Backpacker’s Bistro was founded in 2016 by Melissa Lynn Leiser as an alternative to overly salted, underwhelming backpacking food. Melissa’s a lifelong hiker and backpacker, who also happens to be a chef who trained at the French Culinary Institute and was awarded the Top Chef award in 2008. So it’s a safe bet that her food is pretty good.
I’ve been resigned to less healthy options while in the back country and figured it was just part of the experience to be constantly craving fresh vegetables. I was VERY intrigued by the idea of chef-created, healthy, vegetable-forward meals with all the convenience of Mountain House and Backpacker’s Pantry. The price of each meal at $8 each is comparable or slightly more than what you’d pay for a similar pre-packaged dehydrated meal, and the packaging is beautiful: minimal, clean, and clearly labeled.
I trialed all three of Melissa’s vegan-friendly offerings for you, what a hardship. I should note that these all ended up as desk lunches while I looked at other people’s hiking pictures on Instagram…#entrepreneurlife. Each one has the same instructions: open, remove oxygen absorber and any add in baggies, add a cup of boiling water, stir, reseal, wait twenty minutes, and enjoy.
Risotto Primavera: I was most excited about this selection – I love risotto and was so curious to see how it would rehydrate. This dish was full of vegetables and light, springy flavors. The white wine flavor comes through clearly and I left my lunch feeling energized and ready to take on the afternoon, not ready for a nap. I would wish for a little more protein in this one if I were refueling after a day of hiking.
Mexican Rice & Beans: I really need to know how Melissa dehydrates her green onions and cilantro. When I opened this package, the first thing I noticed was this tiny bag of delicately dehydrated, completely intact green onions. I rehydrated the rice and beans as instructed, added an additional tablespoon of hot water to the enchilada sauce, and waited patiently. This dish is smoky, spicy, and full of great textures with the corn. The green onions add a blast of fresh flavor, and the enchilada sauce is fantastic.
Mushroom and Wild Rice Pilaf: Photos do not do this justice – WOW. I grabbed this thinking “I like mushrooms, this will be fine” and was completely blown away. The apples and raisins give this wonderful pops of sweetness, the mushrooms are tender and meaty, and the wild rice rehydrated well to be nicely chewy and not crunchy. This was my favorite of the three!
One thing that struck me as I was recapping this review was that all three of these meals tasted distinctly different. Some dehydrated/freeze dried meals can end up tasting the same – aggressive tomato, gluey cheese – but these all taste fresh.
I paid for these meals myself as a trial for CampRents bags, and I’m delighted to announce that each rental will feature at least one of Melissa’s meals! Thanks, Melissa, for all your help, and for your photos which are so much better than my sad desk cell phone photos!