11 August 2011

Eating on 3-5 Euros a day

My blog posts seem to conveniently settle in the cleavage between adventures, so my readers know I'm not going anywhere too far-off when you find me writing about lentils and lardons.

In the valley of everyday life, nights in exotic locales transform into the daily challenge of getting productive/necessary/unexciting things done. And all that exertion requires foodstuffs-- extraordinarily expensive in France.

With the Euro/Dollar conversion at an all-time misery of $1.42USD to the Euro....and for those of us with cashflow still coming in from the Western Hemisphere...we put on our cucina povera thinking caps.



So money has gotten tight, even with some freelance income coming in (don't worry, the end of this month will see me in tiptop shape). I'm cutting out things like "buying my own drinks at the bar" and "more new books" and "new music" (but never going without "art supplies" or "dessert") and learning how to feed myself for 3-5 Euro a day.

Through top-secret military experimentation, I've come up with two ways to survive on a very limited food budget. I'll even tell you how to get your dessert in. So, if you are ever broke, or in Marseille, or both, I suggest these three tasty alternatives to going without (thanks to Poor Girl Gourmet for the inspiration).


1. Middle Eastern takeout in Belsunce (Cost: 4.11 Euro)


 

The unmarked Restaurant Orientale at (approximately) 7 rue Petites Mariés in Marseille's Belsunce neighborhood is one of the city's best-kept secrets.

Last Sunday, on the way to a friend's for a going-away feast and movie marathon, this place was closed and I couldn't find anything else that would give me as much food for under 5 Euro.

I'll warn you, all that oil is not necessarily Olive, and I'm not sure how long the stuff sits under the heat lamp. But I've eaten here a decent number of times and I've always walked away full, happy and with money left over to spend on going out/the Metro. 


Don't mind the menu and its complexities. All you need from this place is the 3 Euro "formule" (dishes selected from the hot buffet) which consists of a starch, 2 vegetarian dishes, one meat item, and half of a huge baguette.


Here's what my 3 Euro platter looks like (much better in real life, this photo was taken by a hungry person more interested in eating than in making it look appetizing):

There's ratatouille (really tasty), potatoes au gratin, vegetarian stew (OK), and a meat-stuffed green pepper (pretty good). And a baguette, big and very very basic, hiding off to the side.

You can feed 2 adults very well with this platter. For one person, I recommend eating half and saving half for the next day or turning it into an American breakfast by scrambling the veggies with an egg or two and eating it with whatever is left over of the baguette.

Or you can save the eventually-rock-hard baguette and make pain perdu later in the week.

Garnish:

With all that fried and cooked stuff, you need a little raw action. I suggest a ripe sliced tomato, dressed in oil and parsley or dill to liven up your palate. 
  • A sprig of Parsley or Dill, 100g  (Bunch = 0.70 E), .07E
  • 1 Tomato, sliced (200g) (1k = 2 Euro), 0.40E
  • Olive oil, (0.03 L) (1 Liter= 4 Euro), 0.09E
(Subtotal = 0.56E)


Drinks:

Don't buy drinks at any restaurant, you're throwing your money away. Instead, carry a waterbottle and ask the nice man to fill it from the tap. Or, get takeaway and hook up your drinks at home. 
  • Delicious chilled French tap water, Free
  • If at home, someone's pre-opened Rosé from the fridge, Free
(Subtotal = 0 E)
For desert: 
  • Dessert Goût Chocolat w/ crème (Casino Tous Les Jours brand), 0.25E
or
  • 8 Little Madeleines (Casino Tous Les Jours brand Package of 24, 0.70E),  0.24E
  • Coffee, 2g (Instant Coffee, 3 Euro for 200g), 0.30E
(Subtotal: 0.55E)


2. Green lentil and smoked bacon stew (Cost: 3.23 Euro)

I got this recipe off the side of a lentil box and it has become my dearest friend. Not to forget that green lentils are cheap, filling and extremely good for you: for every 100g of dried lentils there are 450mg of phosphorus, 10mg of iron, 955 mg of potassium, and 115mg of magnesium. I think that lentils beat pasta, rice and potatoes hands-down in the battle for healthy & cheap stomach-fillers.

This recipe is excellent because it is easy, filling, and tastes really, really good. Something about the mixture of the bay leaf, the boiled-down carrot, the bouillon and the caramelized onion/lardon mixture gives it such a delicious savory flavor that it will turn anyone into a lardon fanatic.

