Cooking on a Budget while Abroad: An overseas expat's guide

Are you an overseas expat looking to enjoy delicious meals while sticking to a tight budget? Look no further!

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore how you can cook on a budget while living abroad. Whether you’re a student, a professional, or a nomadic traveler, this article is packed with tips and tricks to help you savor your favorite cuisines without breaking the bank.

Living in a foreign country can be an exciting adventure, but it can also present challenges when it comes to managing your finances. Luckily, cooking your own meals is not only a great way to save money but also an opportunity to explore local ingredients and flavors.

From shopping wisely at local markets to mastering simple and budget-friendly recipes, we’ve got you covered. You don’t need to be a master chef to whip up delicious dishes that won’t strain your wallet.

With the right mindset and some insider knowledge, you can create culinary wonders that will surprise and satisfy your taste buds.

Get ready to embark on a culinary journey while keeping your budget in check. Let’s dive into the world of cooking on a budget as an overseas expat.

Cooking on a budget while abroad: What to consider

Cooking on a budget while living abroad offers numerous benefits. Firstly, it allows you to save a significant amount of money that would otherwise be spent on eating out at restaurants.

By preparing your own meals, you have full control over the ingredients and portion sizes, ensuring that you make the most out of your budget.

Additionally, cooking on a budget allows you to explore local ingredients and flavors. It’s an opportunity to immerse yourself in the culinary culture of your host country. By experimenting with different spices, herbs, and cooking techniques, you can create unique dishes that reflect the local cuisine.

Furthermore, cooking on a budget fosters a sense of independence and self-sufficiency. It’s a chance to develop your culinary skills and become more confident in the kitchen. The satisfaction of creating a delicious and budget-friendly meal from scratch is unmatched.

Budget-friendly grocery shopping tips for expats

One of the challenges of cooking as an expat is navigating the local grocery stores and finding the ingredients you need for your recipes. Here are some tips to help you overcome this hurdle and make grocery shopping in a foreign country a breeze:

Firstly, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the local markets and supermarkets. Explore different options and compare prices to find the best deals.

Consider shopping at local markets, as they often offer fresh produce at lower prices compared to supermarkets. Not only will you save money, but you’ll also get to experience the vibrant atmosphere and interact with local vendors.

Look for local markets in your area that offer fresh produce, meat, and seafood. These markets often have a wider variety of ingredients and better prices than supermarkets.

Learn the local language too. Familiarize yourself with the names of common ingredients in the local language. This will make it easier to communicate with the vendors and ask for specific items.

Don’t be afraid to haggle for better prices or ask for recommendations on budget-friendly ingredients.

Another tip is to plan your meals and create a shopping list before heading to the store. This will help you avoid impulse purchases and ensure that you buy only what you need. Stick to the list and resist the temptation to buy unnecessary items that can quickly add up.

Additionally, consider purchasing non-perishable items in bulk. Staples such as rice, pasta, canned goods, and spices have a long shelf life and can be bought in larger quantities at a lower cost per unit. This will save you money in the long run and minimize the number of grocery trips you need to make.

Ask for recommendations. Reach out to local friends, colleagues, or neighbors for recommendations on where to find specific ingredients. They can provide valuable insights and point you in the right direction.

Be flexible with substitutions. If you can’t find a specific ingredient, don’t be afraid to make substitutions. Look for similar ingredients that have a similar flavor profile or texture. Experimenting with local ingredients can lead to delicious discoveries.

Don’t limit yourself to just one supermarket. Explore different stores to find the best selection and prices. Some stores may specialize in certain types of cuisine, making it easier to find specific ingredients.

By following these tips, you’ll be able to navigate the local grocery stores with confidence and find everything you need to create delicious meals in your new home.

Essential kitchen tools for cooking on a budget while abroad

To cook on a budget while living abroad, you don’t need a fully equipped professional kitchen. However, there are a few essential tools that will make your cooking experience much easier and more efficient.

First and foremost, invest in a good quality chef’s knife. A sharp and versatile knife is a must-have in any kitchen, as it will make chopping, slicing, and dicing ingredients a breeze. Look for a knife with a comfortable grip and a durable blade that can withstand regular use.

