If, like me, you like your food, there is little as disappointing on a long ride than when your body is screaming out for sustenance and all you can find located in the bottom of your Camelbak is a suspiciously out of date and slightly fusty energy bar.
Don’t get me wrong, energy bars have their place, but if the Man with the Hammer is knocking on my door, I want food that I look forward to eating and not something that looks like it has been made in a lab by stern looking men and women in lab coats who are insistent that Goji Berries and Quinoa are THE food of choice. Sorry but if I wanted Soylent Green, I would buy it. But I don’t. So stop trying to sneak it into my riding pack in the guise of low GI, high fibre, superfood bars! Rather, let’s look at some real (and I use that phrase very loosely!) food alternatives.
Kendal Mint Cake
Ah, the choice of Lake District hillwalkers and Everest expeditions everywhere. Whether it is the traditional white or brown varieties or the fancier chocolate coated versions, Kendal Mint Cake is reassuringly unapologetic about what it is made of. The reason it looks like a block of pure sugar flavoured with mint essence is that is what it pretty much is. And all the better it is for it. Resident Grumpy Mark decries it for being just sugar but when it tastes so good and gives you an instantaneous sugar rush, what’s not to like?
Coming from leftfield, well, Greece to be precise, Halva is an ultra-sweet concoction made from sesame seeds and sugar. It has a strange, crumbly consistency which you will either love or hate but damn, it tastes good. Moreover, it packs a calorific punch that pound for pound is hard to beat. It’s not the easiest of foods to find in your local supermarket and may require a trip to your local wholefood store (just beware the wide eyed, pod people style welcome you get as they extol the virtues of Bulgar Wheat) and keep your eyes on this special one.
Now we’re talking. Finally, trail food that actually looks and tastes almost healthy, albeit with a serious covering of chocolate that packs a massive calorific wallop. Forget the small boxes of Poppets that you used to get in your local cinema where you inevitably lost half as you struggled with the push in opening arrangement that never worked properly leading you to tear open the box in the darkness in anger then look forlornly on the sticky floor where most of your Poppets now lay. That is the mistake of the amateur. What you want is a big bag from your local German discounter. For significantly less than a pound, you can have nearly 1000 calories of sweet goodness at your disposal. Win!
Peanut M and M’s
Truth be told, I wasn’t a fan of these when they first came to the market. Years of disappointment stemming from chocolate covered peanuts in packets of Revels (although at least they weren’t the coffee ones – seriously, who gives a child coffee flavoured sweets?) took a lot to overcome. Admittedly, with Revels, you could always play Russian Roulette with your mate with the peanut allergy but that aside, they just tasted wrong. However, with M and M’s, our American cousins recognised that a crispy, brightly coloured shell was the answer. Somehow, the combination just worked and as such, I like to carry a pack for emergencies on big days out. A recent bikepacking trip in the pouring rain saw me bonk big time. However, scoffing down a bag of these babies and I went from zero to hero in a matter of minutes.
Admittedly, this is a bit of an acquired taste but if you are a fan of all things ginger, the small shop beside the church in Grasmere should be your first port of call. Made to an oh so secret recipe that has remain unchanged for millennia, this somewhat dry and crumbly concoction shouldn’t work as trail food. The packaging is slightly fussy greaseproof paper which never quite wraps back together as neatly as when you first open it. However, one bite and I can guarantee that one slice just won’t be enough. Admit to yourself this truth and be content in the fact that you can now enjoy ginger nirvana.
Are they cakes or are they biscuits? It was a question that vexed Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, but for you the real question is how many is it acceptable to eat in one sitting? A genius combination of sponge, chocolate and the smashing jaffa orangey bit, they always remind me of trips to my Grandpa’s on a Sunday afternoon where I would happily spend my time trying to eat the chocolate first without biting into the jaffa orangey bit. As a grown up, it is still a guilty pleasure although now it can be coupled with that eternal question: if there is only one gram of fat per cake and 12 in a pack, would it be terrible to eat all twelve in one sitting? After all, it has orange in it. Surely that counts as one of your five a day.
