How to Enjoy Cheap Eats Around the World

It’s fall, and you may think this is the wrong time to think about picnics—but you would be wrong (again). Despite France’s reputation for fine restaurants and grand cafes, one of my most memorable meals was a picnic lunch. My idea of good living: indulging in cheap eats– baguettes, cheese, meat, cherries – paired with mini wine boxes any where, any time– even in Paris!!

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cheap-eats-2-1024x683 How to Enjoy Cheap Eats Around the World

The Great Life

Kiss– Keep it Simple Stacey

I enjoyed it on the stairs of Montmartre overlooking Paris. It started to drizzle, and my husband and I snuggled closer together under an umbrella. We enjoyed a simple repast with a great view. It consisted of cheap eats like baguettes, cheese, cherries, olives, and salami. We sipped from my favorite child-sized boxes of French wine in front of Sacre Coeur. Life was pretty darn good.

Cheap Eats
Some of the Best Meals You’ll Ever Have

Although European weather is unpredictable, inclement weather may prevent you from relaxing outdoors. But it doesn’t have to stop you from enjoying cheap eats. However, you don’t need a Michelin-star restaurant, a charming neighborhood bistro, or sunshine. Ultimately you don’t even a table to have a fine dining experience.

Using the term loosely, picnics are a quintessential European experience. And though it’s definitely the cheapest way to eat in Europe, I don’t do it solely to save money. You don’t need a blanket or a picnic basket. And I don’t always wait for the elusive summer sun to appear to construct the ultimate smorgasbord of European delights.

Taste Testing

I love the process. Combing quaint Mom and Pop shops for the local wine, a crusty baguette, some fresh fruit, local cheeses, and salamis. And a pastry to top it all off makes a fabulous meal. Stop at a half-dozen little neighborhood shops. Less than $10 later, and you’ll have a feast fit for a king. Try finding that ideal perch to enjoy the fruits of your labor. It may be watching gondolas glide down the Grand Canal or observing Berliners playing Frisbee in the Tiergarten. Now you’ve just created a memory that will last a lifetime.

The Markets

The best place to assemble a picnic is at a market, where you’ll usually find good prices, local specialties, and fresh produce from the region. Can you imagine a better way to experience Parma ham, Roquefort cheese, or sparkling Champagne? Nearly every town, large or small, has at least one colorful outdoor or indoor marketplace overflowing with cheeses, meats, fresh fruits, vegetables, and still-warm-out-of-the-bakery-oven bread. Market days are easy to find for all your favorite cities, follow the crowds, surf the Internet, or visit the largest town square most Saturday mornings. Hours vary due to the season.


Rome’s outdoor markets, such as the huge Mercato Trionfale near the Vatican Museum, or Mercato Esquilino near Piazza Vittorio, clog various streets and squares every morning except Sunday. Not only are they a good place to forage for a picnic, but they also provide a fun and vibrant look at the city and its people.


Barcelona’s La Boqueria sells a rainbow of fruits, veggies, meat, and candies, while Madrid’s covered Mercado de San Miguel, near Plaza Mayor, has high-end vendors selling gourmet picnic produce. In Paris, Rue Cler is a favorite pedestrian market street, offering village charm and the chance to feel the Parisians’ pulse at their best—talking about food!

Remember, Don’t Touch.
The Produce

Before you dive into your favorite market, make sure you know the basics. Most markets are not self-service: You point to what you want and let the merchant bag it and weigh it for you. It’s considered rude for a customer to touch the goods. Europeans measure things in kilos and grams (a kilo equals 2.2 pounds and has 1,000 grams). A common unit of sale for cheese or meat is 100 grams; tuck this into a chunk of bread, add a slice of tomato or cucumber, and you have your own version of a quarter-pounder.

It’s Okay to Haggle
For a Better Price

Get there early, keep it simple, have your money handy and bring a recyclable bag to carry away your food booty. If the locals are haggling, it’s pretty safe to assume it’s okay for you too. Otherwise, look for posted prices, and whether you understand them or not, act as you do— you’re more likely to be treated fairly. Observe the weighing process closely to make sure you pay the proper amount.

Grocery Stores

Grocery stores are another good place to shop for a picnic. You’ll find everything from giant supermarkets (some of which hide out in the basements of large-city department stores) to family-owned corner stores. You can easily buy small quantities of fruits and veggies. And like grocery stores in America, they sell sandwiches, salads, and other prepared foods to go.

Street Food

Other options include bakeries, street-food stands, Asian delis, to-go eateries, and carry-out chains, such as Britain’s Pret a Manger and Eat, which sell good, healthful sandwiches, salads, and pastries.

Fast Food

I normally don’t eat at fast-food restaurants when I travel.

Get A Good Seat

After assembling your picnic, the last step is to figure out where to eat it. Where you eat can make the difference between just another meal and le pique-nique extraordinaire.

Try to incorporate a picnic brunch, lunch, or dinner into the day’s sightseeing plans. For example, have breakfast on a riverbank. Combine lunch and a siesta in a cool park to escape the early-afternoon heat. Revisit a favorite square, staircase, or fountain. Or have a moveable feast: Lunch on a Norwegian ferry with fjord views, or picnic on top of a double-decker bus, whizzing by Madrid’s sights.

Historical Picnics

One of my favorite places to eat dinner is on a town or castle wall, enjoying a commanding view and the setting sun—but any place with a view will do. I’ll never forget sipping tea while straddling a park bench in the Villa Ephrussi in southern France, enjoying my focaccia as the waves lapped against the slow boat to Murano, or devouring the turkey sandwiches I made myself while riding in a gondola over the vineyards in Rüdesheim with my sons. Food makes many more memorable experiences, so it should come as no surprise that surrounded by so many astounding sights and sounds—a ham sandwich and a pickle can be king.

cheap-eats-683x1024 How to Enjoy Cheap Eats Around the World

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