Everyone speaks a little Japanese now – nigiri, maki, sashimi, nori, toro… The only problem is that sushi, delicious as it may be, is only one tiny facet of Japan’s varied cuisine. Here are a few other things worth looking out for when you’re there.

Shojin-ryori

Eating meat was banned in Japan for a long while, and for some Buddhist monks it’s still strictly verboten. Luckily, they have the joys of shōjin-ryōri to sustain them, Japan’s vegetarian temple cuisine, honed over centuries. The best places to try it are either at a temple (or one of the traditional restaurants which cluster around them) or at a cookery class.

Mariko in the historic city of Kamakura runs an excellent English-language class on shōjin-ryōri (alongside classes on other types of Japanese food), which provides both practical insight into how to make it and a glimpse of its fascinating history. Of course, you get the joy of eating what you made at the end, too, and maybe even attempting to recreate it at home.

Oyakodon

This is classic Japanese comfort food, simple and filling. It’s just rice (anything with “-don” on the end is rice with a hearty topping), chicken, egg, onions and a light sauce, but as with a lot of Japanese food, it’s the attention to the quality of the ingredients that makes it so appealing. Oh, and the deliciously dark humour of the name: “mother and child bowl”.

Oyakodon by Takoyaki King (license)

Okonomiyaki

This is pretty much as close as Japanese cuisine gets to junk food. The dish is based on a thick batter mixed with shredded cabbage, to which you add whatever you fancy (the name is literally “grilled whatever-you’d-like”), such as bacon, mochi, seafood, even cheese. Then, once it’s cooked, you cover it in a mouth-watering soy- and Worcestershire-based sauce (okonomi sauce), Kewpie mayonnaise, seaweed and bonito flakes. It’s best eaten in the Kansai region, especially Ōsaka; Tokyo has its own version of the dish, monjayaki, which is much gloopier and eaten with a tiny spatula rather than chopsticks.

Mizuno. by Miki Yoshito (license)

Okonomiyaki (again)

Although the name’s the same, do not confuse Ōsaka-style and Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki. The latter is a completely different beast, layered, complex and definitely best prepared by professionals. Like Ōsaka-style it can be adjusted according to your tastes, but the essentials are: a thin layer of batter, fried noodles, a thin omelette/fried egg, shredded cabbage, okonomi sauce and seaweed. If any of your friends are from Ōsaka or Hiroshima, be prepared: you will be asked which you prefer, and “they’re both delicious”, while true, will placate neither of them…

Image by Jonny Kram (license)

Kabocha chiffon cake

This deliciously light cake made from squash is just one example of Japan’s innovative fusion food. Blending Japanese ingredients (locally grown vegetables, adzuki beans, tofu) and gastronomic perfectionism with Western baking traditions produces some surprising and tasty results.

Kyoto is particularly great at this, and it’s well worth spending an afternoon becoming acquainted with the ancient capital’s very modern café culture. Among the best is Sarasa, a small local chain serving international and Japanese food, often in beautiful buildings. Kisakiya, in the north of the city, is run by a young mother and serves mostly vegan and macrobiotic food, with cakes and cookies to take away.

Image by Jonny Kram (license)

Takoyaki

Now this one does lose a little in translation, but honestly, octopus balls really are delicious. These are small balls of batter mixed with spring onions, pickled ginger, tenkasu (small pieces of tempura batter), flakes of seaweed and small pieces of octopus. They’re served with similar toppings to okonomiyaki, but are far more deadly: the inside is molten, so woe betide the rookie who bites in without letting it cool first. “Takoyaki parties”, where you make them with your friends, are pretty common, but if you’re a little squeamish about tentacles you can make your own version – sausage-yaki, mochi-yaki, even choco-yaki.

