Eating out in Europe is almost never cheap and generally not in a backpacker’s budget. Of course, there are those times when you really just want to try the local cuisine, and that’s important, but you can eat cheaply and conveniently without going out every meal, saving your money for that one splurge at a nice place. Here are some tips for eating well on a budget in Europe.
1.) Stay at hostels. Don’t be afraid. Hostels are almost always clean, safe, and fun places to meet other travelers like yourself–and best of all, they usually have a fully-equipped kitchen. Buy food at the supermarket, and cook it in the kitchen. There’s generally a fridge as well where you can store your (labeled and dated) food for consumption the next day. Sometimes, hostels will even have a free food shelf. People tend to leave behind pasta and other non-perishables that they don’t want to carry with them, and you may be able to snag this for free!
Protip: Stealing other people’s food is a jerk move and will instantly give you bad traveler karma. DON’T do it. DO get together with other travelers and plan a big group meal if the opportunity/group is right. It can be a lot of fun, it’s cheaper than buying food just for yourself, and have everyone cook their local specialty so that you get to taste food from all over the world. Mmm.
2.) Street food. Namely kebabs. And, in the British isles, fish-and-chip shops. There usually isn’t room to sit–they’re take-out hole in the wall establishments. But you can get a filling, greasy kebab–which is strips of chicken, beef, or lamb, cut off an enormous hunk turning on a spit, and put in either a pita or rolled burrito-type of deal, along with lettuce, tomato, onion, and yogurt sauce–for two or three euros. If you’re in a hurry, your hostel doesn’t have a kitchen, or you’re just in the mood for some greasy street food, kebabs are the way to go. You’ll find them all over Europe. Germany and Spain have the best kebabs, although for the real deal they originated in Turkey. I haven’t been there so I cant judge the quality of Turkish kebabs–yet.
Protip: Kebabs are really good drunk food, and best of all, most kebab shops stay open late.
3.) If you want to eat out, ask your hostel to recommend a place. Guide books are out of date by the time they’re published. In Spain, we spent hours looking for a bar recommended in the Lonely Planet, only to discover that even the building it was in had been torn down. Restaurants can change ownership and quality quickly. The hostel employees will know the cheapest and best local places to eat. In Rome, I ate a four-course meal with a carafe of wine at a nice Chinese restaurant for 6 euros. Not a bad deal for enough food to keep me filled for the rest of the day.
4.) Go to an outdoor market and pick up picnic supplies. This is probably my favorite option. Many European cities have a central farmers market on certain days of the week, or sometimes big, permanent open-air markets. Budapest has a colossal two-floor structure; Barcelona has an open-air market filled with every type of seafood you can imagine and some you can’t, along with fresh fruit, cheeses, sausages, Iberian hams, baked goods, coffee, wine, and confectionary. Fresh, authentic food sold by locals, often lower prices than in the supermarket–what’s not to love?
Protip: Pick up a friend or two at your hostel, grab a bottle of wine, some chorizo, a loaf of crusty bread, and some cheese and go to a public park to enjoy your fresh purchases together. A toast to traveling!