Cheap food tips: Cheap and delicious food around the world

The Italians' most civilised invention is the aperitivo, which takes the after-work drink one step further through the ...

The Italians' most civilised invention is the aperitivo, which takes the after-work drink one step further through the addition of free snacks.

You can eat cheaply and still eat well in most countries, if you just know where to look.


You can keep your beggar's chicken, your shallot pancakes, your hairy crab. When in Shanghai, I can happily survive on soup dumplings alone. The tasty little morsels known as xiao long bao are available on every corner, but it is generally agreed that Jia Jia Xiao Long Bao on Huanghe​ Road has the best in town. They're as cheap as they are delicious - less than A$3 (NZ$3.25) for a dozen – but you need to get in early to beat the queues. 


They gave us the arch, the Renaissance and the delights of opera, but possibly the Italians' most civilised invention is the aperitivo, which takes the after-work drink one step further through the addition of free snacks. The practice, which started in Milan but has spread to other cities, is not just a delightful way to end a working day: it's also a great way for budget travellers to score a free dinner. Every bar has its own offerings, but pick the right one – such as Cantine Isola in Milan or Gusto wine bar in Rome – and you can tuck into a proper buffet, all for the price of a drink. 

Virgilio Martinez in the kitchen


In South America, you can stretch your gourmet dollar further. Not only is the continent home to some of the world's most exciting chefs – think Peru's Virgilio Martínez  and Gaston Acurio, Brazil's Alex Atala and Chile's Rodolfo Guzman – but their prices are often considerably cheaper than those of their European counterparts. Compare NOMA's A$275 degustation with Central restaurant in Lima – ranked just behind NOMA on the San Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants List – which charges just $160, or Santiago de Chile's Borago​ restaurant, where you can enjoy 18 courses for A$$150. Happy eating! 


Why do canny travellers head straight for the local market? There's no entrance fee, they are packed with fresh and fascinating local produce, and they usually harbour a clutch of restaurants offering tasty food at rock-bottom prices. Whether it's the Mercado de la Merced​ in Mexico City, Athens' Central Market or Montreal's Marche Jean-Talon, the local market offers great insights into the local culture. 

Ad Feedback


They do it differently in Penang. In the rest of Malaysia, order laksa and you'll be served up a spicy, creamy noodle soup. The Penang version is a spicy-sour fish soup made fragrant with tamarind juice, chillies, lemongrass and prawn paste. Available at Penang's many food stalls and coffee shops for less than A$2 for a bowl, it's a great any-time meal. 

There are more than 1500 different types of sausage in Germany. Pick them up sizzling hot from food trucks. Photo: Kristjan Porm


Making lunch your main meal is a sure-fire way to slash your food budget. Restaurants across the continent offer good value set lunches, with two or three courses costing as little as A$18. In France, look for the words menu du jour; in Spain, it is menu del dia. The custom has even been embraced by top restaurants: at Paris' Michelin-starred L'Agape, for instance, a four-course lunch is just A$65, whereas dinner soars way above $150. Lunch specials are also a great way to save money in countries like Japan. 


Don't believe the doubters: there's a lot more to German cuisine than beer and sausages. However, there is no denying the Germans have made the sausage into an art form, with  more than 1000 different varieties available.  The next time you need a quick bite, grab a freshly-grilled sausage from one of the sausage outlets that dot every German city. For just a couple of euros, this is fast food the way it should be. 

A traveller's staple: Xiao long bao. 


Vietnam has some of the best street food on the planet, so it's hard to pick just one favourite, but these rice flour pancakes filled with minced pork, cloud ear mushrooms and fresh herbs are incredibly more-ish. If you find eating on the street a bit hard core, plenty of cheap and cheerful food courts offer the same dishes for a smidgen more – say A$2, as opposed to A$1. 


It's not just those famous department store food halls that lure gourmet types; Japan's department stores are also known for their foreigner-friendly restaurants. The replica food displays make ordering easy: just point to the dish that takes your fancy. No department store nearby? You can often find similar eateries in the local train station. 


*10 of the world's weirdest cafes and restaurants
*The top 50 dishes in the world everyone should try
*See Tokyo's biggest attraction while you still can


Team Italia gets a second guernsey for their gelato, which is not only irresistible but also affordable. Unlike Australia's high-priced producers, most Italian gelaterias offer a small cone or cup for around A$3, and usually let you choose at least two flavours. So you don't have to wrack your brain deciding between lavender and fig, chocolate and wasabi; you can simply treat yourself to another serving an hour from now. 

Do you have any top food tips for travellers? Let us know in comments below.


Ad Feedback
special offers
Ad Feedback