Here’s how international travel taught me to save money on food

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That’s me, escaping to Hogwarts because America is on some BS right now.

I’ve traveled a lot during the past few years, thanks to a surprising number of technology and appliances trade shows that I cover for CNET. But don’t let the increased number of stamps on my passport fool you: I’m still cheap AF. Hunting for food on an international level has made me double down on my “filet mignon taste, dollar menu budget” motto, especially when I’m in places where that dollar doesn’t stretch as far as I’d like.

What’s fascinating about food culture on an international level is that a lot of the same tricks you can use to find good, cheap food in the US apply to other countries. Here are some tips to take along with you on your next vacay:

Trust the locals. Last year in Berlin, one of my co-workers walked up to some strangers on the street while we were on the hunt for dinner.

“Do you speak English?” Andrew asked.

“Yes,” they said.

“Where’s a good place to eat around here?”

Burgermeister
Burgermeister ranks in the top 5 best burgers I’ve ever had. So simple, so great.

That bold-to-me/natural-to-Andrew exchange led us to Burgermeister, a former public toilet that’s been converted to one of the best damn hamburger joints I’ve ever encountered. Sure, we might’ve eventually found Burgermeister on the internets, but having a local co-sign on the deliciousness affirms food choices. Don’t feel like you have to walk up to random folks on the street, though (notice it was Andrew, not me). Ask around on your social networks to see if you know someone who knows someone who lives in your travel destination.

It’s OK to deviate from your original plans. While I was in Berlin this year for IFA, I told Jon, a colleague from CNET’s London office, that I was about to visit his city soon. His advice when it came to food was to find a pub in which to have a Sunday roast and make sure the meal comes with Yorkshire pudding. Unbeknownst to him, I’d already made reservations for a Sunday roast at a restaurant that looked like it would be right at home on East Market Street here in Louisville. “Any pub worth its salt will have a proper Sunday roast,” he said.

Sundayroast
My British Sunday roast — half a chicken, veggies, a Yorkshire pudding and gravy. Lots and lots of gravy.

Taking my own advice to trust the locals, I canceled the reservation at the fancy restaurant and found a pub. The meal was simple, hearty and delicious, and it came with a cheaper price tag than my first option.

Hole-in-the-walls are the best. We all know there’s a difference between a place that’s a little shabby versus a place that looks to be violating about a dozen or more health codes. Some of the best food I’ve had on international trips have been in pubs, out-of-the-way cafés and family-owned restaurants that I would’ve missed if I’d been staring at my phone.

Carry snacks to fight off hanger. Listen: Hanger is real, and it is vicious. That’s why I always pack snacks. Yes, I have the purse of a much older woman, but you better believe I keep an emergency Snickers bar on hand. This will save you if it takes a little longer to get to your next meal than you anticipated, and it will keep you from biting the head off your travel partner.

Save money by eating breakfast in your hotel or rental. My husband had the foresight to buy a box of Kellogg’s Fruit ‘n Fibre (two of my favorite things) and milk to keep in our Airbnb. This kept us fed on the days when we weren’t ready to head out super early to find food. Consider some light grocery shopping so you can eat a few meals back at your spot during your trip.

Don’t feel guilty for eating McDonald’s. Sometimes, you’re going to find yourself in a pickle, specifically, hungry and snack-depleted. It’s OK to pop into an American fast-food restaurant for something to hold you over.

Bits and pieces: Chocolate shortage, Betty Crocker’s PMS solution and other food news from the web, 11.10.10

Starting next week, Bits and Pieces will return to Mondays. Now, on to the news.

  • This first news item brought a tear to my eye. Some experts say that chocolate will be an expensive rarity similar to caviar in 20 years, according to an article in The Independent of London. According to the newspaper, the demand for chocolate exceeds the supply of cocoa beans, which make for a beastly crop to tend that yields little reward for farmers. We need to get the Oompa Loompas on this one.

 

  • Speaking of chocolate, Betty Crocker has devised a marketing plan to sell its Warm Delights dessert and play up on feminine stereotypes. According to the website Jezebel, the company has created a free PMS app. Check the link – I can’t make this one up. When it’s a woman’s time of the month, she and her partner will receive a coupon for Warm Delights to satisfy cravings for chocolate. From Betty Crocker via Jezebel:

When it’s “that time of the month,” most girls could really use a couple of things: a little advanced warning, a bit more understanding and support, and a lot of chocolate. … This free app also helps guys navigate this special time – from a place to practice foot massage, to suggested escape routes. Because sometimes the best thing to do is get her chocolate and get out of the way.

  • For the busy breakfast eater in all of us, Dunkin Donuts has launched Sausage Pancake Bites, little pieces of meat wrapped in syrup-soaked pancake, according to The Consumerist. I’ll just skip this and have the coffee, thanks.

 

  • The LA Times did a wonderful profile of Gluten-Free Girl, aka Shauna James Ahern, aka blogger, aka author. Shauna turned a diagnosis of celiac disease into an avenue to share her story and tasty recipes. Kudos to her success.

     

Bits and pieces: McDonald’s weddings, hangover cures and other food news from the web, 10.26.10

  • Can honey help a hangover? How about rubbing lemon on your armpit? The Chicago Tribune provides a handy-dandy slideshow that debunks and confirms alleged remedies to hangovers. After a weekend of hanging with photographers at Mountain Workshops in Elizabethtown, I learned the best cure for a hangover is just not to drink at all. I’m still reeling.

 

  • As a kid, I enjoyed spaghetti sandwiches – a pile of Mama Eats’ spaghetti smashed between two slices of white bread. Now spaghetti tacos are a hit among the kid crowd, according to an article in the New York Times. The dish was featured on the show iCarly and sent tweens into a tizzy to recreate it.

 

  • Love McDonald’s as much as your significant other? If you live in Hong Kong, you can get married in the fast-food restaurant. According to an article in The Independent of London, Hong Kong McDonald’s locations will begin offering on-site wedding packages next year that include your choice of a wedding cake, made of apple pie or burgers. “People said they’d dated here, or met here, and wanted to get married here … We see this as a business chance,” said Helen Cheung Yuen-ling, McDonald’s Hong Kong director of corporate communications and relations.

 

  • Halloween has become good business for American farmers, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal. From the article:

Looking to diversify their sources of income, small farmers are expanding their “agritourism” or “agri-tainment” operations beyond the traditional pumpkin-picking, hayride and petting zoo. They’re erecting haunted mansions, dizzying corn mazes and other elaborate attractions on their properties. In some cases, they convert them into holiday spectacles and other themed exhibits to keep visitors coming for a longer season.