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Which cuisine is the most frugal in which to cook/eat by?

arktos Jul 7, 2011 03:48 PM

Apropos the 'Rising food costs' in these tough economic times thread, I'm always trying to figure out which World cuisine is the least expensive in which to cook but deliveres the best 'bang for the buck' in terms of flaver, a few thoughts:

CHINESE- I would think this would be the first choice, but authentic Chinese cooking involves costly things such as: preserved mustard greens/szechuan pickles, Shaoxing wine, jarred bean sauces/pastes, wolfberries/lotus seeds and various dried fungusy/ fishy things (lily flower/cloud ear/silverfish.etc.). So I'm on the fence with this one.

INDIAN- This would seem another logical choice as the cuisine is mainly legumes, rice, flour and vegetables, but it does involve the use of A LOT of spices/seasonings, and those can be kind of costly such as cardamom, real cinnamon and saffron. Also quality Basmati rice will take a pretty good hit on your wallet. Nonetheless, even with all that I would still rank it #2 in the most frugal cuisine department.

ITALIAN- Italian food is unthinkable without ingredients such as quality olive oils, pancetta/prosciutto, veal, reggiano parm./pecorino, balsamic vinegars, olives, salted capers, and anchovies, among others; and those are costly and their absence would be noted and would make for a rather poor Italian meal.

MEXICAN- I think this is probably the #1 choice, as you can feed a family with only a chicken, beans, tortillas and about 8 vegetable types, some dairy products and a minimum of seasonings. This type of cooking 'fortunately' lacks really expensive 'essentials' (Tequila excepted!) and seems to be mainly an inexpensive and tasty manipulation of around a dozen or so main ingredients.

GREEK/LEBANESE/ NEAR EASTERN- I know there are differences in these particulat cuisines, but they are similar in their use of legumes, breads, spices, vegetables (eggplant) rice and LAMB!! (and pork in Greece). I put this one at #3.

SOUTHEAST ASIAN- Same as with Chinese.

FRENCH- Out of the question as the heavy use of dairy and expensive meats make it not terribly frugal, IMO.

  1. e
    escondido123 Jul 7, 2011 03:59 PM

    Since there are people in extreme poverty everywhere in the world, it would seem it could be done eating any cuisine---the biggest cost difference would pivot on protein. Poor people don't eat much meat but use it as a flavoring or for special occasions. I find it interesting that you focus on the expensive ingredients within each cuisine rather than the basic. To say that Chinese cuisine is expensive just makes me chuckle when you consider the many millions of Chinese who live on very, very little. As to your view of Mexican cuisine, I'm going to assume you are not that familiar with it or you couldn't say it was so simple.

    1 Reply
    1. re: escondido123
      hill food Jul 11, 2011 11:27 PM

      I would amend that to say, if one focuses on the methods rather than the ingredients per se, any region's food can be done on the cheap. make what you can (there are more than a few pricey things on that list that with patience aren't difficult) grow what you can, substitute what you can and the sky's your oyster (I'm trying to think of a better mixed metaphor, but that works for now).

    2. c
      Chowrin Jul 7, 2011 04:01 PM

      buy basmati at costco, costs well under a dollar a pound.
      Mexican, when I make it, requires cilantro, which is expensive.
      Chinese can be made with a jug of sherry (nothing to do about the pastes,sadly)

      But me? I'd say poor cooking! Bread, bread tons of bread, meat on fest days only, and as much collards as you can stomach.

      (in china, it's gailan and rice. same diff).

      8 Replies
      1. re: Chowrin
        Sam Salmon Jul 7, 2011 07:51 PM

        "Mexican......requires cilantro, which is expensive"

        WTH??

        1. re: Sam Salmon
          f
          ferret Jul 8, 2011 08:11 AM

          I can get 2-3 bunches of cilantro for a buck at the Mexican produce market near my house. I drive my wife crazy because I always overpurchase cilantro when I go there.

          1. re: Sam Salmon
            c
            Chowrin Jul 8, 2011 04:40 PM

            $2 a bunch. I use $100 to feed two people for a month, and without eating out. Really takes a bite out of the budget.

            1. re: Sam Salmon
              crowmuncher Jul 24, 2011 03:26 PM

              I was going to post exactly what Chowrin posted re: Mexican because (as in any cuisine) the answer to the question is relative to what's available. Where I live, when you go to the local Whole Foods and ask them where the tortillas are they point you in the direction of sprouted wraps. They really are in the freezer section and they are more expensive than the ones on the West Coast in the sense that you get very few in a package. But I digress, Cilantro?, very expensive relatively speaking and you can't really grow it in South Florida. Believe me I have tried too many times. I like to load my tostadas and tacos (stem and all) with cilantro. If you're lucky you can find beautiful, organic CA grown at whole foods that just arrived, but a lot of the the times it's wilted when you need it most. Now Cuban oregano? Avocados (the "slimcado" :)? Starfruit? Mango? No problem here- cheapest thing there is if you grow it. I'm glad I love beans and rice because that's pretty cheap for me (got some cooking right now). I used up the last of my cilantro this morning though...

              1. re: crowmuncher
                Caroline1 Feb 16, 2012 11:29 PM

                LOL! Shopping at Whole Foods on a tight food budger? Time for a reality check! As for cilantro, got a flower pot and a widnow sill? Grow some! Couldn't be cheaper.

                1. re: Caroline1
                  Bada Bing Feb 18, 2012 12:07 PM

                  I don't know where you live, but I do know from several years experience that cilantro doesn't grow very robustly in the upper midwest. Same with hot chiles about half the summers. You'd need to plant at least a dozen cilantro plants here to keep up with routine culinary use, and then that would only be for the summer months. Alas.

                  1. re: Bada Bing
                    Caroline1 Feb 18, 2012 04:47 PM

                    Oooops. Sorry. I live in Texas. I keep forgetting you can't grow oranges outside in Alaska. What about those "Grow Light" garden-in-a-dish thingies? But come to think of it, I haven't seen an ad for one of those in a while. And dried cilantro sucks. Sorry!

                    1. re: Bada Bing
                      r
                      Rella May 31, 2012 03:48 PM

                      Tried cilantro in the AeroGarden. over and over . Didn't work for me. Now I just buy a batch of organic cilantro, chop it and freeze it with water in an ice cube tray. But it sure ain't fresh!

            2. e
              ediblover Jul 7, 2011 04:04 PM

              Going by your standards of authentic ingredients, it's none of the above. In order to have authentic Mexican, you'd have to find organic, free-range chicken, organic beans and so on.

              The cheapest, in theory, is the one that uses little animal protein, high grains and traditionally cheap produce (as in, fresh ones aren't used).

              On second thought... Any type of cuisine/dish that originated out of necessity fits the bill. These would be foods that originated from days of peasantry and slavery, where only the cheap things were available. Sure, some things that were cheap then may be expensive now, but overall it should work.

              2 Replies
              1. re: ediblover
                arktos Jul 7, 2011 04:12 PM

                'These would be foods that originated from days of peasantry and slavery, where only the cheap things were available'

                Thanks! I forgot about the cooking of the American South. It's definately a contender for tthe most frugal. With mainly beans, rice, corn, inexpensive cuts of meat, greens and a few others, Southerners created a pretty tasting cuisine that doesn't take a big chunk out of your wallet.

                1. re: arktos
                  c
                  Chowrin May 24, 2012 08:06 PM

                  why, oh dear departed gods, why, won't my costco carry cornmeal??

              2. Popkin Jul 7, 2011 04:12 PM

                Peasant food.

                Lol, I know it's not a nationality of food, but it is a subset of most cuisines :D

                As to nationality though, that is sooooooooo going to depend on where you live. For instance here in CA, Mexican food/ingredients are probably the cheapest. Cilantro here is really cheap too (unlike the case with Chowrin).

