EAT, pray, love Italy – Ways to enjoy Italian food without bursting your budget

Dear Tarte aux Fraises,

I am travelling on a shoe-string budget, yet I would like to experience local Italian atmosphere while enjoying a simple meal, where can I go?

Though not as fancy as the restaurants in terms of the food served, but if you are looking for a place to simply:

  • chill,
  • enjoy a good cuppa caffe or drinks and some light bites such as panini, brioche, ‘instant’ pasta, pizza, lasagne, and quiches at cheap rates,

go to a bar or caffè. Opened for breakfast till late, it is a good place to spend the time without being rushed, to hang out with friends or meet people. Some of the caffè/bars can be pretty posh and well-decorated for the young and hip, serving alcoholic drinks, and others are the fuss-free old style coffee shop or bars patronized mostly by elderly men gathered over beer or coffee and chatting away, while some simply sit there reading their newspapers.

This is typically what you can expect to find being sold in a caffe/bar in Italy in general. Key words to note: Patate (say pa-ta-tay) is potatoes in Italian. Insalata (say inn-sa-la-ta) means salad. You can find their menu right beside in orange and green boards.

Where mostly elderly men gathered over drinks and have conversations and watch soccer matches like Italian Serie

A simple and homely decor in a bar at Riomaggiore where we came to buy our croissants with jam fillings for our breakfast. Drinks are self-serving available in the fridge.

Modern and posh interior design inside this caffe called Duomo 34 in Trento.

A simple pre-cooked lasagne, to go with a glass of pineapple juice and a basket of bread rolls for the price of about 12 euros is worth it at Duomo 34 in Trento.

Our lunch of an extremely satisfying tiramisu, cuppuccino and pizza slice in the caffe after a tiring but rewarding day of shopping at The Mall, a factory outlet near Florence. The tiramisu will make you go MAMA MIA!

Patati al forno and melanzane al forno (al forno means oven-baked) are common spuntini (say spoon-ti-ni), italian version of tapas sold in a caffè/bar. We had this potatoes with herbs and eggplant with tomatoes and cheese for a very late lunch at Palazzolo Acreide in Sicily.

Farfelle served chilled that cost not more than 4euros for a plate of good portion at the same caffè/bar at Palazzolo Acreide.

A sneak peak at the counter where you can choose from a variety of dishes at reasonable portion at unbeatable prices!

What? Is there really such a good dining deal for less than 10 euros?

SI!!! Many bars in big cities like Milan and Florence, where there is a big population of young adults, adopt a happy-hour concept where you pay for 1 drink around 8 euros, and you get to eat free-flow buffet-style of food like pastas, pizzas, lasagnes, sandwiches, salads, cheese, salumi, as many times as you can. This is known as the aperitivo (say ah-pear-ri-ti-vo). It usually starts from 7pm till dinner time at about 9pm.

What you can expect normally is, when you enter the bar, a waiter will show you to a table and take your drink order. Once that is done, you may proceed to go to the buffet bar and get in the snaking queue to get your food. Payment is made upon the serving of your drink or anytime during your meal.

Most of the patrons are either students in their early 20s and 30s working professionals working in Milan, chilling out with friends and having an aperitivo that includes a cover for the main drink and the buffet that costs between 6 to 15 euros only.

I would like to have something over at my accomodation. 

Travelling on a budget would probably meant that you are not putting up in a 5-star hotel, and hence, there is no restaurant or bar in the building to have your meals.

However,  when there’s a will, there’s a way.  In fact, there are more than one option where you are still able to have a nice meal within your daily budget without having to leave your lodging.

  • Head to a local open-air market or supermarket in the town or district

Nothing beats hands-down getting fresh ingredients from the local stalls at the morning markets either open-air or covered ones or packet pre-mixed of pasta sauces from supermarkets and whipping up a hearty Italian meal, to be enjoyed in the privacy of your room’s balcony or in the dining area of your accommodation.

Formaggio (say for-ma-djo), cheese sold in the Mercato Centro in Florence.

Enjoy local vino (say vi-no), together with a nice plate of pasta in the comfort of your lodging.

A negozio (say nay-go-tsio) in the local daily market of Bolzano that sells local cheese.

Fusilli with tuna in tomato sauce. A simple and healthy meal that does not cost more than 6 euros for a packet of fusilli, a box of cherry tomatoes, and a can of tuna and tomato sauce for pasta. The best part? The packet of fusilli left over can be used for the next meal!

i bought the vongole (say von-go-lay), clam sauce for less than 3 euros a packet and made my own spaghetti al vongole at the apartment which I rented in Verona.

Penne with salmon and celery in tomato sauce. Another simple, cheap yet healthy meal enjoyed in the hotel.

Apart from pasta, we also had seafood risotto over at our hotel that attracted curious fellow travelers in the hotel to have a peak in the kitchen!

How about inviting curious fellow holiday-makers in the same lodging attracted by the aroma of your cooking, to try your cooking together? What a good way to make new acquaintances, isn’t it?

  • Get a take-away from a caffè/bar or pizzeria

If your lodging does not have a kitchen for guests’ usage, or if you simply prefer convenience and privacy, how about going to the bar/caffe or pizzeria near you, and grab some food back to eat?

We bought micro-wave heated pastas from a local bar in Riomaggiore for dinner for about 6 euros each to eat in the warmth of our rented apartment, facing the Mediterranean sea.

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