Two bones. Two bucks. Gimme two dollars and I can eat like a king. I can eat like a queen. It’s just a matter of knowing where to look.
For all the great food that we eat and food porn we post across Facebook, Twitter, and our website, the prevailing wisdom might be that we’re rolling in the big bucks. Alas, no. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned while traveling the world: culinary delight need not be achieved on the back of an empty wallet.
Take yesterday, perfect example. We’re in Berlin, it’s sunny and we’re in the mood for lunch fresh and cheap. We take a stroll down the street to Turkish pizza corner and in minutes are noshing on hot Turkish pizzas tucked with salad and topped with sumac and crushed red pepper. The cost of maintaining this love affair: €1.50 ($1.85) per pizza.
This got us to thinking: what other memorable meals from around the world run under the $2.00 mark? Maybe you’re thinking, “Only a handful, at most.” Not quite. Curating this list turned out to be trickier than expected.
Now let’s a take a walk down our $2.00 culinary memory lane. In no particular order:
1. Thai seafood curry: Bangkok, Thailand
“Red curry chock full of squid and shrimp for $1.00…you’re lying!” Nope, check the streets of Bangkok, Thailand. Sure, the price may go up and down a bit depending on the weakness of the dollar, but we still have a ways to go before it tops $2.00. Cost: 30-60 BHT/$1 – $2
More reading: Bangkok 15 Course Street Meal and For the Love of Thai Food
2. 10 Tacos: San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico
Have you ever asked for the bill and thought maybe you’d misheard, maybe a zero was missing? The taco stand just outside of Santo Domingo Church in San Cristobal de las Casas featured this pleasant misunderstanding. The meat was good (as in no mystery bits), the spice combination was right on, and even the hot sauces were freshly made and excellent. And the price? 2 pesos or $0.16 a taco. True, they are a bit on the small side, but south of $2 will get you your fill.Cost: 2 pesos/$0.16 per meat taco, hot sauce=free
3. Chapati and curries: Mandalay, Burma/Myanmar
On the corner of 82nd and 27th Streets in Mandalay, Myanmar you’ll find a chapati and curry factory in action as evening comes around. Hordes of people gather around to eat Myanmar-style Indian goodness – stacks of chapati flatbread and lentil, vegetable and lamb curries. Cost: $1 for two curries and four chapatis.
More reading: No More Bats and Bicycle Chickens: The Better Side of Burmese Cuisine
4. Mysore Masala Dosa: Kollam (Kerala, India)
Just about everything we’d eaten in India fell into the under $2 range so it’s difficult to choose just one entry for this list. But we must, so we will. And our choice: the amazing dosa.
We quickly became dosa fanatics while traveling southern India. Dosas (dosai) became our breakfast of choice, our comfort food. But perhaps the best dosa ever on all of our travels in India came from a little hole-in-the-wall place in the town of Kollum in the Indian state of Kerala. There, dosa transcendence. Maybe it was the spice blend (the masala) mixed with potato, maybe it was the sambar and coconut chutneys. Any way you grab it and tuck it (all eaten with the hands), it still makes our mouths water. Seek it out at Sree Suprabatham Restaurant in Kollam, India. Cost: 40 rupees/$1
More reading: South Indian Food: A Few Favorites
5. Chinese Dumplings: Kaili (Guizhou Province, China)
After taking an overnight train that deposited us at the Kaili train station at 5:30 AM, we were exhausted and starving. Gathering our bearings, we found a mother and daughter team making dumplings (jiaozi) by hand at a tiny shop about the width of a doorway. We popped in and ordered a tray of perfectly steamed minced meat and herb-stuffed dumplings. Then we ordered a plate of fried dumplings. And we returned every day for the next few days to try everything in the house. These dumplings were easily among the the best we eaten in all of China, if not the best — and we ate a lot of dumplings.Cost: $0.80 for a tray of 8 steamed or fried dumplings
More reading: Top 10 Chinese Dumplings and Chinese Food Series (6 parts)
6. Khachapuri: Tbilisi (Georgia)
Still shocked looks when we call out Georgian food as one of our favorite cuisines. Some of Georgian cuisine’s signature dishes define comfort food, and among our favorites in the Georgian snack arsenal, khachapuri – a bread stuffed with tangy Georgian cheese that just oozes out with taste and tang.Cost: $0.80-$2, depending upon the size.
More reading: Georgian Food Round Up
7. Empanadas: Salta Region, Argentina
In much of South America, empanadas are the go-to, especially when traveling on-the-go and on the cheap in Argentina. But the empanadas in Argentina’s Salta region take the whole stuffed dough pocket thing to a whole new level. In these parts, there was something about the slightly flaky dough that was notches above repurposed pizza crust you might get elsewhere in Argentina. Perhaps most importantly, folks in Salta actually enjoy spice, so hot sauces were plentiful everywhere we went. One of our favorite places: La Casa de las Empanadas in Cafayate. They over a dozen varieties of empanada in and watch the women in the back roll the dough fresh for over a dozen varieties.Cost: 3 pesos/$0.60 per empanada
More reading: Argentine Food: Steak, Empanadas, Pizza, Pasta, Repeat and Wine Tasting in Cafayate, Argentina
8. Street pho: Hanoi, Vietnam
Who would have thought that sitting on tiny kingergarten-sized plastic stools slurping pho bo, Vietnamese beef soup, in Vietnamese winter could be so satisfying? We do. Fresh herbs thrown on top of steaming long-cooked broth create a steam bath of savory goodness. It’s all culinary balance, from the savory beef broth to the sweets of star anise and Asian basil.Cost: $1 – $1.50
More reading: A Taste of Hanoi
9. Plov, Taskhent (Uzbekistan)
In Central Asia, food is not a strong point, but we did grow to love plov — rice mixed with vegetables, meat and spices. Of all the plov we sampled, Uzbekistan featured the best in the region. Our favorite came from Flamingo, a simple little restaurant in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent. Their plov featured carrots, peppers, raisins, chick peas, and spices all long-simmered together with rice and beef/lamb. Cost: $1/plate
More reading: Central Asian Food: The Good, The Bad, The Inedible and Golden Camel Awards, Part 1: Food and Markets
10. Turkish Pizza (lahmacun), Berlin (Germany)
Let’s close with the inspiration for this post, not least of all because we found it in Europe, a continent not often thought of as the home of low cost, high quality eating. We take almost every visitor who comes to Berlin to Tadim at Kottbusser Tor because it really does serve an almost perfect Turkish Pizza (lahmacun) – freshly rolled out flat bread dough covered with a thin layer of herbed and lightly spiced minced meat gets cooked in the oven just so. The resulting dough is topped with freshly cut lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and parsley, then rolled and tucked. Cost: €1.50/$1.85 (if you want sauces, price goes up to €1.70/$2.10)
More reading: Cheap Berlin Eats Under €5 and Berlin Food: Favorite Neighborhood Meals Under €10
“OK, I’m hungry,” you’re thinking. “But so what?”
The so what is this. The key to tasty meals, human connections and rich experiences: don’t be shy, be curious, have a nose for the fresh, be guided by the local. And whatever you do, don’t break the bank.
The cover your culinary ass caveat: Prices are accurate at the time of consumption. Happy eating!
What have been some of your most memorable meals in the under $2 category?