                3 Replies
                1. re: Popkin
                  c
                  Chowrin Jul 7, 2011 04:14 PM

                  *jealous* just for that, i'm hoarding the sour cherries! and the wild blueberries!

                  1. re: Popkin
                    t
                    Terrieltr Jul 8, 2011 09:55 AM

                    I was going to say "stew" or the local equivalent. Sauce, with a little meat (and it's a case where cheaper is often better, because it's designed for tough cuts of meat) and some veggies that can be stretched as needed with the local starch, be it rice, bread, potatoes or something else.

                    1. re: Popkin
                      JerryMe Jul 8, 2011 04:53 PM

                      Porridge thot here - from the Ken Follet books. It was on everyone's menu.

                    2. Karl S Jul 7, 2011 04:13 PM

                      An important clarification: Do you mean most frugal where *you* live or where the cuisines originated? It's a huge difference. You are evaluating cost from the first, not the second, perspective, it would seem.

                      And "French" covers both haute cuisine and domestic, peasant cuisine; the latter was immensely frugal, traditionally.

                      Also, in terms of frugality, consider the issue of fuel: Chinese home and street cooking is often based on an almost maniacal frugality with fuel, for example.

                      Finally, one needs to remember that Westerners tend to evaluate cuisines at the level of the feast or "sabbath" meals, rather than much more meagre everyday meals. Most people, for most of history, have had most of their meals (when they had meals) comprised of a staple starch and a few condiments.

                      For examples:

                      The Irish: potatoes (many pounds a day) and buttermilk (during the dairy season)
                      England: Pease porridge and a suck of salt pork
                      Continental Europe: a cereal porridge (rye, barley, wheat or, later, maize) or soup based on re-hydrating stale bread
                      Africa: millet and other grains and peas
                      West Asia: wheat and barley
                      South Asia: wheat and rice and lentils
                      East Asia: rice, millet and wheat.
                      Americas: maize in all of its splendor.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: Karl S
                        arktos Jul 7, 2011 04:35 PM

                        'Do you mean most frugal where *you* live or where the cuisines originated?'

                        Don't fully understand the question, but I would probably answer 'where I live', and what I have access to interms of foodstuffs, their prices, etc.

                        1. re: arktos
                          Karl S Jul 7, 2011 04:41 PM

                          That's then going to be a much more difficult question to answer.

                          (Distinctive ingredients will tend to be cheapest where they are closest to the source and where they are most in demand (as supply will tend to rise to meet the demand).)

                          Where do you live?

                          1. re: Karl S
                            arktos Jul 7, 2011 04:57 PM

                            Within two blocks from where I am, there are 2 Indian/Pakistani food stores, 2 MiddleEastern ones, and 2 Mexican, with a large Asian food mall 2 miles away, and a 'ChinaKorea town' 4 miles away. Rather well-situated if I do say!!

                            1. re: arktos
                              r
                              Rella May 31, 2012 03:53 PM

                              But.... do they have fresh produce? and when? Some huge supermarket-type stores in Fairfax, VA have all of these types of stores 'with' produce. Smaller towns do not. Recently a small town nearby started carrying produce in their ethnic store -- however no Indian or MiddleEastern stock of 'dried/boxed' foods for their ethnic ancillary products.

                      2. k
                        k_hack Jul 7, 2011 05:10 PM

                        When I'm broke, I usually end up eating vaguely Mexican-- I almost always already have cumin and chile peppers, and beans and rice are dirt cheap. Add lime and tomato and you're good to go. I don't typically eat much Asian food, so I don't already have a stocked pantry with seasonings that work with those dishes. Ditto with Indian spices. My other fallback is, I guess, vaguely Italian-- by which I mean I'll boil up cheap pasta and eat it with tomato sauce or butter and cheese, or I'll cook polenta and eat it with beans.

                        Frugality is about making the most of the resources you already have, so I'd say whichever cuisine uses the spices and herbs in your cupboard would be the cheapest. Buy whatever meat is on super-sale, get grains in bulk, cook your own beans, and cultivate a garden. Every cuisine is going to be expensive if you're holding yourself to the standards of high-quality oils, lots of exotic produce, and grassfed beef/animal protein.

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: k_hack
                          arktos Jul 7, 2011 05:38 PM

                          Excellent reply!!

                          1. re: k_hack
                            Popkin Jul 7, 2011 07:34 PM

                            Yepyep, great answer! And pretty close to what I do on the cheap: vaguely Mexican and vaguely Italian. Oddly I find several of the ingredients overlap: canned tomatoes, beans of various sorts, oregano, rice, etc....

                            Well, there is also French peasant food in the form of stews and such (my mom, wonderful French mother that she is, always ensures that I have good wine lol)

                            I also do a lot with potatoes, but that's less budget-related and more potatobsession-related lol, but when I'm broke, a simple big potato with a little butter and salt, plus a random topping or two, whatever I have leftover is wonderful and filling

                            1. re: Popkin
                              JerryMe Jul 8, 2011 04:56 PM

                              Potatobsession - Word. When they're in season, yes indeed.

                            2. re: k_hack
                              Manybears Jul 8, 2011 10:23 AM

                              I also tend toward vague Italian and vague Mexican. When I want to make a cheap meal I could potentially serve to someone else I often choose Sicilian.... pasta and chickpeas, bread soup, potato and egg frittata with cinnamon, chickpea fritter sandwiches... pretty good stuff.

                              1. re: Manybears
                                r
                                RGC1982 Jul 10, 2011 05:23 PM

                                Wow. I grew up eating potato and egg frittata during the Italian/Catholic meatless Friday time of my youth, and never did we have cinnamon as an addition to it. Onions, scallions, even a bit of bell pepper, but never cinnamon. Where did you get this recipe?

                                Pasta and peas, pasta and lentils, pasta and chickpeas, pasta and cauliflower or brocolli were all served with a thin tomato sauce, onion, garlic, basil as seasonings. How do you make your pasta with chickpeas?

                                1. re: RGC1982
                                  Manybears Jul 11, 2011 01:32 PM

                                  I think that cinnamon frittata was out of the Silver Spoon actually... I made it when I was in Sicily and a friend said she recognized it-- but maybe she was just being kind ;-)

                                  I make pasta and chickpeas as simply as possible... a little oil in a pan to fry some onion and garlic, add salt, oregano (or thyme) and chickpeas. When the chickpeas are tender, mash them (in the pan) to your desired level of smoothness... add cooked pasta, all done. I usually grate a little pecorino romano on the final product but I don't think this part's necessary. (Oh yes, I play it pretty fast + loose when it comes to cooking). Do you make this? If so, how do you make yours?

                            3. l
                              Languid Lass Jul 7, 2011 08:06 PM

                              Cajun. Refugees from Canada, forced to live in the swamps and the wilderness in Louisiana. Not only adapted the available ingredients, but, using French country techniques, developed an unmatched FABULOUS cuisine in its own right.

                              (Sort of a dumbed down explanation, but you get my drift.)

                              1. a
                                anakalia Jul 7, 2011 08:33 PM

                                I guess it depends on what kind of eater you are -- I'm a vegetarian, so I already don't have to worry about buying expensive (or inexpensive) cuts of meat.

                                When we are running low on cash, we tend to cook Indian food. I already have the spices, so that's mostly a sunk cost at this point (and, honestly, other than a few spices, most of what I buy is quite cheap). By buying rice and different kinds of dried lentils at the Indian grocery store, I find that I can have a filling meal for, literally, a couple bucks.

                                Whenever my in-laws visit us from India, we buy everything we need to eat for a week at an Indian store, and I am constantly amazed at how little the grocery bill totals. Some rice, some lentils, peanuts, some cheap veggies (usually onions, tomatoes, spinach, cilantro, eggplant.... most of which doesn't appear to be of a really high quality, but is fine for stewing or throwing in dals), and a big tub of yogurt, and you're all set.

