One of the most pleasurable things to do when travelling is learning about new ingredients and sampling new local cuisines. In my travels, I have eaten at all sorts of places from an Indian Maharaja’s palace in Rajasthan to a little street food stall under a tree in Kuala Lumpur.
If you are adventurous with your food, you will find great places to eat for cheap just by asking the locals. Eat where the locals eat and order what they would normally order you will always have a fantastic experience.
San Franciso is without a doubt a top foodie destination. From the thriving food truck scene to the rise of Californian chefs, there is a lot to choose from. There is no doubt that San Francisco and the Bay Area is a very expensive place to live. People here eat out a lot. The good thing is that not all the great eating places are expensive.
My favourite thing to do in San Francisco is to head down to Mission for some authentic South American food. You can find really gritty Mexican Taquerias selling their messy, delicious tacos for about $2 each.
My favourite is the no-frills Taqueria Vallarta on 24th Street. There is a Taco stand by the door where they take your orders and cook up your tacos. Order a couple of different fillings, Lengua (tongue) or carnitas (meat). In front of this counter are pots of their home made red or green salsa of varying degrees of heat. You serve yourself and there is no wrong way of embellishing your taco.
If tacos is not your thing, they also do massive American sized Burritos for less than $5. One of these will feed one very hungry person but we ordered one to share between two.
Order yourself a drink, like the Mexican favourite Tamarindo or one of their giant Mexican Coca Colas and grab a seat in the dining area. It’s very basic, self-service but the tacos are really good. Eat your fill for less than $10.
3039 24th St (at Balmy St),
San Francisco, CA
Another must try place is El Salvador, a very simple Salvadorian restaurant run by a community of women. They serve freshly made corn papusa with a choice of meat, fried plantain or the unusual fried yuca with chicharron . This is served with some rice and beans and their spicy salsa. An order of 2 papusas will set you back about $6 and it’s a very filling meal. While you are there, order the Horchata to drink too.
2278 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94110
b/t 19th St & 18th St
Read my foodie guide to San Francisco for more dining options.
Most travellers don’t eat well when in Greece. The standard Greek taverna seems to just offer the grub that visitors expect to see, greek salad, moussaka, spinach pie and maybe a bit of grilled lamb. The real local tavernas have so much great local food on their menu. You just need to go to the right ones and ask for the right dishes. And they don’t cost a lot for a fab meal either.
My top tip is to find a good local fish taverna. There is always one in whichever town, village or island you are visiting. Order the family size platter of fried or grilled fish. The coastal restaurants will usually bring you their catch of the day for your approval. This way you know you are getting really fresh fish, usually caught near to the taverna.
Each plate will have a combination of prawns and a selection of local fish. To go with this, order a plate of Horta (wild foraged greens), fried courgettes (kolokithaki), some fava beans, a plate of tzatziki. If you must, do add a Greek salad too.
When in meat tavernas, do order grilled lamb chops (paidakia), greek meatballs or sometimes you can find a good stew too. Add similar side orders to that above and a plate of chips. Some places don’t speak English so I learn the names of the dishes that you like and order in Greek.
If you want a quick lunch on the go, grab a pork souvlaki. This is the best of Greek street food. You will find a souvlaki store in every town and many street corners. The best one in Syntagma, Athens has been going for over 65 years. It was started by Kostas (his life-sized picture in the store window) and is now run by his grandson, also named Kostas. For a mere €2.50, you get a pita bread wrap filled with quality aromatic grilled pork, topped up with some Greek Yoghurt, a sprinkle of paprika, slices of tomato and some parsley. This is possibly the best cheap eats in Athens. Go early as they usually sell out by mid afternoon.
5 Pentelis St,
Food in Malaysia is so diverse, so cheap and so abundant. Everywhere you go, anytime of day, you can find something delicious to eat.
From the legacy of centuries of colonisation and trade, Malaysian cuisine has evolved into the most exciting cuisine. We have such a rich history of fusion cuisine that dates back to the time of the spice trade in the 16th Century. Most visitors don’t know much about Malaysian food except for the street food that has been most instagrammed.
