We’re avid foodies, a passion that doesn’t sit easily with our ‘five star lifestyle, one star salary’ jobs as freelance travel writers which is why we’re alert to every opportunity to sample top notch food at rock bottom prices. These are just five of the ways we’ve found to enjoy gourmet food without crippling the credit rating…
The trend for good quality, fast food markets continues apace, even making it to our current home in the Canary Islands, traditionally something of a culinary backwater. The idea is simple; share the cost of overheads by filling a large space with several food outlets and letting diners self-select. Markets can be small or large but they’re generally great places to find top notch food without a bill to match. Up and coming chefs and specialist food and drink outlets sit alongside established brand names, and dishes are usually small and affordable. Our current favourite gourmet fast food hall is the TimeOut Mercado da Ribeira in Lisbon where I enjoyed prosciutto on truffle potato purée with a slow cooked egg and asparagus for just €7, a dish that would carry a price tag of €17- €20 were I to choose it as a starter in a Michelin starred restaurant.
Not so long ago, having to eat at the airport meant a choice of a sandwich from Boots the Chemist or a burger from McDonalds or Burger King. Now, whether it’s Heston Blumenthal and Gordon Ramsay at Heathrow; Jamie Oliver at Gatwick; Gilles Epié at Charles De Gaulle or Carles Gaig at Barcelona, celebrity chef outlets amongst the duty free counters is good news for foodie travellers. But it doesn’t have to be a celebrity chef, from Asian to sushi, you can get all the gourmet without the hype at most European city airports now without having to break far into the holiday spends.
Food festivals and fairs
Kiosks and stalls that pop-up at food festivals and fairs across Europe almost invariably provide gourmet and speciality dishes using local produce to sample at purse friendly prices. It’s in their interests to get onto the radar of thousands of people during the space of one day so you’re pretty much guaranteed to sample some fine food offerings. There’s barely a weekend this year when a food fair isn’t taking place somewhere in the UK and Europe, watch local press and tourist office websites for listings.
Get there before the stars arrive
If you regularly dine out, there’s a good chance you’ll have a particular little place you know where you can get excellent food without the Michelin star prices, and if you haven’t yet found one, keep looking. We found a brilliant chef working in a nondescript café in Kirkcudbright once and went back several times during our brief stay. Last year we dined at Tasca Da Esquina in Lisbon, wishing we lived on its doorstep to make it a regular venue. Five years ago we did a feature on a small family restaurant here on Tenerife and it instantly became, and remains, our favourite dining venue. It took four years for Michelin to catch up with El Rincón de Juan Carlos during which time we have enjoyed many, top value, gourmet meals.
When you strip away restaurant overheads of rent, rates, heating, lighting, staffing and marketing, what you’re left with is the cost of raw ingredients and the enthusiasm of a good chef. Having a stab at your own gourmet cooking might sound daunting but as there’s only you to know if it works or not, what is there to lose? Choose the freshest of ingredients, find yourself a good cookbook, and go for it. Jack and I have a long way to travel on our own gourmet cooking path but we’re enjoying the journey immensely.