                                1. m
                                  Muchlove Jul 7, 2011 08:40 PM

                                  Basmati is only used for special occasions in India and is not used that much in the South anyway. For some reason it has become the rice that most people think of when they think of Indian food.

                                  In addition, many dishes do not use cardamom and cinnamon and certainly saffron is special occasion only! I think you have too broad a sense of most of these cuisines.

                                  Personally I think cuisines all over the world have very frugal dishes that have traditionally been used by the poor during difficult times, and some of them have now become quite fashionable. An example I can think of would be the use of polenta in Italian cuisine which I have been told as traditionally considered a bit of a poor-mans food, though I may have been lead wrong. Also, I believe a polenta style food was used in Greece instead of wheat (such as in pastry dishes) during wheat shortages in the war. Many less fortunate people all over the world rely heavily on bean, grain and vegetable dishes and very little or no meat.

                                  An example of a potential frugal cuisine in India could be Bengali. Although they are famous for their love of food and that does sometimes mean elaborate meals, Bengali's are also known for interesting dishes made from vegetable peelings!

                                  So there you go, my take on it is that every cuisine has frugal dishes. From South and South East Asians who cook vegetables in the water that rice is washed in and use the whey leftover from making paneer to people in the UK who resuse teabags and make mixed veg stew at the end of the week to clear out the fridge, there are frugal people all over the world!

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: Muchlove
                                    arktos Jul 8, 2011 10:17 AM

                                    Thanks for the clarifications.

                                    'Basmati is only used for special occasions in India and is not used that much in the South anyway'

                                    What kind of rice do they use?? That's good news, i never treally liked Basmati anyway. I perfer Jasmine rice. And I already have a Bengali cookbook by Bharti Kirchner, looks very interesting with the use of mustard oil and the Bengali five-spice mix.

                                    1. re: arktos
                                      m
                                      Muchlove Jul 11, 2011 10:44 PM

                                      Different regions of India have their favourite rices. In the south a lot of parboiled rice is eaten. By the way, there are tonnes of varieties of rices so it's surprising that most people only really know basmati, jasmine, sticky rice and uncle bens!

                                      I use a variety of rices. A variety of parboiled rices (both red and white) for most meals, sona masoori is a frequent one too. Then basmati and gobindobhog for special pilavs.

                                      1. re: arktos
                                        l
                                        LADave Jul 25, 2011 01:32 PM

                                        They tend to use whatever grows well locally. I lived in a village in western Nepal for two years and never ate basmati there, which actually means "fragrant" so you could put jasmine etc. under the same label. A lot of local rice was actually medium grain.

                                        Spices ususally werent' the expensive ones. Cumin, turmeric, whole mustartd seed, garlic, ginger, black pepper and chili were mainstays. I buy cumin, mustard seed and turmeric about a kilo at a time in a local Indian market because it's much cheaper and I use them up before they go stale.

                                        There were salt-oil-spices pickles that you can easily duplicate at home, or make fresh chutneys with a lot in common with salsas.

                                        If I'm cooking at home, I might go with calrose (white or brown) boiled rice. Dal would be made from brown lentils (with the skins), split peas, garbanzos or even beans. Most of the flavor comes from spices rather than the legumes and imported dal costs a lot more. If you were in India you probably would go with a local dal instead of something shipped across the country, so why not the same here?

                                        Veggies would be drawn from whatever is in season. You won't find much broccoli in India, but it happens to make very good "tarkari". We have a mint patch outdoors, so I might make some chutney from that, or from cilantro, or even basil. I have a yogurt maker and that's a good way to fortify vegetable protein. I let it process longer so it's more sour than the commercial stuff.

                                        Think of Indian cooking as a style of cooking and especially using spices, not so much a fixed set of recipies.

                                    2. g
                                      gilintx Jul 7, 2011 09:06 PM

                                      It more or less depends upon your pantry. Yes, Mexican can be pretty cheap, but so can French (cassoulet), Belgian (moule frites), Indian (daal), Chinese (tofu and spinach), Japanese (miso w/ tofu), Southern (fried chicken or roasted spare ribs with greens), Italian (pasta w/ tomato sauce, minestrone). All of those dishes could probably be pulled off for less than $2 a portion. If you don't eat meat, you can probably pull it off for half that. The real cost is up front, but after that, you're pretty much set for cheap eats.

                                      1. RealMenJulienne Jul 8, 2011 08:07 AM

                                        I think there is a tendency for people to put forth whatever cuisine they grew up with, since they would have been exposed to the frugal home cooking side of that cuisine. That’s why I say Chinese cuisine is the cheapest way to eat. For everyday meals we use these specialized ingredients: dark and light soy sauce $2 per bottle, sesame oil $3 per bottle, cooking wine $2.50 per bottle, rice vinegar $2 per bottle, chili paste $3 per jar. Every meal uses just a dash of these so the per meal cost of specialized ingredients is almost nothing. Dinner is usually two dishes of stir-fried greens at maybe $2 per plate, a simple soup for $2, and one fish or meat dish at $3 – 6 per plate. Each serving of steamed white rice, let’s be generous and call it about 25 cents.

                                        So in total we have a $12 cost for a balanced dinner for four, with minimal power/fuel expenditure since stir-fries are done very quickly. Of course you can get fancy and make dishes with a lot of imported ingredients, but a basic Chinese meal is about the cheapest thing you can cook.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: RealMenJulienne
                                          arktos Jul 8, 2011 10:18 AM

                                          That's very inspiring! Think I'll give it a try, but only with a round bottom wok I'll have to get.

                                        2. f
                                          ferret Jul 8, 2011 08:14 AM

                                          Indian-sourced spices are crazy cheap and Chicago (where I live) has a huge number of Indian markets where you can get Indian spices in bulk for very little money. If it's that cheap shipped halfway around the world then it's next to nothing in India.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: ferret
                                            f
                                            ferret Jul 11, 2011 01:56 PM

                                            Caught an episode of Gordon Ramsay's Great Escapes over the weekend and he featured street food and sambars from Mumbai's slums. Wondering how the poor in India could afford to eat "out" he saw that locals eat at sambar stalls for the equivalent of about 18 cents a portion. Can't really do much better than that.

                                            1. re: ferret
                                              b
                                              Billy33 Jun 2, 2012 04:12 PM

                                              I would think that if you live in a slum area you wouldn't be eating 'out' as a treat but rather because you couldn't afford to buy all the ingredients and fuel for the cooking equipment or you may not even have a cooking area or cooking equipment.

                                          2. srsone Jul 8, 2011 10:07 AM

                                            japanese....

                                            when im broke..i can get a 12 pack of ramen noodles for a buck fifty....

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: srsone
                                              heatnjoy Jul 8, 2011 06:15 PM

                                              I was sooo gonna say that! Ramen can be made a 1.000 diff ways! Any cuisine can be created with them soups, stews, salads, with or without proteins! As a single mom of 2 teenage boys living in ND and no job.. I KNOW frugal

                                            2. prima Jul 8, 2011 10:25 AM

                                              Think you're simplifying things a little too much, arktos.

                                              People living in rural France only ate meat on Sundays way back when- and that was only if they could afford it. French food can be as frugal as any other cuisine. Plenty of French dishes have frugal beginnings, such as cassoulet, crepes, tarte flambee, pissaladiere, and choucroute, and there are rustic versions of these dishes that do not include tons of meat. Lots of southern French dishes do not involve dairy.

                                              Same goes for Italian food- plenty of Italians eat rustic, traditional Italian food every day, without splurging on the very best olive oils and pancetta.

