Top ten cheap local fast food items worldwide

Food is usually a major cost on the road, a significant component of any careful travel budget. Very good, inexpensive food is on offer in most of the world’s destinations, no matter how expensive average meals may be. Here are ten delicious fast food items from ten different destinations around the world.

1. Burritos, San Francisco. San Franciscans are passionate about their burritos. It’s easy to inadvertently inspire an argument through an offhand if opinionated claim about your personal burrito likes and dislkes. Try a riceless burrito at La Tacquería (2889 Mission Street) or drizzle your burrito from Tacquería Cancún (2228 Mission, among other locations) with distinctive green salsa. For $6, you’ll be sated for hours.

2. Currywurst, Berlin. Currywurst is an extraordinarily popular German fast food, a sliced pork sausage doused with curry sauce. At Konnopke’s Imbiss, a famed food stand in Berlin, a currywurst goes for just €1.70 ($2.25).

3. Okonomiyaki, Osaka. This delightful, greasy food item can be found in a number of spots around Japan, though it is firmly associated with Osaka. It’s a cabbage pancake topped with several ingredients. These often include pork, green onion, other vegetables, shrimp, fish and seaweed flakes, mayonnaise, and a dark sauce. An all-but-the-kitchen-sink okonomiyaki in Osaka will set you back around 750 yen ($9).

4. Pintxos, San Sebastián, Spain. For just a few euros, you can fill up on extraordinary pintxos (Basque tapas, see above) in countless bars in the lovely seaside city of San Sebastián. That San Sebastián is also home to some very expensive restaurants is an entertaining notion to contemplate while you’re scarfing three perfect €3 ($4) pintxos for lunch in a crowded bar. See Todo Pintxos for a listing of pintxos perches.

5. Hawker centres, Singapore. Many of Singapore’s hawker centers, which are more or less open-air food courts, serve up very high quality portions of food for very little. As little as S$4 ($3) will get you off to a good start. Among Singapore’s many hawker centers, check out Maxwell Hawker Centre, Chomp Chomp, and Lau Pa Sat.6. Kizilkayalar’s Islak burgers, Istanbul. They’re cheap, at 2 lira (under $1.50) and they’re delicious. These small burgers are a late night Istanbul mainstay. Kizilkayalar has two locations in Istanbul.

7. Bò bía, Saigon, Vietnam. This delicious Vietnamese food item consists of pickled vegetables, sweet sausage, small dried prawns, and noodles wrapped in a rice paper roll. This typical Saigon street food item, adapted from Chinese popiah, is cheap and delicious. Cost: around 10000 dong ($.50) per portion.

8. Chivitos, Montevideo. Chivitos are the top Uruguayan fast food option, a huge mess of a beef sandwich with egg, bacon, mayonnaise, vegetables, and other toppings. A fast track to a heart attack for sure, but a delicious one. The cheapest chivito at Guga Chivitos goes for 90 pesos ($4.50).

9. Som Tam, Thailand. This spicy salad made with not-yet-ripe papaya is a popular street food (and restaurant dish) across Thailand. It’s an appealing taste sensation, with sweet, salty, spicy, and sour components. A decent helping of som tam shouldn’t set you back more than 60 baht ($2).

10. Roti, Port of Spain. The capital of Trinidad and Tobago is full of roti shops selling this extraordinarily filling Caribbean fast food, and locals have very strong opinions about which shop does the best job. You shouldn’t need to part with more than TT$30 ($4.75) at any of several dozen roti shops for a perfect lunch.

Thanks to fellow Gadling contributors Jeremy Kressmann and Meg Nesterov for suggestions.

[Image: Flickr / RinzeWind]

Talking Travel (and Cuba) with award-winning travel journalist Christopher P. Baker

Christopher Baker is the 2008 Lowell Thomas Travel Journalist of the Year and has visited Cuba more than 30 times. He’s personally met with Fidel Castro, as well as leading members of the Cuban government and is personally acquainted with key figures within Cuba as well as key industry figures outside Cuba. Baker is not only a Cuba fanatic who is intensely interested in Castro’s family life and lovers, Cuban cigars, Che Guevara, and classic American cars, he happens to know a great deal about other parts of Central America, too. Baker has appeared on ABC, CNN, NBC, and NPR Public Radio.

