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Eating on a Budget in Italy Spain and Portugal

Eating in some parts of Europe can be as cheap as in the US or Canada. Other parts can be really expensive, but if you look around, you're sure to find something to assuage those hunger pangs.In Italy a good meal is first an antipasto, then a pasta dish, then a meat entrée, then a salad, possibly some fruit or cheese - or both, and perhaps a nice Chianti. A good meal, and good and expensive, unfortunately, in every major city. What to do?.Try to find a small restaurant that will serve a pasta dish with a salad or soup only.

The pasta dish will be big enough servings of spaghetti, lasagne, etc., with a generous helping of salad or perhaps a minestrone soup to satisfy the hungriest appetite. These places go by names like osteria, tavola calda, rosticceria, pizzeria or trattoria.

A pizza rustica is always a good buy, they sell pizza by the weight. You point at the one you like best, give them a number ("due cento" two hundred grams, is a fair amount), they'll take your money, and heat it up for you, and you can walk down to a bench in the square, munching on your pizza slice. Panini is a form of grilled sandwich often with ham and cheese, usually found in bars.At restaurants ask for the menu del giorno, menu of the day, if there's a good priced meal to be had it will be listed here. You'll often see "pane e coperto" on menus, it's an extra charge for bread and - yes - cover charge.

Servizio incluso means service included, but they won't frown at a small tip; Italians seldom tip, North Americans nearly always tip.On the streets, find an ice cream vendor; it's called gelato, and it is possibly the best ice cream anywhere. Coffee can be had in many ways, the favorite is cappuccino, just like at Starbucks.

In the morning you can order a "caffé con latte grande" to get you started.Here are a few key phrases to help you eat well in Italian: Food=cibo breakfast=colazione lunch=pranzo dinner=cena bread=pane cheese=formaggio soup=zuppa or minestra salad=insalata meat=carni chicken=pollo fish=pesce fruit=frutta vegetables=legumi dessert=dolci Delicious!=Delizioso!.Portugal is fun and for the most part quite reasonable. Sea food is plentiful here and well priced.

Try the vinho verde (literally green wine). For the sweet tooth, try the pastel de Nata in the north, pasteis de nata in the south; they're a small cream filled tart. For some music, find a fado bar; it puts the blues to shame for sad heart wrenching songs.

You may find in a restaurant while waiting for your order to arrive, (especially if they have you pegged for a tourist) some smiling person will bring a tempting tray of appetizers to your table, and mumble something that sounds like "serveece" and walk away. My, what friendly people! You nibble on one, you have bought the whole tray, and they are not cheap. Just another way for the struggling restaurateur to put his children through college.Soup is the essential first course of any Portuguese meal. The most popular is likely the caldo verde, made from cabbage, potatoes and spiced sausage. A big bowl can make a nice lunch by itself.

Another Portuguese staple bacalhau (dried codfish) is everywhere. Locals will tell you that there are as many ways to cook this as there are days in the year. Street stands will offer grilled fresh caught sardines that bear no relation to the tinned varieties.Here are a few key phrases to help you eat well in Portuguese: Food=alimento breakfast=pequeno almoço lunch=lunch dinner=jantar bread=pão cheese=queijo soup=sopa salad=salad meat=carne chicken=galinha fish=peixes fruit=fruta vegetables=vegetais dessert=dessert Delicious!=Delicioso!.In Spain you have to try the paella. A list of ingredients would be misleading because it varies a little depending on the location; everyone swears theirs is the best in "el mundo" but only if they are being modest.

Usually it's rice flavored with saffron, chicken, seafood and/or sausage; it's filling and it's delicious, usually well priced and goes well with beer or wine. For a picnic try some of the Spanish ham, Jamón Serrano, it's easily on a par with the Italian Parma ham. Tortilla de patatas (potato tortillas), Gazpacho Andaluz (cold vegetable soup), Mariscos (shellfish, some of the best in the world) are found in nearly every restaurant and usually not too pricey, particularly if you are not in the top tourist destinations such as Costa Brava and Costa del Sol.Spanish bars have what they call tapas which are basically "starters" or "appetizers".

In San Sebastian there was a bar that boasted of having one hundred varieties. A few good nights have been spent following the Spanish custom of sampling the tapas (one or two at each) and wine in as many bars as was your personal limit. Tourists are easily spotted when they load their plates full of tapas.Here are a few key phrases to help you eat well in Spanish: Food=alimento breakfast=desayuno lunch=almuerzo dinner=cena bread=pan cheese=queso soup=sopa salad=ensalada meat=carne chicken=pollo fish=pescados fruit=fruta vegetables=verduras dessert=postre Delicious!= ¡Delicioso!.Best advice for eating in Europe - like most other activities, is ask the locals.

If you are really concerned about what you are eating, and how to translate a multi-page menu, Amazon has a series of books (ten dollars each) called the Marling Menu Masters for French, Italian, Spanish and German restaurants. Everything you ever wanted to know about the menu but were afraid to ask. And may have been better off not knowing!.

.Michael Russell.Your Independent guide to Travel.

By: Michael Russell

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