An Online Primer for Budget Exploration
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Since most human beings don't make it into adulthood without being able to feed themselves, I won't go into too much detail in this section. I'll just say if you are not having fun eating in Europe, chances are you are doing something wrong. Vegetarians, vegans and all other culinary stripes are accommodated in all but the remotest of bergs.
To really travel happily in Europe, you have to toss the diets out the window. Most people I talk to gain weight in Europe, despite all the running around and adjusting to new cuisines. That's what vacations are for.
Here more than anywhere else it needs to be stressed to trust the locals and toss the guidebook dining section away. Just like home, the restaurant business has chronic turn-over, and what was good last year may not be so now. Ask around and use your own judgment to find your own little perfect meal spots.
The nice thing in Europe is that almost all establishments display a menu outside or along the sidewalk, which means you can easily stroll along looking over menus before deciding on where to dine. There is a wide selection in cities, and a favorite with locals and tourists alike is the fixed-price menu, which offers a few courses for a set price. Tipping is not expected in most establishments.
Europeans in general favor small breakfasts. It is often provided at the guesthouses and is always served at the hostels. Campgrounds usually have fresh bread rolls delivered in the morning, which are wonderful smeared with local butter and jam.
Pastries are the biggest bane of dieters. It is nearly impossible to resist walking past a bakery without stopping to savor some of the sweet delights displayed in the window, as the fresh-baked odor wafts out to entice you. This and the ice cream (well, alright, there is also the beer...) are the reasons most people gain weight.
Lunch time can be a lot of fun. Stroll to a few shops and get supplies for a picnic lunch. The small specialty shops are part of the charm of Europe; one stop for cheese, another for fruit, on to the butcher for cold cuts and the baker for fresh, delicious breads and rolls. Bring along a dictionary to translate those items you do not recognize, or just point at something and try it. Most towns have their own curious specialties.
If you are in a hurry, you can also find supermarkets fairly easily in most places and purchase all your goodies in one go. Of course it is not nearly as fun. Again, keep an eye open for the specialty items of the region; ask people about the typical local dishes. During harvest seasons you will find shop windows full of fruits and vegetables at the peak of flavor and ripeness.
For those on extremely tight budgets, cooking on a small propane stove will bring your individual meal costs down to a couple of dollars. Soups, pasta, rice dishes and anything else you can dream up are all easily created. Of course a multi-course meal takes some practice. Watch how other travelers cook or ask them for menu ideas.
At some point you need to finagle if possible an invite home for a local meal. If it does not happen spontaneously, try this: On the train, chatting with the nice couple, ask where they are from, and exclaim "Oh, you are from [insert town name here]! I was going to visit [Verona, Sevilla, Bordeaux] in a few days. Is there any special local delicacy I should try?" Hope for the best; it usually only works if you've been chatting for a while, and only if the train happens to be going in that direction.
Backpackers tip: Since you don't have a fridge, buy carrots, cucumbers and apples, which travel well and are rather durable.
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