For ‘Food Lovers’ out there…
As well as the enjoyment of meeting new people and visiting new places, for both of us, food is not only a major highlight, but plays an inherent part of our whole travelling experience.
Whether it be sampling street food from the local night market or sitting down to fine dining in a local restaurant, tasting the culinary delights on offer has helped us to gain a better understanding and appreciation of the traditions and etiquette of other cultures.
From the freshly caught squid from the South China Sea, that we sampled in El Nido, Philippines, to the tasty barbecued kangaroo steak we devoured on the Capricorn Coast in Australia… These local foods offered us a window into local life, particularly in South East Asia where many dishes are straight from farm to fork (or chopstick!)
Here are a selection of our favourite dishes that we sampled along the way.
Grilled tilapia fish from the Night Market in Luang Prabang, Laos, fresh from the Mekong River.
Deep fried starfish – Beijing Night Market, China.
Pad Thai, one of our favourite dishes in Thailand – chicken, noodles, beansprouts, chilli, peanut and lime – first sampled in Bangkok. (Also on the plate: rice, chicken with cashew nuts and steamed vegetables.)
Grilled frog from The Temple Bar Restaurant, Pub Street, – Siem Reap, Cambodia. “Just tastes like chicken!”
Amok Curry – fish cooked in banana leaf with thick coconut cream and galangal – Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Grilled stuffed squid with homemade coleslaw – El Nido, The Philippines.
More Chinese dumplings. We enjoyed the stuffed bread bun type as well as the stuffed pasta dough type dumplings, dipped in a chilli sauce – Guilin, China.
Dumplings for breakfast – Hanoi, Vietnam.
Mixed Sushi Platter – Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Indian vegetarian selection, served on banana leaf – Cameron Highlands, Malaysia.
Tandoori chicken with garlic naan – Penang, Malaysia.
Chicken Madras, extra hot – Hoi An, Vietnam.
Fresh fish baguette, caught from the Bosphorus – Istanbul, Turkey.
Freshly made noodles, with stir fried vegetables – Yangshuo, China.
Clay pot rice with chilli – Guilin, China.
Kangaroo steak, grilled on the barbie – East Coast Australia.
Deep fried cicada, covered in chilli and cumin – Kaifeng, China.
Deep fried scorpion – Beijing Night Market, China.
Sweet & sour chicken with vegetables and cashew nuts – Beijing, China.
Amazing cakes and gateau – Manila, The Philippines.
We try to avoid fast food chains whilst we are away (although we did succumb to the odd KFC in China, whilst backpacking there for 3 months as noodles began to lose their appeal).
What we realised very quickly is to avoid restaurants in heavily touristy areas that are usually over priced, and seek out places that are filled with locals, as these have proved to be the best choice in terms of flavour, quality, service and price. Albeit you sometimes have to turn a blind eye to the cleanliness, depending on which part of the world you are in and how strict their hygiene laws are!
We tried to learn some key words in the local language to help us read menus and place orders – particularly useful when people do not speak English (and it is ignorant to assume that everyone does). Carrying a phrase book with our favourite dishes highlighted really helped us in China. Alternatively we used the ‘point and nod’ method if we saw a dish on someone else’s table that we liked the look of. Beware – you cannot always go by picture menus, as what you think the picture shows, does not always turn out to be what you are expecting!
We learned to use chopsticks. Locals really appreciate you taking the time to eat following their own etiquette. (That does not mean you have to throw food waste under the table, or spit on the floor, as we have seen happen in China!) The Farang (foreigner) using chopsticks has caught people’s attention and facilitated many conversations for us, as locals stand and watch us bemused, and start to chat.
Take the time to research what the local dish is and actually try it. It is a travesty for instance, if you make it all the way across China to the Sichuan Province and never sample a Sichuan Hot Pot!
If you get the chance, take a local cookery class. What better way to find out about a place than to visit the local market and learn how to make a local dish using fresh local ingredients. As well as enhancing your own understanding, you will also be putting something back into the community by paying for the privilege.
Seek out the local night market. This is usually one of the best places to sample lots of different local snacks and delicacies. What you buy is usually cooked in front of you and is much cheaper than what you would pay in a restaurant. They are also great places for people watching and for finding the most weird and wonderful in foodie treats!
Do not calorie count! It is difficult in some places to avoid fried foods and foods cooked with lots of oil. To compensate for this we did a few extra laps of the night market whilst deciding what we would eat!
And most of all, savour every moment! You can’t say you don’t like something if you’ve never even tried it.
What are your favourite tasty treats from around the globe? What should we definitely try and where? Share your recommendations with us here.