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Feb 21, 2014 01:36 AM

Places in Europe like Seville and San Sebastian


My wife and I just finished a food trip over Portugal and Spain. We made efforts to eat at highly recommended restaurants in Lisbon, Seville, Granada, Bilbao, San Sebastian and Barcelona. We also at at Michelin restaurants (Azurmendi etc...) during our time at the Basque country.

What stood apart was the incredible value for quality food at Seville and San Sebastian, and in particular the modern tapas at Zeruko (San Sebastian) and Albarama (Seville) - for just a few euros you get an enjoyment at par with >2 star restaurants IMO. Coming from Singapore (where we are also known to be a food haven with lots of variety) and having traveled to many places in Asia, we were simply blown away by the tapas here.

As we are planning our next trip next, can anyne recommend any other places in Europe where we would also be able to enjoy high quality food at good prices?

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  1. They will be very hard to beat or even equal. I suggest posting on the Italian board and asking the same question as good Italian food in areas like Puglia (in the south) offer great local produce driven food at reasonable prices in casual relaxed places. That said Puglia's restaurants are spread out in country villages so lack the concentration of SS, Seville, or Sing. Look for "slow food" (I think there is an specific Italian guide) in particular.

    The other thought would be Istanbul, Turkey has a fantastic food culture and Istanbul has a good street food culture that may replicate the buzz of Spain.

    1 Reply
    1. re: PhilD

      The guide you are thinking of is the Osterie d'Italia.

      I wouldn't single out Puglia in Italy as a place to find "great local produce driven food at reasonable prices in casual relaxed places. " You can find that all over Italy once you know where to go (and the Osterie d'Italia guide to Slow Food restaurants is a great aid for that). But usually the best food in any region of Italy is part of a full meal that is highly structured, not grazing. There is some fun, cheap street food here and there, but that is traditionally the food of poorer people (like Istanbul), and not modern or refined. Nothing like a 2 star for a few euros when it comes to quality.

    2. You should ask on the Europe board and some of the other European country boards. I like Belgium as a destination for delicious eating and drinking at a good price (but you have to like Belgian food and drink!). But if you are looking to graze on modern bites of food, paying for each separately, rather than sit down to extended menus with a variety of tiny modern courses, there are not many places in Europe that do that as bar food like Spain. About as close as you can come to grazing like that is some of the high gastronomy food shops and delicatessens or markets in the capital cities.

      Have you considered going to other regions of Spain?

      1. I agree with much of what PhilD and kmzed have said. Tapas are unique to Spain, so getting such creative and delicious food in a casual setting at low prices is going to be difficult in any other country. In Italy, I found Puglia to be generally less expensive than other regions I have been to. You can get a very satisfying meal for relatively low cost, and even the starred restaurants are not all that expensive.

        Here is a link to my report on a recent trip to Puglia:

        8 Replies
        1. re: rrems

          Just can't get on board about Puglia when it comes to cost comparisons. I enjoyed reading your report, but I don't think the prices for meals are outstandingly low or attractive enough to choose Puglia over other destinations. Certainly they can be be had in other parts of Italy. Generally speaking, there can be a lot of quantity for a lower price in Puglia but it is only occasionally high quality (and then the bill creeps up!). I would sooner head to Sicily, Campania or Le Marche and Friuli-Venezia-Giulia for delicious food with plenty of variety with a pleasantly modest tab at the end.

          Actually, if you put your mind on low-cost first, you can go anywhere in Italy except expensive restaurants that are recommended for tourists in the tourist zones of Venice, Rome, Tuscany, Piemonte, etc. If one wants to see Puglia, great, and there is plenty of nice food to eat. But Basilicata right next door is prettier and the very good food there and much better wine isn't a euro more. You can do as well in Mantova, many miles north, for what you paid in Puglia. Food is really fun there. Try Trieste too.

          1. re: kmzed

            PS: As a good illustration of what I mean, here are copious pictures of a low cost meal in Calabria


            Also, this a great blog for learning just why it is pointless to go to Italy looking for the kind Michelin conscious small plates cuisine that borrows from trendy Spain


            1. re: kmzed

              KMZED: I'm interested in your comments about Basilicata. I've been only to Maratea, Matera, Senise, Bernalda. What other centers of great food/scenery would you recommend in the region? (I am overdue for a visit to southern Italy)

              To the OP: I do think that many cities in Spain offer a singular experience that would be difficult to equal in other European cities that I've visited. Apart from the places well known to tourists that you mention, there are cities in Galicia, Navarra, Segovia and its neighbors, that would be well worth exploring.

