- a blog about food and value

Best culinary destinations on a budget

One of the many delicious meals in Vietnam

One of the many delicious meals I had in Vietnam

After my recent unplanned trip across Europe due to the ash cloud where I had to stick to a strict food budget, it got me thinking about the best and worst culinary holidays I have been on in terms of value for money.  Obviously it’s only an overview but some places stood out more than others.

In Europe, the Silver Coast along Portugal is one of the best for quality and value. Some of the nicest restaurants are off the beaten track but well worth the trip. Very unpretentious simple food that really inspires. Peter can vouch for this as we made the trip together.

Spain is also great for food and I think tapas is one of the more exciting ways to eat. There is nothing nicer than going on a food crawl and having a glass of wine at each stop. It’s a great way to try out a variety of food without having to commit to one dish – cheap too if you choose wisely.

Greece is also great for delicious food at a low price. There isn’t a whole load of choice when you’re island hopping but what you do get is great. It’s also a good destination for vegetarians with many dishes vegetable or cheese based.

France is good in terms of supermarkets and wine of course but I generally find that you have to pay over the odds to get a decent meal. I have been to France more than thirty times and have discovered that the more you pay the better the food gets which I think is a bit of a swizz – in the end it’s the same produce being used. If you have the cash you can get some delicious food, but on a budget you’re better off buying the wonderful produce available and making it yourself. Paris is a rip off if you’re on a budget, many restaurants churn out crappy onion soup and steak with pepper sauce presuming that’s what tourists want – ridiculous. Naturally it depends on where you go but in general terms I find France a letdown considering its reputation – great for everything else though.

Apart from Berlin, I wasn’t enamored with the food choices in Germany, all a bit too stodgy but the beer rocks and it’s great value too.

Italy is hit and miss depending on where you go, you can get ripped off in the bigger cities but find some lovely places to eat in hidden Italy. A reputation for being pricey, Tuscany has some amazing and unusual dishes that won’t break the bank and the pizza in Rome is outrageously good, same goes for New York.

I travelled up from New Orleans to New York a few years back and it certainly wasn’t a food holiday.  It wasn’t that it was pricey but the food was generally really unhealthy no matter what you were willing to pay. I enjoyed the Cajun food in Louisiana but there is a lot of batter involved and you feel a bit rubbish after a while – they even batter their chips.  Mississippi offered up the most amazing corn but again there was very little but heavy fatty food on offer.  By the time we got to New York we were so relieved to have so much choice, now there’s a place that suits all budgets.

Brazil is also great for food and is really cheap. They have a potato-like vegetable called manioc which is often served with prawns – one of the best dishes I have ever had. The country is generally cheap, great for seafood and everything else for that matter.

I didn’t like the food in Egypt but I think it was a matter of taste, it is very meat-focused and heavy, the sort of food you don’t want to eat in 40 degree heat.

Cuba is one of the worst culinary holidays I was ever on although an amazing country with cool people. We thought it was just us who had a disappointing food experience but speaking to others who have been it would seem that choice is generally very limited. Ham and cheese sandwiches or rice and beans. I like rice and beans but not all the time.

Vietnam was the best culinary holiday I was ever on. It was mind-blowing. At first, I found the food a bit on the simple side after experiencing the spicy flavours of Thailand but as I travelled down I realised that they have the most amazing subtle flavours. So healthy and so delicious and of course dirt cheap. The place to eat is at the side of the road where everything is freshly made. If I was to pick a winner I’d choose Vietnam.

What country would you choose as your culinary destination and who comes last?


  1. As a Romanian, I would recommend my country, as now, being an EU country, you have direct/cheap flights from Dublin to Bucharest (Aer Lingus / Blue Air).
    And Romania it’s still a cheap country, in comparison with Ireland, so grab your trolley and go :).
    In Romania you can try the food from Transilvania (Sibiu, Cluj-Napoca and northern Transilvania: Maramures), Delta of Danube, with authentic fish soups and stews (south east of Romania, near the seaside towns&beaches) or even in Bucharest (but you have to go in there for food just having some tips from Romanians, because being a major city – 3 million people – it’s pretty cosmopolitan and you won’t find easy REAL authentic Romanian food).
    Good Luck!