                                              Plenty of people in various parts of Greece do not eat a lot of pork and lamb. While a lot of pork is served in Athens and on the Peloponnesian peninsula, on the islands, people eat a lot more fish (the cheap little ones like marides, not the expensive ones like red mullet), vegetarian meals and poultry. In the old days, lamb was served on special occasions, but if you look at what most people were eating, I don't think you'd find a lot of pork or lamb. Especially when you take into account how many days are fasting days in the Greek Orthodox calendar.

                                              4 Replies
                                              1. re: prima
                                                RealMenJulienne Jul 8, 2011 10:44 AM

                                                I agree with you that any ethnic cuisine can be prepared in a frugal fashion, but I think some are inherently costlier than others because they rely heavily on value-added foods produced outside the home. You mention French cuisine, which relies heavily on cheese, wine, and bread, all of which are typically made and bought outside the home.

                                                But let's cut out the comparative luxuries of dairy and wine and focus on the very basics: bread. Even if we assume that a poor French family is baking their own bread it is still more of a time and fuel expenditure than say, soaking wheat berries or boiling rice.

                                                1. re: RealMenJulienne
                                                  Karl S Jul 8, 2011 10:58 AM

                                                  Staple breads were not typically made in the home; it was baked communally by dedicated boulangeries, and thus conserved fuel.

                                                  Again, the modern developed world is SOOOOOO cut off from what peasant life was like in the pre-Industrial era, it is very hard to overcome faulty assumptions.

                                                  1. re: Karl S
                                                    RealMenJulienne Jul 8, 2011 11:06 AM

                                                    Yes but my larger point is that bread is a value-added product no matter where it is made. A loaf of bread is several steps removed from raw grain, as opposed to rice, beans, and potatoes which are simply boiled and eaten. If it is baked in a communal boulangerie the household incurs a cash or barter expense to acquire it, whereas if it is baked in the home a time and fuel expense is incurred. I think looking at the relative expense of staple foods is a starting point for discussing which cuisine is the most frugal.

                                                  2. re: RealMenJulienne
                                                    prima Jul 8, 2011 02:18 PM

                                                    While some French cuisine relies heavily on cheese, wine and bread, there is plenty of traditional, rustic regional French cuisine which does not. Wine is not an expensive ingredient in many parts of France anyhow (wine is certainly cheaper than Coke or Vodka in most restaurants), and in some parts, people might be making their own wine or cheese, in which case wine or cheese could be an ingredient that's cheaper than orange juice for that household. France is made up of so many regions with distinct cooking traditions and ingredients, and some regions rely more heavily on the wine and cheese than others.

                                                    Within most nations' cuisines, there's going to be some sort of Haute Cuisine that will use the more luxe/rare/expensive ingredients, some sort of Cucina Povera that will likely be more grain/vegetable-based, and plenty of cuisine that falls somewhere betweeen the Haute and the Povera.

                                                2. a
                                                  AdamD Jul 8, 2011 03:43 PM

                                                  Interesting question. The answer is what the poorest people in the world eat. One pot or stir fry dishes that use "throw away" or "exotic" proteins (if any), lots of starch, root vegetables or other vegetables grown themselves.

                                                  What is the cheapest meal one can put together in a US supermarket? Pasta. Jar of meat sauce, box of noodles=dinner for $3-$4. Add a head of iceberg and a small bottle of store bought dressing for another $2-$3.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: AdamD
                                                    e
                                                    escondido123 Jul 8, 2011 04:07 PM

                                                    If I wanted to do the cheapest meal, I certainly would skip the prepared meat sauce and bottled dressing. As a CH I would make those two things myself, but skip the meat for vegetables/beans that would provide real flavor and nutrition and make my own dressing without preservatives or thickeners for the same amount. You don't have to go with the crummiest foods to have a cheap meal.

                                                    1. re: escondido123
                                                      a
                                                      AdamD Jul 8, 2011 04:15 PM

                                                      Of course.
                                                      But, to make a decent sauce or dressing requires the purchase of ingredients whose cost must be factored over several meals. I was just providing an example of how you can walk into a supermarket and walk out with a meal. Not speaking to quality.

                                                      If you had a fully stocked pantry, chose no meat, and all you needed was fresh produce, well then you could make just about anything at a reasonable cost.

                                                  2. JerryMe Jul 8, 2011 04:50 PM

                                                    Wow! Great question Arktos - I haven't read the replies yet, but I can tell you that in the SW USA, I go the the Hispanic market and always get a better deal.

                                                    1. k
                                                      knusprig Jul 8, 2011 05:10 PM

                                                      "Southeast Asian - same as with Chinese"

                                                      Not true. In its origin land, we don't serve a hunk of meat for each person.
                                                      One cut-up chicken or 1/2 lb beef, cook with basic aromatics (minced shallots, garlic, chilli-pepper flakes) plus vegetables and/or tofu cook with coconut milk - can feed family of 4 in 3 meals. Instead of buying one bottle of other 'exotic' ingredients (coriander, cumin, turmeric, etc.) I purchase from bulk store at small quantity and cost less than 75 cents. This to avoid waste since these herbs loses its quality so quickly.

                                                      I practice this cooking approach for my family in north america. If I cook the dish on weekend, I serve the dish, take left over for lunch, eat the left over during weeknights. My children take them for school lunch. Their classmates think that I'm a chef for being able to prepare a dish first thing in the morning. When told those are left over some classmates say eew. Some asked to try and liked the food.

                                                      Knusprig

                                                      1. LorenM Jul 8, 2011 05:37 PM

                                                        I could be wrong but I haven't seen anyone mention any of the African cuisines- Moroccan, Ethiopian or any West African cuisines? Any thoughts on these? I am not familiar with all the preparations but do love some Ethiopian food and it seems to be frugal- down to the eating of the utensils and flatware!(injera- yum!)

                                                        3 Replies
                                                        1. re: LorenM
                                                          GraydonCarter Jul 10, 2011 03:20 PM

                                                          I went to the African Market (Savanna International) yesterday and noticed the wide selection of dried fish and low-cost cuts of rib meat. And nearly half an isle of varous types of Palm Oil.

                                                          1. re: GraydonCarter
                                                            LorenM Jul 10, 2011 04:12 PM

                                                            Sounds incredible. I just Googled African markets in my area and luckily it looks like are a couple. I might have to make a field trip next weekend after doing some research and try my hand. It is definitely something I have not explored cooking nearly enough.

                                                            1. re: LorenM
                                                              arktos Jul 10, 2011 05:16 PM

                                                              Do they have crocodile meat there??

                                                        2. s
                                                          Sherri Jul 10, 2011 04:00 PM

                                                          arktos, get your hands on a copy of "HUNGRY PLANET, What the World Eats" by Peter Menzel & Faith D'Aluisio. Not only is it visually stunning but the text is certainly worth reading. Recipes are included.

                                                          Please note that your question is extremely difficult to answer because there are infinite ways to approach it. You have established some perameters which I find biased. EX: "FRENCH- Out of the question as the heavy use of dairy and expensive meats make it not terribly frugal, IMO".

                                                          This is simply an incorrect premise. In France, dairy is used extensively in dairy country, Normandy for example. Expensive meats are rarely consumed by "Average Pierre" on a day-to-day basis. What passes for French Food in a lot of cookbooks available in the US records special-occasion food, not the daily norm.

                                                          Speaking of "Average Pierre" are you asking about food for a middle-class population? peasant group? or something else?

