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Eating on a Budget in Britain Ireland and Greece

Eating in Europe can be as expensive as you want to make it, same as it can be in the US or Canada. Some people will tell you they can't find a decent restaurant meal for less than 25 dollars, others will eat happily for 10 dollars; these people will be doing the same in Europe. Notice we are talking about eating here, not fine dining. At the same time we are not going hungry and we can splurge occasionally on a good restaurant meal if we choose our spots. Here are some ideas for the first time visitor to Europe to explore when the hunger pangs set in.

In Britain and Ireland, the best buys in eating are in the pubs. Used to be the best you could expect were watery meat pies and mushy peas; now you can generally get a good filling meal for about 10 dollars. It's not always true, but usually the pulls with the long handles are for ales and bitters, the short handles for lagers and if you yearn for a Bud, ask for a pint of lager.Pubs work on a self service basis; you order your drinks and food at the bar and pay up front. Do not sit at a table in a pub expecting a waiter to take your order as you will be very disappointed. Regulation of opening times has changed in recent years with many venues now open past the traditional closing time of 11pm.

Some pubs can now open 24 hours although this is rarely taken advantage of.One of the most popular types of restaurant in Britain is an Indian restaurant. Most common in the less affluent areas of large cities and seldom found in city centres or in tourist traps, Indian restaurants serve a cuisine known as balti, named after the metal bowl the food is cooked in and can ordered eat-in or take-out. Birmingham in the Midlands is considered the balti capital of the UK as this dish was originally conceived there. Common Indian dishes include Chicken Tikka Masala, Prawn Biryani and the incredibly spicy Vindaloo.

In Ireland, food is expensive, although quality has generally improved enormously in the last ten years. Most small towns will have a supermarket and many have a weekly farmers' market. The cheapest option for eating out - like the UK, is either fast food or pubs. Many pubs offer a "carvery" lunch consisting of roasted meat, vegetables and the ubiquitous potatoes, which is usually good value.

Try some soda bread, made with buttermilk and leavened with bicarbonate of soda rather than yeast. It is heavy, tasty and almost a meal in itself!.In Greece it is easy to eat well and cheap if you stay out of the tourist traps. A good rule of thumb is never to look for something to eat within at least a kilometer of an ancient site! The traditional fast foods such as gyros (HEER-ohs), roast mutton sliced off a rotating vertical roaster and fixings (onions, tomatoes, etc with a yogurt sauce) wrapped in a pita can be found in food stands everywhere and are a good budget buy.

So are hole-in-the-wall souvlaki (soov-LAH-kee) stands. A souvlaki is broiled meat on a skewer and you can order it straight on the skewer or wrapped in a pita bread. Greek dips such as tzatziki, made of strained yoghurt, olive oil, garlic and finely chopped vegetables (like cucumbers and dill) are fantastic for dipping fresh bread. Skordhalia (skor-DOLL-ia) is also quite prevalent; it's a garlic mashed potato dip which is usually served with deep fried salted cod. A complete meal in itself is a Greek salad (called "country salad" locally, "hor-YA-tiki"), a mix of tomatoes, cucumber, feta cheese and onion - all sliced - plus some kalamata olives.

In a restaurant you might consider moussaka, layers of eggplant and ground meat; pastitsio, a variety of lasagna; bekri meze, small pieces of pork in white wine sauce; spetzofai, grilled sausage with onion and pepper; and saganaki, fried semi-hard cheese. Rack of lamb is also popular, known as Paidakia, but it is not cheap.For dessert, ask for baklava, paper-thin layers of pastry with honey and chopped nuts; or galaktobouriko, a custard pie similar to mille feuille.

Another must-try is yoghurt with honey: yoghurts in Greece are really different from what you get in Danone containers back home. For breakfast, head down the street to a local bakery (fourno) and try fresh tiropita (tee-ROPE-ita), cheese pie; spanakopita (spana-KOP-itah), spinach pie; or bougatsa, custard filled pie. These are delicious with a Greek coffee and a favourite among Greeks for a quick breakfast. Each bakery does its own rendition and you are never disappointed.

Greece produces a rich variety of local table wines, but have a care with the fortified varieties. Taste and alcohol content can be much different from what you'll find elsewhere in Europe. Retsina for example that tastes like pine resin can take some getting used to, same with ouzo which is an anise-flavored spirit. They produce a fair amount of good wine in Crete and also a local eau de vie called tsikoudia (tzee-COO-deeah) that tastes a lot like Italian grappa. Beer is reasonably priced and the Greeks produce some very good beers indeed.Coffee houses are ubiquitous in Greece, found even in the smallest village and often serve as the local gathering place.

Coffee is prepared in the traditional manner in these small villages with the grounds left in - but don't dare call this coffee 'Turkish' unless you want to start a heated political discussion! It is also made espresso-style at hotels and most restaurants, ask for filtrou, which refers unambiguously to filter coffee as opposed to whatever other kind of coffee they might think you want.A glass of water is normally served with any drink you order; one glass for each drink. Some cafes which cater to tourists charge extra for water, especially if it's served in a bottle, even if you didn't ask for it. This is not included in the cover charge, which is normally a separate line item. Everybody has to make a living, even in Greece, where the national attitude outside Athens seems to be "work if you must to earn a living, but don't live to work".

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Michael Russell.Your Independent guide to Travel.

By: Michael Russell



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