Street food in Taiwan has a charm that restaurants just can’t match. There’s a distinct pleasure to be found in wandering through the labyrinthine stalls glowing with colourful signage; watching your food made to order; inhaling the changing aromas at each stage of preparation – it’s as if the sights, sounds and spirit of the island become yet another ingredient in each dish’s recipe.

Here’s a quick introduction to roadside feasting in China‘s autonomous isle, one of the world’s most delectable foodie hubs. From candied fruit on a skewer to stinky tofu that tastes sort of like blue cheese, here are 10 Taiwanese street foods you absolutely must try.

As the only democracy in the Chinese speaking world and the most progressive city for LGBTQ+ rights in Asia, a legacy of artists and activists have worked to make Taiwan’s capital a place where culture, progression and creativity thrive.

Now, a new wave of resident creatives are re-energizing the city. Cutting-edge art galleries stand next to traditional teahouses, and basement club techno still murmurs in the streets as local markets set up their fare with the sunrise. Affordable, safe, efficient and exciting, this sea of glass, concrete and palm trees is an urban explorer’s dreamland. For travellers looking to unearth Taiwan’s underground scene, here are eight tips for discovering cool Taipei at its best.

1. Don’t stop drinking coffee

Taiwan’s celebrated tea culture can be traced back more than three hundred years. Home to some of the world’s best greens and oolongs, tea here is both a science and a philosophy, a remedy for body and soul.

While you’ll find no shortage of old-school teahouses, the same spirit of craft and pride has been applied to Taipei’s third wave coffee scene – and the results are glorious. Interesting cafés are popping up everywhere in the city, from over the top chemistry lab-esque B Coffee & Space in Da’an to the award-winning baristas and Scandi-inspired minimalism of Fika Fika in Zhongshan.

Whether you spend the day shooting espresso or sipping cups of siphoned single-origin brew, you’ll quickly discover why Taipei seems set to become the world’s next hub of café culture.

photo by Colt St. George

2. Tap into the city’s creative scene in Zhongshan and Dongmen

Taipei was named World Design Capital 2016 for a reason. Everyone from young architects to underground record labels seem to be embracing a new “made in Taiwan” pride that’s at once trendy and distinctly Taiwanese. The neighbourhoods of Zhongshan and Dongmen are perfect for testing the waters.

While the main streets may feel a bit commercial, amble the historic back lanes of Zhongshan district and you’ll discover well-curated vintage shops like Blue Monday, cute design boutiques and stylish records stores like Waiting Room. Taipei Artist Village – an arts institution and residency open to local and international creatives – is also worth popping by.

Dongmen is even more gratifying. While the upscale main streets boast everything from craft bubble tea to the latest in Taiwanese interior design, hit the quiet residential alleyways and you’ll find quirky art cafés, craft beer bars, dusty Chinese antique shops and good old fashioned Taiwanese comfort food spots like James Kitchen on Yongkang Street.

3. Sample the street food, especially stinky tofu

Be it in London, New York or Berlin, street food has become undeniably, and often tragically, hip. Forgo the pomp, faux-grit and absurd prices of the latest in questionable Western street food trends and rejoice in Taipei’s affordable authenticity.

From notable night markets like Ningxia and Liaoning to nameless back alley daytime stalls serving dishes perfected over generations, there’re an overwhelming variety of delicious local dishes to sample. Fatty braised pork on rice, oyster omelettes, beef noodle soup, dumplings and shaved ice piled high with fresh fruit are good for starters.

However, your ultimate quest should be to conquer the infamous chòu dòufu, or stinky tofu. It smells like a rotting corpse, but possesses a flavour profile of such intense complexity most hardcore foodies call it sublime. Others spit it up immediately.

Pixabay / CC0

4. Give vegetarianism a try

If you’re a vegan or vegetarian having trouble finding meat-free eats, keep an eye out for restaurant signs with enormous, glaring swastikas. The symbol is associated with Buddhism in China long before it’s appropriation in Europe and marks the restaurant as entirely vegetarian.

There are loads around the city, selling delectable Buddhist meals at ridiculously cheap prices. Many are buffet style, where whatever you’ve stacked on your plate is paid for by weight. The selection is usually too vast to try all of in a single go, which will keep you coming back for more.