I had the privilege of corresponding with Baker about his contributions to his Moon Cuba handbook (for which he keeps a very informative blog) as well as his future endeavor in Colombia. As my Cuba Libre posts come to a close, I feel it may be most poignant for Gadling readers to get some perspective from Baker, whose insight on Cuba is not only enlightening, but also educational and inspiring.

BY: How many times have you been to Cuba, and how much time did you spend them collectively?

CB: More than 30. I shall be there for three months total this year over three trips. Most visits I fill my days and evenings researching for my guidebooks and magazine stories. I’m always looking for what’s new.

BY: What is your favorite place in Cuba — and why?

CB: No doubt about it. I have two. Habana Vieja (Old Havana) simply astounds with its wealth of historic buildings, and its heady atmosphere and endless this to see and do. But I am never happier than when simply rocking in a rocking chair, with a rum and cigar, watching the pretty Cubanas go by. Meanwhile, I always long for Trinidad, another UNESCO World Heritage site, for its intact colonial charm and sleepy pace of life.
BY: What is one of your fondest memories in Cuba?

CB: After 15 years of traveling to and reporting on Cuba, I never cease to be amazed by its surrealism tinged with sensuality. I often regale the tale of having gone to pick up my girlfriend Mercedes (a showgirl dancer at the Tropicana nightclub) after work. This night she had shaved her head entirely and was dressed all in white, from turban to white high-heeled shoes and bobby-socks. She wore many colorful collares (necklaces) and bangles. She had just been initiated as a santera, in the Afro-Cuban santeria religions and for a year henceforth would wear only white and follow specific proscriptions. We hailed a 1950s taxi and settled into the back seat. Passing through a narrow dark street in Centro Habana, a policeman jumped out and stopped the taxi. A man lay at the side of the road, bleeding profusely. The policeman was commandeering the taxi to take the man to the hospital. Mercedes wound down the rear window and poked her turbaned head out.
“You can’t do that!” she said in Spanish. “I”m Santa Teresa!”
The black policeman looked aghast, fingered his own collares, and shouted at the taxi driver to go. He waved us on and ran off to look for another vehicle.
“What on earth did you tell him?” I asked her.
“I told him I’m Santa Teresa, the patron saint of the dead. If he’d put that man in the car I might have killed him!”

BY: Why did you pursue Cuba and not some other place in the world? What did Cuba have that piqued your interest more than any other country?

CB: Cuba pursued me! When asked to author a guidebook in 1991, I instantly knew that this would be a unique adventure. Cuba seeped into my soul. More so back then, but still today. Its unique combination of socialism and sensuality, its unique history, combined with its Hollywood time-warp settings, twine to produce a haunting realm of eccentricity, eroticism, and enigma.

BY: You wrote a book about motorcycling through Cuba. What was that like?

CB: Well, it was one of my greatest adventures. The bike opened me up to the people, made me more accessible as well as more of a curiosity. It permitted me to go places I could never go in a car — the bike was a BMW GS adventure tourer. There was never room for males, but somehow I did managed to squeeze a few slender females behind, although not all at the same time (alas).

BY: What is your take on the U.S.-Cuba trade embargo? How could a lift of the embargo affect Cuban life?

CB: Here’s an extract from my op-ed piece, “Save Cuba first, ruin it later,” in today’s National Post newspaper (Canada)

Possibility hangs in the air like intoxicating aromas of añejo rum. After more than a decade of traveling to and reporting on Cuba, I’m suddenly feeling quite giddy.

What this means for Cuba is another matter. An invasion of U.S. tourists should prove a godsend for the impoverished Cubans. Then again, as American influence spreads more, the isle may be spoiled. It doesn’t take great imagination to envision how Cuba could again become, in Somerset Maughan’s piquant phrase, “a sunny place for shady people.” The country’s demimonde bubbling beneath the surface is just waiting for someone to marshal it.

That’s my biggest fear. That the yanks will ruin Cuba. But it’s a risk I’m prepared to accept in order to advance the long-overdue right of all U.S. citizens to smoke the finest cigars in the world, and hire a 1950s Caddy to explore this wonderful realm.