Now marvel as Sanny, in yet another scientifically controlled test, strives to find out just how quickly one man can eat an entire box of Jaffa Cakes.
Forget your cheap imitations, when it comes to trail food sweets, the Jelly Baby is the Queen of the Hill. A gelatinous mix of food colourings and sugar, it’s hard not to be swept up by their sheer awesomeness. Whether you are a head biter or a toe nibbler, Jelly Babies are the real deal. I defy anyone to resist them, even vegetarians. They are the confectionery equivalent of bacon. Just beware false prophets – claims that Haribos are the new Jelly Babies are just plain wrong. No matter how tangy they make them, nothing is a match for the humble Jelly Baby.
Man or woman cannot live on sweetness alone. As part of a healthy and balanced diet, you need to let some savoury into your life. For your consideration, may I present the humble Pork Scratching. Ok, I won’t kid you, they have a nutritional and health value which is somewhere on par with Crystal Meth but there is just something about their smokey, salted flavour that makes them hard to resist. Every bite is a step towards coronary heart disease. You just know they are REALLY bad for you as they taste so good. Not an every ride choice but one to save for a special big day out for when you go past the point of caring what you are eating.
Barr’s Irn Bru (or Coke if you are south of Hadrian’s Wall)
One thing you have to hand to Irn Bru is that they produce a drink that is easily a match for Coke in the teeth rotting stakes. Scotland is the only country in the world where Coke isn’t the market leader, so Barr’s know a thing or two about caffeine rich, sugary drinks. The taste isn’t to everyone’s liking – until you try it, it is hard to describe but for an intense hit of sugar and caffeine, it is peerless. It probably helps that the advertising pushes the boundaries – face it, would Coke ever have the balls to sell glass bottles with “Fanny” written on them? Nope, thought not! In the World’s leading nation for coronary heart disease (hey, we Scots have to be top at something given how ‘good’ we are at football and rugby), it’s good to know that we lead the world in producing soft drinks that are really bad for you. One for if moderation isn’t in your vocabulary.
Scott’s Porage Oats and Golden Syrup. Mix it up, put it in a baking tray, cook it for a bit then serve. If you are a bit Heston Blumenthal, you might add raisins and chocolate chips (or probably snails, knowing him!) but in its purest form , flapjack rocks. It looks and tastes like real food and is sort of healthy given that they contain rolled oats. Just remember to pack lots for your riding buddies – one is never enough to share!
Anything from The Lunch Box in Ambleside
Tiffin, Marsy Crunch, Malteaser Cake, Peppermint Slice: you name it, you just can’t go wrong. A staple of my Lakeland adventures, no ride is complete without an early morning stop off at this fine purveyor of sweet food. However, their home baking is nought compared to their sandwiches. Pork and apple sauce with stuffing in a wholegrain baguette or toasted panini, made fresh to order and served with a cheery smile, I genuinely struggle not to break out the sandwiches before second breakfast time. If they are reading this, I will happily offer my services as chief taste tester and I haven’t even mentioned their hot Cumberland Sausage sandwiches. I am positively salivating as I write this.
Soreen Malt Loaf
Ah yes, the original malt loaf. Words really do not do justice to the stickily delicious squidgy awesomeness in every bite that is a malt loaf. Whether you are an aficionado of the malt loaf in its au natural state or go for a butter or jam accompaniment, it’s hard to resist the pure shot of energy in a yellow wrapper. On more occasions than I care to remember, the humble malt loaf has saved my bacon. With nearly 550 calories in each 190 gram loaf, for the hungry cyclist in need of sustenance, it has to be a top choice. Ok, the sugar content from the dried fruit is high but if you need carbs in an easy to carry and readily available package, you will struggle to do better.
So there you have it. Twelve top trail foods that mean you don’t have to endure another energy bar ever again. Just watch the calorie count – Weight Watchers friendly, they aren’t!