Hi there! I'm Daichi of Tabiwa Life, and my wife and I are currently on our vanlife travels around Europe for three months. This is the fourth part of the European vanlife series in VANLIFE JAPAN. Click here (The Departure / The Rental / The Drive / The Van) to see the earlier volumes!
This time I want to talk about food while vanlifing in Europe. Frankly, there's only so much you can prepare and eat in a van because it lacks the space and convenience that a house affords, so it's not exactly the best place to cook. However, I have discovered the joy of vanlife cooking, which I want to share with you in this write-up.
I hope you enjoy our Euro Van Life series as much as we do.
Is it hard to cook in a van?
We sometimes eat out to try the local cuisine from every place that we visit, but generally speaking, we make our own food in the van. Our van has a two-burner gas stove so we can cook quite a variety of food. The only problem is after cooking. I normally don't worry about cleaning up when I'm cooking at home, but that's not the case when you’re in the van. I really try not to make any mess while cooking.
The reason is that we don't have a sink. And because of that, it's important to think beforehand how you're going to clean up afterwards. Personally, what I do is wrap the plates that we use with plastic wrap to not get the actual plates dirty. Likewise, I put aluminum foil on the pans that I use for frying or sautéing to keep them clean, and use wet wipes when they get dirty despite that.
Food costs in Europe
Let's talk about the cost of food in Europe. Prices, of course, vary from country to country. We have now been to France, Italy, and Austria, and have found the prices of meat and vegetables in supermarkets pretty comparable to those in Japan—except those in Switzerland! *laughs nervously*
I'd always imagined Europe to have high costs of things, but in fact, some things have comparable and even lower costs than in Japan. For example, wine is very cheap here. We personally don’t drink a lot, but for people that like drinking, they'll have a lot of fun here. Of course, you can save a lot of money by making your own food because expenses will pile up if you go out to eat all the time. When we were in France, we spent an average of less than ¥1,000 for two people per day in a 25-day time frame.
I think there's a big difference between going on an ordinary vacation versus vanlifing. With the usual vacation, it's more about experience something different from your usual life, like going sightseeing, eating exotic cuisines, and staying at luxurious hotels (YMMV). With vanlife, although you could also do all that, the emphasis is more about experiencing the everyday life in the foreign place you’re visiting. So, with the same budget, you can have a much longer vacation experience camping in a van and making your own food.
One of our favorite things to do is going to different countries and checking out their supermarkets and finding good deals there.
What did we bring from Japan?
The Belgian owners left their kitchenware in the van for us, so we didn't have to worry about that, although we did bring some chopsticks, bowls, and peelers/graters. That said, we did bring lots of Japanese seasonings and condiments. You can actually find them in specialty Asian stores in Europe but they're pretty expensive.
List of stuff we brought from Japan:
・Japanese curry powder
・chicken stock powder
・katsuo dashi (bonito stock)
・instant miso soup
・salt and pepper
・grated sesame seeds
That's pretty much it. If you travel for a long time, you'll miss food from your home country. The last time we ran out of some of the above, we went to a specialty Asian store in France to restock. *laughs*
The secrets of a "delicious" vanlife experience
As I said earlier, I don't think vans are a great place to cook. However, the number of times I’ve actually said "Man, this tastes good!" while van living in Europe is more than when I was in Japan. I thought this was weird at first, but eventually I realized why. I used to think that the actual taste of the food matters most when dining, but I learned that it's more about where you're eating it and with whom you're eating it.
To give a rather extreme example, if you have a gourmet dinner prepared with only high quality ingredients by a famous chef alone in a dark room, are you going to be like "Wow, this is amazing!" all to yourself?
On the other hand, I’ve said it many times while vanlifing without even thinking. There in the limits of our van...of our available ingredients...of our culinary repertoire...are my talented wife and scenic view outside the windows from every place that we visit. There's something enchanting about the whole experience that makes for a delicious meal. That must be why I thought the curry we had at the camp was the best curry I've ever had.
Pursue your happiness
Vanlife is not a convenient lifestyle. Why bother then, you ask? Because I think what's worth it is hidden in the experience itself. Life in the Twenty-First Century is extremely convenient and I'm not saying at all that I don't like that. Even though we're vanlifing right now, we still have Internet connectivity everywhere we go through our mobile Wi-Fi (which is essential), and we're still carrying our own laptops while traveling.
In this modern era, being able to choose your environment and create your space makes life all the more interesting. In my Euro vanlife, I realized that to have a wonderful dining experience, the environment and whom you're with are more important that the actual taste of food.
My wife and I discovered that vanlife is one of the things that make our world go round.
What makes you happy and what makes you keep going for it?
If after reading this article you feel like exploring your own happiness, you should definitely try car camping with Carstay and experience a new environment!