Eating Cheaply in London: How to Spend Only £4 a Day on Meals

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London pub


It’s surprisingly easy to eat cheaply in London — one of the most expensive cities in the world — if you’re not too picky and don’t mind convenience store food. It’s a big if, but when traveling you have to work with what you have, and if what you have is a food budget of £70 a week, you’ll be surprised how quickly Tesco and other convenience stores can become your best friend. To my plebeian tongue, Tesco food is sufficiently filling and tasty and, most importantly, cheap. Here’s a sample menu for the entire day.

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No, Anthony Bourdain didn’t say Zubuchon was “the best pig ever”

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As someone who:

  • loved Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations so much, it inspired her to write about travel,
  • actually watched the episode where he came to Cebu and other parts of the Philippines,
  • lived in Cebu her whole life, and
  • grew up eating lechon, sometimes for Sunday breakfast because why not,

I feel like I should set the record straight about the popular misconception that Bourdain declared Zubuchon lechon the “best pig ever.”

It’s true that Anthony Bourdain came to Cebu, tasted lechon, and declared it the “best pig ever.” BUT this is how it happened:

  • Bourdain came to the Philippines in October 2008.
  • Joel Binamira — the man behind respected food blog Market Manila and the founder of Zubuchon — and his staff prepared lechon for Bourdain.
  • Bourdain said it was the best pig ever.
  • That No Reservations episode aired in February 2009.
  • Binamira established Zubuchon in “very late 2009”; the first Zubuchon restaurant only opened in 2011.

So, when you come to Cebu and taste the Zubuchon lechon, don’t feel like you have to declare, “This is the best pig ever!!” Or worse, wonder: “This is the best pig ever??” It’s not like Anthony Bourdain walked into a Zubuchon restaurant, ordered up a plate, and then sang the pig’s praises. You’d be surprised how many locals don’t.

According to Mr. Binamira, though, the quote was used with Mr. Bourdain’s permission and the recipe used in Zubuchon stores is the exact recipe used to prepare the lechon for Mr. Bourdain. Please see his full comment HERE.

Which isn’t to say that Zubuchon lechon isn’t tasty. There are different ways to prepare lechon, different ways to season it, and people too have different tastes. In the lechon style that I grew up with and love most, I’ve found the best tasting lechons to be those that are stuffed with lots and lots of liberally salted onions and spring onions. No pandan or lemongrass — the simpler the taste, the better. And I think the best lechon is still the one your uncle slow-roasts in your yard, on a bamboo pole propped by rocks, over patiently tended glowing coals. Barring that, my favorite would probably be the lechon from the Carcar market down south, or the one from the weekend stalls in Liloan up north, or even the ones from suki lechon vendors in local markets. Not that I’d say no to a plate of Zubuchon, of course!

Have you tasted lechon? What’s the best lechon for you?

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Update, 14 July 2015

  • Reply from Joel Binamira: “You are absolutely correct in your chronology of what occurred. However, I must point out that the recipe used by Zubuchon in all of its stores is EXACTLY the recipe that was served to Mr. Bourdain, and which I posted on my blog months before his visit. And while we NEVER used his comment declaring it the “Best Pig, Ever” until we opened the restaurants, it was ONLY AFTER we checked with Mr. Bourdain’s production staff and Mr. Bourdain himself to request permission that we use HIS KIND QUOTE that he responded within minutes by email to say, absolutely, go ahead and use the quote, it was indeed the “Best Pig, Ever” that he had tasted in his travels. So the lechon you eat at Zubuchon is indeed the same lechon that we fed him on the No Reservations program.” See full comment HERE.
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  • To the person who wrote to defend Mr. Binamira’s integrity and to everyone else who might feel the same way, I assure you that this post was not at all meant to attack Joel Binamira or Zubuchon. Although I don’t know Mr. Binamira personally, I have had several opportunities to read his blog over the years, and in the posts I’ve read, he has been quite transparent about his methods, recipes, etc. I specifically stated in my post above that Mr. Binamira’s blog is respected and that I wasn’t saying Zubuchon wasn’t tasty. (Except for the paragraph pointing readers to Mr. Binamira’s comment, everything else above the line is exactly as it was when this post was published.) I was simply addressing the misconception — the exact word I used above — that many people have about what actually happened. It is a statement of facts, not an appropriation of blame or a judgment of Zubuchon’s marketing strategy. It is perhaps a testament to Mr. Binamira’s character that someone has rushed to defend him, but there should be no reason for anyone to feel slighted by facts.
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  • I do think that there is quite a difference, that there are bound to be differences, between cooking something especially for someone and mass-producing it for profit — even a non-cook like myself can think of several ways that it can be different (recipe aside, there are the techniques, equipment, etc.) — but I won’t force that opinion on others. That’s not what this post is about, anyway. What this post is saying is: Mr. Bourdain did not taste a Zubuchon lechon and declare it the best pig ever for the simple reason that Zubuchon did not yet exist when he came to Cebu. Whether use of the same recipe guarantees equivalence is a matter I will leave to each reader to decide for himself or herself.