Takoyaki by Rene (license)

Japanese sweets

Japanese sweets are so much more varied than just amusingly named chocolates (see “Melty Kiss”) and bizarrely flavoured Kit Kats. Wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets), as well as being delicious, are beautiful. There are the artisanal, seasonally significant ones served during the tea ceremony; squishy, gooey mochi made from rice flour and often adzuki beans; dorayaki, sweet bean paste sandwiched between small pancakes; and more other varieties than you could count. They’ll be different in every region and every month – try to find a local sweet shop (or even a large train station or department store) to wander around and let your mind boggle at the amazing variety and exquisite craftsmanship.

Sakura, red bean and plain sugar wagashi by imissdaisydog (license)

Regional specialities

Okonomiyaki is only one example of Japan’s dizzyingly varied regional cuisine. Head down to Okinawa and you’ll find purple sweet potatoes, Chinese-, Korean- and American-influenced dishes, and the superfoods which have led to more centenarians per capita than anywhere else in the world. At the other end of the country is Hokkaidō, where most of Japan’s dairy is produced, so among their signature dishes is butter ramen (surprisingly delicious). Other Hokkaidō-specific delicacies are Jingisukan (grilled mutton, named for Genghis Khan) and of course, Sapporo beer.

Image by Jonny Kram (license)

Festival food

To really get the taste of sushi out of your mouth, head to the nearest festival as soon as possible. Here you’ll see the loud, messy, exciting heart of Japanese cuisine. Every stall will specialise in one or maybe two foods.

You may want to ease in with more recognisable dishes like yakisoba, yakitori, sausages or ringo-ame (toffee apples – strawberries and other fruits are popular, too). Then you could step up to the slightly more unusual ones like yaki-mochi (fried glutinous rice cakes), kakigōri (shaved ice with palpitation-inducingly sweet syrups) or takoyaki. Before you know it you’ll be happily devouring ika-yaki (grilled, skewered squid with a soy-based glaze) like the best of them. With all this on offer, who even needs sushi?

Festival Feast! by Nelo Hotusma (license)

If you want to do some research before you go, try checking your nearest JNTO office, and explore more of Japan with The Rough Guide to Japan. Featured image by Jonny Kram.

After 150 years of boom and bust, Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood is being redefined. Mary Novakovich takes to its bars and restaurants to discover what’s hot about the city’s hippest neighbourhood.

Things weren’t looking too promising when the taxi dropped us off on a dusty road with a railway on one side and grim-looking industrial units on the other. “We’ll take you out to the Junction,” my Toronto friends said. “It’s a cool place. Lots going on. Full of craft breweries. You’ll love it.” Possibly, but the initial signs weren’t good.

I lived in Toronto in the mid-1980s, when my flat was a good 5km east of the Junction yet still felt like the Wild West in the days when Queen Street West was the hub of the hip universe. Thirty years later, Toronto’s twentysomethings have been priced out of the centre and are discovering a new Wild West where the rents are much cheaper.

Only the Junction isn’t so new. And you could argue that it’s less wild now than it was in the nineteenth century. The Junction – named for the four railways that crossed into the neighbourhood – was a hive of industry back then, with a large number of taverns to keep the many railway and factory workers well watered.

Image © Adam Batterbee

A once-dry neighbourhood making up for lost time

Unfortunately, the taverns did too good a job: by 1904, residents had had enough of the debauchery on their doorstep and voted for a ban on the sale of alcohol. The district stayed dry until 2000. They’ve been making up for lost time ever since.

While the Junction has had its periods of boom and bust over the past century and a half – some really quite bleak – this is clearly boom time. Shops and small warehouses that had gone bust in low periods have now been taken over by juice bars, restaurants and cool cafés.

The industrial shock we faced on arrival was all forgiven within a few minutes of walking through the door of Junction Craft Brewing – part tap room, part shop and total brewery. It had all the hipster hallmarks you would expect from a small-scale yet busy craft brewery: industrial chic interior, chunky wooden tables, artfully arranged barrels and some really good beer in an agreeably laid-back atmosphere. If you can’t decide on which beer to choose, you can have a flight of four small glasses of whatever’s on tap. The Tracklayer’s Krolsch was particularly refreshing.