5. From dilapidation to design: check out the city’s former art squats

Maverick Taiwanese artists were the first to recognize the potential of Taipei’s abandoned industrial buildings, squatting and staging illegal performances in these derelict-turned-creative spaces. Though authorities were quite resistant to their presence initially, after much protest spaces such as Huashan 1914 Creative Park and Songshan Cultural and Creative Park have become governmentally protected cultural centres.

Today these spaces are generally buzzing with life, hosting a plethora of fun adult and family events in on-site galleries, concept stores, cinemas, studios, concert halls and more. While governmental commercialization of these spaces has blunted their cutting-edge origins, they still feel undeniably special and worthwhile.

photo by Colt St. George

6. Lose yourself in Taipei’s nightlife

Home to a thriving underground scene, Taipei’s nightlife and music scenes are simply awesome. From indie garage rockers like Skip Skip Ben Ben, to techno, noise and experimental hip hop, putting the effort into exploring Taipei’s underground sounds will reveal an entirely different dimension to the city and provide opportunities to mingle with the artists who are making it happen.

Revolver in Zhongzheng is a laidback and friendly institution that throws everything from metal to indie nights, while F*cking Place (though the club doesn’t use an asterisk) is definitely among the city’s coolest dive-bars – with the added bonus of ridiculously cheap beer. For techno and electronic parties get to Korner, a subsection of well-known club The Wall. Pipe and APA Mini are also great venues for live music.

7. Not feeling the party? Try a reading rave

With a vibrant population of artists, intellectuals and activists perhaps it’s no surprise that print still holds a special place in Taiwan. The popularity of Eslite in Dunnan branch, Taipei’s massive 24 hour bookstore and one of the world’s only to keep such hours, speaks for itself. Curl up in this beautifully designed booktopia and join the locals as they pore over pages all night long.

On a smaller-scale, keep an eye out for the artisanal stationery shop Pinmo Pure Store, Gin Gin Store (the first gay bookstore opened in Greater China) and hip new bookish concept stores. In this respect, Pon Ding is an absolute standout – a friendly, three-story collaborative creative space housing art, independent publications, quality magazines and pop-up events. Of course, they’ve also got a brilliant café.

photo credit: Pon Ding

8. Get back to nature

Every once in a while you need to leave the urban grind behind and unwind in the natural world. Thankfully, nature is never far off in Taiwan.

The high speed railway from Taipei can have you beaching on the island’s subtropical southern coast in less than two hours, while verdant mountain trails and popular surf breaks are easily accessible by bus. If you’re feeling adventurous, delve further into the mountains to experience the colourful cultures of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples.

But whenever you find yourself recharged and craving that big-city buzz it’s a quick train trip back to the creative playground that is Taipei.

EVA Air, a Star Alliance member, flies daily from London Heathrow to Taipei, offering passengers award winning service and a choice of three cabin classes: Royal Laurel Class (Business Class), Elite Class (Premium Economy) and Economy Class. Featured image: Pon Ding. See more of Taiwan with the Taiwanese tourist board

Spain is known throughout the world for its Mediterranean diet, heavily featuring seafood, meat and fresh vegetables, all splashed with a healthy dose of olive oil. But while you may think Spanish cuisine is all about tapas, paella and sangria, there are many more dishes that are not so well known, but are just as popular among the locals. Here’s our pick of the best Spanish food on offer throughout the country.

Migas

Originally from the southern Spanish province of Andalucía, migas is a firm favourite among many Spaniards, and consists of a plate of fried breadcrumbs or flour, mixed with green peppers, garlic and pieces of meat, such as chorizo (spicy pork sausage).

Salmorejo

A bit like gazpacho, salmorejo is a thick cold soup made from tomatoes, stale bread, garlic and olive oil. A typical dish from the Andalucían city of Córdoba, it is often served sprinkled with chunks of ham and pieces of hard-boiled egg.

Fideuà

Catalunya’s answer to the paella, this dish is made with short noodles instead of rice and also features seafood such as prawns, mussels and squid. Meat versions are often on the menu too. Like paella, it’s flavoured with saffron strands. Fideuà is traditionally served with aioli – a type of garlic mayonnaise made from olive oil.

Cocido Madrileño

Madrid’s most famous dish is a kind of thick stew. Recipes vary slightly, but most feature a mix of chickpeas, onions, carrots, potatoes, chorizo, bone marrow, ham and chunks of bacon. Andalucía and other regions of Spain also have their own version, featuring different combinations of meat and vegetables.

Pisto

One for the vegetarians, this delicious dish is made from roasted red peppers, aubergines, courgettes, onions and garlic in a tomato sauce. It originates from the Spanish region of Castilla-La Mancha – where the famous Manchego cheese comes from – and is often served with a fried egg on the top.

Pulpo a la Gallega

As the name suggests, this is Galician style octopus that’s chopped into chunks, boiled and then served on top of sliced potatoes and sprinkled with smoked paprika. This is a typical dish from the province of Galicia, in the northwest of the country.

Image by Javier Lastras on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Fabada Asturiana

The signature dish from the Spanish region of Asturias, this hearty stew features white fava beans mixed with bacon, chorizo and black pudding. It’s spiced with smoked paprika and saffron.

Flan

This is one of the most common Spanish desserts, found on almost any menu. Similar to the French crème caramel, it’s made from eggs, sugar and condensed or evaporated milk, topped with a thin caramel-like sugary syrup.

Arroz con Leche

Another of the most typical desserts in Spain is arroz con leche. Simply translated as rice with milk, it’s Spain’s version of the British rice pudding. Made from risotto-type rice, milk and sugar, it’s flavoured with cinnamon and often lemon peel.

Vermouth

Forget gintonics, vermouth is now making a comeback in Spain. A type of sweet fortified wine, vermouth comes in red or white and is served chilled with a few cubes of ice, and often an olive on stick.

It is drunk at la hora de vermut (literally the hour of vermouth), around midday and acts like an aperitif before the main meal – eaten around 2pm. Vermouth is especially good with tapas plates such as anchovy-filled olives or small pickled fish called boquerones.

Image by JaulaDeArdilla (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Tinto de Verano

Instead of asking for a glass of sangria, do as the locals do and ask for a tinto de verano or summer wine. Very similar, but usually cheaper, tinto de verano is red wine mixed with fizzy lemonade.

Horchata

This cool summery drink hails from the Valencia region of Spain and has a milky, creamy texture. It’s actually tiger nut milk, made from pressed tiger nuts mixed with sugar, water and cinnamon. Tiger nuts are in fact not actually nuts at all, but small root vegetables that are grown in Spain, as well as north and west Africa.

Explore more of Spain with the Rough Guide to SpainCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go.

Food is often one of the highlights of a trip. Perhaps you can still taste that delightfully peanutty pad thai, or maybe you’re hungry for more of those New Orleans po’ boys. But foodie travel – one of our favourite travel trends – is more than just trying the local flavour. From cooking in the great outdoors to eating with new-found friends, there’s so much to experience when it comes to eating abroad. Here are ten of our essential foodie experiences:

Why go to Croatia? The unspoiled coastline, with its hundreds of islands and crystal clear waters. The gorgeous ancient walled cities, their beauty so unreal they find themselves starring in the Game of Thrones series and Star Wars movies. The food… wait, the food?

Perhaps that last reason is an afterthought, or maybe you’re concerned that this Balkan beauty isn’t much of a whizz in the kitchen. Croatia isn’t a destination that is known for its high quality cuisine after all – at least, not yet.

This is surely about to change, because this Adriatic superstar has a larder-full of fresh produce and a focus on traditional techniques and local sourcing. Here’s our pick of the very best foodie experiences Croatia has to offer. Tuck in, and find out why Balkan cuisine could well be the next big thing.

1. Pag cheese

Paški sir is a hard sheep’s cheese from the island of Pag has the taste of fresh sage dusted with crystals of sea salt. It’s as tangy as parmesan and as piquant as mature cheddar, and its flavour is the result of the sheep’s diet of wild herbs that carpet much of the island.

The island is linked to the mainland by a bridge at its southern end and a Jadrolinija ferry service from Prizna towards its northern extremity. Most of the island’s cheese producers are found around the town of Kolan, where there are also a couple of simple cheese shops and the Gligora cheese factory, which has tours and tastings.

2. Truffles (tartufi)

You don’t need much truffle in a dish to give it a substantial earthy kick, just a fine dusting of white truffle on top of your pasta or a shaving or two of black truffle with your morning scrambled eggs can turn an otherwise standard plate of food into a decadently pungent dish.

Istria in northern Croatia is one of the world’s best truffle hunting grounds, and both black and white truffles are found beneath the oak trees of the Motovun forest along the river Mirna – the black in winter and spring, the white in autumn. Head out hunting with Zigante Tartufi, who once found the world’s biggest truffle, a whopper at 1.31kg, then take a seat in the restaurant for lunch – every dish, from the steak right down to the ice cream, comes with truffle.

A new crop of truffles was found in late 2014 near Zadar (in a top secret location); slightly less pungent than their northern siblings, they’re served atop fresh local seafood (tuna tartare, Adriatic shrimp) at Kaštel restaurant.

Image by Bob on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

3. Grk wine

Bone dry, mouth-wateringly acidic and a taste so tart it just begs to be paired with the very freshest shellfish, Grk is the sort of wine it’s worth travelling for.

Good job really, since it’s only produced by a handful of vineyards around the town of Lumbarda on the island of Korčula (reached by Jadrolinija ferry from Split, Dubrovnik or Orebić on the mainland), the eponymous native grapes growing well in the sandy soil here.

Only a few hundred thousand bottles of Grk are made each year and the vast majority are snapped up by local hotels, which is a great excuse for dinner at Lešić Dimitri Palace, a seventeenth-century Bishop’s palace that is now home to a thoroughly modern hotel and restaurant. Start with a glass of Bire vineyard’s standard Grk, beautifully bone dry, before a bottle of their Grk Defora, aged sur lies (on the lees) for a deliciously yeasty flavour.

4. Beef stew

Beef stew should be so thick it doesn’t run across the plate, so dark it’s hard to discern meat from sauce and so hearty you need only one bowl for a complete meal.

Pašticada is all of these things, a meaty stew that takes hours, if not days, to prepare and is the pride and joy of every Croatian cook – if you spend Christmas Day in Croatia you will most likely be served this dish and no family will ever reveal their own special recipe. There will always be beef of course (generally silverside), as well as onions, wine and fruit, usually prunes.

Although pašticada can be found all over the country, it originates in Dalmatia and one of the best places to try it is Split, where waterfront konoba Fife is as popular with locals as it is with tourists. Order pašticada with gnocchi, and a glass of red wine.

5. Oysters

Love oysters? Then you’re going to love Ston. Don’t like the idea of slurping straight from the shell? Give it another go here and we reckon the briny treasures of the Adriatic will have you converted – these are some of the sweetest, tastiest oysters you’ll find anywhere.

They’ve been cultivated in the waters of Ston since Roman times and today, as you drive onto the southern end of the Pelješac peninsula, you’ll see the oyster beds just offshore.

Most visitors stop in Mali Ston for lunch overlooking the waters, but far quieter is Blaževo, where local company Delmata Travel will hook you up with oyster farmer and pisciculturist Dido for a boat trip out to the beds to pick your own. Returning to dry land, you’ll be served oysters along with sparkling wine and butarga, a cured fish roe that really is an acquired taste.

Image by Tim Venchus on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Explore more of Croatia with the Rough Guide to CroatiaCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go.

Italy has long been one of Europe’s most popular destinations. From the magnificent remnants of ancient Rome to the coolest in contemporary culture, secret beaches to snow-covered peaks, tranquil countryside to frenetic city streets, plus an all-pervasive passion for food – the allure of this boot-shaped nation has proven itself timeless.

With so much diversity, deciding where to go in Italy can be simply overwhelming. This one minute video guide will help you plan your trip.

Remember, even in the country’s most touristed destinations, you need only detour down a small city backstreet, or stop briefly in a nameless village, to discover the Italy of legend – an Italy that seems yours, and yours alone.

Surviving 42ºC (107ºF) desert heat, tramping hurricane-battered Pacific beaches and scaling lofty volcanoes, our hard-travelling authors have visited every corner of this vast, magnificent country – from the ancient caves of Baja California to the dense rainforest of the Lacandón Jungle.

To celebrate the publication of the new Rough Guide to Mexico, we’re sharing a few of their Mexico travel tips, including some of their favourite sights and experiences.

1. See dawn from a kayak

Paddling through the glassy, desert-backed waters of Bahía Concepción as the sun rises, surrounded by marine life, is an otherworldly experience.

Windy Playa Punta Arena is one of the best stretches of sand – and popular with windsurfers and kiteboarders. At Playa Santispac, some 5km further on, Ana’s offers cheap fish tacos and potent Bloody Mary as well as kayak rental and snorkelling gear.

2. Hit the road

Driving Highway 1, which runs 1711km from the US border to the southern tip of Baja California, rates as one of the world’s greatest road journeys.

Expect an enchanting drive featuring starry nights, vast deserts, isolated mountain ranges and empty beaches.

3. Get retro chic

The 1950s meets modern cool at Acapulco‘s Boca Chica hotel, a renovated resort carved into the cliff-face above the madness at Playa Caleta and decorated by Mexican artist Claudia Fernández.

The all-white rooms feature retro showers, flat-screen TVs, iPod docks and free wi-fi – plus there’s a luxurious spa, gym, massage cabañas and pool terrace.

Acapulco via Pixabay/CC0

4. Go subterranean swimming

The cenotes of northern Yucatán – vast sun-lit caverns filled with water – are magical places for a refreshing dip; X’keken and Samula are two of the best.

Shafik Meghji recently explored these and more, discovering why they were once considered sacred gateways to the Mayan underworld.

5. Get a window onto the Aztec world

Rent a boat and soak up the carnival atmosphere, flowers and traditional floating gardens at the Mexico City suburb of Xochimilco.

You can rent a boat on a weekday for less-crowded cruising, but Sundays are by far the most popular and animated day; Saturdays are lively, too, partly because of the produce market.

6. Go syncretic

The Iglesia de San Juan Bautista, in the village of San Juan Chamula in Chiapas, is an incredibly vibrant blend of Catholicism and animist tradition, with the local Maya praying on a floor of pine needles.

The area is home to the Tzotzil Maya, one of the most distinctive and intriguing communities in Mexico.

7. Party at the best underground club

You can’t get more underground than La Mina Club in Zacatecas – it’s inside the old El Edén mine shafts, right in the heart of the mountain and accessed on the same train used in the mine tour.

From 11pm it pumps with everything from Latin sounds to cheesy electronic techno music. But if you don’t enjoy being trapped in an enclosed space, beware this might not be the club for you…

Sunset in Zacatecas via Pixabay/CC0

8. Discover Mexico’s microbreweries

Baja California’s craft beer scene is expanding. Sample it in Tijuana at Plaza Fiesta, where locals often head without a specific place in mind, preferring to wander until they find a scene that appeals to them, or La Taberna, the city’s acclaimed microbrewery and congenial pub.

Elsewhere, Ensenada is fast developing its own craft brew scene, with local beer maker Wendlandt operating warehouse and tap room Cervecería Wendlandt for connoisseurs to sample its popular oatmeal stout and Vaquita Marina pale ale. Baja Sur’s original microbrewery, Baja Brewing Co in San José del Cabo serves pints such as Baja Blond and Peyote pale ale.

Explore more of Mexico with the Rough Guide to MexicoCompare flights, find toursbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go.

Snow-white beaches, giant coconut-eating crabs and karate-loving grannies: Okinawa is Japan but not as we know it. This alluring chain of sun-kissed, hibiscus-draped islands offers a blend of Southeast Asian heat, unique ‘un-Japanese’ culture and delicious, life-extending food. Andy Turner explores how to make the most of a trip to Japan’s subtropical paradise.

Find the elixir of (long) life

An hour’s drive north of Okinawa’s sprawling capital, Naha, the village of Ogimi is famous across Japan for having the most centenarians (people over 100 years old) in the country. In fact, you’re barely considered middle-aged when you hit 80 here.

This could all be down to the local diet: steaming bowls of dark green vegetables, tofu, fresh fish and muzuku seaweed, the latter hoovered up from the Okinawan seabed and exported across Japan. Or perhaps it’s the knobbly goyu cucumber, apparently packed with all kinds of medicinal goodies (and often served up fried with SPAM, of all things).

Whatever the secret, it’s probably no thanks to the local hooch, awomori, ‘island sake’ which can pack a 60% alcohol punch. But that shouldn’t stop you sampling a glass – try the smooth, three-year aged version from local distillery Chuko Awamori.

Image by Andy Turner

Learn to be a karate kid

Not only are people incredibly long-lived in Okinawa, chances are they’re also handy in a fight. Karate was invented here in the seventeenth century (80s movie buffs may remember a certain Mr Miyagi was Okinawan), and you’ll see young and old heading to the local dojo every week (though perhaps not catching flies with their chopsticks).

Okinawan karate is less about flashy moves and more a way of life – the ‘why’ more important than the ‘how’ as they put it. Enthusiasts can arrange lessons with an experienced sensei (instructor). Alternatively drop in to Naha’s Dojo Bar, to lap up the martial arts memorabilia and an ice-cold Orion beer.

Image by N i c o l a on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Kick back on Japan’s answer to Hawaii

Okinawa is often dubbed the ‘Japanese Hawaii’, and the comparison seems apt when you head to the outer islands or jima. With over 130 to choose from it’s tricky to pick out a favourite but Aka-jima (in the Kerama islands), a short if bumpy ferry ride from Naha is hard to beat for sheer beauty. Once the boat departs, you’re left with the sound of waves gently lapping against white sand and the scent of Ryūkyū pines in the sea breeze; you might even spot an elusive Kerama deer taking a dip.

For classic white-sand and emerald water eye candy you’ll need to hop on a plane to Ishigaki, part of the Yaeyama group of islands, 400km southwest of Naha. Here Kabira Bay is as close as Japan gets to Boracay or Waikiki Beach, with only half the level of commercialisation. There’s even a gloriously unpretentious hostel which makes for a tempting place to wake up.

Image by Visit Okinawa

Seek out some strange wildlife

The further you travel from the Japanese mainland Okinawa’s wildlife gets progressively weirder. On Hatoma in the Yaeyamas, huge armour-plated coconut crabs, up to a metre across, lumber past traffic to mate in the sea. A short boat ride away on Iriomote, tiny wild boar, half the size of their mainland cousins, roam the beaches snaffling up turtle eggs, while inland a rare miniature ‘leopard’, the Iriomote cat, prowls the forest.

Image by Visit Okinawa

Explore an ancient empire

Gliding into Naha, aboard the sleek airport monorail, you could be forgiven for thinking that not a single building survived World War II (the city was devastated during the US assault on Okinawa in April 1945). Yet hidden amongst the utilitarian modern architecture are several reminders of its heyday as the capital of the Kingdom of Ryūkyū.

An independent state sandwiched between Ming dynasty China and feudal Japan, Ryūkyū developed its own culture and language, before finally being annexed by the Japanese in the nineteenth century.

The influence of its neighbours can be seen at Shuri Castle, painstakingly rebuilt in the 1990s. Here, vermillion Chinese pagodas and ornate dragons stand side-by-side with minimalist Japanese rooms kitted out with tatami mats. Look up and you’ll spot shīsā or ‘lion dogs’, glaring down from the roof. This uniquely Okinawan mascot can be seen warding off evil spirits and typhoons across the islands.

Image by Yusuke Umezawa on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

See an underwater Atlantis

Diving is excellent across Okinawa (check out our rundown of the best sites) but the most intriguing is off tiny Yonaguni, an edge of the world kind of place, within binocular-spotting distance of Taiwan. As well as being a hotspot for hammerhead sharks, it’s also home to a mysterious series of ‘ruins’ that resemble a mini Atlantis. With giant sandstone terraces and steps seemingly cut out by hand, it’s tempting to believe this was the work of an ancient civilization and not just a quirk of geology.

Image by Inside Japan

Andy Turner travelled with Inside Japan who offer a twelve-night island hopping trip to Okinawa as well as specialist itineraries for karate and diving enthusiasts. For a video taster of the islands see Be Okinawa.

You’ve heard the one about not sticking your chopsticks straight up in rice, right? (It resembles funerary incense sticks).

Honestly? Don’t fret. Because let’s face it; you’ve got bigger problems than antiquated cultural faux-pas. Like how to actually order and eat a table-full of delicious Chinese food in a regular, everyday, non-touristy Chinese restaurant – in China. Here, Thomas O’Malley gives us a step-by-step guide.

1. Start early

First things first, aim to eat earlier than you might be used to. Many Chinese diners sit down for dinner at around 6pm, and it’s not uncommon for restaurants to be winding down by 9pm. But if you do miss last orders, it’s not the end of the world – chances are there’s a 24-hour McDonald’s around the corner.

2. Embrace a new ordering system

Typically in China, one person – the host – orders (and pays) for everyone, which is why usually only one menu will be given out by the server. And you can almost guarantee the menu will be beefier than a telephone directory, because restaurants in China pride themselves on the ability to make dozens, if not hundreds of dishes.

Restaurant staff expect to dawdle while you flick through the menu, choosing dishes as you go (and taking suggestions from your fellow diners). Of course, it’s up to you how you split the bill, but giving just one person ordering duties is more efficient than everyone taking a turn, especially as you’ll be sharing the food.

Image via Pixabay/CC0

3. Know your place (in the menu)

In a typical jia chang cai (family-style) restaurant, menus start with the house specials (often the fancy banquet dishes like whole seafood, spicy hot pot or Peking duck depending on the region), followed by cold salad dishes, meaty mains, stir-fried vegetables, soups, and at the back, staples like noodles, rice, steamed bread, dumplings and desserts.

It all depends where in China you are eating, of course!

In Beijing and the north, expect hearty roast lamb and duck, starchy noodles and lots of garlic. Chillis and the mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorn rule in central Sichuan (try the hot pot), while southern Cantonese food like dim sum, seafood and roasted meats will already be somewhat familiar if you’ve dined in Chinese restaurants in the West. Not to mention the southeast Asian flavours of Yunnan, Guizhou rice noodles, Hunan dry-pot dishes…

Despite the mind-blowing diversity of regional cuisines across China, there are some common dishes that most restaurants will know how to cook. Try these tasty (and foreigner-friendly) standards: jidan chaofan (egg-fried rice), xihongshi chao jidan (stir-fried tomatoes and eggs), gongbao jiding (diced chicken with peanuts and dried chilis), and pai huanggua (a cold salad of cucumber and garlic).

Sichuan noodles via Pixabay/CC0

4. Learn how much to order

A good rule of thumb is to order one dish per number of diners, plus soup and rice. (This is why dining in big groups is more fun – you can munch more and the cost per person is lower.) The concept of starters, mains and desserts doesn’t apply, so order everything at once.

For a table of six, plump for a couple of cold salad dishes, three to five hot ‘mains’, a vegetable, soup, and rice or noodles.

5. Master the art of balance

Part of the reason one person assumes ordering responsibilities is because a successful Chinese meal is the art of balance and harmony on the table: hot and cold, colour, nutrition, complimentary tastes and textures. That’s the theory, anyway. Or just get a fist-full of grilled lamb skewers and ice-cold beer and to hell with it.

According to traditional Chinese medicine, yin and yang refers to how different foods generate hot or cold energy in the body. Cucumber is yin, or cold, for example, while chili peppers are yang, or hot. A good Chinese meal should be a balance of yin and yang foods.

Make sense? Well this won’t: lobster is yang and crab is yin. Let’s call the whole thing off.

Spicy tofu via Pixabay/CC0

6. Get the basics down

Dishes are served in the middle of the table for diners to attack ‘family-style’; only rice is served individually. Just keep grazing away at those central dishes until you can graze no more.

At formal banquets you’ll have two sets of chopsticks – one to transfer food from the communal dishes to your bowl or plate, and one to eat with. But mostly you’ll just get one set. They are your friends. Treat them well. (And avoid those wasteful disposable ones.)

If a dish is too salty, eat a little of it over your plain rice to balance the seasoning. You’ll usually get dark vinegar and chilli oil on the table to add a sour or spicy note (often to noodle soups). Pro tip: the two link up to make a zingy dipping sauce for steamed or fried dumplings.

Image via Pixabay/CC0

7. Settle up with ease

When you’re ready to settle up, don’t be shy; it’s a fairly common practice to raise your voice to get the server’s attention. “Fuwu yuan” (waiter/waitress – or ‘xiaojie’ in the south) is heard every few minutes in ordinary restaurants.

And last of all, you might be pleased to know that, outside of hotels, tipping isn’t part of the culture at all.

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Buenos Aires is often associated with steaks, but they are far from the most common cut served up in the parrillas (meat restaurants) of Argentina‘s capital. In fact, many of the cuts are different from the European or North American standards. It’s often the tastier (and cheaper) bits of beef – and a fair amount of offal – that is most popular in BA, so here’s a guide to getting the most of parrilla menu and ordering like a local.

Firstly, here are the secrets to cracking the carta (menu). Asado is best translated as barbecue, parrilla (pronounced ‘parr-e-sha’ with the Buenos Aires accent) is the grill itself or the restaurant that specialises in serving meat, and parrillada is a platter of different types of meat, often served sizzling on a charcoal-heated grill. Achuras means offal.

It’s also worth remembering that all the meat is shared between everyone at the table, and it all arrives in a fairly strict order. Also non-negotiable is a bottle of Malbec, so fill up your glass, leave your preconceptions and squeamishness at the door and tuck in.

Chinchulines

Straight in at the deep end with chinchulines (chitterling). It doesn’t help that they look like what they are: small intestines. But crisped up they can be the highlight of an asado – imagine pâté wrapped in crispy crackling.

Molleja

The best thing on the menu (for this writer anyway). There are two types of molleja (sweetbreads). There is the thymus gland from the neck or the pancreas around the heart known as molleja de corazon. The latter are better, but both are served crispy on the outside and have a creamy scallop-like texture inside. They are delicately ‘offally’, and with a squirt of lemon a delectable dish.

Image by Magalie L’Abbé on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Morcilla

These little sausages, which usually appear alongside the chorizo at the beginning of a meal, are very similar to black pudding, though perhaps a little more peppery than you’ve had before.

Asado de tira

Once the offal and the chorizo have been gobbled up, it’s time to pay attention to the main meats. Asado de tira is probably the most common cut at an Argentinian asado. It is a long strip cut across the ribs with the tasty, fatty and fibrous meat dropping off the bone.

Vacio

Vacio is far from the most tender cut of beef, but is often the tastiest. It’s cheap and unctuously meaty; no wonder it’s on everyone’s plate.

Entraña

Known in the UK and US as the skirt steak (very trendy now), this is best flash grilled nice and red in the middle. It is rich in meaty flavour.

Image by Capitu (ou Marcela) on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Steaks

If, after the above wonderfully tasty cuts, you’re still not convinced to skip the steak, bife de chorizo (like sirloin) or ojo de bife (rib-eye) are the ones to watch out for.

Chimichurri

No asado is complete without the sauce chimichurri. Made from parsley, garlic, oil, oregano and vinegar, and sometimes with chilli flakes (it’s as spicy as Argentinian food gets), you quite simply can’t have your meat without it.

Provolone

Somehow cheese always seems unhealthier once it is melted, but who cares, you’ve just gorged on half a cow anyway. This little roundel of Italian cheese is grilled along with everything else and is, as you’d imagine, oozy and addictive.

Image by Isabelle Boucher on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Ensalada rusa

This salad has somehow become an asado standard. It is a mix of boiled potato, carrots, peas and hard-boiled egg, all mixed with loads of mayonnaise. It may be the only vegetable on the table, but it is by no means healthy.

The rest…

There are more dishes on the menu that even some Argentinians can’t stomach, not least of all the stomach or mondongo, which is common in hearty Andean stews.

The riñones are kidneys, the seso is the brain, pulmones are lungs, higado is liver, and the ubre is the udder. All of which is probably enough to make a vegetarian shudder.

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