You can eat very cheaply at street side hawker stalls or one step up, in local coffee shops. Most coffee shops have multiple independent stalls selling a variety of food. It is a bit more civilised and just as cheap. Where you go depends on what you want to eat.
Laksa, now the most famous of Malaysian street food. Place to go for an authentic KL curry laksa is in Madras Lane behind Petaling Street in Chinatown. It is an extension of the diminishing wet market. Madras lane is named after the cinema that was in this site behind the market. In the early days, some of the more enterprising stall holders cute a hole in the fence from the cinema car park to the market. This spot is one of KL’s top laksa spots for their die hard fans.
There are a couple of stalls there who have been selling laksa in the same spot for decades. (if you watch Luke Nguyen on the Food network, he featured this stall in one of his programmes.) Place your order and sit the right coloured table. (The stall holders are very territorial). A bowl with some prawns, pig skin, raw clams and vegetables cost about RM$4. This place is gritty, noisy and hot but if you want to eat like local, you can’t get more authentic than this.
Other street foods to try in KL are Nasi Lemak (RM$1-$3), Roti Canai (RM$2), Char Kway Teow (RM$5), Hokkien Mee (RM$8) only for supper, Chicken Rice, a staple here and a big dish with some chicken and a side soup, RM$5-$10.
If you find a busy coffee shop, you will most probably eat well. Order what other people are ordering or ask a local. Malaysians love their food and very happy to share their top tips of where to eat.
If you want to try the best local food and not suffer in the heat, head to a food court in a shopping mall. The Lot 10 Mall in Bukit Bintang has curated all the best heritage food vendors in KL and brought them under one roof, in the comfort of clean, air conditioned surroundings. You pay a bit more per dish but it’s worth it as you can park easily and it’s cooler.
Penang Assam Laksa was named the most the 7th most delicious foods in the world by CNN Traveler. It a soupy noodle dish with a rich tamarind fish stock, thick rice noodles and topped with mint, torch ginger flowers, cucumber and pineapple. The best place to have this is in Penang although you can now find this all across the country. Everyone has their favourite vendors but you can find this at most coffee shops or hawker centres. Try Gurney Drive with their myriad of street food stalls.
A bowl of Assam Laksa here will set you back about RM$5 (about £1). While you are there, you must try Penang Rojak, an umami rich savoury fruit salad, grab a soya bean milk from the famous van there, try the Kangkung Sotong (cuttlefish with morning glory) and Penang Lobak, a truly unique offering of lots of fried seafood and fritters covered in a delicious sauce. Finish off with a bowl of Ice Kacang , the luridly coloured shaved ice or Cendol, green noodles in coconut milk and palm sugar. For less than a tenner, you will have the most amazing feast here. Top tip- go after sun down as it can get really hot.
For more on Malaysian Food, follow this link.
Having recently returned from a stunning discovery trip to Sri Lanka, I was pleasantly surprised to find such a wealth of gastronomic experiences there. In general, it is really quite cheap to eat out in Sri Lanka if you don’t eat at the top hotels or restaurants. Little shops selling the staple rice and curry will cost you about £1- £2. This is usally a plate of rice with a choice of protein like chicken or fish and is usually accompanied by a dal and some vegetable curries on the side. It is qutie a substantial meal for not a lot of money.
Sri Lanka Street food is really great. The most unique dish is the Kottu Roti, pieces of Godhamba roti stir fried on a hot plate with some added spice, vegetables and sometimes meat and eggs too. In Colombo, head down to Galle Face along the water front. There is an array of street food stalls here and is really popular with the locals.
For about Rp400 (£2) you get a big plate of this roti, freshly made. It’s delicious and tastes so much better sitting by the sea, watching the waves crash onto the beach. The most famous stall here is Nana’s which has been in business in the same spot for decades. You can’t miss them as they seem to have expanded to 2 stalls.
This article was done in collaboration with CheapFlights.