbec straight from Mendoza’s high-altitude vineyards, and there you have it—a campfire meal fit for a king ... or a cowboy.
Beyond the cattle range, beef is an intrinsic part of Argentinian culture. The Sunday asado (barbecue) brings family and friends together every weekend, and it’s no wonder given how delicious Argentinian Pampas beef is. Typically the meat is grilled over an open flame very slowly. This process purportedly holds the meat’s flavor better than the way we grill meat up North.
Tsampa and butter tea, Tibet
Know how many calories the average Everest hiker burns each day? 6,000. That’s a whole lot of protein bars to chew through. But Sherpas make climbing in the Himalayas seem like a breeze on their diet of tsampa, a combination of roasted barley flour and salty butter tea (Made from tea leaves, yak butter, and salt, butter tea is more like a soup than a traditional tea).
Tsampa is prepared throughout the country by pouring butter tea into a bowl, plopping a pile of barley flour on top, then stirring and kneading the mixture into a perfect little dumpling. The nutritious dish is then washed down with even more butter tea.
Fair warning: Butter tea is definitely an acquired taste. Some Western travelers describe the flavor as rancid. But thanks to the barley flour, tsampa has a wholesome, nutty flavor.
The Tibetan tradition of using butter to thicken breakfast beverages has caught on in fast-paced Silicon Valley, where startup types are now following the Bulletproof Coffee trend by skipping the half and half and adding grass-fed butter to their coffee for extra energy. The founder of the Bulletproof Coffee movement, Dave Asprey, was actually inspired by the Sherpas’ tsampa and butter tea diet, and Bulletproof Coffee has similarly mixed reviews when it comes to its taste.
Bannock, North America
Also known as frybread or muqpauraq, bannock has long been made by indigenous people throughout North America. Today’s version is generally a mix of wheat flour, baking powder, sugar, lard, and water kneaded and fried into a pillowy puff of deep-gold bread.
Add whatever you like to your dough. I like dried fruits or—even better—wild raspberries picked straight off of bushes along the trail.
And remember: no need for calorie counting when you’re camping. Serve bannock piping hot and drizzled with honey, jam, and melted butter. Or do as Arizona’s Navajo people do and use your bannock as a taco, and fill it with ground beef, plenty of chili, and all the usual taco toppings, including lots of sour cream. Yum.
Bobotie, South Africa
A version of the Indonesian dish bobotok, bobotie (pronounced ba-boor-tie) made its way to the Cape on Dutch trading ships around 400 years ago. Popular throughout the country, safari goers in South Africa can definitely count on eating the dish while out in the bush. Similar to a gently-spiced shepherd’s pie, the dish is made from minced meat and dried fruit baked with a creamy egg topping until the egg crust is golden and bubbling. Bringing eggs isn’t that practical for a regular camping trip, but full-serviced South African safaris generally include a camp cook. Enjoy!