Eating on a Budget in France, Belgium, Holland and Denmark


Prices vary tremendously throughout Europe, but rest assured, you’ll always find somewhere to eat that’s within your budget.

France is known for its good food and its high prices, but that’s mostly true if you are choosing from the Michelin guide by the number of stars the establishment has. Away from the big cities, you’ll find small restaurants with good prices and some excellent local cuisine. Good deals are usually the “plat du jour” (daily special) and the “prix fixée” that can range from a three to a six course meal. For a complete list ask for the “carte”, or the “carte du jour” for what’s special today. If you are having a full course meal, a cheese board may come with the meal. Ask for “a little of each, please” “Un peu de chacun, s’il vous plait”.

Wine is usually the cheapest drink if you order the “vin du pays” or the “vin du maison”. Most bars offer a “croque monsieur”, a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. Breakfast is usually fresh warm croissants and café au lait, which by the way, most French only drink in the morning, after that it’s expresso all the way.

Here are a few key phrases to help you eat well in French:
Food=nouriture
breakfast=petit-dejeuner
lunch=dejeuner
dinner=diner
bread=pain
cheese=fromage
soup=soupe
Salad=salade
meat=viande
fish=poisson
fruit=fruit
vegetables=legumes
dessert=dessert
Delicious!=Delicieux!
I am a vegetarian: Je suis vegetarien.

Belgium makes the best steaks in Europe, hands down, with frites (french fries) to match. Buy frites at a local stand and they’ll add a dollop of mayonnaise. Some Belgian beer tastes fine to the North American taste bud, some of it not. Belgians like their chocolate and Godiva is considered the finest, certainly the most expensive. There are many less expensive brands for the less discerning palates. If you happen to visit southeastern Belgium, look for a monastery in Orval, not far from Arlon. They make their own beer – home brew style and on a sunny summer day, a cold mug of their beer with a chunk of their cheese and a slab or two of their homemade bread is surely a taste of Nirvana. The words chunk and slab are used advisedly, the monks do not stand on ceremony nor observe the delicacies in food service! Also in this region, some of the country inns will serve wild boar. It’s an acquired taste. Belgium speaks French in the south (Walloon region) and Flemish (similar to Dutch in the north).

In The Netherlands, sample the Indonesian food, generally as popular as Indian in Britain. The big favourite is the rijstaffel (rice table), it’s a great sharing meal. A big bowl of rice and another big covered bowl of vegetables simmering in a hot broth that’s hot as in heat and hot as in chillies, so have a cold glass of good Dutch beer handy! Now comes the fun part; how many side dishes to order. They usually come in multiples of six. Twelve if you’re alone, eighteen or twenty-four for two, some restaurants will go all the way to thirty-six of the little side dishes. One dish will have two little chicken legs, another has toasted coconut, another a sauce that tastes like peanut butter, etc. On a rainy night in Leiden, this is a great way to spend two or three hours. If you’re alone and in a hurry, order the nasi goreng; it’s good, filling and could be compared to a Chinese chow mein dish.

Dutch hotels generally serve big breakfasts, cold of course. Hard boiled eggs, cold cuts, breads, jams and hot coffee.
Here are a few key phrases to help you to eat well in The Netherlands:

Food=voedsel
breakfast=ontbijt
lunch=lunch
dinner=diner
bread=brood
cheese=kaas
soup=soep
salad=salade
meat=vlees
chicken=kip
fish=vissen
fruit=fruit
vegetables=groenten
dessert=dessert
Delicious=Heerlijk!
I am a vegetarian=ik een vegetariër

In Scandinavia, their restaurants are highly priced and highly taxed. The word here is: Smorgasbord, however they spell it locally, it’s always the best buy. They are available everywhere, even on ferries and in train stations. In Denmark look for a place that advertises “smorrebrod”, it’s an open face sandwich that’s often budget priced and you can choose from an array of cold cuts, cheese or spreads. Most cities will have places that offer “dagens ritt” which only come out at noon and is the daily luncheon special.

Michael Russell
Your Independent guide to Travel

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