                                                          I live in an area, the SW of the US, where there is a large hispanic population. Many of the ingredients for Mexican cooking are readily available to me at a lower cost than I might expect to find in North Carolina or Vermount or France so I could respond that "Mexican Food" is the answer to your query. But it is not a universal answer. If I lived by an ocean, I might find seafood to be a bargain food but that would not translate to someone in Iowa or Switzerland. Refine your question, please. And while you're at it, read books by recognized authors who have experience in their various cuisines. All your examples are broadbrush-painted since India, Africa, China etc are huge countries with extremely varied topography, climates and available food products. I think your eyes will be opened at what you find. Meanwhile, this has been a thought-provoking thread. Thank you.

                                                          Edit: our local sherrif here in AZ, Joe Arpaio, prides himself on being tough. He feeds prisoners in Tent City for fifty-two cents a day but his food costs pale compared to the refugee camps in Chad - $1.23 per week for a family of six.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: Sherri
                                                            GraydonCarter Jul 13, 2011 02:10 PM

                                                            > Average Pierre

                                                            Some of the most famous french dishes originated as peasant food. Like boeuf à la bourguignonne, coq au vin, soupe à l'oignon, and even vichyssoise if you have a cow.

                                                          2. KaimukiMan Jul 10, 2011 07:29 PM

                                                            I'm surprised no one mentioned rworange's series of postings from a couple of years ago. She was able to eat on not $3-$4 per meal, but per day, with a fairly diverse menu, elements of asian and hispanic cooking, as well as some pretty basic american stuff.

                                                            Also when talking about 'traditional' cultures, it seems odd to me to talk about polenta in Italy, or potatoes in Ireland, as they were not introduced until the 16th and 17th centuries after the importation of corn and potatoes from the new world. And traditional frugal cooking often incorporates home grown food as well. As recently as the Victorian era it was not uncommon for people in London to keep a hen or two in the backyard that lived off table scraps and was a source of fresh eggs. For rural dwellers, who were the huge majority until the late 1800's in most of the world, access to eggs, milk, and at least half of the year fresh fruits and vegetables was assumed to be normal. And foraging for mushrooms, wild greens, and at least small game was not at all unusual. All that had an impact on the development of frugal peasant cooking.

                                                            Few urban or suburban dwellers, and that covers a large majority of those reading these postings (although not all) have somewhat limited opportunities such as those. And with pesticide use today, who is going to feel comfortable collecting dandelion greens from the public park to make or even supplement a tossed salad? And I don't think most of us are gonna be climbing trees to steal some robin or blue jay eggs.

                                                            I am guessing it is going to be hard to beat a cuisine that is based on rice (or other unprocessed grains like oats or barley) as the up front costs are minimal. If you want to throw health concerns in, then you are gonna want to be careful about complex carbs as well, and that includes breads and pastas, although they are both really really cheap in the supermarket. Don't forget that the wealth of venice was based largely on it's status as the center of trade in the Mediterranean, but with it's vast rice fields it wasn't importing basic foods either. We rarely think of rice as integral to or characteristic of italian cooking these days, but it was in the past.

                                                            Chinese and other asian foods are most notable for simplicity of ingredients, using every part of whatever is brought into the kitchen, and being frugal with fuel. Sounds like a recipe for frugality to me, but they certainly don't have a corner on the market.

                                                            5 Replies
                                                            1. re: KaimukiMan
                                                              Karl S Jul 11, 2011 11:35 AM

                                                              polenta in pre-Columbian Italy was made from barley.

                                                              1. re: Karl S
                                                                arktos Jul 11, 2011 12:21 PM

                                                                Wouldn't that be 'gruel'??

                                                                1. re: arktos
                                                                  Karl S Jul 11, 2011 12:38 PM

                                                                  Polenta is just an Italian word for a grain gruel or porridge. Since the advent of maize in Italy, it's become the most common form of it. Sorta like how "corn" in North American English denotes maize but back in the UK it simply denotes grain.

                                                                2. re: Karl S
                                                                  paulj Jul 11, 2011 12:40 PM

                                                                  From the Wiki article on polenta:
                                                                  "As it is known today, polenta derives from earlier forms of grain mush (known as puls or pulmentum in Latin or more commonly as gruel or porridge) commonly eaten in Roman times and after. Before the arrival of corn from the New World at the end of the 15th century, polenta was made with such starches as farro, chestnut flour, millet, spelt or chickpeas."

                                                                  Porridge, by what ever name you use, has been a common part of human diet since the domestication of grains. Generally your choices for using grains or other starches are: porridge, bread, or beer.

                                                                  Maiz like tomato is a late comer to Italian cooking, but has been thoroughly incorporated into the diet. In some areas it was such a large part of the diet of the poorest people that it gave rise to a niacin deficiency. Landlords were, at least in part, to blame, since corn was cheap way of feeding their tenants.

                                                                  Potatoes are also new comers in Europe (and the USA), with few eating them before 1800. Various leaders promoted potatoes, believing that they would reduce the famine problems that plagued the Europe for centuries. Wheat bread was the staple of choice in much of Europe, but crop failures were common, with resulting starvation. For a while the potato proved to be a reliable and nutritious alternative, particularly in Ireland (allow for a significant population growth in the 1st half of the 19c).

                                                                  1. re: paulj
                                                                    Karl S Jul 11, 2011 01:43 PM

                                                                    Millet was probably the first form of pulmentum, then my understanding from reading lots of ancient and medieval histories is that barley became dominant for many centuries, with farro (which is a form of emmer, not spelt) also in the mix in wheat-growing areas. Ultimately, porridges would be made from anything that was available and could be made edible in that way.

                                                                    In cooler areas of Europe, rye was the dominant grain. Wheat, barley, rye and oats each have certain characteristic climates/geographies of advantage over one another (and of course the climate has varied over the millennia).

                                                                    Finally, think of one of the most common street foods in London in the early 17th century: Pease porridge with a suck of bacon (salt pork): you'd get to suck a bit of salt bacon fat off a piece on a string....

                                                                    Maize is the swine of cereal crops. Swine, among large farm animals, are unusual for growing to maturity in a single season. Likewise, in areas with very long growing seasons, maize can yield 2 (even 3) crops - great for diversifying against weather disasters - and its caloric yield per acre is I believe the greatest of the principal cereal crops.

                                                                    And potatoes, well: potatoes basically made industrialization in Europe possible by keeping the population growing past Malthusian expectations (contrast what happened in Europe after the Black Death - labor became much more expensive). Without potatoes and, to a lesser extent, maize, Europe may have faced a demographic contraction in the 18th-19th centuries.

                                                              2. Fowler Jul 11, 2011 12:37 PM

                                                                I'd nominate Irish food. Potatoes, oatmeal, mutton, etc.

                                                                1. JungMann Jul 12, 2011 07:24 AM

                                                                  The answer is going to depend largely on where you live. Import costs, seasonally available produce, local taxes and tarriffs will all impact your bottom line. Where I live now Chinese markets offer the cheapest produce year-round and so I find my most frugal meals often revolve around Chinese and SE Asian cuisine. For less than $5 I can make pad thai for four. If I lived in an area with a much smaller Asian community and therefore less demand for the goods I regard as staples, then the price of these meals would likely increase.

                                                                  In the summertime, local farmers markets, however, offer a bounty of Western produce that opens up new options for me. Since I have a well-stocked pantry, I can easily whip up Middle Eastern, Indian, Italian or American meals for the same price as a Chinese meal in the wintertime. All in all, eating seasonally and locally often offers the best "bang for the buck."

                                                                  1. j
                                                                    joonjoon Jul 12, 2011 10:39 AM

                                                                    If you want to cook frugal your best bet is to not stick to any 1 cuisine.

                                                                    1. mcap Jul 14, 2011 09:09 AM

                                                                      Probably the most frugal "cuisine" on the planet is mass-produced American-style fast food, when considering the amount of food and calories per dollar spent.

                                                                      5000+ calorie burger meals for less than 5 bucks?