In addition to a chef’s knife, a cutting board is essential. Opt for a cutting board that is large enough to accommodate different ingredients and easy to clean. Consider getting separate cutting boards for meat, fruits, and vegetables to prevent cross-contamination.

Another essential kitchen tool is a non-stick frying pan. This versatile pan allows you to cook a variety of dishes with minimal oil, making it a healthier and more budget-friendly option. Look for a pan with a sturdy handle and a non-stick coating that is easy to clean.

Additionally, a saucepan and a baking sheet are useful tools for cooking on a budget. A saucepan can be used for boiling pasta, making soups, and simmering sauces, while a baking sheet is perfect for roasting vegetables and baking simple desserts.

By having these essential kitchen tools, you’ll be equipped to cook a wide range of budget-friendly meals while living abroad.

Budget-friendly recipes for expats

Cooking on a budget doesn’t mean sacrificing flavor or variety. There are plenty of delicious and affordable recipes that you can prepare as an expat living abroad.

One budget-friendly recipe that is always a hit is a vegetable stir-fry. This versatile dish allows you to use up any leftover vegetables and customize the flavors to your liking. Simply sauté your choice of vegetables in a bit of oil, add your favorite sauce or seasoning, and serve with rice or noodles.

Another budget-friendly option is a hearty bean soup. Beans are an excellent source of protein and fiber, and they are incredibly affordable. Combine canned beans with vegetables, herbs, and spices for a flavorful and nutritious meal. Pair it with a side of crusty bread for a complete and satisfying dinner.

If you’re craving something more substantial, consider making a batch of homemade pizza. Making your own pizza dough is simple and cost-effective.

Top it with your favorite ingredients and bake until golden and bubbly. Not only is homemade pizza more affordable than ordering takeout, but it’s also a fun and creative way to experiment with different toppings.

For a sweet treat, try baking a batch of banana bread. Overripe bananas are often sold at discounted prices, making them a perfect ingredient for budget-friendly baking.

Combine mashed bananas with flour, sugar, and a few pantry staples to create a moist and flavorful loaf. Enjoy it for breakfast or as a snack throughout the day.

These are just a few examples of the many budget-friendly recipes you can try as an expat living abroad. Get creative, experiment with local ingredients, and enjoy the process of cooking delicious meals without breaking the bank.

Benefits of Cooking Your Own Meals

Cooking your own meals as an expat has numerous benefits. Not only does it allow you to recreate the flavors and dishes you love from your home country, but it also gives you control over the ingredients and the ability to customize each dish to your liking.

By cooking at home, you can ensure that your meals are nutritious, flavorful, and suited to your dietary preferences.

Additionally, cooking at home can be a great way to save money. Eating out in a foreign country can be expensive, and by cooking your own meals, you can significantly reduce your food expenses.

Furthermore, cooking can be a creative outlet and a way to relax and unwind after a busy day. It allows you to experiment with different flavors and techniques, and the sense of accomplishment you feel when you create a delicious meal is truly rewarding.

Easy Cooking Recipes for Beginners

If you’re new to cooking or simply looking for easy recipes to get started, we’ve got you covered. Here are a few simple recipes that are perfect for beginners:

One-Pot Pasta

Ingredients: – 1 pound pasta of your choice – 1 can diced tomatoes – 1 onion, chopped – 2 cloves garlic, minced – 2 cups vegetable broth – 1 teaspoon dried basil – 1 teaspoon dried oregano – Salt and pepper to taste – Grated Parmesan cheese for serving


1. In a large pot, heat some olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and minced garlic, and sauté until fragrant.

2. Add the diced tomatoes, vegetable broth, dried basil, dried oregano, salt, and pepper to the pot. Stir to combine.

3. Add the pasta to the pot and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer until the pasta is cooked al dente, stirring occasionally.

4. Once the pasta is cooked, remove the pot from the heat and let it sit for a few minutes to allow the sauce to thicken. 5. Serve the pasta hot, topped with grated Parmesan cheese.

