Hooray World Cuisine: 10 Fabulous Feasts from Around the World for Under $2.00

Burmese Food, Streetside Soup - Rangoon, Burma (Yangon, Myanmar)
A streetside feast in Yangon, Burma (Myanmar).

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.

10 Favorite Eats from Around the World for Under $2

1. Thai seafood curry: Bangkok, Thailand

Streetside Squid Red Curry - Bangkok, Thailand
Bangkok red squid curry…for about $1

“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

Street Food Tacos in San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico
Street Tacos, San Cristobal de las Casas. $0.16 a pop.

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

Stack of Chapatis - Mandalay, Burma
Chapatis and curry in Mandalay, Burma.

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)

Possibly the Best Masala Dosa - Kollam, India
Mysore masala dosa in Kollam, Kerala.

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)

Fried Dumplings at Street Restaurant - Kaili, China
Beautiful, hand-made dumplings in Kaili.

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)

Khachapuri - Mtskheta, Georgia
Khachapuri, the ultimate in comfort food.

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

A Melange of Empanadas -  Cafayate, Argentina
Cafayate empanadas, the best in 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

Hearty Bowl of Pho in Prague's Vietnamese Market
A steamy bowl of Pho Bo. Go good.

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)

Simmering Plov (Rice Dish) - Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Plov simmering on the streets of Tashkent, 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)

Lahmacun (aka, Turkish Pizza) in the Kreuzberg Area of Berlin
Lahmacun (Turkish pizza) topped with salad. So fresh and delicious.

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?

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Comments

  1. says

    My most memorable would have to be Ayvalik toast in Turkey – a toasted sandwich stuffed with pickle, sausage, lettuce, tomatoes and French fries, slathered in sauce. AMAZING.

    Barring that (I can’t remember the EXACT price, but it hovers around $2), then a bowl of ddeokbokki (spicy rice cakes) in South Korea for $0.50 (it can go up to about $2). The woman at the stand (used to call her Red Lipstick Ajumma) I used to get it from always gave me free fried stuff on top to go with it. Not sure what the fried stuff was, but it tasted gooood!

  2. Sutapa says

    Wow, loved this compilation of goodies from around the world.

    I would agree with you that Dosa is one of the most memorable dishes of India (not just South India)! I love it!

    I found a South Indian (Tamil) restaurant which is actually a small chain in the US NorthEast. Best dosa ever! They make it like in India, the masala is fantastic, the dosa crispy and nutty and made into a triangle with the masala inside, a hint of ghee (clarified butter) on the dosa and condiments to die for!! The restaurant specializes in Chettinad cuisine of Tamil Nadu.

    Loved the Thai curry and the Tacos in San Cristobel, Mexico!! Such lovely photos!

  3. says

    Ah, dosas! It’s been a while since we’ve been to India but we got our dosa fix in Malaysia where they are also good and cheap.

    We have you to thank for the Casa de las Empanadas recommendation in Cafayate – they were so good and had some creative veggie options.

    Looking forward to trying tacos in Mexico at the end of the year!

  4. says

    That Turkish pizza looks amazing, and a surprising cheap eat for Germany. I love street food, though in US cities it’s become so trendy and expensive! I miss the good old “roach coach”!

  5. Miranda says

    Just reading this post had my mouth watering, the Empanadas all through South America really were great, Empanadas de Queso were my favourite- simple, cheap and and delicious- perfect for on-the-go as you said.

    While travelling around South America I also loved Patacones, thick, fried, grilled plantains averaging $0.30-0.75 USD. They’re another perfect on-the-go snack while you’re travelling, and like so much Latin American food I found it to be great for the tastebuds and not so great for the waistline!

    Thanks for the great post! I’ll have to keep all these tasty looking dishes in mind for my next adventures!

  6. says

    YUM! Love the photos and descriptions! Steamed pork buns in Asia were another one of my cheap and delicious favorites. :-)

    (And will be trying to work the phrase “cover your culinary ass caveat” into a casual conversation.)

  7. says

    Chinese dumplings definitely top my list! Even in Shanghai they are pretty cheap. I could eat buckets of them!

    The hawker centers of Singapore and izakayas of Japan are great places to feast on the cheap. Granted, meals there will be more than $2, but not by much.

  8. says

    It’s just amazing the diversity and the quality of food one can eat (in many places around the world) for just $2 or less.

    Along with an encyclopedia of mouthwatering Asian $2 specials, I was particularly thrilled by Egyptian little sandwiches (filled with a choice of filling) at the price of 3 – 5 per $1, and a dish known as Zanzibari Mix (fried dumplings and coconut relish in a thick coconut creamy soup infused with chillies) in Tanzania that was just $0.88 per bowl.

