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.
(Of course, it goes without saying that the aim here is not to sample the best of British cuisine — such as it is 😉 — but to keep food costs down to an absolute minimum.)
When I can, I like to eat rice for breakfast — what can I say, I’m Filipino — so let’s go with a creamy mushroom chicken and rice meal for £0.95.
A liter of orange juice sells for £0.65, so a 250-ml glass would cost £0.17. (Store the rest in the fridge for tomorrow…and the next day…and the next day…)
And as for coffee, I always bring sachets of 3-in-1 from home, so that won’t cost me anything. 😀
Cost of breakfast:
Rice meal – £0.95
Orange juice – £0.17
Total – £1.12
When I was in London and walking about by myself, I would usually just grab a sandwich or a pasta salad from the nearest convenience store and eat it outdoors. That way, lunch time can double as sightseeing and people-watching time — I’ve tried eating a sandwich in the shadow of a Winston Churchill monument, aboard a Thames sightseeing cruise, etc. — and the food doesn’t cost me much.
If you’re feeling particularly thrifty (and you’re not that hungry) an egg and cress sandwich only costs £1.
My sister says you can never go wrong with a tuna sandwich (in this case, tuna and cucumber) — £1.50.
Or how about “malted brown bread with a blend of mayonnaise, chicken breast and sweetcure bacon”? Tesco’s chicken and bacon sandwich only costs £1.50.
For drinks: water! A 2-liter bottle costs £0.17. You can stock up on water at the beginning of your visit, and everyday before leaving for the day, fill a water bottle to bring with you. One liter of water (£0.09) will be good for lunch as well as for while walking about.
If you’re really thirsty and craving a Coke, you can buy a 1.25-liter bottle for £1. You can even save some of it for dinner.
Cost of lunch*:
Tuna sandwich – £1.50
Water – £0.09
Total – £1.59
*If you’re really hungry, you can buy two sandwiches for £2-3, and even if you indulge in a Coke, the total will still be way cheaper than eating at a pub/restaurant.
The nice thing about hostels — and I’m assuming a traveler interested in the cheapest eats in London would be staying at a hostel, though that doesn’t necessarily follow, but anyway, the nice thing about hostels — is that they usually have facilities for cooking. Or at least a microwave for heating frozen ready-to-eat meals. I’m usually tired at the end of a day of sightseeing and may not have the energy to whip up my own meal, so let’s settle for a microwave-heated Tesco meal.
Shepherd’s pie — hmmm, sounds typically British and worth a try – £1.65.
There are a lot of Londoners with South Asian ancestry, and food like chicken tikka masala is probably on its way to becoming as much a staple of British food as good old fish and chips. (I’ve even heard it actually originated in the UK.) This isn’t quite chicken tikka masala (which is available at Tesco too) but it’s related: chicken curry, £0.95.
Or if you’re craving some Italian, there’s lasagne for £0.95.
Or if you fancy Spanish food, Tesco has a chicken and chorizo paella that’s only £2.
And for drinks — you still have your water and/or Coke, right? 😀 Half of the 1.25-liter bottle of Coke would be equivalent to £0.50.
Cost of dinner:
Chicken curry – £0.95
Coke – £0.50
Total – £1.45
Total food costs for 1 day
- Breakfast – £1.12
- Lunch – £1.59
- Dinner – £1.45
- Total – £4.16
Note that lunch was the tuna sandwich (£1.50) instead of the cheaper egg sandwich (£1). Dinner included Coke (£0.50) instead of just water (£0.09). Otherwise, the entire day’s meals would have just cost £3.25.
Of course, I know many people would say: why bother traveling if you can’t afford a decent meal? Personally, I like to indulge in a nice meal from time to time. But, yes, newsflash: there are a lot of people in the world for whom 1 or 2 pounds here and there would make a big difference and they have the right to travel too. If they have to, they would gladly scrimp on food — if that’s what it takes to see the world.