BY: What is next for you? Will you return to Cuba, or do you have your heart set on another destination?

CB: See my website for my travel schedule. Colombia is calling… but this year my time will be filled with Cuba!

Cuba Libre: Trinidad

From Havana to Trinidad
The 8 hour bus ride to Trinidad was pretty uneventful, as the road is pretty flat and straight. We passed a lot of farm land and occasionally parts of the southern coast. There were just two notable sites along the way: Playa Giron (a.k.a. the Bay of Pigs), which Castro and Kennedy made famous in 1961, and Cienfuegos, where tourists can enjoy a little of the beach and a bit of the outdoors. I had initially planned on stopping through Cienfuegos after Trinidad, but my plans quickly changed after the events that night.

My first casa particular
I arrived in Trinidad at 2:30 as planned and was eager to experience my first casa particular. Peter and Frank were staying at a casa near the Plaza Mayor, and there should have been someone waiting for me at the terminal, but I instead found my way to the casa on my own by foot. Margarita and her husband Roberto greeted me warmly and showed me my lovely room set in a courtyard. The room was spacious with its own bathroom with a hot water shower. There was a kitchen just for guests that was separate from the kitchen for the family. The resident dog (a part German shepherd) served as our guard at night. This being my first taste of a casa particular, I must say I was spoiled. Not all casas resemble mine, nor do they have such nice, accommodating and helpful hosts. Casas particulares can only (by law) host two separate guests in two rooms. The families that host them pay a steep tax, but get paid in convertibles rather than the local national currency (which is 20 times less expensive).
The Plaza Mayor
Peter and Frank were out and about, exploring the steam train that took them to the Valle de los Ingenios, an hour east of Trinidad. I left them a note and took off toward the old part of the city, which is situated around Plaza Mayor. Trinidad as a colonial city is pretty cute, with cobblestone streets and colorful homes. It reminded me of a more colorful version on Barichara, a small town in Colombia. Aside from the church and some mildly informative museums and towers with nice vistas of the city and its surroundings, there’s not much to speak of in terms of things to do (other than shopping).

Almost immediately I spotted Peter’s recognizable backpack and we were promptly reunited at the Museo de la Lucha Contra Banditos. I accompanied the two of them as they did some last minute souvenir and gift shopping in town. Frank bought some a really cool fish carved from a bull’s horn, and Peter bought a cool Afro-Cuban mask made out of wood.

Lobster dinner in an unofficial (illegal) paladar
We returned to the casa and readied for dinner at an unofficial paladar that they had made a reservation at for our last dinner together. By the time we made it to the paladar, Frank and I were pretty buzzed, as I had brought with me what I had left of our stash of Havana Club rum from Habana. We each ordered the lobster dinner and enjoyed our unofficial paladar meal tremendously.


Live music
After dinner we went to the open stage by the Plaza Mayor to listen to live music. After one kind of dreary set, Frank discovered the official Casa de la Musica, which was situated just above where we were sitting. We sat down at a table and watched as a band set up for their concert. When they finished with the sound check I overheard that they wouldn’t begin playing until midnight, but confirmed with one of the band members (the cutest one, mind you) to make sure of their start time. He and I started talking, and I asked him as many questions I could think of to keep him conversing. His band had traveled from Santiago to Trinidad just for this concert, and would be leaving the next morning (Saturday) at 9:30. The band’s name is “Suena Cubano” and they’ve actually played abroad in Mexico (all over the country for two months) and Italy (Milan for a few weeks). I was excited to hear them play, but we returned to the open stage for an hour, where an Afro-Cuban band and dance team played to pass the time. Meanwhile, Peter, Frank, and I drank several “canchanchara’s,” a local drink that is made of lime, vodka, and honey – quite tasty!

Midnight was almost upon us and we returned to the casa, where I talked some more with the band member. I learned his name was Odernis and he has been playing with Suena Cubano for six of its eight years of existence. He plays the guiro, which is a percussive instrument made of a dried gourd. There are 12 members in the band, and they play mainly salsa and son music. He told me his band traveled a great deal around the country and hoped to travel abroad even more. (I told him that, as a travel writer, I would try my best to promote him and his band). He said that only a few Cubans are allowed to travel – mainly just doctors, business professionals, artists, and musicians. The host country must sponsor their visit, pay for their travel expenses, along with their accommodations and food, and explain the request.

