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Cooking on vacation – some tips

Kate Hill making apricot tart at CamontDisclosure: I received a small discount on my Vacation in Paris apartment rental in exchange for two articles inspired by my most recent trip.

I’ve just spent a week in Paris, staying in the 2nd arrondissement at a cute Vacation in Paris studio apartment.  After spending a few days in a ViP apartment in the 7th back in March, I was lucky enough to find a tiny studio apartment available for the dates I needed in July and I was especially excited to see that it had a real oven, a dishwasher, four hotplates and a microwave.  Perfect for entertaining friends!  And yes, even though I was in a city where there are SO many great restaurants (and, um, desserts and pastries), when I am in Paris I am catching up with friends and there’s nothing quite like a leisurely meal relaxing “at home”. Plus, I love to cook – even on vacation!

Over the past 10 years or so, we’ve been renting vacation properties all around the world (you can read some of my tips for renting holiday apartments here), and perhaps unlike many people who just vacation to get away from the daily routine, I absolutely relish the chance to cook in a foreign country. Over the years I’ve complied a sort of checklist (mentally) that helps me get cooking in a rental kitchen quickly and efficiently which I though might be useful. So many people ask me how I manage to pull off some of the meals/ dishes I make in not-ideal (meaning: not my own kitchen) circumstances so hopefully some of these tips will prove useful if you’re interested in cooking when you go on holidays.

1. Check the cupboards.

Pantry image on Shutterstock on eatlivetravelwrite.com(Pantry image from Shutterstock)

Check your rental apartment/ house kitchen cupboards before you go shopping. Quite often there are some staples (coffee/ tea/ sugar/ spices/ salt and pepper/ olive oil etc…) that previous tenants have left behind. This seems to be the (unspoken) rule for self-catering vacation rental properties. You’ll probably buy some staple items but you won’t need to carry them home with you. So you pass them on to the next guests. But before you go shopping, if possible, check what’s in the cupboards (unless you are arriving in France late on a Saturday afternoon – you might want to make sure you stop in at a supermarket before the stores close on a Saturday night – in many parts of France you might not find a supermarket open on a Sunday) so you don’t buy unnecessary items. And if you don’t need what’s left at the end of your stay, leave it for the next guests!

2. Find your local (farmers’) market

Produce at the Marche St Martin on Localers tour on eatlivetravelwrite.comAlthough supermarkets hold a great deal of fascination for me (and many of my travel companions!), nothing beats a great farmers’ market.  Try to find out where your nearest one is to ensure you are buying seasonal, fresh produce at its best.  I’ve learned to Google this type of information because quite often, especially in smaller towns, the market comes only once a week and there’s nothing more disappointing than finding out you missed it by a day (or a few hours). Apart from being the place to pick up some of the best ingredients to cook with, the market can also be a wonderful place for people-watching. Plan to spend a few hours mooching around a market at least once if you are near one! Headed to Paris? Read my guide to the Markets of Paris here.

3. Plan, plan, plan!

Calendar image from Shutterstock on eatlivetravelwrite.com(Calendar image from Shutterstock)

I’ll admit that I am a planner. Especially on vacation.  As a teacher, though I have the luxury of long weeks of summer holidays, most people (including Neil) do not which means vacation time is precious. If you are taking anything other than a beach holiday where the plan is to do as little as possible, you’ll most likely spend some time planning your days’ activities. This is especially important in summer months in Europe where you’ll often find yourself up against (lengthy) summer closures and random closures for no specific reason (“fermeture exceptionnelle“). So just as you would for your holiday activities, tours and visits, plan your meals. You’ll most likely want to check out some local restaurants and again, if time is tight, you’ll probably want to book those meals before you go.  And if you plan on cooking in your vacation rental, sit down with a calendar and figure out exactly how much shopping you will need to do (hint: it’s probably less than you think/ than you will want to buy). See #4.

4. Shop small and shop often.

strawberries and apricots on Context Aligre market tour on eatlivetravelwrite.comIf you are planning to take advantage of local produce, do as the French (and many Europeans) do and buy smaller quantities of food (especially fruits and vegetables) more often.  It’s tempting to go overboard at the markets when all the produce looks so amazing but try to keep in mind how many meals you are actually preparing (see #3) and shop accordingly.

5. Think “What kitchen utensil is a must for me?” and, if possible, bring it with you.

utensils at La Cuisine Paris on eatlivetravelwrite.comDo you have a favourite knife?  A whisk? A vegetable peeler you absolutely cannot do without? Perhaps you use your microplane for everything? If there’s a favourite utensil that you are able to pack, I’d strongly suggest bringing it.  Rental kitchens, no matter how well equipped they are, most likely won’t have the sharpest knives and if you simply cannot do without one, you might find yourself at a loss.  I know that I bake a lot so I have a set of cup and spoon measures, a lightweight digital scale, disposable piping bags and piping tips, a small cutting board and a small, sharp chef’s knife that I routinely pack. It’s not quite the kit that Clotilde over at Chocolate & Zucchini packs when she travels but it’s a start and it means I know that I can continue baking and cooking pretty much as if I am at home even when I am not.

Following these simple tips, I managed to entertain friends three times in a week in my Vacation in Paris apartment.  I’ll admit it was hard to not buy ALL the produce at the markets but at least I was able to buy some, make the most of my kitchen space, prepare delicious meals AND catch up with friends.

 What about you – do YOU like to cook when you are on vacation? What are some of your tips?

Disclosure: I received a small discount on my Vacation in Paris apartment rental in exchange for two articles inspired by my most recent trip.

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2 Responses to Cooking on vacation – some tips

  1. Cakelaw August 5, 2015 at 07:52 #

    Some great tips there Mardi. I love that you found a place to stay with a proper kitchen.

  2. Cher August 5, 2015 at 09:03 #

    Love this.
    We’ve become huge fans of finding rentals with some sort of kitchen while we are away on vacation. Some days, we just don’t feel like spending two hours in a restaurant and we also like scouting local stores and markets for new “cooking finds”. Some of our best vacation meals have happened in our condo/ unit.
    I have been known to bring a spatula and a favorite frying pan along.

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