We spent a few months put up in serviced apartments in Adelaide over year end. It was a nice change to be somewhere different, and although freelance has given me opportunities to travel for work purposes, my husband has never had the chance to come with. This time, the travel was for his work, so I went along for the ride.
The apartments we stayed in were walking distance from the office, right in the middle of the CBD. I cannot dispute the convenience of truly inner city living where you can walk to get groceries, and have a potter around to the shops and restaurants when the mood strikes, particularly when you’re in a new place for a moderate amount of time (the $9 cinema was a nice bonus). It was a bit of a cross between living at our previous apartment home, and our current home which is in close proximity to the local restaurant and cafe strip. But with less Stuff. And we have a lot of stuff. It was enlightening to see how little we really need, and has certainly made it feel easier to part with things now that we’re back and can get stuck into some not-Spring Cleaning.
One thing that I did wonder about was a couple months cooking with serviced apartment equipment, and an entirely bare pantry.
Step 1: Buy a knife sharpening stone
It’s only a few dollars, but totally worth your time. The knives at these sorts of places are dangerously blunt and more often than not, very cheap.
If they happen to have a knife block with those sharpening rods, you could possibly make do, but you’re essentially using it to bend a blunt edge straight again. You’d do better buying a new cheap knife to use. At least if you use a sharpening stone, you can sharpen all the knives they have that you may need to use rather than just buy one you have to use for everything.
Don’t know how to sharpen a knife? There are a tonne of YouTube videos that will show you how, and it’ll only take you a few minutes. When you leave, you could always abandon the stone for the next tenants, or just bring it home. They’re handy to have.
Step 2: Meal plan (ish)
I hate meal planning. I find it boring, and I usually don’t know what I want to eat a week in advance. Also, my fridge is usually too full of Various (I’m Asian, it’s a thing) to be able to store that much extra stuff ahead of time. But in a serviced apartment, you have a clean slate, and you won’t want to have to buy a bottle of soy sauce for one meal, preserved lemons for the next, etc. Especially when you know that when you go, they’ll likely turf all of that. Even if work is covering the cost of your groceries, it still feels like a lot of wastage.
Meal planning gives you an idea of what the minimum condiments are that you’ll need to buy. And finding several recipes with overlapping condiments will help you use them up. You don’t even have to tightly schedule your food. I just bookmarked recipes (or recipe ideas) that don’t have heaps of components, and each time we’d do a shop, I’d see what we had and find a recipe to help use at least some of the items.
I also avoided rice dishes because frankly, I can’t cook rice that comes out to my liking on the stove or in a microwave. So noodles and pasta (konnyaku even) was where it was at when we wanted a carb.
Assuming you get salt, pepper, sugar and some sort of oil as basics… these are the sorts of things I cooked.
If you get tomato sauce or ketchup or red wine vinegar, you can use that as additional seasoning to any of the tomato based things. Or even the chili sauce if that’s how you roll. If you’ll do a lot of Asian food, a small bottle of sesame oil might be worthwhile. Chili flakes can also be added in to taste wherever you like as well.
- Pasta carbonara
The only ‘special’ ingredient is pancetta or guanciale. But for convenience (or accessibility), use bacon. Not sure if you’ll use that whole wedge or pack of parmesan? Skip it.
- Sheet pan meals
If the place has an oven and a sheet pan or oven tray, all you need is any combination of veg and meat (anything from the standard cuts to sausages). Add herbs and spices (juices and fruits even) to season your liking. Put it in the oven at 200C for 30-45min depending on what you’ve got and the size of your veg and ta-da. You might have to meal plan to use any leftover herbs, but NBD.
- Sugo / Ragu based pasta
Some sort of fresh or canned tomato based sauce with or without meat. A simple one to throw together is just roughly chopped tomatoes, garlic and fresh basil. The special things would be the herbs, and red wine. But if you drink, no problem. If you don’t drink, omit, or buy those little single serve bottles.
Veg and meat, and a frying pan. Go with basic seasoning, or pick up a small bottle of soy or oyster sauce. You can use it for other things. Or see if you can find picnic packs of little soy sachets. Add some noodles and chili or tomato sauce sauce and you have some mee goreng inspired thing.
- Tomato Noodles with Fried Egg
This Chinese dish is such a basic home food thing. You can use something like this Tomato Eggs as the base recipe, and add more tomatoes and cook the eggs a little less to make it more of a sauce before you stir it through the noodles, or make it as is to have as a regular side to a carb. Don’t have sesame oil? Skip it. Spring onions only available in unreasonably sized bundles? Skip it, fry in some onions at the start instead, or use the spring onions in the stir-fry or the tahini sauce noodles as well.
- Tahini sauce noodles
Okay, so this one has tahini as a ‘special’. But you can use that as a spread, or a salad dressing. You could even make up some sort of dressing or marinade for the one of the sheet pan meals. If you find a small jar, you only really need to make this sort of dish a few times to use it all, which is quite reasonable over a couple weeks to a month. You could do something like Soba Noodles with Sesame Tahini Sauce or Sesame Noodles with Swiss Chard and Chicken. Add protein or veg as you like. Or use the sauce as a base for a Buddha bowl.
Obviously what you will want to buy may depend the duration of your stay, but even for shorter stints, many of these are still manageable and tasty with minimal add-ins needed. And if you have access to a market or bulk foods place, you have a few more options if you can buy the exact quantities you need rather than fixed portions you get in supermarkets.