Suena Cubano singing “Cuidado, Cuidado”

The music started soon after, and the band was stellar. It turns out Odernis plays the guiro and also raps for certain numbers. I must say I was immediately smitten by him, as he was not only an attractive Afro-Cuban that could dance, but he honestly looks like a smaller version of Kobe Bryant! (Even Frank and Peter agreed that if they were women they would dig him!). The band played several different numbers – most fast, some slow, but almost all of them were danceable. The locals outnumbered the tourists here about 4:1.

Odernis (a.k.a. Mini Kobe Bryant) rapping a modern salsa tune

The cave disco
When 1:30 rolled around (and the band was still going strong), Peter and Frank wanted to make sure we got to experience one more thing: a cave disco on top of the hill past the ruins. While most discos resemble caves, I’ve actually never heard of one that is housed in an actual cave! We snuck out of the concert (and in my mind I hoped we would return in time to say goodbye to Odernis), and made our way to the cave disco.

Had I been by myself, there is no question that I would neither have found nor wanted to find the cave disco. The place sits on top of the hill and to get there you have to walk 10 minutes in the dark and uphill. It’s a pretty scary sight as you make your way there because the abandoned ruin glows up top like a haunted house. We made our way to the top with no problem and were surprised to find several other locals and tourists enjoying the club scene inside. The entire club is inside the mountain – even the bathrooms are tucked into smaller caves inside. The dance floor is sizeable, and it has an enormous ceiling. There were two bars – one on the dance floor level and another near the entrance, and three levels (a patio, a seating area, and the bar/dance floor).

Frank singing to Bob Marley in the cave disco

Needless to say, we had a blast. The music was a mixture of Latin and American club tunes, and the locals outnumbered the tourist here 3:1. I even snapped a shot of Frank and a gay Cuban clubber! I had read that gay/homosexuals were sometimes imprisoned, but was pleased to discover liberal Cubans enjoying the Trinidad nightlife.

Change of plans
We were sufficiently tired by 2:30, and made our way back to the Casa de la Musica to see if he band was still playing. To my dismay, the band had not only finished their set, but already packed up their gear and left! I think it was at that point that I reformed my itin
erary to try to find Suena Cubano and Odernis again. Instead of visiting Cienfuegos, Santa Clara, and Matanzas, I would head to Santiago de Cuba and Baracoa.

For a complete listing of my Cuba Libre posts, please click HERE or skip straight to the good stuff —

Through the Gadling Lens: taking photographs in caves

This week, I got a great email from Gadling reader Matthew, about a really exciting upcoming trip:

Dear Karen,

My friends and I are going on a week long trip to Varadero in Cuba in two weeks. One of the main attractions that I’m looking forward to is the cuevas de bellamar, I’ll be taking my Nikon D60 with the stock lens. I’m not sure what settings I should be using to capture that low ambient lighting in the caves. I was able to find some pictures of the caves on Flickr. Any tips? I love the column keep them coming.

– Matthew

I love this question, and as it happens, I’ve had a little bit of experience shooting in in caves: one of my favourite places to visit when I go home to Trinidad is the Gasparee caves, and the last time I was there, I tried my hand at trying to capture some images of them. What did I learn? Shooting in caves isn’t easy. But I’ll share some of the tricks I picked up, and hopefully, Matthew, you’ll end up grabbing some really memorable shots.

1. First off, caves are dark
. I know, I know — I’m stating the obvious. But, still, the fact that it’s dark is a good thing to keep in mind. The reason?

Chances are, if you use the flash on your camera, you’re going to get a shockingly bright shot of the stalactite right in front of you, and the dark void behind it. Turn the flash off.

I know it might seem counterintuitive to turn your flash off in a cave, but trust me on this — and a great example is the beautiful shot uploaded by StrudelMonkey into the Gadling flickr pool, above. In this shot, StrudelMonkey used the available light in the cave to really capture the eerieness and mystery of the surroundings. And Matthew, since you’ve already done a search of the Cuevas de Bellamar on Flickr, you know that these Cuban caves are similarly lit to enhance their beauty — and therefore, the trick is going to be how to capture the available light.

