A Guide to Cooking Food in Hotel Rooms - Microwave Meals Optional

Updated on January 31, 2013
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Fresh pasta with tomato sauce and parmesan cheese? All within the privacy of my beautiful hotel room?  Don't mind if I do!Mmm- fresh salad... and just as I like it!
Fresh pasta with tomato sauce and parmesan cheese? All within the privacy of my beautiful hotel room?  Don't mind if I do!
Fresh pasta with tomato sauce and parmesan cheese? All within the privacy of my beautiful hotel room? Don't mind if I do!
Mmm- fresh salad... and just as I like it!
Mmm- fresh salad... and just as I like it!

It is great fun to travel, and it is great fun to eat, but sometimes eating at restaurants day in and day out gets old. Most people are under the impression that they have to eat out- or else dine in on expensive room service food. Thankfully, there is another option: in-room cooking!

For foodies, in-room food prep is a delightfully novel way to assemble meals. For culture-mongers, buying groceries for in-room consumption is one of the best ways to get to know a new place, as grocery stores happen to be some of the most culturally rich venues available. For picky eaters, in-room cooking allows for greater control over quality and ingredients. For everyone, hotel room cooking can be a fun challenge and creative vacation activity; one definitely worth trying!

I love enjoying different foods that specific countries and regions have to offer.  German bread and I... man... we have a SPECIAL relationship.
I love enjoying different foods that specific countries and regions have to offer. German bread and I... man... we have a SPECIAL relationship.

The Ingredients

Hotel room cooking can be as easy or as difficult as you want it to be; it all depends on the ingredients you purchase. The very easiest options are frozen microwave meals (if you're lucky enough to have a microwave in your room) or simple assembly meals, such as sandwiches. More intermediate options include instant noodle dishes, which require the use of your coffeemaker. Advanced dishes include pastas and grains, which either need to be heated or boiled in water.

If you choose to purchase fully prepared meals (be they fresh or frozen) from grocery stores, you still have the option to improve them (a la Fancy Fast Food), so keep that creativity going! That said, eating prepared grocery store meals is by no meals a cop out- especially if you're in a country such as Japan, where convenience stores and grocery stores offer super delicious dishes that are fresh and ready to go.

Should you prefer to prepare things from scratch, keep in mid that some ingredients are easier to work with than others:


  • Of all vegetables, the easiest to work with in hotel rooms are cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, and mushrooms. Bagged salad is convenient, if you have room for it in your minifridge. Avoid any vegetables that need to be cooked thoroughly, or are large and messy to prepare.
  • Of all grains, couscous and oatmeal are the easiest to prepare in a microwave or with boiling water. Dry pasta is nearly impossible to cook, and rice, even with the conveniences of a microwave, is not very easy to reconcile within the confines of a hotel room.
  • Of all meats, small packaged meats (such as lunch meat) are your best bet. No raw meat! Please!
  • Of all cheeses, those sold in smaller packages are best. Go for cheeses in resealable containers unless you're willing to buy additional storage materials for uneaten cheese. Also consider getting little snacks from gourmet cheese mongers. Local cheeses are both delicious and a wonderful way to enjoy the unique features of the area you’re visiting.
  • With regard to dairy- single use packages are best, even though they're wasteful and more expensive. Let's be honest- room is limited! We must deal with it!
  • With regard to bread- fresh breads of any country can reveal so much about it- as well as expose a huge variety of approaches and ingredients (e.g. Japan has super light, fluffy white bread made with rice flour, while in Germany you can find the most delicious, dense, nutty whole grain loves in the world), so buy fresh if you can! If you must purchase packaged bread, go for smaller packages.
  • With regard to spices and condiments- again, going with small containers is the best way to go; you might also want to bring along some of your own in small packages, or even snag some ketchup, salt, and pepper form a fast food restaurant.

Hotel Room Hacks

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The Tools

"I don't HAVE a kitchen in my hotel room!" you protest.   Don't be silly! Of course you do!
  • Does your hotel room have a microwave?  If so, you can make a wide variety of dishes, from frozen dinners (not so exciting) to aromatic rice simmered with vegetables.  If you hotel room does not have a microwave, frozen foods are out of the question for the most part.
  • Does your hotel room have a refrigerator? And possibly a freezer? Many hotels offer minibars in small fridges.  These fridges make storage of perishable items possible, meaning you can purchase cheese, meat, and veggies in slightly larger amounts and use them over a period of days.  "But there's no room!" you say, "The minibar is stuffed with DRINKS!"  Not to worry, my friend.  You can simply empty it out and neatly line up the un-purchased drinks on a visible shelf so you're not charged for them.  When you check out, put them back in their original locations, and there will be no problem.  
  • Does your hotel room have a coffeemaker? Possibly in the form of a water boiler?  If you have a coffeemaker, you have boiling water.  If you have a water boiler, you have boiling water available in an even more convenient form.  This water can be used for heating foods (such as fresh pasta) as well as cooking some grains (such as couscous)