You will need:

Stew:
  • Dry lentils, 250g (1 Kilo bag = 1.70 E), 0.43E
  • 5 Carrots, chopped into rounds (350g) (1 Kilo bag = 1.10 E), 0.39E
  • 1/2 Large Onion, chopped medium fine (100g) (1 Kilo = 1.25 E), 0.13 E
  • Smoked Lardons, half package (100g) (Casino Tous Les Jours brand 200g Package = 0.90E), 0.45 E
  • 3 Cloves Garlic, whole, peeled (1 head has 10 cloves = 0.70 E), 0.21 E
  • 1 Bouillon cube (132g Package with 12 cubes = 1.50 E), 0.13 E
  • 4 Bay Leaves (1g) (Package of 100g = 3.00 E), 0.03E
  • Red Wine Vinegar (2 Euro), 0.05E 
  • Tap water, Free
  • Cooking gas, 0.30E
(Subtotal = 2.12 Euro)

Garnish:
  • A sprig of Parsley or Dill, 100g  (Bunch = 0.70 E), .07E
  • 1 Tomato, sliced (200g) (1k = 2 Euro), 0.40E
  • Olive oil, (0.03 L) (1 Liter= 4 Euro), 0.09E
(Subtotal = 0.56E) 

1. In a large saucepan, place 6 cups water, the dried lentils, chopped up carrots, bay leaves, whole garlic cloves, bouillon cube, and any other spices you care to add (pepper, oregano, etc). Bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer. Cook down 30-40 minutes or until the water is all absorbed.  Take out the bay leaves after the lentils are done cooking.

You can use this time to read a book or write a song or mend some clothing. This is the perfect recipe for the negligent cook since you don't really need to preboil the water, you can just turn it to medium heat and plant yourself in an adjacent room.

When the lentils are cooked, they should retain their shape but be a little bit mushy, not al dente. Al dente lentils are way too monk-like, our goal here is cheap luxury and so you want a softer consistency.


2. When the lentils are almost totally done, fry lardons and onions in a pan over medium heat for 2-3 minutes, flipping or stirring frequently until the onions are transparent but not burnt. Add a dash of vinegar to deglaze the mixture and cook for another minute, turning the mixture frequently.

Deglazing is great because it dissolves the caramelized sugars and fats of the onion and lardon mixture, allowing them to be readily infused into the lentils.


3. Pour the lardon and onion mixture into the lentils.


4. Stir it up.

5. Ensure the mixing is nice and even. Taste it, isn't it more amazing than you thought? Add salt and pepper if you need it.


4. Plate it up. Garnish with a tomato drizzled with olive oil, parsley, and fresh ground pepper. Yeah!


This recipe will yield 3 meals for one person or 1-2 meals for two people. It tastes great cold out of the fridge on a hot day, or hot out of the microwave. I'm sure you could vary the recipe up by throwing other veggies in with the lentils, other spice mixes, or adding other kinds of cheap meat. Though I wouldn't mess with a good thing.

Drinks:
  • Delicious chilled French tap water, Free
  • Someone's pre-opened rosé from the fridge, Free
(Subtotal = 0 E)
For desert: 
  • Dessert Goût Chocolat w/ crème (Casino Tous Les Jours brand), 0.25E
or
  • 8 Little Madeleines (Casino Tous Les Jours brand Package of 24, 0.70E),  0.24E
  • Coffee, 2g (Instant Coffee, 3 Euro for 200g), 0.30E
(Subtotal: 0.55E)


Some purchasing notes (France-specific):
Casino Tous Les Jours is a good cheap brand to look for in supermarkets, it is usually the cheapest price. LIDL is also a great place for olive oil, basic vegetables, lardons, coffee and other cheap basics (like pasta and sauce).
"Lardons" are a weird thing that doesn't exist in the 'States--essentially they are little chopped up pieces of bacon that are loaded with smoke flavor that inundates anything they are cooked with. They are a cheap and effective way to bring the taste of Big Meat to your pauper's feast.

Vegetable costs here are pegged to the Marseille average which is still considerably lower than most other French cities. Increase your costs by 50-75% for other French cities and by 100% for Paris.

The cheapest central places to buy vegetables in Marseille is in the Noailles market and in the area by the Porte d'Aix: the "thieves' market" in front of Metro Place Jules Guesde, or the "come here during the daytime only" Rue du Bon Pasteur. During the summer, expect to see prices as low as: 1.50E/Kilo for bananas, 1.50E/Kilo for tomatoes, and 1E/Kilo for onions and zucchini. This is nothing like the 0.80E/Kilo I saw for tomatoes in Italy, but with all the social security in France, you gotta imagine the cost to society has to show up somewhere.


3. Spend 1 Euro renting a LeVelo and 3 Euro on a bottle of cheap rosé. (4 Euro)

Ride down to Prophet's beach or Prado Beach in Marseille. Hang out from 5pm until sunset and watch for potlucks; make friends, pop open the wine and act like you belong; eat up.

Or better yet, grow a garden and read Poor Girl Gourmet on how to reap the fruits of your labor.
 

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I hope you've enjoyed learning how to make Stone Soup with me. In my next post, I promise to talk about more serious, world-affecting matters. 



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