5 Potluck Dinner Recipes for Backpackers

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Winner, Winner, Potluck Dinner!

The potluck dinner is becoming increasingly popular in hostels and in backpacker flatshares across New Zealand. Not surprising, considering it is a great idea for backpackers to get together for a sociable and inexpensive meal while getting to try lots of great food! If you haven’t heard of the “potluck dinner” concept before, it’s a meal where each guest/person brings a dish to be shared by all.

“So the potluck dinner sounds great, but what do I make?!” Where to start thinking about what food to bring to a potluck dinner can be pretty daunting. The pressure is on when there is that one person in your group who is a self-proclaimed chef and can’t wait to show off. (Let’s be honest, it was probably that guy/girl who suggested to have the pot luck dinner in the first place). But, don’t be put off! We have some great potluck dinner recipes for backpackers below! What’s more, they should be easy enough to prepare in your standard New Zealand hostel kitchen.

5 Quick Ideas to Impress at a Potluck Dinner

  • Make something from your own country!
  • Make one of the 5 Traditional New Zealand Recipes
  • Make dessert! (So many people forget about this course)
  • Make nibbles/finger food. (It doesn’t necessarily need to be a main course)
  • Think of the people in your group with dietary requirements!

Pixabay© Pixabay

Pull-apart Garlic Bread

There’s a lot of pulling apart in a potluck dinner… Even the people you want to pull apart when they take the last burrito (see below). One thing that is acceptable to pull apart is this “pull-apart garlic bread”. You can either make your own bread and totally brag about it afterwards or you can buy artisan bread from the supermarket and just keep quiet about the whole thing… Skip down to Step 2 if you prefer that option.

Step 1 – Bake Your Own Bread


  • 2 cups – high-grade flour
  • 3 tsp – yeast
  • 1/2 tsp – salt
  • 3 tbs – olive oil
  • 1 cup – warm water


  1. Mix flour, yeast and salt in a bowl.
  2. Make a well in the middle and add the oil and water.
  3. Mix all together and start kneading the bread on a floured surface. (Keep topping the surface with flour if the dough is too sticky).
  4. Knead for 5 minutes, mould into a ball, and leave to rise for 1 hour in an oiled bowl.
  5. Punch the dough in the middle to flatten it, then mould it back into a ball, and leave on some baking paper to rise again for another hour.
  6. Bake at 180ºC (360ºF) for 25-30 minutes.



  • 500g (1lb) – cheese
  • 150g (5oz) – butter
  • 2 cloves – garlic, finely chopped or minced


  1. Cut slices into the bread both horizontally and vertically (but not all the way through to the bottom).
  2. Soften the butter in the microwave (don’t melt) and cream together with the garlic.
  3. Spoon the garlic butter between the bread slices.
  4. Place the sliced cheese between every bread slice.
  5. Wrap the entire bread in tin foil and bake at 180ºC (360ºF) for 20 minutes, then unwrap the top of the bread so it is exposed and bake for an extra 10 minutes.
Maxpixel© Maxpixel

Backpacker Burritos (Meat or Vegetarian)

This is always a winner in a potluck dinner because people love something interactive! With burritos, you have to scoop the burrito filling, salsa, guacamole, sour cream, lettuce and cheese and wrap it all up yourself. Plus, Mexican food is the bomb!

What’s more, you can easily create a vegetarian or meat burrito to please all your mates. Don’t forget the tortillas!

Did you know you can make burritos in the microwave too? Check out 7 Easy Hostel-Friendly Microwave Recipes.

Burrito Filling


  • 1kg (2lbs) – beef mince / 1 can – chickpeas, rinsed (v)
  • 1 – onion
  • 2 cups – mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 can – kidney beans, rinsed
  • 2 – capsicums, chopped
  • 1 sachet – burrito seasoning
  • 1 cup – water


  1. Cook the mince in a frying pan on a medium/high heat until brown (if doing the meat option).
  2. Add onions and cook for 3-4 minutes until the onions are tender.
  3. Add chickpeas (if doing the vegetarian option), kidney beans, capsicum, mushrooms and cook for a further 5 minutes.
  4. Mix the burrito seasoning in a cup of water then add to the frying pan, reducing the heat to low. Let the mix simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Mix the following ingredients into a small bowl.

  • 2 or 3 – tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 – onion
  • 1 – serrano chile / 1 – jalapeno chile (stems, ribs, seeds removed) and choose your quantity to taste.
  • 1 – lime, juiced (save some for the guacamole)
  • 1/4 tsp – salt and pepper

Mix the following ingredients into a small bowl.