              I know you specified Europe, but you also might want to consider Mexico for superb street food, and great, regionally diverse food experiences at often very low prices. Thinking especially of Oaxaca and the capital, but there are many, many other cities and town that might suit.

              1. re: erica

                Sorry not to have seen this sooner. You might want to check out the olive oil producing region of Basilicata. It is not the most spectacularly scenic parts of Basilicata (which you've seen) but it is certainly as attractive as most of Puglia


                it is a wine area too if you are interested


                (and try to go before the tastes change



              2. re: kmzed

                kmzed - I did say " areas like Puglia...." rather than simply recommending "go to Puglia".

                So yes, of course lots of areas in Italy offer similar experiences and good prices for superb fresh food cooked well. I am not certain why you are so fixated about Puhlia....?

                That said the high tourists areas (foreign as well as Italian's from other regions) the quality and price ratio declines - not every Italian is a natural gourmet. So Venice, Tuscany, Rome, etc etc are more risky.

                1. re: PhilD

                  I "fixated" on Puglia because it was singled out and recommended twice as a possible solution for the OP. But Puglia is not necessarily a cheap place to get to (depends on where you are coming from) and in general I wanted to make the point that there is a lot of delicious low priced meals to be had in if you travel around Lombardia or Friuli Venezia Giulia or even Lazio beyond Rome or Sicily beyond Taormina. There are more provinces to go than not in Italy where a good meal is not hard on the pocket. But we are not talking tapas but sit-down meals.

                  The problem with the food served in restaurants in the places you mentioned in Italy is not in the nature of Italians but in the nature of mass tourism and the market place. You may not realize how many of the tens of millions of tourists who go to Venice order spaghetti with tomato sauce or pizza or who visit Rome eat burrata with truffles and tiramisu or craft beer and the burgers to go with it. If you own a restaurant and stick to a traditional menu you can stand there and watch customers walk right by to go sit at the place next door that is serving those things -- or if tourists do sit down in your place they look stricken when you tell them what you don't serve or they order and then don't enjoy their meals.

                  All culture is acquired and not inborn, and It is in the nature of Italian culture to want people to be happy at the table, and to bend to survive. So they will adjust their food and menus to serve the "local" clientele -- which in places like Venice is now a foreign clientele. I wouldn't fault Italians for this or make dismissive remarks about their affinity for gourmet eating. The average Italian has acquired since childhood a great deal more discernment and intimate knowledge about what is a delicious ingredient that has been well prepared than the natives of most other European-based cultures, in particular America. That isn't naive or romantic to say. It's a valid observation. I would say the same of Belgians, the Spanish and still the French.

                  1. re: kmzed

                    I didn't get too hung up on the Tapas reference and instead focussed on the value for money in simple places which I took to be the gist of the OP's request. Agree tapas are very Spanish and that grazing culture is almost unique, the OP is from Singapore and the hawker centre culture is probably more "sit down" than traditional Spanish tapas. So I thought Italy was analogous as you get some of the best food in simple local places at relatively low prices - I don't think this is still true in France or Belgium (and I am intrigued to understand what would be recommended in Belgium - I love their multi star places but less wowed by the beer and frites offerings).

                    I do get the tourist taste issues and the fact local tourists may not want traditional food - and who is to blame an Italian seeking out the new Italian craft beers - they are very good (and I would argue an Italian tourist seeking out Italian craft beer is actually one of the ones in the know).

                    My point was to avoid the trap many fall into by assuming the locals are all gourmands. Most are not, even if their early food education is better than many countries. After all you could make similar assumptions about France, the country with the highest number of McDonalds per head and a love of frozen meals from Picard.

                2. re: kmzed

                  Puglia was just one example, and I think we did so well there because we had friends we were visiting who really know good food and were excellent guides. Haven't yet been to some of the other areas you recommend, but hope to get to them in future.