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?


5 Answers 5


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.)

  • 4
    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
    Commented Nov 26, 2012 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. Commented Nov 28, 2012 at 2:49
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    You mention the boulangerie. In France a cheap and filling cold snack is bread pudding (made with yesterday's unsold bread, and dried fruits). Commented Jan 7, 2023 at 16:33

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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    for water, I would even suggest to buy a bottle and then refill it at the ho(s)tel. In some countries, sausages/hot dogs are sold from stalls in the street.
    – Vince
    Commented Nov 25, 2012 at 19:32
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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. Commented Nov 25, 2012 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
    Commented Nov 25, 2012 at 21:20
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    +1 to @Gilles. In some countries, McDonald's is actually costlier. Commented Nov 26, 2012 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. Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 7:25

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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    Maybe we're thinking of different things, but being from (Southern) Germany, I tend to associate "market halls" and "farmers markets" with particularly expensive food (which justifies its higher-than-elsewhere prices with being fresh and extra-ecological). Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 20:47

In addition to the kebabs, falafels, pizzas and US-style burger joints European cities have their own variants of cheap, available, mostly eat-on-your-feet food. These are not as healthy as the Asian counterparts, unfortunately.

Netherlands: Patat (french fries), kroket (deep fried thing with pulverised meat), and other meaty products like frikandel, and bereklauw. In more touristy areas you will also find pancakes (sweet and savory) and poffertjes (minipancakes). Another option is haring (soused herring).

Germany: Sausage of course, for example at the Munich train station you can buy a warm sausage and a cold beer any time day or night. And while it's not really 'lunch', you can get your calories from a wide variety of Kuchen (cakes/pies for example with plums or poppy seeds)

U.K.: Fish and chips, with some peas because fibers and vitamins are good for you. Pubs will often have pies (fish or meat in creamy sauce with a layer of puff pastry) with a side dish of peas. Bangers and mash (sausage and mashed potato) is also a classic.

  • In the Netherlands, take out/away Chinese food is often very cheap, specially their 'special' for the shop or for the week.
    – Willeke
    Commented Aug 5, 2017 at 9:52

Note that many Western Europeans will eat a "Ready Meal" rather than going out for food, if they are trying to avoid cooking but save money. Eating out tends to be relatively expensive: remember that wages, taxes and energy prices in Western Europe don't really lend themselves to cheap food.

Most Ready Meals are pre-prepared and can be cooked in under 5 minutes in a microwave. I'm not promising they're healthy, but if you just want some ok food fast, they'll do the job.

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