What to Pack or Buy

  • Plates and Utensils- While hotel rooms offer a lot when it comes to food prep amenities, they do NOT offer much when it comes to dishes and eating utensils.  For this reason, I recommend bringing a bowl and some utensils with you- this saves you from eating out of a coffee mug with the hotel's teensy teaspoons.  If you don't feel like packing your best china, by all means buy something once you arrive!  Shopping for cool plates and bowls is ridiculously enjoyable when in another country, and they make for fun souvenirs.  If you are hesitant to purchase a plate and bowl that do not match with your current collection, consider purchasing interestingly shaped ramekins and ceramic tart pans instead- they can be used for baking at home, and make perfectly adequate plates and bowls while you're on the road- plus, they're typically microwave safe!
  • A travel-sized food scale- If you don't have one of these, it's time to get one.  Food scales are wonderfully convenient in that they allow you to measure food without a measuring cup, which saves a lot of space (and time!), plus produces fewer dirty dishes.  Of course, you will not need a food scale if you're just going for basic things, so this is an optional purchase.
 

Shopping at local markets is great fun!
Shopping at local markets is great fun!

In-Room Cooking Tips

Preparing food in a hotel room is surprisingly easy- it doesn't take much skill, and can be as easy or hard as you'd like it to be.  Here are some general tips, though, that you may find helpful:
  • Try something new- Grocery stores in different countries offer all sorts of new foods you might not be familiar with (heck, even the same foods often taste wildly different).  Give them a try!  
  • Take some risks- Making delicious sandwiches- and even sampling foreign frozen dinners- can be fun, but it's not nearly as amusing as making something hot from scratch! Get creative!  Push the limits of microwave and coffeemaker cuisine!
  • When preparing quick-cooking grains such as couscous- follow these steps: (1) Weigh out the correct proportions of liquid to grain (for couscous, one part grains to two parts water or broth works), (2) Boil the liquid and add it to your grains (3) Cover your bowl with a shower cap (provided by most hotels) to allow the grains to cook; wait five minutes (5) Fluff and serve- with whatever garnishes or toppings you may like.  If you want to prepare a more flavorful dish, bring some spices with you and add them to the grain before cooking, or use a spice pack from a box as directed.
  • When preparing fresh pasta- (be it noodles or ravioli / tortellini), simply put the pasta into a bowl and cover it with boiling water.  After the noodles have had time to heat (you may want to change out the water once if they're ravioli or tortellini, since they take longer to heat through), remove them with chopsticks or another utensil, or carefully strain them using a utensil to prevent the bowl's contents from sliding out.
  • Avoid boiling things directly in a water boiler- it gets messy and could damage the device, which is a big time no-no.  I have cooked some things directly in water-boilers, but they were all in those metal pouches, and I always prefer to heat things in a separate bowl, so as to be kind to the hotel room appliances.  
 

The Takeaways

What do you get from trying out hotel room cooking? I'll tell you!
  • By going to local grocery stores, you are given a good idea of what the locals really eat, as well as how they live (e.g. Do they buy food in large or small portions? Do they bring their own bags? How big are the stores? What kinds of foods are the most popular?)
  • By going to local grocery stores, you are also given an idea of what the country works (e.g. just by looking at ingredients, one can tell what crops the country subsidizes)
  • You may end up with some new favorite foods- as well as some odd cooking skills that may come in handy someday!
  • You can save a great deal of money
  • You can eat exactly what you want and when you want it
  • You can enjoy eating freshly prepared food in your room without ordering room service
  • You may end up bringing some some cool souvenirs (such as plates or other cooking tools purchased during your trip)


Bon appetit!

Questions & Answers

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      • profile image

        martinlyl 7 months ago

        You can use a flameless cooker which is very portable to heat food without a microwave. Just add water!

      • Simone Smith profile image
        Author

        Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

        A spice carrier, huh? That sounds like a really cool idea! And a crock pot... wow, you're a traveling cooking pro!