    Also in the last few weeks from what you guys and others have said about Georgian cuisine, I’m really interested!

  9. Noah says

    I just crossed the border between Cambodia and Thailand and while I was forced to wait for a bus that never existed, dollar pad Thai was my savior.
    Fresh spring rolls in Vietnam, about eight for a dollar, were by far the best.

  10. says

    Well most of them look delicious, so it would most definitely be worth saving the money. We have a lot of delicious food around here (Portugal), but you would have a very hard time finding any deals like these. It does give an idea where one might be able to afford to travel to, even if the plane costs more.

  11. says

    This list is making me hungry! Seems like the trend here is that for cheap ‘n’ tasty eats, go for the street food. One of my faves is the Nicaraguan guirila, a thick corn tortilla wrapped in banana leaves and stuffed with fresh cuajada cheese, 9 cordobas (about 45 cents) apiece. And yes, it’s sold on the street in Matagalpa.

  12. says

    Yum! Food is one of my favourite things about travel, and almost everywhere I have been the food has been so much cheaper than here in Australia. Travelling through Asia was just delightful with all of the cheap street food everywhere :) Great post!

  13. says

    Great post. I love finding cheap food when I travel…and when I’m at home :). NYC has a hole in the wall shop in Chinatown where you can get amazingly delicious “hefan” — egg, scallions, and meat wrapped in broad, flat rice noodles — for $1.25. So I agree it’s all about knowing where to look!

  14. says

    You just named all my favourites in SEA, Thais, Myanmar and Vietnam! Even in Malaysia, you can eat for maybe USD1.50! Great post… loved the shot of the Mandalay Chapati!

  15. says

    @Tom: I figured Korea and Taiwan both would feature in feedback on this list. Thanks for sharing your your low-budget, high-value world cuisine dining experiences.

    Nothing better tasting (perhaps not better for you) than free fried stuff!

    @Sutapa: Glad you liked it. A small chain the U.S. that does dosa? Wow, we’ll need to get the name of it from you. Chettinad cuisine…from a quick read, sounds great!

    @Erin: Malaysian dosai are amazing. It was incredible how fabulous and cheap they were in Kuala Lumpur, possibly even cheaper than in India.

    Glad the empanada recommendation in Cafayate worked out.

    Yes, tacos. Those were the cheapest, but we found the some of the world’s best (slightly more expensive) in Oaxaca. We’ll be writing about those coming up.

    @Cassie: This Turkish pizza / lahmacun is the bomb. Can’t say enough good things about it.

    Street food in the U.S. can be trendy. However, our recent experience in Portland proved that it can be done right and reasonably priced. Check out the Portland food carts. Great world cuisine and very reasonably priced.

    @Miranda: Yep, that was the problem with fried plantains for us…we could only do them in very limited amounts because of the oil. Also, we try to find food that has some vegetable variety as well.

    @Kate: Pork buns are nice. (Had some good ones in China, but my favorites are in San Francisco, actually. And they were cheap when I was there.)

    Glad you like the CYA caveat!

    @cosmo: Buckets of dumplings. We’re in!

    @Mark: Yes! We overlooked food in Egypt, especially Cairo. I remember a plate of falafel and vegetables easily under $2.00. Thanks for the addition!

    Zanzabari mix. That reminds me…we could probably have added a dish from the place in Stonetown that you recommended.

    So much great food, so little space in my tummy.

    @Noah: Thai food (and Southeast Asian cuisine in general) is pretty fabulous. And so cheap. All the morning soups across all the countries there are amazing.

    @Kieu: Yep, 10 tacos. Andale!

    @David: Yes, cost of cuisine is definitely something to factor into the travel planning, particularly if you plan on spending a significant chunk of time somewhere, and a significant amount of time eating (like we tend to do.)

    @Darrin: Wow, a Nicaraguan find. Good. Central America, Nicaragua included featured a couple good tortilla wrapped items and such (I’m thinking baleadas in Honduras, pupusas in El Salvador, etc.)

    Thanks for the addition.

    @Dean: Thanks. Southeast Asia is nice, easy-hop cheap food getaway for Australians.

    @Ana: Yes, even in New York, cheap, high value cuisine is possible. Chinatown is a great place to look. Would love the name of the place with the “hefan”.

  16. says

    Great idea for a blog post! There’s so much delicious food for cheap in South East Asia, where I’ve been backpacking for six months. You really can eat like a king for not very much at all.

  17. says

    Love this post. I have always wanted to try out Thai dishes from street vendors unlike the ones they serve here inside a fancy restaurant in the states. For more amazing street food, you should definitely visit Taiwan. Their unique night markets will blow your mind off with lots of tasty food.