  2. I think Ireland comes top and bottom in equal measure. We have some of the most fantastic produce available and some of the most amazing talented chefs to prepare it, but all too often restaurants, coffee shops and pubs take the easier option of handing out curries, kievs, nuggets, sausages (in fact pretty much anything that will go with chips) instead of our traditional and delicous native lamb, ham, seafood, stews, cheeses, vegetables and traditional bakes such as breads and apple pies. Places that do serve Irish food tend to overcharge for them – Irish food can be cheap, wholesome and extremely tasty, not to mention environmentally sound. Its such a pity because Ireland needs all the tourism it can muster that many tourists will go home and say they had pizza and frozen chips – it certainly wont encourage others to come here and sample our wonderful cuisine.

  3. I think a lot of the blame for poor food served in Ireland lies with the punters. A huge amount of people actually want the chips with everything fare, rather than any more traditional options, usually because that’s what they were brought up with…..but that’s probably a rant for another day 🙂

  4. Oh and I’ll throw my oar in with Mexico having some of the best food I’ve had, $1 street tacos were miles better and fresher than anything “mexican” I’ve had over here.

    Germany’s deffo last, has anyone else tried spatzle? Yuck.

  5. “I have discovered that the more you pay the better the food gets which I think is a bit of a swizz – in the end it’s the same produce being used.” Em no!

    While I can’t say Paris/France is good value for money, I can say good produce costs more.
    How can you compare chicken used for a dish and raised and sold for €1 or 2 with good quality reared chicken which takes a few more euro. The same with any produce, the best stuff is taken for the restaurants who pay more. Take for example the Lidl veg, it’s cheap but it’s often poor taste IMO.

  6. Hi Cristi, what are the traditional dishes of Romania, can you recommend a recipe? I have heard that Transylvania is really beautiful, it’s on my list of places to see.

  7. Hey Ronan,

    I was more talking about the standard of food than the produce but I don’t think it came across that way! I just think that if you go into your average restaurant in France, the standard of food in terms of the way it is cooked/effort depends on what you have payed for it even if both dishes (the cheaper and the more expensive) are using the same produce. This is not the case in Spain.

    I am not comparing cheap produce to more expensive produce in France, supermarkets in France and Spain have a far higher standard of produce in general than Ireland and are much cheaper. You don’t go into a supermarket in France or Spain and see organic this and organic that, they don’t bother to label it, quality is quality over there – the way it should be.

    Also I would never eat cheap chicken, it’s gross and wrong..scary too.

  8. I agree CalKen, we do come top and bottom but could so easily excel with the fertile land we have. Over the years, I have been shocked when talking to tourists visiting this country, it’s more often than not “Great people, music, pints..terrible food”. Thankfully this is changing and compared to 10/15 years ago we have come along way. Do you think we will be ever noted as a culinary destination though?

  9. India! Everything is dirt cheap and so delicious.

  10. We’re planning a trip to France with kids after the Leaving ends. My memories of France as a student focussed more on wine than food – recent trips prove it is the food that is defintely part of the draw – even today. I think France still (hopefully!) has some of the best restaurants and markets- especially in the south and good value seems to be available still.

  11. If you are in the South of France in particular make sure to check out the foodmarkets – so much better than the supermarkets and full of great characters – Moore Street meets the Med!
    We go each year to the Corbieres near Perpignan and the foodmarket in Narbonne is really worth a visit. Seamus Martin of The Irish Times described it as the best in France some time ago and it really lives up to the billing.

  12. Just back and it was superb – although I have to say that prices in France are not always significantly lower tha Ireland and petrol was more expensive in some places. Eating out remains a pleasure and there is a definite move to more contemporary cuisine (too many yeras of Confit du Canard have helped the Spanish and Italians claim with some justification that Frnace is stuck in the past – and I have to say that they have a point)

    Anyway – in Carcassonne down in the Languedoc there is great value, friendly service and lots of good new world style wine to be had.

    and the weather was excellent – check out