Nando’s of course! I don’t know if it’s the cheapest option out there (probably not) but it’s cheap enough and I love their food. (And if you’re eating with someone who works for the NHS, military, etc., you can get a discount on your meal.) There were usually three of us eating at Nando’s — we would order a meal platter (£19.95) and an extra drink (£2.60) for a total of £22.55. Less my friend’s NHS discount, our dinner would cost each of us less than £7. If you’re eating by yourself, you could order 1/4 chicken breast (£4.40) and, say, a side of spicy rice (£2.40) and ask for service water. (Take a look at the Nando’s menu.)
Fish and chips
Maybe it’s just the island girl in me talking, or maybe I just didn’t know where to buy good fish and chips, but…well, the fish and chips in London isn’t bad, but it’s got nothing on the fish here in the Philippines. It doesn’t help that the fish and chips at, say, a Nicholson’s pub costs the equivalent of 2 kilos of fresh tanigue. So, I would say, try fish and chips but don’t pay too much for it, in case it underwhelms you.
That’s it. Cheers. 🙂
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Eating cheaply in London
© Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. Contents verified as of 05 April 2016.
I was just about to ask if you are now planning a trip to London, but read you’ve already been there… of course 🙂
the opening photo is lovely!!
but, hey, are you planning a new trip? 🙂
Hi Alex! Gah, I wish I were. Nothing so nice as that. I was actually doing research for an article on how to spend a week in London for only PHP 50 000 (around 950 euros) and 60% of that already goes to airfare, so I was trying to figure out how to live as cheaply as possible on the remaining 380 euros. 😀
Another interesting post, STG. Fish and chips in a pub, though, is a bit of a schoolboy error. Go to a chip shop. Actually a lot of London pub food is overpriced and underwhelming.
Probably the best value for a meal out would be one of the many vegetarian Indians – especially if they do a (usually Lunchtime) buffet for around £6.
An Indian buffet! I’d have to try that if I ever get the chance to go to London again. And fish and chips from a chip shop. Do you have a favorite for the fish and chips?
You’ve done an amazing job working this out!
It’s like I had too much time on my hands and went crazy going through the Tesco website. 😀 😀 I’m trying to put together (for an article) a budget for a week in London and I remembered how there were 1-2 gbp meals in convenience stores. It’s probably not a very healthy idea in the long run but I think I can do it for 1 week.
There is just no way that Filipinas can stick with a breakfast-lunch-dinner regime. Having at least 3 snacks is part of your national conscious!
Hahahahaha! That’s true.
Noooo! It’s awesome you did that. I may have mentioned this before or maybe not but I plan out food stuff before trips and my friends would say it is excessive. I like to have a list of all the different restaurants that meet certain criteria, their location & walking directions as well as their prices and what I might order. It helps me budget better ahead of time and then saves time on the trip. I don’t mind deviating at all and I’ll go and find something to eat just about anywhere. I have more diet restrictions than my friends yet I’m much less picky and just make do. They tend to the ones that walk around for 40 minutes and can’t pick a place and turn their noses up at the options we pass by and that drives me nuts! Let’s just eat!! The past several years I’ve loosened up and instead made a list of places I’m interested in trying with maybe one nicer or more upscale restaurant for a special/fancy dinner. It works better if I’m either alone or with my best traveling buddy Beth. =)
I went on about this for too long but I wanted to express that I’m really into this food planning for trips! And in my briefest of visits to London it never crossed my mind to hit up a Tesco but I would do that for at least one meal per day if I get there again. Thanks for the idea.
I’m looking forward to your week in London budget article.
I think you manage for a week on those meals. I find apples are an easy to carry (a couple at a time at most) and cheap food to buy while traveling plus they’re healthy, filling and fibrous. They’re a good in between meal snack.
I’m actually eating an apple now! 😀 😀
Tap (faucet) water is drinkable in England, no need to buy water. Tesco sells off all its fresh products in the evening, sandwiches half price etc.
Oh yay! Very useful info. Thank you!
Did you buy your meals online and have it delivered to you in your hostel?
Hi Julie! No, I didn’t. I passed by a lot of Tescos and other grocery stores while sightseeing so I would just buy whenever convenient. But you could have them delivered too. x
That’s great! I will definitely do that as well. 😀 Thanks for this, Gaya.