Playa Cuisine: What to Bring; Plus New Comments

By now, those of you planning to go to Burning Man are probably working out the details of your trip.  One of those details should be what you’ll bring to sustain yourself, eating-wise – after all, you are responsible for your own food and drink.  There’s not even a water fountain in Black Rock City (at least, not one I’ve ever seen).

If you’re camping on your own, you’ll need to pack food for every meal during your stay.  Of course, there are plenty of freebies around; one could theoretically find free food all day (and night) at Burning Man – everything from morning pancakes to evening hot dogs to midnight fries.  But you won’t want to depend on gifts alone as your main source of nutrition. The camps serving up freebies are notably irregular on their schedules and the amount of available food; plus, a diet of only what you can bum off of other camps will not provide an haute cuisine experience (or a healthful one, for that matter).

So what should you bring?  I’m not an expert, but I can tell you what we bring to the Playa to eat and drink.  Since Lamplighters (our camp) serves dinner most evenings (we all contribute the food, and camp members do the food preparation as their assigned duties in lieu of lamplighting), we largely concern ourselves with breakfast and lunch – but what we bring could serve for all three meals.

Some of the great non-perishables we bring include cans of soup, tuna, peanut butter, cereal and boxed milk.  For greens, we bring cans of green beans or peas and usually eat them cold.  We find that a loaf of bread will last the week.  Bring some just ripening fruit and it might also make it for the entirety of Burning Man.  We’ve found that oranges keep best in the desert. 

By the way, we heat up soup by putting the can outside in the sun.  If we place it there in the morning, the soup is usually hot by lunchtime.  Opening cans will be a problem if you forget a manual can opener, although many canned foods are now packaged in self-opening containers.

Oh, and don’t forget utensils.  We all like to get dirty in the desert, but slurping up soup without a spoon takes it a bit far for me.

Your range of food will be more limited if you don’t have refrigeration.  Many people bring 7-day coolers and replenish the ice as needed from the Arctica camps at located near Center Camp and at the 3 and 9 o’clock plazas.  The ice is one of the few things that’s not “gifted,” but instead is sold by Burning Man (similarly, the Center Camp Café sells coffee, tea and a few other drinks 24 hours a day).  Earnings from sales of both ice and drinks go to local schools in the towns that border the Black Rock Desert.

Lamplighters heading out to light Black Rock City -- a nightly event.

Lamplighters heading out to light Black Rock City — a nightly event.

For those with refrigeration, you might try bringing one of our favorite meals:  Chinese Chicken Salad from Costco.  But don’t forget the lettuce – which doesn’t come in the “kit.”  A cooler of some sort will allow you to bring such goodies as guacamole and salsa to go with the ever-popular tortilla or pita chips.  After all, munchies can become a critical need at Burning Man.  Refrigeration also allows you to bring items such as hard-boiled eggs – a fast and easy way to stem your hunger.

The Survival Guide provides recommendations on how much water you’ll need, but we often bring as much Gatorade (or some other form of sports drink) as water.  It quenches your thirst and provides the electrolytes needed to withstand the desert heat.  You’ll definitely want to carry a drink with you on your treks across the desert – it’s thirsty work touring Black Rock City.  I usually carry my Camelback for a ready supply of water.  I also have a belt-mounted holster that can carry a bottle of Gatorade, and we have carriers on our bikes for extra water and pick-me-ups.  Cliff Bars and similar quick energy snacks can come in handy while you’re away from your BRC home.

There are plenty of other possible foods that you could consider as you plan your stay.  Just keep in mind the environment of the desert as well as the environment you’re creating for yourself in your tent, trailer or RV as you’re planning your food and drink.  And keep in mind that alcoholic drinks do not provide much in the way of hydration.  You need water in the desert, and ice in your cup full of scotch will not be enough.

There’s no place better than Burning Man to “eat, drink and be merry,” but you’ll need to make certain that you have the required supplies on board for the best possible experience.

We received a number of comments and suggestions on Reddit that I found so worthwhile (or amusing) that I wanted to share them with our readers.  Here they are:

Make a bunch of breakfast burritos before hand. Best decision of the burn last year. –74NK

Corned Beef Hash & Grilled Cheeses at 2am. – djotter

Plan out everything you want to eat ahead of time. Work up the menu at home.  Then cut the entire list by 75% and you will be close to what you will actually end up eating. Even then, you will have some food left over.  My personal choice for stuff out there: Stuffed Grape Leaves. Absolutely the best when its hot.  – SutekhRising

sounds very elementary but chilled fruit snacks are the best during the day.  — sheRex

I had Gushers and PBR for breakfast. — skyhawkecks

Much less than you think.

Bacon in tortillas is at least 50% of my playa calories. And single-serve-pack deli meat wrapped in tortillas.

Keep an eye on your salt intake. If you’re drinking a lot of water (like you should) you’ll need to eat a lot of salt. I drank only vitamin water (no sodium) my second year and crashed on day 3 because I forgot that rule.  – MayTheTorqueBeWithU

We brought a case of avocados last year. I had my doubts but they were soooooo good and easy to eat no matter when or how. — gypsymonkey

Take a soy sauce packet, pour it into a half with the skin still on, grab a spoon and prepare for awesome.  – dapete

Thanks for this Ive been looking for ideas for food on the playa 🙂 – Minnie_Mau5_1991

I bring a Coscto box of those frozen Jimmy Dean biscuit sands. They thaw over the week but they’re already fully cooked so they’re still good. They’re also individually wrapped and so immune to cooler water. Heat them up for about 20 minutes on the hood of a car. Again, keep them in the bag so they don’t get dirty. Don’t forget the hot sauce.

Tasty Bites right out of the bag with some bread is a great quick meal too.

I’ve found that an extra cooler that doesn’t have ice helps keep fruits and veggies a bit longer. Keep it ajar when it’s cool and then close it in the afternoon heat/dust storms. – dapete

You are supposed to eat out there? — Earptastic