      • profile image

        Debbie 6 years ago

        Thanks Simone for the fun tips. I travel a lot and I bought this spice carrier that I love it goes with me everywhere. You might want to try it out. Also when I'm traveling by car I sometimes take our crock pot with us to make really great soups. I bought the spice carrier at spicestogo.com Thanks again for the suggestions

        Debbie

      • Simone Smith profile image
        Author

        Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

        Wow, that's awesome, Silva Hayes! That's an awesome way to use a not-so-satisfying product, and I love the tip about the dental floss, too!

      • Silva Hayes profile image

        Silva Hayes 6 years ago from Spicewood, Texas

        Hi, great hub! I have a funny little suggestion about cooking in hotel rooms - get a big electric skillet! My husband bought one on line - All Clad brand - and when it was delivered, I was not happy! The thing is huge! But what is funny is that we take it with us when we travel and it is so big, you can put different foods in different areas of the skillet and cook it all at once (or heat it up). The first time we took it on a trip, we stayed at a nice hotel where you had to enter through the lobby, and I carried the skillet in with part of it sticking up out of a bag and after we got into the room I expected Security to come knocking on the door and say, 'Ma'am, no cooking in the room!' Since I kept the box it came in, I now pop it in the box and put it inside a piece of luggage (a large piece of luggage). Here's another little tip I learned from my mother; if you are traveling and don't have a knife, you can slice certain things (cake, cheese, etc.) with dental floss, the unwaxed kind!

      • Simone Smith profile image
        Author

        Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

        That's brilliant, Mike! You sure do know what you're doing!

      • profile image

        mike breaux 6 years ago

        i grill chicken breasts on a george foreman grill...bag salad, cherry tomatoes...paper plates...

      • Simone Smith profile image
        Author

        Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

        Ah-hah!

      • Simone Smith profile image
        Author

        Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

        Given the theme of the above article, I'd say let's book a hotel room, but that would be pretty fresh. Pretty fresh indeed.

      • Simone Smith profile image
        Author

        Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

        As do I, Johnvegan. As do I :D

      • JSParker profile image

        JSParker 6 years ago from Detroit, Michigan

        Great idea on the pasta and grains. I never even thought of that. I've often packed a few dishes and utensils and brought back leftovers from restaurant meals, or fixed a few simple grocery store items, but you definitely take it to a new level. Thanks!

      • Simone Smith profile image
        Author

        Simone Haruko Smith 7 years ago from San Francisco

        Wow! Most of the eco-conscious rooms I've been in have override power for their fridges. That's unfortunate! Looks like the hotel managers didn't wire the room correctly!

      • profile image

        Mary 7 years ago

        Watch out when you are in an environmentally conscious area. I was once in a room in Europe that required a door key to be pushed into a slot to have the lights etc. work in order to prevent people from leaving the lights on when they were not in their rooms. We did not realize it at first but the electricity in the fridge only worked with the card in the slot...warm milk anyone?

      • Simone Smith profile image
        Author

        Simone Haruko Smith 7 years ago from San Francisco

        Oh, do! Going to local grocery stores when abroad can be great fun, and it's nice to get to 'eat in' on a dime some days XD

      • VancouverGal profile image

        VancouverGal 7 years ago from Canada

        These ideas sound like a lot of fun! Will keep them in mind for my next vacation.

      • Simone Smith profile image
        Author

        Simone Haruko Smith 7 years ago from San Francisco

        Thanks! Yep- eggs are a great travel food!

      • quuenieproac profile image

        quuenieproac 7 years ago from Malaysia

        Good tips Simone, I like hard boiled eggs , cheap and nutritous if I cannot find suitable food to eat in a foreign place.

      • Simone Smith profile image
        Author

        Simone Haruko Smith 7 years ago from San Francisco

        LOL - good luck with that iron, hahaa

      • profile image

        pj 7 years ago

        i'm going to do pasta tonight. I had instant noodles and salad. maybe i'll venture to do a grilled (with ironing board and iron) sandwich tomorrow. :)

        but it does make me wonder - with the right materials - i could grill a steak with the iron right?

      • Deerwhisperer profile image

        Brenda K Krupnow 7 years ago from Ravenden, AR

        Great tips!

      • liljen23 profile image

        liljen23 7 years ago from Shreveport,LA

        Great tips, I do this every time I travel and it saves money as well.. you get a thumbs up..

      • Simone Smith profile image
        Author

        Simone Haruko Smith 7 years ago from San Francisco

        Oh, that makes me so glad! I hope you have fun with it!

      • kgnature profile image

        kgnature 7 years ago from North Carolina

        Great ideas! I would have never thought of these things. As a person who often travels with young grandchildren, this is going to come in very handy.

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