“What do you eat on the boat, exactly?” I can’t tell you how many times we’ve gotten this question. Often when we first meet curious folks, eager to know how in the world we are managing to survive, the question of sustenance appears first on the table. Then we tell them, “Well, we don’t have refrigeration,” which before we can even complete the explanation, we immediately hear a stunned WHAT?!?
Yes, it’s true, we live without refrigeration. And guess what, it’s actually not as bad as you’d first think. When Romain and I had our official survey of Talaria we knew the refrigeration system was kind of bust, but since we wanted to leave for our trip right away we decided we would try living without a fridge. Only if we truly couldn’t stand it, then we’d make it a project.
Turns out we can stand it and we’ve learned along the way which foods to avoid and which can withstand the tropical heat. So if you find yourself without power or perhaps you want to save a bit on energy – but don’t feel like restricting yourself to only non-perishables – here are a few of the fresh foods we’ve found that can survive without immediate refrigeration.
Carrots, zucchini, peppers, all seem to do well and can last one week before they start to turn. Onions, garlic, and potatoes last significantly longer. Tomatoes, cucumber, avocado, and any lettuce are a bit difficult to keep for long but can usually make it almost a week. Fresh herbs by day four become problematic.
Apples and oranges fair the best. Bananas, mango, and pineapple also can make it a week, but you’d have to buy them unripe. Fresh berries like blueberries or raspberries only last two or three days, and even by then you have to start picking out the spoilt ones. Melons can hold up in the heat, but for us the issue arises when we cut it open – after one day it’ll get funky.
Meat and Fish
If we get any fresh meat or fish, or even if it’s frozen, we’ll eat it that same day or within 24 hours. Vacuumed-sealed anything becomes your best friend. We get a lot of deli meat and already cooked sausages that are vacuumed-sealed, and those can easily go for a week without refrigeration.
Milk and dairy products are the most difficult to keep, which is a shame because back in our refrigeration loving land lives we ate a lot of cheese. Most of the cheese we’ve found on the islands is pretty terrible, so it hasn’t been a huge problem. However, when you get to the French islands, then you can get your hands on some very tasty products. When we do get cheese, we try to go for the harder ones since they fair slightly better in the heat. The soft cheeses turn into fondue within a day, so we try to find a small portion and consume it quickly. For milk, we buy only non-dairy like soy, coco, or almond from the dry sections in the store (not the refrigerated kind). We stock up and keep them for months, but once we open a soy milk it can last three to four days before it turns. Yogurts, especially non-dairy ones, also can keep without refrigeration for about a week. I’ve actually gotten so accustomed to room temperature yogurt that I strangely now prefer it. As for eggs, we buy a lot of those. We’ve been told if you rub oil on each egg it will make them last longer, but we’ve never tried that. Instead, we just leave them as they are and they easily can go for over a week.
We often eat pasta and I get fresh ravioli when I can, which can make it two days or so before it starts to sprout. The problem is the pasta sauce. Once we open a jar, it kind of needs to be consumed within a few days, so we typically have a few pasta dishes in a row and then I like to make a shakshuka with the rest. We also have a big supply of grains like rice, quinoa, couscous, and lentils and tend to go through bread very quickly. Good, fresh bread is hard to come by, unless you’re in the French islands, in which case we get a fresh loaf every day. Otherwise we stock up on the packaged bread.
I’m not a big fan of canned goods, but we do keep a few just in case. Our first year we had loads of beans, but since we finished them I kind of cringe when I think about restocking the supply. Canned peas and tuna are the preferred items. We also keep a bunch of condiments like mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise, jam, and wasabi, all of which last for months without refrigeration.
Granted, we’re not offshore for weeks at a time, so we can hop into grocery stores and markets fairly often. But I do have to admit, there’s nothing like an ice cold glass of water on a steaming day. These moments of refreshing coolness have become little luxuries. So much so that ice seems to be a currency on our boat. Who knew I could ever appreciate frozen water as much as I do now.