Backcountry Wok is bringing Asian cooking to the great outdoors

Melanie Ang’s company makes eco-friendly food that reflects the diversity of the people exploring the outdoors.

Ask any Asian kid who grew up in a community where they were a minority and they can probably relate to this experience.

I spent a great degree of effort during school lunches trying to conceal the fragrant goodness my parents would pack for my school lunches, always wishing they would just give me what the other kids had. Why couldn’t I have a sandwich?

I wish I had celebrated and embraced my culture and its delicious food back then, as much as I do now.

Today, I am proud to be the founder of Backcountry Wok. We are diversifying the outdoor industry by creating eco-friendly, multicultural, Asian-inspired camping meals to reflect the diversity of people who are exploring the outdoors.

Backcountry Wok started from my desire to eat better-tasting, more-nutritious, and eco-friendly meals in the outdoors. It has evolved to be so much more — it has created an inclusive community of like-minded environmentally conscious adventurers.

As a marine biologist and avid backpacker, I have worked and lived in remote locations, having spent weeks in the outdoors eating my fair share of dehydrated camping meals. These meals are often packaged in layers of plastic and aluminium waste, they are filled with too many salts and preservatives and often feature the same types of recipes — we see plenty of pasta and chilis. 

I wanted to eat food that is sustainable and has less of an impact on the environment — foods that I regularly eat at home while I am in the outdoors. As a first-generation Canadian, I grew up eating and cooking mostly Asian dishes at home and it was always such a struggle to go into the backcountry and eat pasta for weeks.

There are more diverse and multicultural people exploring the outdoors, yet why isn’t this diversity captured in the outdoor industry and the dehydrated foods on the market? That was my inspiration behind putting the “wok” in Backcountry Wok. 

Backcountry Wok currently has three dehydrated meal recipes: Bibimbap, Thai Green Curry, and the Original Fried Rice with plans to expand our variety of dishes. Over the years, I have probably eaten more dehydrated bibimbap than anyone on the planet.

The recipes you see today are the result of years of my team’s obsession to find the perfect cut of carrot, the right combination of ingredients, and the perfect texture of rice. Today, I am proud to say we have diverted more than 3,000 bags from landfills, shared more than 3,000 Asian-inspired meals, and fueled more than 3,000 adventures.

My entrepreneurship journey so far has been a roller coaster of ups and downs. From cutting carrots at 3 a.m. in our commercial kitchen to being interviewed on CTV. From losing my voice on Day 1 of a major weeklong show to running a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Startup life has opened a world of opportunities, constantly challenging me to wear multiple hats (package designer, food prep, sales, marketing) and pushing me outside of my comfort zone (hosting workshops and speaking on live national TV).

Ultimately, my favourite part has been connecting with people in my life, old and new friends, in such a meaningful way. To connect with people about their similar frustrations over single-use packaging, the need for more diverse foods, and to have them believe and support my team and I is so rewarding and the reason I love what I do!

Looking back, I have come such a long way from being that kid wishing for that sandwich.

Today, I am proud to represent Asians (and our delicious food) to bring about a more diverse and multicultural perspective to the outdoor industry. 

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