Sheet Pan Chicken and Vegetables

Ingredients: – 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts – 1 pound baby potatoes, halved – 2 cups broccoli florets – 1 bell pepper, sliced – 1 red onion, sliced – 2 tablespoons olive oil – 2 cloves garlic, minced – 1 teaspoon dried thyme – Salt and pepper to taste – Fresh lemon wedges for serving


1. Preheat your oven to 400°F (200°C).

2. In a large bowl, combine the halved baby potatoes, broccoli florets, bell pepper slices, red onion slices, olive oil, minced garlic, dried thyme, salt, and pepper. Toss to coat the vegetables in the oil and seasonings.

3. Place the chicken breasts on a baking sheet and arrange the seasoned vegetables around them.

4. Roast the chicken and vegetables in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are tender.

5. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and let the chicken rest for a few minutes before serving.

6. Serve the sheet pan chicken and vegetables hot, with fresh lemon wedges on the side.

These easy recipes are perfect for beginners and require minimal effort and ingredients. They are great options for busy expats who want to enjoy home-cooked meals without spending hours in the kitchen.

Quick and Healthy Meals for Busy Expats

As an expat, you may lead a busy lifestyle, juggling work, family, and other commitments. It’s important to prioritize your health and well-being by fueling your body with nutritious meals. Here are a few quick and healthy meal ideas for busy expats:

Quinoa Salad with Roasted Vegetables

Ingredients: – 1 cup quinoa – 2 cups water or vegetable broth – 2 cups mixed roasted vegetables (such as bell peppers, zucchini, and eggplant) – 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved – 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese – 2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (such as parsley, basil, or mint) – Juice of 1 lemon – 2 tablespoons olive oil – Salt and pepper to taste


1. Rinse the quinoa under cold water and drain well.

2. In a medium saucepan, bring the water or vegetable broth to a boil. Add the quinoa and reduce the heat to low. Cover the saucepan and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the quinoa is tender and the liquid is absorbed. Fluff the quinoa with a fork and let it cool.

3. In a large bowl, combine the cooked quinoa, roasted vegetables, cherry tomatoes, crumbled feta cheese, chopped fresh herbs, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Toss to combine.

4. Serve the quinoa salad chilled or at room temperature.

Stir-Fried Tofu with Vegetables

Ingredients: – 1 block firm tofu, drained and cubed – 2 tablespoons soy sauce – 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce – 1 tablespoon sesame oil – 2 cloves garlic, minced – 1 tablespoon grated ginger – 2 cups mixed stir-fry vegetables (such as bell peppers, broccoli, snap peas, and carrots) – 2 green onions, sliced – Cooked rice or noodles for serving


1. In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and sesame oil.

2. Heat some oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the minced garlic and grated ginger, and stir-fry for about 1 minute.

3. Add the cubed tofu to the wok and stir-fry for another 3-4 minutes, or until the tofu is lightly browned.

4. Add the stir-fry vegetables to the wok and cook for 5-6 minutes, or until they are tender-crisp.

5. Pour the sauce over the tofu and vegetables, and toss to coat.

6. Remove the wok from the heat and sprinkle the sliced green onions over the stir-fry.

7. Serve the stir-fried tofu and vegetables hot, over cooked rice or noodles.

These quick and healthy meals are packed with nutrients and can be prepared in a short amount of time. They are perfect for busy expats who want to maintain a balanced diet without sacrificing flavor or quality.

Traditional Recipes from Your Home Country

One of the best ways to feel connected to your home country while living abroad is by cooking traditional recipes from your culture.

These recipes are a taste of nostalgia and can bring back memories of family gatherings and celebrations. Here are two easy traditional recipes from different countries around the world:

Spaghetti Carbonara (Italy)

Ingredients: – 1 pound spaghetti – 4 ounces pancetta or bacon, diced – 4 large egg yolks – 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese – Salt and pepper to taste – Chopped fresh parsley for garnish


1. Cook the spaghetti in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water.

2. In a large skillet, cook the pancetta or bacon over medium heat until crispy. Remove from the heat and set aside.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and grated Parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Return the drained pasta to the pot and add the cooked pancetta or bacon. Pour the egg yolk mixture over the pasta and toss to coat. The heat from the pasta will cook the eggs and create a creamy sauce. If the pasta seems dry, add some of the reserved cooking water to loosen it up.

