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Order Food by Price Not Weight Travel Tip

Travel tip: order food by price not weight. When you go up to a deli counter or into a market just about anywhere in the world the vendor typically asks how much of a particular food you would like in weight. If you’re in a country where you don’t speak a local language it is [...]

Travel tip: order food by price not weight.

When you go up to a deli counter or into a market just about anywhere in the world the vendor typically asks how much of a particular food you would like in weight. If you’re in a country where you don’t speak a local language it is sometimes challenging to explain that you would like a quarter kilo of a given food. And even if you do speak the language who really knows what a kilo of broccoli is? How much beef makes up a half pound? What the hell is a kilo anyway? What the hell is a pound? Come on now, you really expect me to compute decimals here just to get some onions? 

It is also awkward when you order a certain weight of a food item and the vendor piles it on the scale, puts it in a bag, and slaps a price on it that is far more than what you want to pay. I suppose you could ask the price of what you want, compute the cost by how much you want by weight, covert this amount to your base currency, and then order — but by this time you’ve probably really annoyed the vendor by staring off blankly into space for so long.

There is a simpler way to order raw food.

I’ve often tried ordering by number — I want two of this, one of this, three of that — but, for some reason, 8 times out of 10 this is not understood (even in places where I speak the language well) and I find the vendor scooping up way more of something than what I ordered and putting it on the scale.

Again, there is a simpler way.

To make ordering from markets or at the deli or butcher counters in supermarkets I’ve found it far easier to order by price. I would like 10 pesos of carrots, 2 dollars of potato salad, 10 RMB worth of steak.

Once being in a country for a few days it becomes pretty easy to estimate the prices of basic foods. Almost anywhere in the world you’re looking at a scale between 50 cents and US$3 in the local currency for ordering a reasonable portion of just about any type of raw food. For starters, I usually order a $US1 portion of a given food to see how much it gets me. If it’s too less I order more, too much I tell the vendor to take some off the scale.

Learning numbers and commerce words are the first things a traveler needs to know of a new language, and money is a scale of measurement that everyone understands. When I go into a market or up to a deli I don’t order food by weight or number, I order by the price I want to pay.

Filed under: Food, Travel Tips

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 88 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3411 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Rochester, New York

2 comments… add one

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  • Jack April 20, 2012, 12:12 pm

    Good advice, Wade. I’m doing the same when I am unsure of the price of something or don’t care how much of it I’m getting. Market prices can be so bewildering, especially when you don’t know the language. When dealing with the dried fruit and nut vendors out here in Xinjiang, it’s imperative to order food by price or else you will find yourself with very large and expensive bags of dried fruit and nuts. 🙂

    — Another tip is to have the exact change available. Once you visit on a regular basis you have no problem getting your change, but sometimes on your first visit to a vendor, they may act like they don’t understand and that 10 RMB of Broccoli turns into all of that 20 RMB (Or 50 RMB) bill you gave them. Yes, imagine, 20 RMB of cherry tomatoes…it happened to me.

    — A second extra tip is to visit the same vendor every time you go to the market, as long as they are treating you right. I buy lots of vegetables every couple of days here and I make it a point to visit the same vendor. The same for my preferred fruit vendor. If a vendor knows that you come back to her every time, she’ll take care of you.

    I’ll end this comment by saying that fresh fruits and vegetables in much of the world is ridiculously cheap so be conservative with the amounts or else you might be inundated with vegetables.

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    • Wade Shepard April 20, 2012, 8:19 pm

      Man, you are a good traveler. Everything you say here indicates that you’ve been doing this a long time and care enough to learn from trial and error. It is amazing how many travelers don’t would fail the Pavlov tests, and continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. Sure, I make all kinds of screw ups when traveling, but I only make each one once haha. Anyway, your two additional tips are real good: relationships are key to making travel and living abroad easier — even if they’re just temporary. If you’re happy with someone’s service it makes life easier to keep going back to them rather than trying to go to someone new each time. They really do take care of you. The exact change first time tips is great as well — this saves lots of hassles.

      Thanks for the comments.

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