  18. says

    aww wanna try these so bad! I’ve just tasted the Thai curry, Pho Vietnam and Chinese dumpling and all of these dishes are really delicious I cannot forget!

  19. says

    Awesome list! What I love is that not only are these meals cheap, but in places like Thailand, often when you order food, they literally go back to their kitchen and cook it from scratch for you. It’s fantastic.

  20. says

    I just finished lunch and still you were able to make my stomach grumble. These meals all look incredible. I’m counting myself lucky that there isn’t this much variety all the time – I’d never be able to settle on just one thing…
    Great photos. Thanks for sharing :)

  21. says

    @Eva: Glad to hear that the Georgian entry piqued your interest. Georgian food is truly wonderful. Thinking of making a return trip there just to eat :)

    @Simon: Southeast Asia is incredible for cheap and high quality food!! Enjoy all your eating opportunities there.

    @Michelle: Thanks for the recommendation for Taiwan as a spot for high quality street food. It’s certainly on our food-destination wish lists. Maybe this next year…

    @TL: Sounds like you’ve made a good start on this list. Enjoy making your way through the rest of it!

    @Jessica: So true! And I’m always amazed by how one pan on a simple stove at a street stand can churn out such amazing – and complex – dishes. Now I’m hungry thinking about Thailand…

    @Margaret: Yes, sometimes too many choices can be paralyzing. One of our favorite style of eating is small plate eating where we’ll share many small dishes – this gives us an opportunity to try lots of different options.

    @Kathryn: Thanks!

    @Callie: Completely understand – it’s been a long while since we’ve had a dosa and I’m missing them!

  22. says

    OMG Im so hungry now! These are some amazing deals. I love to eat where the locals eat! This is where you get the best deals. I can’t believe you can get $.16 tacos, I would be in taco heaven! Thanks for the great food deals for under $2!

    Sally

  23. says

    All that food looks absolutely AMAZING! We start our 2 year backpacking trip off in Japan in 10 days and I can’t wait for all the delicious food in all of Asia!

  24. says

    @Sally: Eating at local street stands or restaurants is often where the best food and conversation is. Couldn’t agree more! And yes, we were amazed that there are still $0.16 tacos in Mexico – delicious ones, too!

    @Vicky: Congratulations on your upcoming trip!! Japan will not have many $2 options, but once you get into Southeast Asia you will be amazed by the selection of cheap and delicious food. Enjoy!

  25. says

    We are in Malaka, Malaysia right now and feel bad if we pay over $2 for a meal!

    I’m not sure If I can get used to going out for a curry and paying 10x that back in England Again.

  26. says

    Wow, what a mouth watering list! I didn’t find MUCH in Europe for under 2 euros, but I did find some great 3 euro sandwiches in Venice when I didn’t feel like spending 10 times that on dinner. I love finding cheap eats, and often you really don’t have to give up quality and yumminess!
    Street food is one of my favorite things in the while world. Great post, thanks!

  27. says

    @Lee: Southeast Asian curries — I really only enjoy them in their native, on the street context. That, or when I have a kitchen to make them at home. Happy snacking in Malaysia:
    http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/2009/03/multicultural-snacking-in-malaysia/

    @Andrea: There are a few bits under 2 Euros in Europe, just hard to find. 3 Euro sandwiches in Venice…cicchetti bar maybe?

    If you have the right information, there’s no reason to give up on quality and taste. Happy street food eating!

  28. says

    I can live on Thai street food. How they can make Pad Thai and all the ingredients for the price is beyond me and no matter how hard I try to copy the recipe at home it costs 20X more and never ever tastes the same. Great post thanks for sharing.

  29. says

    @Allan: The timing of your comment is perfect. I was thinking the same thing about Thai food in general. How, on the street, you can a meal for under a dollar. So, so true about Pad Thai — the absolute perfect example. Good luck and keep trying to perfect it. It’s worth it!

  30. says

    @Stephanie: Japan is a bit more difficult to find food for under $2, but you can still find a few cheap alternatives. For under $2 you can get onigiri at any convenience or grocery store – these are essentially rice triangles/rolls with something inside (e.g., tuna, salmon, egg, etc.). Another good option is go to by the department store grocery sections (usually in the basement) just before closing time and they will have heavily discounted a lot of their fresh foods. And, don’t forget the option of sharing a okonomiyaki with a friend – might not be $2 cheap, but it’s still pretty reasonable.

    You can see a few more recommendations for cheap eats in Japan at the bottom of this post: http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/2012/09/japan-food/

  31. says

    I really loved this list of meals from around the world. This post is my #1 inspiration keep up traveling around the world to taste different food. Even 2 bucks can have these goodies, this is the main reason I like to travel around in Southeast Asia.

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