How to Eat Cheap in the Most Expensive Cities

No need to break the bank!

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Between news sites and travel blogs, the Internet loves to tell cost-conscious travellers where they can’t visit, as it’s “impossible” to stick to your budget. In 2017, Business Insider released a list of the most expensive cities to eat dinner out at a restaurant based on a basic dinner for two. But don’t cross these cities of your bucket list just yet: take advantage of the free breakfast at your accommodation, and don’t forget to load your bag up with on-the-go snacks. Whether you’re looking for a traditional meal or an afternoon pick-me-up, these cheap eats in the world’s most expensive cities will have you living your best foodie life without breaking the bank.

Zurich, Switzerland

Often topping the list of the most expensive food cities, Zurich and “cheap eats” aren’t usually used in the same in sentence. Believe it or not, the city does host a number of reasonable options, meaning you can go ahead and book that Switzerland trip without reconsidering your budget. Sternen Grill is a must, as Zurich locals agree that it’s home to Europe’s best sausage. This food stand is the perfect lunch option, with the filling servelat mit burli mit biere (Swiss sausage and a schooner of beer) coming in under AUD$15. At Basilikum, a student staple, 10 Swiss Francs will get you a substantial customised sandwich, with charcuterie, cheese, and vegetable fillings in uniquely-flavoured buns. For the best value, visit one of Zurich’s department stores, particularly Manor. This canteen-like restaurant prices by plate (about 12 Swiss Francs per plate), so feel free to pile-high with salad, burgers, steaks, fish, pastas, stir-fry, and desserts.

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Oslo, Norway

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Oslo boasts some of the highest everyday prices in Europe, and Norwegian food and drink is no exception. One easy way to save money is to brunch, cutting out a meal’s worth of money spent. Keep an eye out for specials, as most restaurants serve up a dagens rett, or dish of the day, including a filling main dish, salad, and coffee that will keep you full as you explore different neighbourhoods. One option is Fru Hagen, offering an excellent dagens brunsj, or daily deal, for 145 NOK (around AUD$24). Take advantage of the city’s abundance of parks and barbecue like a local; grocery stores sell cheap disposable barbecues, making it even easier to have the ultimate picnic in the park. If you’re looking for traditional Norwegian fare, check out Kaffistova, a counter service restaurant offering dishes like reindeer cakes and fresh salmon. With an Oslo Pass, a visitor’s pass giving you access to loads of attractions and transport options, you’ll get a 10% discount on this simple yet authentic meal.

Tokyo, Japan

With more Michelin-starred restaurants than anywhere else in the world, it’s not surprising that Tokyo makes the list as one of the most expensive food cities. But you don’t have to sacrifice an unforgettable food experience for the sake of your wallet. Between sushi, ramen, yakitori, and udon, you can find both traditional and international dishes all under $15. If you’re looking for a quick street snack, try taiyaki, a sweet fish shaped waffle filled with red bean, from an unassuming food stall for under $3. Lunch specials will become your new best friend; the traditional bento box is a combination of small bites while lunch sets often include soup, salad, and a tonkatsu entrée all for around $15. Have leftover yen at the end of your trip? Raid your nearest 7-11! The Japanese company offers more than slurpees and sub-par food, but instead cheap baked goods, unique Japanese candies, pork buns and decent sushi, and even booze. Embrace the hole-in-the-wall spots and you’ll be saving money while experiencing all that Tokyo has to offer.

New York City, United States

New York City is so expensive it hurts, but dining on a dime has become easier with time. Walk down Roosevelt Avenue for a plethora of taco trucks and skewer carts, but don’t leave without stopping at The Arepa Lady, serving up buttery corn cakes filled with sweet-and-savoury cheesy fillings for just $3USD. The city is known for its international flavours, and Bunna Café, a vegan Ethiopian pop-up, serves up hearty vegetarian plates of misir wot (red lentils) and injera bread (around AUD$15), along with traditional beers and tej (honey wine). You can’t leave NYC without trying the authentic boiled bagel, and one of the best cheap finds is at Black Seed. This bakery offers fun combinations like sprouts and egg salad or lox with radish, putting a unique twist on a city classic for only $8USD.

Copenhagen, Denmark

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As one of Europe’s priciest food destinations, Copenhagen often gets a bad rep for budget travellers. But with a little digging and local recommendations, you can experience the city’s gastronomic heaven without draining your bank account. You can’t walk the streets of Copenhagen without spotting (and smelling) the ubiquitous hot dog stands. These pølser sausages are the perfect on-the-go snack and are served with toppings like fried onions and pickles, only costing you around $5. If you happen to be in town on a Wednesday, start your morning off with a massive Onsdagssnegl cinnamon bun from the city’s oldest bakery, which opened back in 1652, for just $4 or so. Eat like a local and indulge in what some call a national obsession: grøed, or porridge, is served in practically every café and comes in both sweet and savoury options like salted caramel and apple or barely and snow peas.

San Francisco, United States

The fog city is known for its sky-high prices for everything: housing, nightlife, and food. Finding cheap eats might be a challenge, but it won’t be all food carts and street vendors in SanFran. This city’s defining food characteristic is that you can find pretty much any cuisine, even when you’re on a budget. At TaiChi Jianbing, the original Chinese rolled crepe is made with scrambled egg, cilantro, green onion, and a wonton crunch. Topped with garlic chilli paste, it can be enjoyed for breakfast or lunch at just $8.50USD. Dig into a bowl of bibimbap at Manna; for $9USD, this ultimate cheap eat is packed with beef, assorted vegetables, and a fried egg all served over rice. Looking for American classic? Eat Americana offers the ultimate comfort combo of grilled cheese and tomato soup for $10USD. It might sound simple, but this kitchen goes the extra step with thick Texas toast and 3 different cheeses and a dense soup base that’ll fill you up for hours.

Hong Kong

Food is a way of life in Hong Kong. But with hefty prices tags, many leave Hong Kong off their travel bucket lists. Between a bustling street food scene and incredible dim sum, you can live like a true foodie without busting your budget. Hawker centres are one of the best options when it comes to value-for-money, with large portions at cheap prices. These massive rooms house a number of kitchens along the perimeter, serving up local favourites like brisket, rice, and noodle dishes all around AUD$6 (and guaranteed leftovers).  There’s no shortage of dim sum cafes, specifically the (creatively-named) Dim Dim Sum Café in Wan Chai. For only AUD$3, you can enjoy about 4 pieces of dim sum, with flavours like barbeque pork, tangerine beef, and black truffle soup. If you’re looking for an in-between meal snack, the Chinese bakeries are your best bet. Practically on every street corner, you can grab items like custard egg tarts, salmon and cream cheese rolls, and the famous pineapple bun, all no more than AUD$1.50.

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Paris, France

Contrary to popular belief, eating on a budget in Paris doesn’t mean rationing a giant baguette and some store-bought cheese for every meal. This city’s abundant cafés and food stands are serving up both French classics and international options under €10. A trip to Paris isn’t complete without a stop at a crepe stand. Skip the sit-down restaurant and grab a classic ham and cheese or banana and Nutella from an emporter window for a few euros. For classic French cuisine, check out the old-school Bouillon Chartier, and go for simple dishes like steak frites starting at €8. As most cafes and restaurant are closed on Sundays, head over to the city’s Jewish quarter for some of the best falafel in the world from l’As du Falafel. For an overwhelming portion served with pita, hummus, and fried aubergine, this world-renowned sandwich will only cost you €6.50.

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Words by Anisha Nallakrishnan Images sourced from Instagram and Shutterstock