5. Serve the spaghetti carbonara hot, garnished with chopped fresh parsley.

Chicken Biryani (India)

Ingredients: – 2 cups basmati rice – 1 pound chicken, cut into pieces – 1 large onion, thinly sliced – 2 cloves garlic, minced – 1 tablespoon grated ginger – 1 cup plain yogurt – 2 tablespoons biryani masala – 1 teaspoon turmeric powder – 1 teaspoon chili powder – 1 cinnamon stick – 4 cardamom pods – 4 cloves – 1 bay leaf – Salt to taste – Chopped fresh cilantro and mint for garnish


1. Rinse the basmati rice under cold water and drain well.

2. In a large bowl, combine the chicken pieces, thinly sliced onion, minced garlic, grated ginger, plain yogurt, biryani masala, turmeric powder, chili powder, and salt. Mix well to coat the chicken in the marinade. Let it marinate for at least 30 minutes, or overnight for best results.

3. In a large pot, heat some oil over medium heat. Add the cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, cloves, and bay leaf, and sauté for a minute to release their flavors.

4. Add the marinated chicken to the pot and cook for 5-6 minutes, or until the chicken is browned.

5. Add the rinsed basmati rice to the pot and stir to combine with the chicken and spices.

6. Pour enough water into the pot to cover the rice and chicken by about an inch. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the rice is cooked and the liquid is absorbed.

7. Remove the pot from the heat and let it sit, covered, for 5 minutes. 8. Fluff the rice with a fork and garnish with chopped fresh cilantro and mint.

Tips for meal planning and batch cooking while abroad

Saving money on food while overseas is possible with careful meal planning and preparing in bulk.

You may save time, money, and effort by preparing food in bulk and eating more strategically.

Make a plan for the week’s meals and stick to it. Think about how much time you have, what you already have on hand, and what new recipes you would like to attempt.

Plan your meals in a way that allows you to use up ingredients efficiently and reduce waste. Create a list of what you need to buy at the store based on your meal plan.

Dedicate a few hours to batch cooking once you have your meal plan and supplies prepared. Make more of the basics like rice, pasta, and meats.

You can divide them up and keep them in the fridge or freezer until you are ready to utilize them. This manner, you may save time and money throughout the week by having the building blocks for a variety of meals already prepared.

Making meals in bulk also lets you save money by taking advantage of deals. If you find a great deal on a certain food, buy it in bulk and incorporate it into your meal plan. You can save time and money in the long term by stocking up on bulk items rather than making frequent, impromptu journeys to the store.

It is not just about cooking in bulk; leftovers can be put to good use, too. Vegetables that have been roasted can be used to make a tasty spaghetti sauce or added to a salad as leftovers. To prevent unnecessary expenditures and food waste, try your hand at repurposing leftovers into entirely new meals.

Putting in the time and effort to plan meals and prepare in bulk at the beginning will save time and money in the long term. By having a well-thought-out meal plan and ready-made components, you will be able to enjoy delicious and budget-friendly meals without spending too much time in the kitchen.

Exploring local markets and street food for affordable ingredients

Exploring local markets and street food is not only a great way to immerse yourself in the culture of your host country but also an opportunity to find affordable ingredients for your meals.

Local markets are often a treasure trove of fresh produce, spices, and ingredients that are significantly cheaper than those found in supermarkets.

Take the time to explore different markets in your area and get to know the local vendors. They can offer valuable advice on budget-friendly ingredients and even share their favorite recipes.

Street food is another budget-friendly option for expats living abroad. Street vendors often offer a variety of delicious and affordable dishes that reflect the local cuisine.

From savory snacks to sweet treats, you’ll find a wide range of options to satisfy your cravings without breaking the bank. Street food is not only a great way to try new flavors but also a convenient and inexpensive alternative to cooking at home.

When exploring local markets and street food, be open to trying new ingredients and flavors. Ask for recommendations from locals and vendors, and don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone.

You might discover new favorite ingredients and dishes that you can incorporate into your budget-friendly cooking.

How to make the most of leftovers while living abroad

Making the most of leftovers is a skill that every budget-conscious expat should master. Leftovers can be transformed into new and exciting meals, saving you time, money, and food waste.

