Read the labels in the camping-food aisle at Mountain Equipment Co-op (400 King St. W.) and you’d swear you were in a gourmet prepared-foods shop. But all of these meals—from beef stroganoff to pad see ew chicken—are sold in bags with just-add-water instructions. We asked Toronto Star food critic (and admitted non-camper) Amy Pataki to review a selection of freeze-dried meals.
Mountain House, $5.25 (pictured at top)
What it’s supposed to be: Scrambled eggs with bacon.
What it tastes like: “It looks like sponge toffee and tastes like sponge. The bacon weirdly has the same texture as the eggs, but just a little crunchier. If it were between this and gnawing off my hand, I’d choose my hand.”
Backpacker’s Pantry, $5.25
What it’s supposed to be: Pasta vegetable parmesan.
What it tastes like: “This kinda looks like pasta mixed with Knorr soup mix. It’s palatable, but very middle of the road. It reminds me of those frozen entrée dinners and it’s got a flavour profile that’s strictly democratic. It’s too bad the vegetables couldn’t have softened fully.”
AlpineAire Foods, $7
What it’s supposed to be: Chicken with brown rice and a creamy Dijon sauce with dill.
What it tastes like: “This actually looks like barf. I get the Dijon flavor, but this has a really unpleasant, squeaky texture. And there’s a strangely tangy, sour flavour that I don’t think would be very refreshing when you’re camping.”
Mary Jane’s Farm, $6.50
What it’s supposed to be: Organic, vegan kettle chili.
What it tastes like: “This is really unfortunate looking. It looks pre-digested. It’s actually the best so far, even though it has a very loose, sloppy texture. The lentils have retained a bit of bite, and it actually seems more like a dal than a chili. If you brought a chapati or naan with you, that would be nice. I’d actually eat this again.”
Natural High, $4.40
What it’s supposed to be: Chocolate fudge mousse with toasted almonds.
What it tastes like: “It smells like Jell-O pudding, and it tastes like unsweetened cocoa powder. It’s got a very plastic-y aftertaste that coats your mouth—like I’m eating a plastic spoon. This would have to be the worst of all of them. You could do so much better with a bar of chocolate.