                                                                      1. crowmuncher Jul 24, 2011 03:32 PM

                                                                        If I have to nominate 1- I say Cuban. It's hearty, nutritious and satisfying and there's not need to keep fresh vegetables, unless of course you want a side of ensalanda de tomate, aguacate, y cebolla. But you probably already have an avocado tree and tomato plants- no problem :)

                                                                        1. t
                                                                          tastesgoodwhatisit Jul 25, 2011 12:03 AM

                                                                          I think it depends almost entirely on where you live.

                                                                          For me, Chinese would be the cheapest, because the ingredients you mention are all readily available, good quality and inexpensive. Mexican would be the most expensive, because the hot peppers, beans and corn meal are all either imported and really expensive, or only available through mail order.

                                                                          For Italian, it's reasonably priced as I cook it. Things like high quality olive oils, pancetta/veal olives, really good balsamic vinegar, fresh pasta, olive, capers and anchovies are all again, imported and highly expensive or not available, and fresh herbs like rosemary or parsley are typically a few dollars for a small bunch, plus a two hour round trip to the speciality store. If I cook with more basic ingredients (okay olive oil, chicken, canned tomatoes, garlic, onions, substitue ground pork for beef, local vegetables, bacon), make my own pasta from scratch and grow the herbs on the balcony, then it's manageable.

                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                          1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit
                                                                            j
                                                                            JeremyEG Feb 19, 2012 11:23 AM

                                                                            Italian with local vegetables, pasta from scratch and herbs from your balcony? What time should we come over? : )
                                                                            JeremyEG
                                                                            HomeCookLocavore.com

                                                                          2. DunkTheBiscuit Jul 25, 2011 07:06 AM

                                                                            Shop around. If you have any immigrant populations in your area they will definitely have their own grocery shops, where spices and dry goods that are staple to the cuisine are available much more cheaply. Probably unground, so you have to do that yourself, but they last longer and taste better that way anyway.

                                                                            Here, there is a large Pakistani population, so basic vegetarian cuisine from the Indian sub-continent is extremely cheap if you're willing to work a little for it. Dried beans and lentils are available in 6 kilo bags, rice in 20k sacks. Not so cheap at point of sale but over time extremely cost effective.

                                                                            I can buy 500g bags of most spices for the same price I'd spend on a 20g packet in a standard supermarket - I just have to take the time to roast and / or grind them myself.

                                                                            Bunches of parsley or cilantro might not look as fresh and perky as the supermarket equivalent - they're usually bound up with an elastic band and covered in mud instead of washed and packed in a plastic bag - but they clean up and chop up just as nicely. At less than a third of the price.

                                                                            And I have a Chinese supermarket a half-hour train journey away if I want to ring the changes :)

                                                                            1. chrissy1988 Feb 11, 2012 02:21 PM

                                                                              I think all of the cuisines can be made in a manner that is affordable.

                                                                              However, Mexican is probably the cheapest all around. You aren't as restricted in which Mexican dishes you can make on a budget because almost all contain affordable ingredients.

                                                                              Italian CAN be made inexpensively however you must choose a dish that is inexpensive.

                                                                              Asian CAN be made inexpensively as well..I think it would be my #2 choice.

                                                                              1. westsidegal Feb 12, 2012 10:28 AM

                                                                                not a "cuisine" but:

                                                                                in the US, the cheapest food is the highly processed, chemically-laden, stuff.
                                                                                ingredients that are gmo, and high fructose, and hydrogenated are included in the cheapest food.
                                                                                for cheap meats, the cheapest will include such chemical niceties as "pink slime," nitrates, etc. (once i called the JennyO turkey company and asked if ANY of their products did not contain chemicals and was told that every product they sell contains some chemicals. . . . )

                                                                                for less-processed foods, the cheapest stuff will be dishes based on legumes and grains vs meats.

                                                                                1. Caroline1 Feb 17, 2012 12:05 AM

                                                                                  arktos, the problem I'm having with your premise is that ALL of the ethnic food categories you list have super cheap dishes as well as very expensive dishes.

                                                                                  From your profile, I would guess you live in the SF bay area since you frequently participate on that board. If you think Shao Xing wine is an expensive ingredient for Chinese cooking, you really need to get out more. I live in the greater Dallas area and pick up Shao Xing wine ("aged in wood for 3 years" it says on the label) at 99 Ranch Market for around five bucks a bottle (mayabe less?) that is excellent for cooking. I can do a simple lo mein with a box of cheap store-brand fettuccini, an onion, half a head of celery, half a cup of shredded cabbage and 1/3 of a chicken breast that will feed four hungry people for really cheap. Or I can make a birds nest soup for several hundred bucks.

                                                                                  As for French food, what's cheaper than a quiche to feed at least four? But I make killer Tournedos Rossini, and that ain't cheap. Italian? I have a fun recipe for pasta with a sauce made of raw tomatoes, spices and olive oil as the sauce that couldn't be cheaper and is delicious... unless I top it off with white truffles.

                                                                                  My point is that in ALL cuisines, it is the COOK and the specific DISH that determine cost. You can cook in any ethnicity for cheap or for god awful expensive. Well, that is also determined by your pantry. I cook in about nine "languages" and my pantry reflects that. I do not have to make a trip to the store and buy one bottle of Shao Xing wine for one dish. It's at hand any time right next to my (and Julia Child's) favorite cooking wine, Noilly Prat white vermouth. And there are always ways to pare down costs. Can't afford truffles? Try truffle salt. Or morels. Can't afford either of those, check out your nearest Asian market for whatever kind of mushrooms they have on sale. You could be in for a huge surprise and a treat. To borrow a phrase from JP, "Happy cooking!"

                                                                                  1. p
                                                                                    Puffin3 Feb 19, 2012 06:52 AM

                                                                                    The obvious choice is traditional Inuit 'Eskimo' food. No cooking required. No herbs no spices no refrigeration required no fancy flat ware or crockery no linen no need to spend money on fancy clothes when the family in the igloo next door offers a dinner invite and no expensive wines to have to buy, Oh yeah, and no washing up.

                                                                                    4 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: Puffin3
                                                                                      arktos Feb 19, 2012 10:47 AM

                                                                                      Never had blubber before. Wonder if it's commercially available somewhere?

                                                                                      1. re: arktos
                                                                                        Naguere Feb 24, 2012 06:03 AM

                                                                                        I think you get it yourself, it is free, launch your kyak, hold your harpoon high.

                                                                                        Thar she blows...

                                                                                        1. re: arktos
                                                                                          hill food Feb 24, 2012 10:47 PM

                                                                                          Japan, but not for export. in North America make friends over the internet with an Inuit family and plan a trip to the Arctic Circle this Summer (groups for whom it's a historic food source are allowed to hunt, but not sell)

                                                                                          and Puffin is being a bit sly/disingenuous...

                                                                                          1. re: arktos
                                                                                            p
                                                                                            Puffin3 May 6, 2012 08:31 AM

                                                                                            Imagine having a piece of fish with an inch of fishy tasting white fat wrapped around it. It's NOT something most people would try twice. The problem is when you put a piece of blubber in your mouth and there's a few dozen people watching to see how much you love it but you know if you try to shallow let alone chew it you're going gag how to get ti out of your mouth without offending anyone. The best strategy is when you're offered blubber just tell them you are too sick to eat anything. Then when the braised caribou in caribou blood is served magically your stomach is feeling much better.

                                                                                        2. t
                                                                                          tastesgoodwhatisit Feb 24, 2012 11:04 PM

                                                                                          My answer is that the cheapest cuisine is going to be the local one.

                                                                                          For me, Chinese is by far the cheapest cuisine to cook, because the ingredients are cheap and readily available.

