Much-loved Kiwi chef Nici Wickes on the magic of ‘home cooking’ on holiday. Words Nici Wickes Photos Todd Eyre
I love to travel but one of the downsides is I’m often without a kitchen for the time away. It only takes
about five days before I’m yearning to handle food again, to chop and peel and gently fry something. Airbnb and being able to stay in an actual home solves this to some extent, as does booking in for cooking classes or tours of food markets.
In Catania, Sicily, I stayed in the most delicious little apartment, three floors up in the old quarter and just
around the corner from the famous seafood market. I had such a gorgeous time that when my allocated week was up, I texted the owner to extend my stay by a few more days, then a few more, and then some more. I couldn’t tear myself away from my new-found neighbourhood and the fantasy that I was a local.
One day I attended a cooking class where it was just me and another woman, a New Zealander who lived in Australia and who was travelling Sicily on her own, living her fantasy. We swapped details and the following day I invited her over for lunch. It was such fun to be able to host while away.
Another time, in Bali, I lived for two weeks in a sweet little bamboo house on the edge of some terraced,
iridescent green rice paddies. The kitchen, in fact the whole house, was open to the element s so I could
cook as I gazed out and breathed in the sweet aroma of frangipani. I loved being able to actually shop at the early-morning food market, as opposed to just looking at the glorious array without the opportunity to utilise any of it.
Just before the pandemic struck, I travelled to Byron Bay in Australia with my niece and while we stayed at a beautiful rainforest retreat for the first few days and ate like queens, we also loved it when we moved into our own apartment by the beach and cooked for ourselves. A trip to the famed Byron Farmers Market (incredible!) meant a dinner of creamy wild mushroom pasta, and mock pina coladas made with fresh pineapple.
With world travel restricted, or at least not nearly as straightforward as it was prior to 2020, I’ve been
exploring my own country more and I recently satisfied a life-long curiosity… for campervanning!
Hiring a campervan had always been beyond my reach (waaay too pricey), but when tourism plummeted due to international travel restrictions, suddenly the poor rental companies had to set about offering attractive deals to domestic tourists (like me!) to get their fleet back on the road. The first trip I booked was for three nights and I asked my eighty-something-year-old parents if they’d like to join me. What a trip we had! It was so much fun.
We headed to where my parents had first met sixty years prior – the campground right on Mt Maunganui beach – where we soaked in hot pools, strolled in the sunset and I went for early morning plunges in the ocean.
Mum and I had agreed before we left that heat-and-eat dinners would be the go, so she produced her famed steak and kidney stew and I made a gorgeous coq au vin to take on the road with us. Both had excess gravy to have on buttery toast for brekky – a family favourite.
On that first night after I’d climbed the ladder, inelegantly, and tucked myself into the bed ‘upstairs’, with the whole camper rocking with my effort and too much hilarity from my camper mates downstairs, I went online and booked four more trips because I was already smitten with this mode of travelling.
Why? You guessed it – I get to travel with a kitchen onboard! It’s like camping but without the soggy chilly bin and tiny gas cooker to hold you back. I loved getting creative and whipping up steamed puddings in empty tomato tins, fritters galore and snappy little snacks.
In all I took six campervan trips that year, mostly alone and I loved every minute of them. Here are some recipes from my time ‘on the road’ – they work in home kitchens, too!
Yum diddily yum. Easy to make with limited supplies and equipment.
Can you imagine how good it was to tuck into this while sitting in our campervan overlooking the beach? We were in heaven!
Note: Without a doubt, this dish is better made the day before, cooled, then reheated. It just deepens
MAKES TWO PUDDINGS
Steamed pudding in a campervan! After a few trips, I got used to taking some of the baking basics – flour, butter, sugar – so that I could make pancakes, dumplings and these lovely little steamed puddings, using the empty tomatoes tins that I inevitably had.
Note: If tamarillos aren’t in season, use another soft-fleshed fruit such as peaches, feijoas or berries. Even a few tablespoons of jam or golden syrup will do the trick!
Extract, recipes and photos from A Quiet Kitchen by Nici Wickes, published by Bateman Books, $45