  • 2 – ripened avocados, skin removed and flesh mashed
  • 1/2 tsp – salt
  • 1 tbsp – lime juice
  • 2 tbsp – onion, finely chopped
  • 1 – serrano chile, stems and seeds removed, minced
  • 1/2 – tomato, pulp and seeds removed, chopped

Other fillings

  • 1 – iceberg lettuce, washed and cut into strips
  • 1 cup – sour cream
  • 1 cup – cheese, grated
 Stacy Spensley on Flickr© Stacy Spensley on Flickr

Kumara Wedges

Simple yet so effective! This is a good dish for people to pick from. Plus, you can argue that it is a traditional New Zealand recipe. New Zealanders have been loving their kumara for centuries! Just check out Why Every Backpacker in New Zealand Should Cook With Kumara.


  • 3 Kumara, peeled and cut into wedges
  • 2 tbsp Olive oil
  • 1 tbsp Sugar
  • Salt
  • 1 tbsp Other spice (chipotle powder/paprika/Chinese five-spice/Cajun seasoning)


  1. Preheat oven to 200ºC (390ºF).
  2. Put kumara into a large bowl and add the oil.
  3. Mix well to cover the kumara in oil then season with salt, sugar and spice.
  4. Spread kumara onto an oven tray.
  5. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn over all the wedges.
  6. Bake for a further 10-15 minutes, until nicely brown and tender.
 Francis Bijl on Flickr© Francis Bijl on Flickr

Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni (v)

Now it’s time to show everyone your Italian flare. Italian food is a universal pleaser, so surely all your backpacker friends – no matter where they are from – like it! What makes cannelloni great for a potluck dinner is the fact that the cylinder pasta shapes are small enough to portion between loads of people.

Tomato Sauce


  • 1 tbsp – vegetable oil
  • 2 cloves – garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 – onion, chopped
  • 1 can – tomatoes


  1. On a medium/high heat oil in a frying pan then cook garlic for 2 minutes.
  2. Add the onions, cooking until tender.
  3. Add the tomato can and leave to simmer on a low heat for 10 minutes.
  4. Take off the heat and set aside.

White Sauce


  • 1/4 cup – butter
  • 1/4 cup – flour (if you don’t already have some, surely someone in your hostel or your flatmates will!)
  • 3 cups – milk
  • 1 tsp – salt
  • 1/4 tsp – pepper


  1. Preheat oven to 200ºC (390ºF).
  2. Melt butter in a saucepan over a medium/high heat.
  3. Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute.
  4. Gradually whisk in milk and mix in salt and pepper.
  5. Continue stirring until sauce comes to the boil and thickens then take off the heat.


Mix the following ingredients in a bowl and stuff into the cannelloni tubes

  • 1/2 tsp – salt
  • 1/2 tsp – pepper
  • 3 x 250g (9oz) tubs – ricotta
  • 1kg (2lbs) – spinach, chopped
  • 200g (7oz) – cannelloni pasta

Now Assemble!

  1. In a baking dish, put a layer of tomato sauce on the bottom, then cannelloni pieces, add the all the white sauce on top and finally, put the remaining tomato sauce on top.
  2. Bake uncovered for 20 minutes. Grate some cheese on top, then bake for a further 15 minutes.
 Sam-Cat on Flickr© Sam-Cat on Flickr

Mars Bar Crispy Cake

This is the no-bake dessert that doesn’t leave you with unwanted flour and sugar ingredients at the end! (We can’t be bothered carrying that all in our backpack). It’s so easy to make, that you feel ashamed for enjoying it. But, what the hell!


  • 120g (4oz) – margarine
  • 4 – Mars Bars
  • 150g (5oz) – milk chocolate
  • 300g (10oz) – rice cereal (New Zealand brands include Ricies and Rice Bubbles)


  1. Cut Mars Bars into pieces and melt with margarine in a glass bowl over a pan of boiling water. (Alternatively, you can melt them slowly in the microwave using a low heat setting).
  2. Take off the heat and mix in the rice cereal one cup at a time until the mixture is only slightly gooey.
  3. Spread the chocolate rice cereal mix evenly in a tray.
  4. Melt the milk chocolate and spread evenly on top of the chocolate rice mix.
  5. Leave to set in the fridge for a few hours, then cut up into squares.

More Food for Thought

Want to be inspired when it comes to cooking on the road? Or want to save some money on your food shopping? Check these out:


The information in this guide has been compiled from our extensive research, travel and experiences across New Zealand and the South Pacific, accumulated over more than a decade of numerous visits to each destination. Additional sources for this guide include the following:

Our editorial standards: At NZ Pocket Guide, we uphold strict editorial standards to ensure accurate and quality content.

About The Author

Robin C.

This article has been reviewed and approved by Robin, who is the co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. With more than 15 years of experience in the New Zealand tourism industry, Robin has co-founded three influential tourism businesses and five additional travel guides for South Pacific nations. He is an expert in New Zealand travel and has tested over 600 activities and 300+ accommodations across the country.

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