                                                                                          Mexican is actually extremely expensive for me - tortillas, corn meal or flour, corn husks, Mexican spices, Mexican peppers (dried fresh, ground or canned), cheese, the right kind of beans, sausages - all horribly expensive or not available.

                                                                                          Italian, Middle Eastern, Indian - all fairly affordable if I can cook with what I can buy cheaply, substitute ingredients as needed, and skip stuff I don't have ingredients for.

                                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit
                                                                                            p
                                                                                            pine time May 6, 2012 08:40 AM

                                                                                            Re: Indian--when Mr. Pine and I married, we were churchmice poor students. He's from India, and we couldn't afford 1/2 the spices in my first Madhur Jaffrey cookbook. I now swear I didn't know what most recipes really tasted like until we could afford all the ingredients. Yup, learned how to make do, but now using quality saffron and good basmati makes all the difference.

                                                                                            1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit
                                                                                              Bacardi1 May 27, 2012 11:13 AM

                                                                                              THIS!!!!! (tastesgoodwhatisit)

                                                                                              The cheapest cuisine is ALWAYS going to be YOUR particular local cuisine or whatever incorporates YOUR local ingredients.

                                                                                              Once you try to start incorporating pricey ingredients for something that's local on the other side of the world, unless it's also commonly used in your community, you're sunk as far as economy.

                                                                                            2. w
                                                                                              wyogal May 6, 2012 08:48 AM

                                                                                              Yep, I agree with those expressing that cheap cuisine is dependent upon what is available to you at decent prices. Some cuisines' ingredients may be more expensive if the source is located halfway around the world. That cuisine may be inexpensive there, but pricey here.
                                                                                              I found grocery (Natural Grocers), that carry "bulk" spices for really low prices. They are "bulk," but actually packaged in reasonable amounts by store personnel. Finding a source for a variety of spices is key, beyond that, every culture has their rice, beans, protein combinations.

                                                                                              1. i
                                                                                                idlehouse May 20, 2012 09:15 PM

                                                                                                I think with that much variety in the area where you live, you can live frugally if you just pick any of the listed cuisine. It just would make more sense if you pick one that your pantry already has some of the ingredients available. For example, I'm southeast asian by ethnicity, my pantry always has fish sauce, soy sauce, star anise, pepper, ginger, shrimp paste. If I want to go low budget, I would just stick to southeast asian food, then I don't have to start a whole new stash of spices and seasonings. Southeast asian food is only expensive if you look at what's served in restaurants. Home cooked meals are very different. Some days I get by just just boiling a head of cabbage and an egg. Mash the boiled egg in fish sauce, add chili pepper, then dip the cabbage into that sauce to eat with rice. The stock collected from the boiled cabbage can be made into a soup with addition of a tomato, some green onion or cilantro, fish sauce or soy sauce (tomato, cilantro, green onion would have been pulled out from the freezer, already pre-chopped when they were purchased on sale at dirt cheap prices). Meal done in 15 minutes.

                                                                                                When all fails, I have had meals with just rice, soy sauce, and a chili pepper before. Delicious!
                                                                                                When I was in college, I used to make a simple savory braised pork or chicken dish, depending on whatever was on sale at Safeway 2 pints of that stuffs would sit in my fridge for 2 weeks, and every day I would diligently come home and eat rice with braised meat + some boiled or fresh veggies. Then I moved on to another batch of something equally simple & cheap and proceeded to eat that for another week or two. ...

                                                                                                I've cooked a lot of southeast asian, chinese, japanese, and korean homestyle meals, so I know from experience that you can definitely live on a budget with these cuisines. You just need to be very comfortable and confident with one type of cuisine to understand the basic principles, what can be used as substitutes when one item is on sale while the other isn't, or one is widely available while the other isn't. Another thing I've done, being on the budget, is I used to buy tomatoes, onions, cilantro (these were expensive in the area I used to live) when they were really cheap and in season, cut them up, froze them, and then used them through the winter. Same thing with meats, when they were on sale, I used to buy them, seasoned/ prepared them, and then wrapped up and froze for future use., etc., etc..

                                                                                                1. John E. May 20, 2012 09:58 PM

                                                                                                  I believe the OP has posed a question without a clear answer. I scanned, but did not read, all of the replies to date. I did not notice any reply suggesting eastern European cuisine as being quite frugal. Potatoes and cabbage make up a large part of the diet of Poland, Ukraine and other east European countries.

                                                                                                  I believe the economic status of individuals in whatever country has been mentioned has more to do with their overall cuisine in reference to frugality rather than geography.

                                                                                                  1. c
                                                                                                    cresyd May 21, 2012 04:23 AM

                                                                                                    After reading some of the responses - I have to say that I believe the best answer has more to do with what someone is willing to do shopping wise than any specific type of cuisine.

                                                                                                    I currently live in Jerusalem - and I can make a fairly wide variety of foods. However, the costs of accessing those ingredients in the cheapest fashion means a bit of traveling. Tel Aviv has a pretty high number of foreign workers from southeast Asia - and as such the cheapest Asian ingredients are found in certain neighborhoods there. Do that shopping in Jerusalem, and you're left with more upscale foreign food markets that are far pricier. Pork is also something that can be obtained relatively modestly priced if you find certain Russian butchers (located in Jerusalem) or travel to Beit Jalla (village near Bethlehem with a large Christian population).

                                                                                                    And even with local ingredients, not just non-regional items, there's a balance. Local seasonal produce, local breads, and local grains in bulk are cheaper in East Jerusalem by the Damascus gate. More "exotic"/less seasonal produce and items like pasta, canned tuna, etc are cheaper in the West Jerusalem open market. And if you feel comfortable going into the religious Jewish neighborhoods - then those items are even cheaper there.

                                                                                                    However, depending on how I want to limit trips (number of stores visited, parts of town - and some cases number of cities/villages) - then things are more expensive. And it's basically the same in the US. If you're willing to go to a food club, an assortment of ethnic food stores, open air/farmer's market and a grocery store - etc - then you can cheaply source a wide variety of ingredients from a wide variety of cuisines. If you're just shopping at Whole Foods - then no.

                                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                                    1. re: cresyd
                                                                                                      hill food May 27, 2012 01:25 AM

                                                                                                      wow I need to read "Damascus Gate" by R. Stone again.

                                                                                                    2. vil May 27, 2012 07:54 AM

                                                                                                      Interesting topic.

                                                                                                      I also scanned through most of the posts, and just to echo what some already said, without hopefully repeating too much.

                                                                                                      I have an old cookbook on Japanese cooking, written by a Japanese woman for a North American audience, and the author stated that Japanese cooking is not so much in the ingredients, but in the techniques and the spirit of it. I thought that idea was forward-thinking at the time, but now it makes more sense, and it can apply to any cuisine.

                                                                                                      Thus to say a certain ethnic cuisine is expensive to do because of its ingredients does not make sense, because you can always use the style of cooking of a certain ethnicity while using the inexpensive and readily available ingredients where you live (although some would argue that would not be true to tradition).

                                                                                                      When I was living in France, I made Chinese dishes with chicken feet because they were literally free from the chicken vendor!

                                                                                                      1. s
                                                                                                        Soup May 28, 2012 06:57 AM

                                                                                                        You want to be frugal, eat VEGETARIAN.

                                                                                                        I am not a vegetarian. I was vegan for 2 and vegetarian for 6. Vegan was really hard. Vegetarian pretty easy. meat is the most costly in my shopping list. And cutting that would save a lot of money.

                                                                                                        My family has really shifted on diet. We eat a lot more vegies and bean and grain and the meat that we do buy has been better quality stuff but we just buy less of it.

                                                                                                        1. The Professor May 28, 2012 07:36 AM

                                                                                                          I found most of the assessments in the original post rather misguided, but the first one...characterizing Chinese food as potentially expensive just made me chuckle.