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Thrifty eating: How to save on food while traveling

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“Where to eat” is one of the last things I research for a trip, if at all. I usually eat wherever I happen to be at mealtime as that just makes sense to me time-wise. Plus, it seems to me an exercise in heartbreak to hunt down the area’s most raved-about restaurants only to realize I can’t afford anything on the menu. Living as I do in the Philippines — and in a university area, in particular, where the peso equivalent of 2 euros can get you a good 3-dish meal, plus rice and drinks — the cost of food is one of the hardest things to swallow when I travel, particularly in Europe.

The first time I found myself in Europe, my sister and I ate sandwiches ALL. THE. TIME. They were cheap and often big enough to split between the two of us. In the Philippines, rice is king, and anything with bread is usually just considered a snack, but in pricey Paris, sandwich jambon et fromage…good enough.

paris_sandwich_

I wouldn’t recommend that strategy now — eating sandwiches can get old fast, trust me — but here’s what I usually do now to save money on food:

  • Book a hotel with free breakfast. Nothing makes me happier than starting the day with a breakfast buffet but even just a slice or two of bread and ham will do the trick. As much as possible I try to book accommodations that include breakfast in their daily rate so I don’t have to pay for it out of pocket. Some hotels even serve breakfast up to 10:30 AM so breakfast can actually double as lunch.
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  • Bring food from home. Nothing that will replace an actual meal, but I usually bring:
    • Packets of instant soup — for when I get hungry at the hotel. Campbell’s Mushroom Cheese with Croutons is my favorite.
    • Crackers and/or candy — for when I’m on the road and everything is expensive. Crackers or candy will stave off hunger long enough for me to find a more affordable place to eat.
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  • McDonald’s meals and other fast food, while not exactly the healthiest things out there, tend to be cheaper than restaurant fare. I just think: a couple of burgers won’t kill me but starvation will. 🙂
    • Keep in mind that in many places around the world, you’re expected to clear your own table after eating. To be safe, keep an eye on the locals and do what they do.
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  • Prix fixe meals — “fixed price” meals that cost 12-15 euros and include 2-4 dishes — are usually cheaper than ordering a multi-course meal ala carte. I go for these meals when I’m really hungry or when I want to sample the local cuisine.
    • Prix fixe meals are usually cheaper at lunch than at dinner.
    • Servings tend to be big (by Asian standards, anyway) so when I’m with my sister or a female friend, and we’re not that hungry, we sometimes split prix fixe meals.
    • Although prix fixe meals are generally acknowledged to be a [relatively] cheap option, a single pasta dish will often be even cheaper and the serving big enough not to need a main course.
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  • And my new favorite thrifty eating strategy: buying bread, cold cuts and drinks from the supermarket and making a picnic out of it. It rarely totals over 10 euros and is good enough for two!

Food_Yellow (Turmeric) Rice

How do you save on food when you travel? Or is food something you willingly spend a lot on? I’d love to know what you think.

