The first tip to having a great local dining experience is to embrace street food. On city streets and rural farm stands, you will find tasty and cheap food that you will remember for years. Here are some of the best places in the world to find cheap, authentic, delicious food!
Visitors to Guatemala can experience central American cuisine at bargain prices. The focus here is on fresh seafood, tropical fruits and vegetables, and traditional Mayan ingredients. Cheap beach eats include chili dusted mangoes, Guatemala’s take on classic ceviche with bracing citrus flavors, habaneros and fresh shrimp.
And a trip to Guatemala City is only complete when you taste elote loco, which is barbecued corn on the cob with spices for less than a dollar.
Cheap eats can be found all over Eastern Europe, especially in Croatia, Hungary (hungry?), and Serbia. Every country has its version of the street cart vendor — in the United States it’s the hot dog stand, Mexico has its taco trucks, and Japan is famous for yakitori. Similarly, in Serbia, street vendors hawk grilled cevapi, which is a casing-free sausage. Spread these sausages with spicy ajvar, a roasted red pepper condiment, and make sure to have lots of lepinja, or Serbian flatbread, as well. Prices are around $2-3 for a full meal at one of these stands.
The cuisine of Vietnam is steeped in tradition, including an amalgamation of Chinese and French cooking techniques applied to local ingredients. Although world-class dining is available throughout the country (especially in major cities), Vietnam’s culinary spirit is found on its street food scene. Vietnam practically invented street food, its ubiquitous beef and chicken satays served with a peanut sauce redolent of coconut and lemongrass. A more filling snack is the Bahn Mi sandwich, a preparation that can include pate, pickled vegetables, cilantro and sriracha on a crisp rice-enriched baguette. Oh, and the cost for this tasty meal in Saigon is about 50 cents.
4. The Philippines
Filipino cuisine is experiencing a major moment globally right now. Restaurants in New York City and Los Angeles have capitalized on this trend, charging diners exorbitant fees for delicious, but straightforward, rustic food. In Manila, the Philippine capital, favorites including pancit, which is a type of fried noodle; sisig, a sizzling meet concoction; and lumpia, which is kind of like a Filipino egg roll. A simple meal of rice adobo will only set you back a dollar, and all over the Philippines, travelers can cover their entire food costs for a day for as little as $10.
Europe is home to many overly expensive dining options. Not so with Portugal. While the street food scene is not as lively as in other countries, sit-down meals at bargain prices abound. Specialties include caldo verde, a kale/potato/sausage soup, and lots of fresh seafood. In Lisbon, two-course meals can be enjoyed for about $6, and multi-course meals with wine are easy to find for $10-15. The cuisine is homey and familiar. Some of the restaurants might look rough on the outside, but Portugal is not focused on pretence, but flavor and conviviality. Try the bacalao, too — the national dish of salted cod that you can find everywhere.
For a sweet ending to your meal, try pasteis de nata, a sweet egg custard pie that goes well with porto and coffee.
If you are looking for super cheap food, you can grab a filling authentic meal for as little as a dollar in Egypt. In Cairo’s bustling city streets, vendors sell everything from bags of dates at bottom dollar prices, to mombar mahshy, a type of sausage stuffed with spiced rice, for $0.50. Substantial meals include ful, a bean stew with rice, and Egypt’s own version of shawarma, a hearty middle-eastern meat and pickle sandwich wrapped in Arabian bread. If you want to splurge, $3 will get you a whole roasted chicken with side dishes.
Egypt also has a surprising variety of sweets, from basbousa, a semolina cake, to the baklava-like kanoufa. A plate of these sweets can be bought for a dollar as well.
If there’s any further need to cement southeast Asia as the cheap dining capital of the world, Indonesia’s Thousand Islands each have their own low-cost dining options. One of the world’s most magnificent breakfasts, second possibly only to the bacon egg and cheese sandwich of New York City bodegas, is nasi lemak. Technically this dish hails from nearby Malaysia, but Indonesian variants, which often include a rich rendang meat stew, pervade the islands. The dish starts with sweet coconut rice that has been cooked with the fragrant pandan leaves, pickled onion, chili mixture, sliced fresh cucumbers, and hard-boiled egg. Add a big piece of toasted bread with palm sugar and butter and a mug of Indonesian coffee and you have the best way to start your day!
Food is a big part of any vacation, so if you’re looking for an exotic place and don’t mind saving a few bucks filling yourself up, these options will be kind to both your appetite and your wallet.