Backcountry Asian Cooking
Backcountry Asian Cooking
by Harvey Halpern

As someone who travels across the country to do long hikes (7–30 days) in either Canyon Country or the Cascades, Sierras or Rockies, I’m often frustrated by articles on backcountry cooking. Either the ingredients are too heavy, or need to be fresh (try finding mangoes in Hanksville’s Johnsons Grocery Store), or they require elaborate multi–step, multi–pot preparation. At the end of a long day of route finding and canyoneering, the last thing I want to do is spend an hour preparing food. No, actually, the last thing I want to do is eat skimpy portions of tasteless freeze–dried meals.

Luckily, I live near some excellent Asian markets and have discovered the vast cornucopia of dried Asian foods and sauces that have enabled me to delight my backcountry companions with delicious, yet quick and easy meals.

If you live in a city with Asian markets, go to these windows on the world often and with a sense of adventure and experimentation in your heart. Don’t allow your ignorance of the language stop you from asking questions. Going often is critical as even the best of markets don’t keep all the items you’ll need and want in stock all of the time. Don’t be afraid to experiment at home with new sauces and ingredients. Increasing your familiarity with Asian food by eating in Asian restaurants and getting a few good cookbooks can only be as helpful as it is fun. If you’re not lucky enough to live near a good Asian market, try the internet. Ingredients, for example, can be found at

Though all of these recipes are easily prepared in the field, these taste treats do require a sizable time commitment in shopping, measuring, and repackaging. Luckily this can all be done at home. You’re trading pre–vacation time for extra enjoyment of the great outdoors. I’ve chosen five of my favorite Asian entrees and one salad\appetizer in three person proportions. All are meant to be served with a soup and a dessert. If it’s a crowd with big appetites or an extended trip, I’ll also include an appetizer.

The ingredients listed under ‘Dry Bag’ can and should be pre–measured and repackaged into one ziplock bag before venturing into the field. The same is true for the ‘Wet Bag,’ but keep them separate as the Wet Bag ingredients are greasy. The salmon tuna and chicken are all interchangeable items, or try crab or shrimp. On really long trips, like our 17–day adventure on Pollywog Bench (no food caches), we used freeze–dried chicken rather than canned. Needless to say, pack out EVERYTHING you pack in.

Some items you’ll want to dehydrate yourself. I use a Harvest Maid dehydrator with adjustable temperature settings. For my own jerky (used in Bun Bo Hue and as a midday snack), I first freeze the lean cut of steak, such as London Broil, for an hour to firm up the meat so that I can slice it VERY thin. I then marinate it for 2–6 hours in a mixture of Chili paste (Maesri brand), fish sauce, lime juice, and sugar and or honey, the proportions of which should be adjusted for your tolerance of heat. I dry for 7–9 hours at 145° Farenheit. Vegetables such as broccoli are blanched then dried at 130° Farenheit.

Harvey Halpern


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© 2008 Harvey Halpern