                                                                                                          Those jars of pastes and sauces are not all that expensive and besides that, those jars of bean paste, hoisin, etc. last through literally dozens of meals (if you use them correctly). Same with the dried fungus products and pickled items. And Shaoxing wine for cooking (with 1% salt added) sells for well under $3 for a 750ml bottle in most Asian stores...and as someone pointed out, if you can't get regular Shaoxing or Shaoxing cooking wine, then a $5 bottle of Gallo dry sherry is a perfect substitute (in fact, even some Asian cooks prefer and use it instead of Shaoxing; regular Shaoxing wine and dry sherry are practically identical in taste).

                                                                                                          Bottom line is that ANY of the cuisines listed in the original post can lend themselves to frugality, even though Chinese and Indian are probably the clear winners. Most of the special ingredients for these cuisines are ones that are not expensive, last a long time, and require infrequent purchase.

                                                                                                          1. j
                                                                                                            JudiAU May 28, 2012 05:45 PM

                                                                                                            I think you have to consider location of the cook. Mexicans living in the US have a much, much less healthful diet because the cost of fruits and vegetables is much higher here. Mexicans living in Mexico have access to abundant, good quality produce and fruit that they eat in abundance.

                                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                                            1. re: JudiAU
                                                                                                              Ike May 31, 2012 12:18 PM

                                                                                                              Isn't THAT the truth! For instance, why are avocados so expensive here in the U.S.? I believe they cost the equivalent of 25 or 30 cents in Mexico. Recently I've seen them for $1 which is about as low as they've ever gotten. The shipping costs should not account for THAT much.

                                                                                                            2. PattiCakes May 29, 2012 07:36 AM

                                                                                                              I think ANY cuisine can be expensive if you (1) live in an area other than that of the cuisine, and (2) have to start from scratch assembling all of the various spices/ingredients that are specific to that cuisine. The concepts on which those cuisines are based, however, can be incorporated into an overall cooking philosophy that maximizes your food dollar. Chinese: the concept of stir-frying a bit of this and a bit of that into a tasty meal served over rice; Indian: the concept of using legumes and working with a pressure cooker to save time and energy. It's all about using what you've got. And of course one way to save on the (sometimes) high cost of herbs is to grow your own -- even a city apartment dweller can grow the basics. And of course there is the concept of cheap food items that fill your belly before you move on to the main (and more expensive) course. I'm thinking bread, tortillas, & etc. Even the "fancy" Yorkshire Pudding is really a belly-filler meant to be served before (or instead of) the roast. And what cuisine does not have a soup -- bones, water, left-over scraps.

                                                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                                                              1. re: PattiCakes
                                                                                                                j
                                                                                                                JeremyEG May 29, 2012 10:01 AM

                                                                                                                Good call on growing fresh herbs. I can think of few cuisines that are not greatly elevated by the addition of fresh herbs. We're growing our own herbs on a very tiny terrace and some of the plants were less expensive than the bunches of the same herb at Whole Foods!
                                                                                                                JeremyEG
                                                                                                                HomeCookLocavore.com

                                                                                                                1. re: PattiCakes
                                                                                                                  DunkTheBiscuit Jun 1, 2012 04:37 PM

                                                                                                                  I have to laugh at the idea of Yorkshire pudding being 'fancy'. You're absolutely right - the slice of pudding would be served in a bowl with a ladle of gravy before the main course. And again on the Tuesday night, to use up the last of the gravy (with fried onions!) after all the leftover meat had been eaten on the Monday.

                                                                                                                  Ah, childhood memories :P

                                                                                                                2. r
                                                                                                                  Rella May 31, 2012 04:00 PM

                                                                                                                  When one no longer eats grains, then another query arises.

                                                                                                                  It's hard to fnd any cuisines that don't use grains in abundance.

                                                                                                                  What then would one's choice be?

                                                                                                                  Chinese - rice?

                                                                                                                  India - rice and flour?

                                                                                                                  Italian - flour?

                                                                                                                  Mexico - masa/corn?

                                                                                                                  Greek - not sure how much of their cuisine has association with grains

                                                                                                                  French - oh, the pastries? bread?

                                                                                                                  It's hard for me to pick a cusine that would be most frugal, cutting out just grains.

                                                                                                                  5 Replies
                                                                                                                  1. re: Rella
                                                                                                                    hill food Jun 1, 2012 01:08 AM

                                                                                                                    why no grain? for gluten-free there are sites that will tell which are OK. but any grain? just go paleo if that's the issue

                                                                                                                    1. re: hill food
                                                                                                                      r
                                                                                                                      Rella Jun 1, 2012 02:54 PM

                                                                                                                      I'm not exactly sure what paleo is. I don't have any gluten issues, and I'm not into 'all raw.' (Isn't that kind of a rhyme, all raw?)

                                                                                                                      Over the years there have been so many diets; sadly, or happily I really have followed none. Even though I basically know what has a lot of carbs, what raises one's diabetes risk, what raises cholesterol, I try to eat sensibly for myself, get my blood tests regularly; it is a decision I've made - maybe DH made it for me, but whatever,

                                                                                                                      as both of us 'own' the kitchen; i.e., he eats red meat, I generally don't; but I've gone to using only rice and some quinoa. I will eat out grains, but I don't eat out that often, and then bread never makes its way to our table.

                                                                                                                      On the other hand, I basically eat what I want, and no weight gain for years, and eliminating most grains is something I know that others find hard to understand. There are other ingredients that I have eliminated from my diet, but I don't think there is as great an impact on a diet as the elimination of grain, hence my posting that I find all of the cultures are using loads of grains in their diet - good or bad? I can't speak for them or their cultures.

                                                                                                                      Thanks for your query, HF

                                                                                                                      1. re: Rella
                                                                                                                        DunkTheBiscuit Jun 1, 2012 04:32 PM

                                                                                                                        Paleo is a way of eating that is supposed to mimic prehistoric humanity's diet - so it is heavy on the meat and vegetables. Grain and legumes and much if not all dairy is absent (depends on how strictly a person follows it). Ideally all the meat should be game or at least pasture-fed but many people I know who eat paleo stretch that point for economy's sake and I know that in many more built up parts of the world it can be an expensive choice of diet because fresh veg, fruit and pastured meat have to travel long distances and are costly.

                                                                                                                        Most cultures who developed agriculture now have a grain based diet because it's a very effective way of turning square miles of land into food calories. It is still possible to cut out (or cut down) the grains you eat while still getting the essence of the cuisine in many cases, but it's likely to drive the cost of your food up as you are not eating the 'cheap filler'

                                                                                                                        Whether or not grain is good for the people who eat it - I think it depends on how processed it is and how large a percentage of the overall diet it takes up. People with little money for food tend to eat more of the cheap filler items at the possible expense of overall nutrition, because we're driven to fill our bellies now despite the long-term effects.

                                                                                                                        1. re: DunkTheBiscuit
                                                                                                                          r
                                                                                                                          Rella Jun 1, 2012 07:26 PM

                                                                                                                          It's a hard thing to do after decades of eating, to cut out the filler. It can be such a psychological thing that one finds hard to give up, meat, vegetables, dairy - fine, but that darned filler!

                                                                                                                          Having a snack? The 'filler' is waiting for you - heheheh.

                                                                                                                          1. re: Rella
                                                                                                                            DunkTheBiscuit Jun 2, 2012 09:20 AM

                                                                                                                            Oh, I know. For various health reasons I need to cut down the amount of processed carbs I eat and it is SO HARD. All habit and emotionally driven - so frustrating.

                                                                                                                            I just had a vast plate of salad with protein and an oily dressing and I ought to be satisfied - it was a good tasty meal and I know it was nutritionally sound... but I still feel it's not complete unless I mop the plate with a slice of good bread >.<

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