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In Asian cities (including modern/first-world cities such as Singapore), there are a lot of food centers which sell decent, but very inexpensive food. For example, in Singapore they are called Hawker Centres. It is very common throughout the city, and the food can be as low as costing only $3 (I would say, 1/5 of a meal in mid-range restaurants, and maybe almost equal the cost of cooking it on your own). It is very convenient if you don't want to spend a lot for eating out, yet you don't want to spend a lot of time cooking.

So far I haven't found anything similar in Western Europeans (or North American) major cities. There are some food shop and stalls which are somewhat cheaper than restaurants, but the difference is not as big as restaurants vs hawker centres.

Is there something analogous to this in Western Europe? If not, why? There must also be people who don't want to always eat out at expensive restaurants, yet also prefer not to have to cook?

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Though not the same I think your question is related with this one. People interested may benefit of reading both travel.stackexchange.com/questions/14211/… –  nsn Mar 13 '13 at 12:16

3 Answers 3

For hot food I eat way too many kebabs (a.k.a. döners) in most countries. Styles and quality varies as much by country as by shop/stand. Germany is best, Scandinavia is worst.

Kebabs were not common last time I was in Spain so I took up a different diet. I would go to the supermarket and buy bread and cheap packaged chorizo. (Not the same as Mexican or South American chorizo if you already know those.)

There are various discount supermarket chains across Europe. I seek these out and buy bread, cheese, sliced meat, salty snacks, water, and other drinks. Not all are in all countries but here's a start:

  • Aldi
  • Kaufland
  • Lidl
  • Penny Markt

In France, I like to find a local boulangerie (bakery) and fromagerie (cheese shop). Quality is very high and prices are very reasonable.

Often the cheapest version of something in its home country tastes amazing compared to what you have to settle for overseas. This goes for cheese right across Europe and chorizo in Spain. Also chocolate. (I'm from Australia where such things are either expensive premium imports, or crappy pale versions with no flavour - often both expensive and crappy.)

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Kebabs are common now in Spain ;) But if the op cannot find kebabs, chinesse restaurants normally have a really big meal from 5 euros (very good value for money!) –  Ivan Nov 26 '12 at 9:35
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Yeah it was 2001 when I was in Spain and expected kebabs to get more common as I got closer to Morocco - I thought of kebabs as Arab food in my ignorance that they're Turkish food. But they are still spreading and there are even kebab stands in Tokyo and Seoul now. By the way, for Eastern Europe, Czech Republic and Hungary had awful kebabs but Romania had very good ones at very low prices. –  hippietrail Nov 28 '12 at 2:49

Hawker centres are fairly unique, but from my experience the closest thing you will find to hawker centres in Europe are market halls or farmers markets. Because they're next to where the raw ingredients are being sold you are likely to find more economical options to eat that are still freshly prepared (unlike large fast food chains or supermarkets) as well as a chance to enjoy some local specialties.

Some examples for market halls would be the Borough Markets in London, La Boqueria in Barcelona or Rogacki here in Berlin. Of course these can easily be no cheaper than a restaurant (see the KaDeWe food hall here in Berlin as an example). Farmers markets can be seasonal and only open on some days, but tend to always have some good value snacks or meals.

The next best thing tends to vary from country to country (and even between cities), but most countries have different levels of restaurants. Here in Berlin for example you can find cheaper food in canteens (they are often attached to companies or universities, but some are open to the public), Kneipen (the Berlin equivalent of a pub) or even butchers tend to offer cheap, hearty meals.

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McDonald or Subway are very present in Europe with cheap hamburgers or sandwiches, if you avoid fancy desserts or sodas.

You can also find Kebab shops everywhere in Europe.

If you want more local food, try jambon-beurre sandwich in France, pizza al taglio in Italy, or various sandwiches in Belgium.

Avoid touristic places or locations with captive consumer bases such as train stations or airports.

The cheapest I know is to go to a supermarket and buy bread, ham, cheese and fruits. The only cooking gesture is to cut the bread and fill it with other ingredients.

One note about bottled water: a 50cl bottle from an automatic booth costs around 1.50€. The same bottle in a supermarket costs less than 0.20€. It is even cheaper in 1.5l bottles.

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I'd also suggest the Kebab places where you can eat at around 3€ depending where you are. –  greg121 Nov 25 '12 at 18:28
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Places like McDonald actually aren't good value for money if you want filling food, at least in France. If you want something hot, at least in Paris, Greek/Kebab places often have comparatively large portions. Buying ingredients separately is universally cheaper. –  Gilles Nov 25 '12 at 19:35
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In Germany drinking tap water is just as good as bottled water. I only drink tap water at home. You can't get it cheaper. –  greg121 Nov 25 '12 at 21:20
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+1 to @Gilles. In some countries, McDonald's is actually costlier. –  Ankur Banerjee Nov 26 '12 at 0:03
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Actually you can get pretty decent and pretty affordable sandwiches at train stations in Berlin, sometimes even at hours when better places are not open. –  hippietrail Nov 26 '12 at 7:25

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