Attention budget travelers! This week’s Chewing the Fat is all for you, as we’re sitting down with Agness, a true superstar when it comes to seeing the world on limited funds. Dubbing herself a “Polish tramp”, Agness left home (and her comfort zone) in 2011 to travel the world on the cheap, with the goal of sticking to a budget of less than $25 a day. Together with her best friend, Cez, she shares her budget travel tips and adventures over on eTramping, and has inspired countless travelers (including myself!) to get out there and see the world. In addition to having a healthy appetite for all things delicious, Agness is also passionate about photography and is a yoga maniac who enthusiastically lives every day to its fullest.
One of the things that most people we meet during our travels can’t wrap their mind around is how we have managed to travel for so long, as they automatically assume that traveling means spending hundreds of dollars a day. Agness is the perfect example of how with a little creativity and flexibility, it’s possible to see the world on the cheap and still enjoy yourself mightily… and that extends to eating well, too! I’ve always loved how passionate Agness is about sampling the local foods wherever she travels, so I’m stoked that I can share with you today some of her best food stories as well as her top tips for experiencing new and delicious foods without breaking the bank.
Read on as we talk about Polish foods that need to get a lot more love, the best breakfast foods China has to offer, which country’s high prices made her lose her appetite, and so much more!
We’re big fans of “foodcations”—on more than one occasion we’ve taken trips motivated solely by the desire to eat our way through our destination. Of all the places you have visited in your travels, if you were limited to only eating the food from one country, which place would you choose and why?
Definitely Japan. I’m a real sushi lover! What is more, I have a food travel bucket list and one of the dishes I’ve always wanted to have was real sushi in a local restaurant somewhere in Japan, preferably Tokyo. I recently made this dream come true: there was a bank holiday in China so I flew from Hong Kong to Japan for the weekend, just to try different types of sushi!
I currently live in China where all the meals revolve around rice. But rice is boring, especially when you eat it 3 times a day. What I love about sushi is how the great variety of its fillings and toppings make sushi rice so different, adventurous and delicious. Even the rice in sushi is specially prepared—sushi is made with a soft and short-grained rice, which is mixed with a yummy dressing made of rice vinegar and sugar.
But sushi is really all about the fish. I don’t consume meat on a regular basis, but I eat fish for my lunch and dinner every day, preferably smoked or grilled salmon. I just LOVE sushi for containing fresh, high quality raw fish which smells clean, has a vivid color, and is free from harmful parasites.
And the flipside: of all the places you’ve visited, which country had your least favorite food? Why was that and were you surprised?
Unfortunately, Sri Lankan cuisine didn’t live up to my expectations. I traveled to many different places from Galle, Pinnawala to Colombo, but none of them satisfied my hunger for healthy and delicious food. The cuisine of Sri Lanka shows some Indian influence, indeed, but most of the dishes were way too hot, with spices so strong they were sometimes hard to consume. When I first came to Colombo and asked for some traditional Sri Lankan food I was served a curry with rice—the worst I have ever had! Perhaps it would have been very delicious for fans of mouth-burning food, but it was way too spicy for me! I drank like 10L of water to get rid of the spice in my mouth!
I also noticed that Sri Lankan people like to mix sweet and spicy flavours together, but unfortunately this combination is not tasty to me. For example, Sri Lanka is the land of cakes and doughnuts—the most famous sweet is an oil cake made with rice flour and treacle, then deep-fried to golden brown colour. Some of the cakes contain chilli peppers and lots of sugar (what a combination)!
Although the cuisine of the “Tear-drop of India” was too stodgy for me and kept upsetting my stomach, I still enjoyed the cheap prices of food: I could try a lot of different local Sri Lankan dishes for less than $1 each.
What’s the most exotic/adventurous edible you’ve sampled and what did you think about it?
I have a confession to make: I am the master of bravery when it comes to eating strange food. So far, I’ve tried insects (a popular snack food in Thailand), dog and snake meat in China (I was told it was a dog meat after I consumed it), and even fried scorpion. Thai bugs were the most adventurous though – crispy, oily, but extremely yummy!
Many travelers mention succumbing to McDonald’s or other fastfood cravings while on the road… what is the guilty pleasure food that you indulge in when traveling?
I am a healthy eater. I enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and seafood and I never crave McDonald’s or other types of sugary and greasy fast foods. However, I’m a big fan of any kind of dumplings, from Chinese steamed baozi (go with various fillings, mainly beef but if you are vegetarian you might want to try vegetarian ones filled with carrot, radish, parsley, onion and pumpkin) and fried jiaozi (deep fried—you can have them served with soy sauce, chili, vinegar and sesame oil), to Tibetan momos (stuffed with yak meat or veggies only)! While working and living in Dongguan right now, I keep craving baozi for my breakfast every time I go travelling, as it is the most filling and delicious breakfast option you can get in China.
Sometimes you don’t know a good thing until it’s gone! If you could eat one food from back home RIGHT NOW, what would it be?
I’m a Polish foodie and although I am keen on eating different food from all over the world, I’m always faithful to my native cuisine. Wherever I go, I miss my favourite Polish dishes. I even made a list of my 10 favourite Polish foods I’m missing so badly in China. Polish pierogi (traditional dumplings) are thick and can be filled with either meat (beef), seasonal fruits (strawberries and blueberries taste the best), sauerkraut and mushrooms, or cottage cheese and boiled potatoes. They taste differently every time you eat them and they just melt in your mouth!
If you knew we were coming to visit you in your hometown, what would be the one food you would make sure we tried?