Image © Adam Batterbee

“The promise of Toronto’s best southern fried chicken was waiting for us”

It was tempting to stay for a third round (the first two went down far too easily), or even pop next door to the Toronto Distillery Co for a taste of organic gins and whiskies. But the promise of Toronto’s best southern fried chicken was waiting for us. And more craft beer.

Within a few minutes we escaped the nondescript railway sidings and wandered down Keele Street to Dundas Street West, which was one long line of bars and restaurants – all of them buzzing. A Canadian friend told me how he grew up in this neighbourhood and still couldn’t quite believe how it became so trendy. It was such an ordinary-looking district, he said, and I couldn’t help but agree. Architecturally, its appeal wasn’t obvious, but the answer wasn’t long in coming.

On Dundas Street West we entered our second craft brewery of the evening, Indie Ale House. It was less rough and ready than Junction Craft Brewing, with warm exposed brick walls and a beer shop at the entrance. And the best southern fried chicken in Toronto? It really was, even if I couldn’t do justice to the gargantuan portion on my plate. And the accompanying glass of Iron Lady was considerably more palatable than its steely namesake.

Big plates for small prices

Our next stop on the Junction line was 3030, a cavernous space that combines a bar with a restaurant and a music venue. A row of vintage pinball machines made one wall glow and flash and ping, and at the far back was a stage where a bearded DJ was setting up his computer.

The bar was championing Ontario craft beers, with offerings from Mill Street Brewery, Hogtown Brewers, Beau’s and, of course, its near neighbour Junction Craft Brewing. A pint of Beau’s Lug-Tread slipped down pleasantly, though I discovered later that Beau’s makes an ale that has possibly Canada’s best beer name: Beaver River IPEh?.

The menu carried the two words that usually make my heart sink: small plates. But from what I could see, 3030 was sensibly subverting the rip-off European version of this insidious trend by offering relatively big plates of food for small prices – about $5 (£2.60) a pop. That was more like it.

The whole area was shabby-chic central. Some of the interiors probably came from a shop like Smash (smash.to), a local showroom where salvaged furniture has been given a new lease of life in fun and innovative ways. Rather like the Junction itself, which has finally found itself on the right side of the tracks.

Explore more of Toronto with the Rough Guide to Canada or get the Rough Guides Snapshot TorontoCompare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Featured image by Wyliepoon on Flickr Creative Commons

Ever since the 1960s Berkeley has been synonymous with left wing politics and student protests. And while the city has stayed true to its progressive credo, it offers numerous other reasons for visitors to the Bay Area to make sure they don’t only get trapped in the albeit sublime honeypot of San Francisco. Former US resident and Rough Guides author Nick Edwards runs down the top things to do in Berkeley and explains why you should make a point of jumping on BART to the East Bay.

Beards, books and Birkenstocks

For half a century now the city has been at the forefront of anti-establishment activism and the anti-war movement, ever since the students of UC Berkeley clashed with then Governor Ronald Reagan and the National Guard during violent Vietnam protests.

The university campus, with its iconic campanile, bustling Sproul Plaza and the quieter lush grounds beyond is still the best place to start getting a feel for the place Berkeley occupies in recent American history. It also boasts most of the town’s museums.

Image courtesy of Visit California

The left-leaning atmosphere extends far beyond the confines of the campus, however, to the numerous cafés that populate the town, where earnest academics can sometimes be seen poring over weighty tomes or deep in serious discussions.

If you want to mug up and be able to join in, you won’t have to go far to find a well-stocked bookstore either. Berkeley is famous for noble establishments such as Black Oak Books, Revolution Books and Lewin’s Metaphysical Books.

Wandering the pleasantly quiet streets that fill the space between the busy commercial strips of Shattuck and Telegraph Avenues near the campus, 4th Street in West Berkeley and Solano Avenue to the north, you will lose count of bearded, besandled residents walking dogs and checking out curios in numerous quirky shops. Just try spotting a Republican placard or bumper sticker – the Grand Old Party long ago gave up even trying to field candidates here.

The cradle of California cuisine

Food activist Alice Waters really started something when she opened Chez Panisse in 1971, setting her stall out to source high-quality organic local produce for her innovative recipes.

This style of embellishing American cooking with European and ethnic touches of flair and promoting a close relationship with local farms became known as “California cuisine”, which has spread the length of the Golden State and beyond.

So if you want to feast on the likes of grilled Becker Lane Farm pork loin with roasted figs, wild fennel cakes and Early Girl tomato confit, this is the place for you. Just be prepared for a hefty bill.

Chez Panisse is still the jewel in the crown of Berkeley’s “gourmet ghetto”, a section of Shattuck Avenue lined with a number of quality restaurants and fine emporia such as Alegio chocolate shop, tucked inside Epicurious Garden along with an array of exclusive food outlets.

Top restaurants are not confined to Gourmet Ghetto though, with other notable places to eat such as Lalime’s, Revival and Gather dotted around town.

Don’t be alarmed if your budget does not stretch to such high-end cuisine though. Berkeley is also blessed with a huge number of excellent and inexpensive multicultural restaurants. You can enjoy chunky burritos at Cancun Taqueria, superb masala dosas at Vik’s Chaat Corner, or a range of authentic Indonesian recipes at Jayakarta.

Musical nooks and crannies

Good old Jonathan Richman, still occasionally to be found strumming on the university steps, named his record label Beserkley when he moved to the state in 1975, a nod to the city’s nickname of Bezerkley. Indeed the local music scene is as underground as its political one, with a variety of eclectic venues and record stores.

Ashkenaz is a quirky world music and dance centre on busy San Pablo Avenue, which is also home to the legendary Albatross Pub.

Balkan Dancing via photopin (license)

Meanwhile, Freight and Salvage provides a classic coffee house setting for hearts-on-their-sleeve singer-songwriters and La Peña Cultural Center showcases Latin and folk, as well as encouraging cultural activism.

Perhaps the best example of Berkeley’s musical credibility is the uncompromisingly alternative 924 Gilman club, a haven of hardcore and experimental acts that helped launch the likes of Green Day and Sleater-Kinney.

Immediately south of the campus, Telegraph Avenue is a riot of stalls selling tie-dye clothes, political stickers and jewellery in the shape of peace symbols.

It also contains a string of cheap cafés, takeaway joints and two major record shops in the shape of Rasputin Music and the original location of even more iconic Amoeba Records, where there was never any need for a vinyl comeback because it never went out of fashion. Half a block behind it, People’s Park is another site of sixties dissent and still a community-controlled urban space.

The green, green hills above

It’s not all urbanisation in Berkeley though. In fact, the higher you go up the dramatic, verdant hills that rise abruptly to the east, the more you find yourself amidst some surprisingly sublime natural surroundings.

You can start this ascent from the beautifully landscaped thirty acres of the university’s Botanical Garden, featuring a dazzling array of plant and cactus species.

Alternatively, a more northerly route out of town takes you via the exquisite Berkeley Rose Garden and the grey basalt lump known as Indian Rock, so named in honour of the local Ohlone tribe, to the uppermost ridge that gives onto the semi-wilderness of Tilden Park.

Here an impressive expanse of over two thousand acres encompasses thick woodland, numerous trails and delightful Lake Anza, perfect for a soothing dip in the warmer months.

Finally, don’t miss the opportunity to pick a spot somewhere along Grizzly Peak Boulevard, where you can gaze back west across Berkeley and the Bay to the gleaming skyscrapers of San Francisco, the elegant span of the Golden Gate Bridge and the deep waters of the Pacific Ocean beyond.

Explore more of America with the Rough Guide to the USACompare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Essentially two cities in one – Buda and Pest – Hungary’s magnificent capital is now firmly established as one of Europe’s most enticing destinations. Its dramatic setting astride the Danube is reason enough to visit, but the city packs in a multitude of things to see and do.

First and foremost, no visitor to Budapest should pass up the opportunity to experience one of its many spas; elsewhere, you can admire Baroque churches, wander amongst Communist dictators, or head through the hills on a narrow gauge.

Add to the mix the city’s famous ruin bars, grand coffee houses and now a burgeoning gastronomic scene, and you’ve pretty much got everything covered. Oh, and to boot, it stages one of Europe’s biggest and best rock festivals.

What should I see?

For conventional sightseeing, take the Siklo (funicular) up to the Vár, or Castle District, where you can easily spend a day poring over fabulous Baroque architecture. Over in Pest, the revitalized Jewish quarter is jam-packed with sights, most obviously in the shape of the magnificent Great Synagogue, the second largest in the world.

A little-known gem is the Southeast Asian Gold Museum, featuring a sumptuous collection of secular and religious artwork, ninety percent of which is gold. Beyond here, in leafy City Park, lies Budapest Zoo, as renowned for its Art Nouveau enclosures as it is for its inhabitants.

For some respite from the often brutal summer heat, take to the Buda Hills, home to the Railway Circuit, comprising the 3km-long Cogwheel Railway, and the Children’s Railway, an 11km-long narrow gauge built by Communist youth brigades after World War II.

There’s more Communist-era nostalgia at the Memento Park, a remarkable assemblage of oversized statues of former Communist dictators like Stalin and Lenin. Lastly, take a ride on Tram #2, which runs the length of the Pest Embankment, affording superlative views of the Castle District opposite.

Why should I go to the spa?

Budapest lies on more than a hundred thermal springs, so it’d be remiss not to indulge in one of the city’s many fabulous spas (furdo). Take a dip in Art Nouveau splendour at the Gellért Baths, the evocative, Ottoman-era Rudas Baths, or the enormous sixteen-pool Széchenyi Baths, where the sight of old fellas playing chess on the water is a wonderfully surreal spectacle.

For an alternative bathing experience, make for one of the night-time pool parties, which variously put on music, film and laser discos.

What is there for foodies?

Budapest is hardly renowned for its culinary prowess, but this is changing, and fast. Of the city’s four Michelin-starred restaurants, Borkonyha is the most appealing, with dishes like quail breast with lavender and buttered green peas, complemented by one of the finest wine lists in the city.

Child-friendly Zeller Bistro is no less snazzy, with beef cheek and goose liver among those dishes rated highly. But for something more old-fashioned, try Café Bouchon, a charming little French outfit with gorgeous Art Deco furnishings and fine food to match. For picnic supplies, make for one of the city’s many indoor markets, the biggest and brashest of which is the Great Market Hall.

Which is the best coffee house?

Like Vienna, Budapest has long been synonymous with great coffee houses: your first stop should be Centrál Kávéház, erstwhile retreat of writers and intellectuals around the turn of the nineteenth century, and still a thoroughly grand place to sip an espresso. Though the diminutive Ruszwurm patisserie, up in the Castle District, arguably does better pastries.

Leading the charge of the new, so-called “third-wave” coffee bars is Tamp & Pull, closely followed by Espresso Embassy – both these boast award-winning baristas.

Where’s the party?

That’s easy: Pest’s seventh district. Here you’ll find the city’s heaviest concentration of ruin bars, so-named as they occupy formerly abandoned – and in many cases still ramshackle and graffiti-strewn – buildings and courtyards.

The pick of these include Instant – comprising some twenty, differently themed rooms – Kuplung (an old motorcycle repair shop – the name means “clutch”), and Rácskert, the newest member on the scene. At any of these places expect a consistently brilliant roster of happenings, from live music (jazz, folk, rock) to film screenings and literary readings.

Elsewhere, the riverside bars lining the Danube and the open-air venues on Margit-Sziget do cracking trade in the summer months.

Hungarian wine is superb, though still little appreciated. However, its growing popularity is reflected in the number of wine bars popping up all over the city. For starters, try Doblo, a buzzy, brick-vaulted bar in the Jewish quarter where you can sip wine by the glass alongside a meat and cheese platter.