2. Switch your camera to program (or “fully automatic”) mode. You were expecting to tell you how to adjust your aperture to get great depth of field, or adjust your shutter speed, and that sort of thing, weren’t you? Yeah, forget all that. I mean, it’s a great idea, in theory, to manually adjust all of these items on your camera, but honestly? See #1 above — you’re in a cave. It’s dark. And you’re not going to be able to see what you’re doing. It’s just much better if you set the camera to help you take the shot as easily as possible.

3. Examine your light source, and adjust your white balance accordingly. We haven’t actually talked about white balance before, so let’s take a moment to step back and understand what your white balance does.

Have you ever taken a shot inside of your house at night, say, and you decided not to use your flash, but instead try to capture the scene in the available light — and the result is this very yellow image? This is because in general, your camera is designed to take photographs in sunlight — and your lamplight is cooler and more yellow than sunlight. Also, ever notice how green you look in florescent light? So guess what colour your photographs will look under that light?

This is where white balance comes in: if you refer to your camera manual and look at your camera (and Matthew, I know that you shoot with a Nikon D60), you’ll notice that there’s likely a setting for “white balance” or “WB.” This helps tell your camera what kind of light source is available for you to take your shot. So, therefore, if you’re shooting in caves that are lit like the ones where StrudelMonkey took his photograph in the shot above, you’ll probably want to set your camera to take photographs in incandescent light (probably indicated by a little lightbulb icon) — that way your photographs won’t end up looking too yellow.

If, however, the spot where your taking your shots actually is lit by sunlight, through openings in the cave ceiling or walls (as shown in the beautiful image captured by Bernard-SD, above), then make sure that your camera is set to take photographs in natural light (likely indicated by a small sun icon) — and that way, your photographs won’t end up looking too blue.

4. Get yourself a gorillapod. A Gorillapod is a small, portable tripod that twists in ways that you can steady your camera on just about any kind of surface. In this dark setting, a Gorillapod can be invaluable, and here’s why:

Remember when, a few months ago, we talked about ISOs and “light catchers”? Because you’re going to be in a low light setting, and you’ve set your camera to fully automatic, your camera is going to notice how dark it is, and think to itself, “Self, I’m going to have to keep the shutter open forever, so that the light catchers are able to catch as much available light as possible in order to develop the photograph.” And when that happens, the slightest movement of the camera … the slightest movement of your wrist … is going to create image blur. So to make sure that your images are as crisp as possible, you’re going to want to steady the camera — and since flat surfaces might be hard to come by in the caves, a tripod which can steady itself on a rock outcropping, a stalagmite, or even just around the railing of the steps into the cave would be worth its weight in gold. And happily? Gorillapods don’t cost the same as krugerrands — the large one, suitable for most SLR cameras, is currently available for US$ 44.95 online.

5. Set your ISO to a relatively low number, aim, and shoot. Okay, so now you’ve set your camera to automatic, you’ve secured it to the Gorillapod, and you’ve secured it to … whatever. A lower ISO number is going to give you a less grainy shot than a high ISO number, so sort of ballpark it — 400 or 600, say. Then aim the camera, set the self-timer, click the shutter, and walk away. Why set the self-timer, you ask? Because in the dark, even the action of pressing the shutter might cause blur. So set the timer, press the shutter, and then step away, and let the camera settle itself to take the shot. The shutter is going to stay open for a long time (see #4, above), but don’t worry, let it do its thing. Once you look at your image, you’ll likely have a lovely, crisp, ambient shot.

So, that’s about it! Matthew, good luck on your trip and safe travels — I know there’s a lot to take in here on this post
, but my suggestion? Practice in a dark room in your house, with low light, and play with the settings as I’ve suggested, and see how it works for you (and obviously, if you have any questions, feel free to email me). Also, when you return, I hope you’ll share your shots with us here at Gadling. I can’t wait to see what you capture!

Karen is a writer and photographer in Houston, Texas. You can see more of her work at her site, Chookooloonks, and feel free to send her your photography questions directly to karenDOTwalrondATweblogsincDOTcom. She’ll happily tackle them in upcoming posts.
And for more Through the Gadling Lens, click here.