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Thrifty eating: How to save on food while traveling” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved.

 


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Amsterdam

ams_01Rain puddles reflected the somber sky as I stepped outside Centraal station. The giant Christmas tree in front was brightly lit, though the clock inside clearly said 9:30. Where I lived, the 9:30 sun would render Christmas lights irrelevant — it would be high in the sky, blinding with tropical glare — but not here. Here, to my left, the sun was only beginning to rise, casting its tentative light on deserted streets. To my right, bare-branched trees stood guard over a sea of temporarily abandoned bicycles. And straight ahead: canals, glorious canals.

It was my first winter, and I was in Amsterdam.

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It’s a place that feels like home almost immediately, the weather notwithstanding. Whereas Venice with its canals, gondolas, and colorful houses feels like the lingering memory of a dream, Amsterdam feels like the sort of place in which you wake up every morning and feel blessed you live there. Its buildings look both beautiful and sensible, its boats and houseboats practical. Bicycles abound — there are reportedly more bikes than residents in Amsterdam — and it’s not uncommon to see elegantly dressed people riding one on their way to work. Moreover, the city is eminently walkable; you can get lost in the pleasure of a casual stroll along the beautiful canals for hours.

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Not that walking is the only thing you will want to do in the Dutch capital. Amsterdam is home to famous works of art, including Vermeer’s Milkmaid and Rembrandt’s Night Watch – both displayed at the Rijksmuseum – as well as the sunflowers, fields, and swirly skies of Vincent at the Van Gogh Museum. Even if you’re not particularly a lover of the arts, the Museum Quarter is a great place to just hang out — it has a pond that is converted to an ice skating rink in winter, and the grassy lawn is a wonderful place for a picnic on warmer days.

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“They would not listen; they did not know how. Perhaps they’ll listen now.”

Just another day at the Rijksmuseum for that one guy

Ice skating in Museumplein, just outside the Rijksmuseum

The Keukenhof garden is the best place to view the country’s iconic tulips; however, it is open only from mid-March to mid-May every year. Luckily, Dam Square gets transformed into a “field” of tulips for one day in January – National Tulip Day – and I got to experience the joy of picking as many tulips as I could carry with both hands.

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National Tulip Day, Amsterdam, 2014

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Other things to do in Amsterdam:

  • Go on a canal cruise. A sunset cruise is best, as you get to see the canals both in daylight and at night.
  • Check out the “coffee” shops (though I wouldn’t necessarily recommend partaking).
  • Visit Anne Frank’s house.
  • Stay in a houseboat.
  • Browse through open air markets.
  • Take a day trip to Zaanse Schans to see windmills, craft houses, and traditional Dutch architecture.

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The drawback of a winter trip is that fewer daylight hours mean less time for sightseeing so I didn’t get to tick off all the items in my Netherlands bucket list. There is, however, at least one advantage to visiting Amsterdam in winter: the Wintermarkt. From the festive stalls that line Damrak every winter, one can buy all sorts of culinary delights: grilled sausages, fresh waffles, heaps of fries, chocolate tools (literally handyman’s tools made of chocolate), and even Filipino-style fried rice. My favorite purchase from that entire trip was probably the bowl of Hungarian goulash – my first ever – that I got, steaming hot, from a stall in the Wintermarkt.

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Amsterdam Wintermarkt

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Heaven in a styro cup — Hungarian goulash

It’s these new experiences I love most about travel: the chance to discover new favorites and to soak in the atmosphere of a totally different world. I’ve been to a few other countries in my lifetime, but that first winter in Amsterdam (and that first bowl of goulash!) holds a special place in my heart.

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An egg tart from Macau is a little piece of heaven.

Because a rainy Saturday night is as good a time as any to remember this delicacy with nearly desperate fondness.

eggtart

And because Elstira and I wanted to figure out if these and pastel de nata are the same thing. We could probably Google it but this is so much more fun. Hunger-inducing but fun. 🙂

An egg tart from Macau is a little piece of heaven” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved.