Sequoia National Park, California. The first signs of evening spread across the sky and we are roughly thirty minutes away from our campsite. Heavy clouds gather above the treetops and cover what little sun is out. Rain begins to pitter patter against the top of our 4Runner. The sound reminds me of grains of rice falling into a metal pot.
Every camper, no matter how novice or seasoned they are, has experienced some form of this story. And every camper will tell you that what separates a successful trip from an unmitigated disaster is the degree to which you plan for the unexpected.
My family’s first camping trips began a little over ten years ago. We’d spend our weekends traveling up and down California, setting up camp everywhere – from Big Sur to Sierra Nevada to Death Valley. Our evolution from a family that camps to a Korean family that camps is primarily marked by one thing: how we prepare and eat food.
Food, and by extension food prep, is the secret glue of camping. A warm, nourishing dinner after a full day of being challenged by the elements is essential. Good food can lift cranky spirits. Good food can make a trip memorable.
Here are three lessons I’ve taken away from my experience camping and cooking with my family in the wild, as well as a simple recipe for Kimchi fried rice that we’ve made outdoors.
As we turn into our campsite, we go right to work. The rain is soft and intermittent. With our LED lanterns and headlights glowing, we separate into two groups: my father and sister begin setting up a shelter next to the tent while my mother and I unpack the cooler and get ready for dinner.
We open the cooler to find sealed tupperware containers of sliced romaine leaves for ssam, soy-soaked eggs, and sweet roasted anchovies. Half a cup of sesame oil lives in a small glass jar. Our food choices aren’t what you’d typically imagine when you think of traditional camp fare, but what it does reflect is our kitchen at home.
The clouds disperse as the night settles in. Stars introduce themselves above a crackling campfire. We nourish our bodies with spoonfuls of rice. The smell of roasted sesame and sauteed kimchi wafts through the ancient Sequoia trees. We feel at rest.
Bringing a taste of home can make all the difference when you’re outdoors. It can comfort you when things go sideways. The secret to “perfecting” camping and, by extension, camp cooking is recognizing that you can’t perfect an experience that is, by default, wild. Part of the fun is adapting to what we don’t expect – rolling with the unexpected.
Things may go awry! But that’s OK. Thinking ahead and planning in advance encourages us to fully immerse into the unknown without it overwhelming us.
This is a recipe adapted from a meal my family frequents when we go camping. Kimchi Fried Rice is the epitome of a last-day-on-the-trail meal. It’s a simple one-pot dish that is infinitely customizable with whatever ingredients you have leftover.
Yield: 3-4 servings
Total Time: 15 minutes
For the rice:
For the topping:
Roughly chop the kimchi and onion.
Pre-heat a pot or wok on medium heat. Add in the avocado oil.
Once the oil starts shimmering, saute the onions and kimchi until the onions become translucent.
Add leftover veggies or protein and saute for a minute until wilted/cooked through.
Add the cooked rice and stir for 5 minutes.
Remove from the heat and garnish with green onion, sesame oil, sesame seeds, and crushed seaweed.
Serve right from the pot and garnish with scallions.
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