Where should I stay?

If you can afford it, then the spanking brand new Aria Hotel is top dog; dazzling, musically themed rooms are complemented by a Turkish spa and a stunning glass-covered courtyard. Similarly cool, but more realistically priced, Baltazár offers artfully-designed rooms inspired by the likes of Warhol and Haring.

Home Made Hostel is a sweet and welcoming abode whose small, cleverly-conceived dorms – refreshingly, no bunks – are furnished with random cast-offs culled from homes around the city, such as rugs, trunks and typewriters.

Photo credit: Aria Hotel Budapest

Are there any great festivals?

The undisputed king of Budapest’s summer events is the Sziget Festival, a monster week-long gathering starring the very biggest names in rock, pop and world music – this year, Kasabian and Kings of Leon are among those on the bill.

Elsewhere, the Jewish Summer Festival is a rousing week of classical, jazz and klezmer, and if you’re here on August 20 (St Stephen’s Day, named in honour of Hungary’s national saint and founder), you’re unlikely to miss the fireworks spectacular on the Danube.

Explore more of Budapest with The Rough Guide to BudapestCompare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

It’s tempting to say that there’s nowhere quite like Barcelona. As cool and hip as they come, this is Catalunya’s elegant and self-confident modern capital. It’s no wonder, then, that the city is also one of the most exciting places to eat in Spain. From the Pocket Rough Guide to Barcelona, this is our pick of the best tapas bars in Barcelona, from traditional taverns to chic contemporary bars.

Bar Pinotxo

The best tapas bar in the best market is the Boqueria’s Pinotxo, no contest. The market’s most renowned refuelling stop – just inside the main entrance on the right – it attracts traders, chefs, tourists and celebs, who stand three deep at busy times. A coffee, a grilled sandwich and a glass of cava is the local breakfast of choice, or let the cheery staff steer you towards the tapas and daily specials (€5–15), anything from a slice of tortilla to fried baby squid.

Pinotxo, Mercat de la Boqueria, Ramblas 91

via Flickr (license)

Tickets

At this star-studded tapas bar by El Bulli-famed chef Ferran Adrià, amazingly inventive dishes (€5–20 each, expect to spend €70) mix impeccably sourced ingredients with sheer flights of fancy. Meanwhile in the adjacent and very sleek cocktail and oyster bar 41°, even more outré snacks and canapés are served. Reservations are hard to get, and are taken up to two months in advance.

Tickets, Av. Paral.lel 164

Tapas, 24

Carles Abellan, king of pared-down designer cuisine at his restaurant Comerç, 24, offers a simpler tapas menu at this retro basement bar-diner. There’s a reassuringly traditional feel that’s echoed in the menu – patatas bravas, Andalucian-style fried fish, bombas (meatballs), chorizo sausage and fried eggs. But the kitchen updates the classics too, so there’s also calamares romana (fried squid) dyed black with squid ink or a burger with foie gras. Most tapas dishes cost around €4 to €16. And there’s always a rush and bustle at meal times, so be aware that you might well have to queue.

Tapas, 24, C/Diputació 269

 via Flickr (license)

Bar La Plata

A classic taste of stand-up snacks in the Old Town, with a marble tapas counter open to the street (anchovies are the speciality) and dirt-cheap wine straight from the barrel.

Bodega La PlataC/de la Mercè 28

Cal Pep

There’s no equal in town for off-the-boat and out-of-the- market tapas. You may have to queue, and prices are high for what’s effectively a bar meal (up to €60), but it’s definitely worth it for the likes of impeccably fried shrimp, grilled sea bass, Catalan sausage, or squid and chickpeas – all overseen by Pep himself, bustling up and down the counter.

Cal Pep, Pl. de les Olles 8

 via Flickr (license)

El Xampanyet

Step into this La Ribera institution for a glass of Catalan fizz and a bite or two before dinner. The traditional blue-tiled bar does a roaring trade in cava, cider and traditional tapas. The drinks are cheap and the tapas turn out to be rather pricey, but there’s usually a good buzz about the place.