One simple way to repurpose leftovers is by turning them into delicious sandwiches or wraps. Leftover roasted chicken can be shredded and turned into a flavorful filling for a sandwich, while leftover roasted vegetables can add a burst of flavor and texture to a wrap.

Get creative with your fillings and add some fresh greens and condiments to create a satisfying meal.

Another way to make the most of leftovers is by incorporating them into salads or grain bowls. Leftover grilled meat can be sliced and added to a bed of greens, along with some chopped vegetables and a drizzle of dressing.

Leftover cooked grains such as rice or quinoa can be the base for a nourishing grain bowl, topped with leftover roasted vegetables, a protein of your choice, and a flavorful sauce.

If you have a variety of leftovers, consider making a stir-fry or a fried rice dish. Simply sauté the leftovers with some oil, garlic, and soy sauce, and serve over rice or noodles. This is a quick and easy way to create a new meal using ingredients you already have on hand.

Finally, don’t forget about soups and stews. Leftover roasted vegetables or cooked meat can be added to a pot of simmering broth, along with some herbs and spices, to create a hearty and comforting dish. This is a great way to use up small amounts of leftovers and create a flavorful meal with minimal effort.

Making the most of leftovers requires some creativity and experimentation, but it’s a valuable skill that will help you minimize food waste and save money. Don’t be afraid to mix and match ingredients and try new flavor combinations.

Budget-friendly cooking hacks for expats

When it comes to cooking on a budget while living abroad, there are several hacks that can help you save money and make the most out of your ingredients.

One budget-friendly cooking hack is to repurpose vegetable scraps. Instead of throwing away carrot tops, celery leaves, and onion skins, save them to make homemade vegetable broth.

Simply simmer the scraps in water for an hour or two, strain the liquid, and use it as a base for soups, stews, and sauces. This not only reduces food waste but also adds extra flavor to your dishes.

Another hack is to buy frozen fruits and vegetables. Frozen produce is often more affordable than fresh, and it retains its nutritional value and flavor.

Stock up on frozen fruits and vegetables to have them on hand for smoothies, stir-fries, and soups. They are convenient and versatile ingredients that can be used in a variety of dishes.

Additionally, consider buying cheaper cuts of meat. While they may require longer cooking times or different cooking techniques, cheaper cuts of meat can be just as flavorful and tender as more expensive cuts.

Braising, slow cooking, or marinating can transform tough cuts of meat into delicious and budget-friendly meals.

If you have limited storage space or are constantly on the move, consider investing in a compact and versatile kitchen gadget such as an Instant Pot or a slow cooker.

These appliances allow you to prepare a wide range of dishes with minimal effort and can be used for multiple cooking methods, from pressure cooking to sautéing and slow cooking. They are perfect for batch cooking and preparing meals in advance.

Lastly, don’t overlook the power of spices and herbs. A little bit of seasoning can go a long way in transforming simple ingredients into flavorful and satisfying meals.

Experiment with different spice blends and fresh herbs to add depth and complexity to your dishes. They are affordable and readily available in most markets.

By incorporating these budget-friendly cooking hacks into your culinary routine, you’ll be able to save money, reduce food waste, and create delicious meals that won’t strain your wallet.

Conclusion and final thoughts

If you are an expat living abroad, learning to cook on a budget is a great way to save money and get a taste of the local culture through food.

Follow the advice in this manual to prepare meals that are both inexpensive and representative of the cuisine of your host nation.

There are countless ways to indulge your sense of taste without breaking the bank, such as making smart purchases at local markets and learning to cook inexpensively. Cooking may be fun and rewarding if you approach it with an open mind and a willingness to experiment.

Do not let a limited budget prevent you from trying new foods, whether you are a student, working professional, or globetrotting nomad. You may enjoy the local cuisine without breaking the bank if you plan ahead and are open to new experiences.

Saving money in the kitchen when living abroad is not the only benefit. It is an opportunity to experiment with food, test your culinary limits, and make something delicious that will fill you up inside and out. Enjoy the experience of learning how to eat well on a limited budget while living abroad.

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