Right after pierogi, I would recommend you to try some rosół (chicken soup), which is one of the best Polish soups. We usually have it on Sunday dinner after coming back home from church. It would warm you guys up in winter and give you a boost of energy in autumn and spring. It takes approximately 45 minutes to cook it. All you need is a piece of meat (chicken is the best one), some water, veggies (onion, parsley, carrot) and salt and pepper for taste. You cook your pasta separately and add it to the soup afterwards. Yummy and refreshing!
During your travels you have spent considerable time in China teaching English. We didn’t have the best luck with the food while we were in China (barring a few exceptions) so tell us about some of your favorite dishes that you have discovered during your time there.
Ever since I first came here in August 2011, I have had a “love/hate” relationship with Chinese food. On one hand, I’m a big fan of Chinese cuisine as it contains a lot of exotic fruits I’ve never had a chance to try before (star fruit, lychee, dragon fruit), fresh veggies and my beloved tofu. Moreover, the dishes are full of flavour: I fell in love with its unique taste, spiciness, a perfect combination of herbs and spices, and Chinese mild tea (green and red). On the other hand, Chinese meals are based on fatty meats and rice, and they are full of oil as most of dishes are deep fried. My stomach usually gets upset after having a plate of stodgy noodles and I quickly put on weight, which I try to avoid.
After nearly 2 years of living and traveling in China I found some dishes I really enjoy to eat. They are extremely delicious and I cannot imagine my life here without having them at least twice a week.
Deep fried Chinese bread stick made with yeast, very oily and might be a bit salty. If you are a fan of doughnuts you will love them. They are very soft inside and crispy outside so you feel like eating a puffy bread. There are only pain Youtiao available, but you can dip them in peanut or chocolate butter.
Fermented tofu with beans
That is a great alternative for vegetarians. Tofu is very soft and light topped with sweet chilli or spicy sauce. You can find some beans in it as well. Above all, it’s high in protein and extremely nutritious.
Baozi (包子) and Jiaozi (饺子)
This is my breakfast meal on the go every two or three days a week. Baozi are stuffed with a various kinds of meat (from pork to beef) and fried veggies. They just taste delicious! I always go for vegetarian option and pick up the ones with steamed vegetables. You will always get them served with some spicy sesame oil to dip them in. What I love about them is their thick texture.
Jiaozi are much harder and more stodgy. They are firstly steamed and then fried. Their shape and size are also different – they are smaller and crescent-shaped but the feeling is the same – veggies with pork or beef. What I love about Jiaozi is that they are extremely crispy and crunchy and, most importantly, filling.
You are originally from Poland, a country that doesn’t seem to get much love thrown its way when it comes to food. If you could describe Polish food using just one word, what word would you choose and why? What are the dishes that travelers should make sure they don’t miss?
When it comes to describing Polish food in one word I would say “underestimated”. I know that Polish cuisine might be considered by many as “heavy” and “stodgy” as most of dishes are made of flour and grains (pastas, dumplings, noodles), but putting a few pounds on is absolutely worth it! You will discover a fresh taste of sour cream, cottage cheese, mushrooms and Polish sausages, and your mouth will start watering when looking at Polish cakes.
Apart from pierogi and chicken soup I’ve mentioned before, I would recommend everyone to try:
- Polish herring: you can either have your herrings in sour cream or oil with some pickled onion. Traditional Polish herring is slightly salty and sour)
- Gołąbki (cabbage roll): Traditional Polish food made of minced pork with some rice, onion, mushrooms, wrapped in white cabbage leaves. There are also other variations of fillings such as poultry, mutton or without meat.
- Polish pancakes very thin and they are served either with cheese, quark previously mixed with sugar, jam, fruits and powdered sugar or with meat and vegetables—all equally tasty.
- Polish croissant cookies for a dessert – They are filled with jam and made of puff pastry or yeast, so crunchy and delicious!
The whole idea behind your site eTramping is that you try to travel on a very basic budget of just $25/day. How much of your daily budget do you tend to spend on food? Which country have you found is the easiest to find cheap meals? Which one has been the hardest?
We are actually lucky to be living in Asia as the food is always affordable. When we are in China, we spend around RMB300 ($45) for our weekly food shopping in the supermarket. The food in China is very affordable so you can easily have a breakfast for less than $0.50 or a lunch and dinner for less than $1-$2. When we travel in Asia, we try not to spend more than $5 per person or $15 for two.
So far, the cheapest country in terms of food was Sri Lanka. I remember paying silly money (around $2 per person) for a nice dinner with drinks in one of local restaurants in Colombo. We were served a plate of rice and curry, some naan bread with various sauces, fried veggies, a bowl of fruits and two bottles of water. Definitely the hardest country was Norway. I was shocked by the high prices I was greeted with in Oslo: I can vividly remember how shocked my face was when I paid over 5 euro for a small yogurt and a breakfast bun!
Thanks to Agness for her passionate discussion of a country whose food we had previously dismissed (China) and one we were largely ignorant about (Poland… though I do love me a cabbage roll!). With her guidance, we’re excited to give both of these country’s cuisines another shot, and now we know how to do so while coming in well under budget (though we’ll probably just spend the savings on more food…)!
Like what you read here and want to be featured in a future installment of Chewing the Fat? Great! We’re always looking for new people to dish about dining with! You don’t have to be a long-term traveler or even have your own blog to participate; all you need is a healthy appetite and an appreciation for food. Contact Us letting us know that you’re interested in taking part in this series, and we’ll get back to you with all the information you need to get started.