El Xampanyet [no website], C/de Montcada 22

Vaso De Oro

An old favourite for stand-up tapas (€4–15) – there’s no menu, but order some thick slices of fried sausage, grilled shellfish and a dollop of tuna salad and you’ve touched all the bases. Unusually, they also brew their own beer, light and dark.

Vaso De Oro, C/Balboa 6

 via Flickr (license)

Sensi Tapas

It’s best to make reservations as this intimate space as it quickly fills with diners looking for tapas with an exotic spin. There are impeccably executed classics like buttery patatas bravas, but the stars of the show, such as the tender Iberian pork tataki, take their cues from further afield (€5–12).

Sensi Tapas, C/Ample 26

Dos Palillos

East meets west – and hipsters meet each other – in El Raval’s cool asian fusion tapas bar. They offer à la carte dim sum in the front galley bar (steamed dumplings to grilled oysters and stir-fried prawns; average spend €30) and a back-room, counter-style Asian bar where tasting menus (€60, €70 and €85, reservations required) wade their way through the highlights.

Dos Palillos, C/d’elisabets 9

Explore more of Barcelona with the Pocket Rough Guide to BarcelonaCompare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Morocco‘s third-largest city tends to go overlooked, and it certainly isn’t shouted about as a culinary hotspot. Even getting here – with limited flight connections and rail services – requires some effort. And once you’re inside the largest medina in Africa, a colossal walled labyrinth of around ten thousand lanes, things get even trickier.

It’s a far cry from ever-popular Marrakesh, whose main square and souks, packed with snake charmers, fortune tellers and acrobats, have become a movie set of tourist-orientated camera-ready experiences.

Get hungry in Marrakesh and there’s a whole host of restaurants that crowd the Jemaa el Fna, many dishing up the same tick-box menu of tagine or pizza. Not so in Fez, where finding a good place to eat is both the challenge and the charm; book a restaurant here and someone will have to pick you up to guide you there.

In the medina street food oscillates between the bizarre and the delicious. Snails prodded with safety pins sit alongside mysterious vats of meat wedged in what resembles a yellowish, greasy lard. Tempting bowls of glistening fat olives accompany piles of sticky dates.

With a local little knowledge, or some luck, you can stumble upon candlelit riad courtyards, quirky cafés tucked down nameless alleyways and creative restaurants that are cleverly blending traditional and new styles.

Tradesman in Fez via photopin (license)

The edible side of the medina

The medina, Fez’s timeless, ever-beating heart is steeped in tradition. This is a maze where even locals get lost. Ask a Fassi if they ever lose their way and you might be met with the chuckled response “yes, everyday – that’s the beauty of it”.

It’s no surprise; everywhere you turn worn-down stone pathways twist and writhe, inexplicably opening out into stall-lined thoroughfares before being squeezed into steep dead-end alleyways so narrow that the sun can barely penetrate and you have to turn your body sideways to pass through.

This is a place, in many ways, living in the past. Heavily-laden mules are the only form of transport, camel heads are displayed outside local butchers and taking your family’s bread to be baked in the communal oven is still a morning ritual. And best of all, food – often in unusual guises – is everywhere.

Camel: 70 dhs/kg via photopin (license)

To truly get to grips with the edible side of the medina, the cookery course at Palais Amani is a great start. Before whipping up a selection of traditional dishes – anything from a delicately spiced tagine with a smoky aubergine zelouk, to a cinnamon dusted, flower water-infused orange dessert – chef Hussim will take you on a shopping mission through the medina.

Let yourself be guided along streets where men sit on stools barricaded in by their goods, peering out from behind walls of carrots, mounds of fresh mint, huge piles of purple radishes and crates overflowing with oranges.

Explore passages where row upon row of vibrant spices spill out from woven sacks and perfume the air.

The stalls here are made for grazing: women skilfully spread out delicately thin pancakes, hole-in-the-wall operations dish out steaming bowls of harissa soup, and stalls display rows of syrupy almond pastries.

Image by Olivia Rawes

Back in Palais Amani, the intricately tiled, lantern-filled restaurant serves traditional treats with a modern twist. Try the incredibly tender lamb tagine presented on a bed of artichoke hearts, or delve into a colourful mosaic of Moroccan tapas dishes on the roof terrace that overlooks the medina’s sprawl.

Modern cooking with cultural influences

Today, many restaurants in Fez are waking up foodie trends by blending Moroccan culture with new ideas.

Café Clock, a quirky restaurant that doubles up as a creative hub offering everything from yoga and calligraphy classes to film screenings, is famous for its cinnamon-salsa-topped camel burgers, a delicious mix of local, traditional ingredients repackaged as a western favourite.

The most striking example of this modern take on cooking is Resto Número 7, an innovative pop-up style concept that hosts chefs from around the world for three month placements. The restaurant’s chic black-and-white interior acts as a blank canvas against which the resident cooks bring their own creative twist inspired by Moroccan cuisine and the local, market-fresh ingredients.

Recent chefs, Oliver Truesdale-Jutras and Phoebe Oviedo, mixed their Canadian and Filipino backgrounds with the local influence to create dishes such as seared swordfish in a buttermilk, fennel and Harissa sauce, adobo-glazed turkey thigh with garlic couscous and a deconstructed panna cotta topped with sautéed banana and torched cinnamon crumble.

Future rumblings

Even more change is on the horizon for Fez. Plans to transform part of the medina are already well under way and are due to be completed in 2017. Locals say this redevelopment will turn the city into the “Venice of Africa”, creating a boulevard along the river where people can stroll right through the heart of the medina – a project that will undoubtedly bring more places to eat and stay.

There is hope that it will draw more visitors to Fez, increasingly allowing it to compete with other Moroccan tourist hubs such as a Marrakesh.

Only time will tell what effect this has, but for now at least the pulls of modernity and tradition seem well balanced. Fez has hit that sweet spot: the perfect mix of enchanting time-warp and exciting city.

It’s a food lover’s dream: come, eat your fill and don’t forget to get lost.

Olivia did a four night cookery break at Palais Amani, a luxury riad located inside Fez’s medina. Explore more of Morocco with the Rough Guide to MoroccoCompare flightsbook hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Proving that revenge doesn’t taste sweet so much as tomatoey, Italy has officially reclaimed the title of “World’s Longest Pizza” from previous record-holders Spain. They took the title at the Expo Milano 2015 by baking a 1596.45m-long pizza – that’s nearly a mile of doughy, cheesy goodness.

The massive margherita comes with some impressive stats: 1.5 tons of tomato sauce, 2.5 tons of dough, 1.7 tons of mozzarella, 150 litres of oil and 5 pizza ovens. All of the ingredients came from Italy, and over eighty pizza-makers from throughout the country worked together to make the record-breaking flatbread.

Lucky Expo-goers were given slices after measurements were complete, and 300m-worth was distributed to Milanese food banks and emergency associations.

Though this bake off of epic proportions was a one-time only event, the Expo this year is themed around “feeding the planet, energy for life” so you can be sure to find plenty more lip-smackingly good Italian grub to try if you visit.

Photo credits: Expo 2015/Daniele Mascolo

 

While the American lobster is found all along the east coast of North America, from Newfoundland to North Carolina, it is most commonly associated with Maine, where the crustacean is abundant and devoured in a number of dishes and numerous restaurants.

Maine’s lobster industry contributes more than $1 billion to the state’s economy – 2014 saw an epic haul of more than 120 million pounds. The lobsters are 100 percent hand-harvested by more than 5600 lobstermen who use small day boats to retrieve one trap at a time, the better to protect their quality and the marine habitat.

Visitors to the state can enjoy lobsters in any number of ways; the state’s most creative chefs apply the protein into wickedly inventive concoctions, while dozens of rustic lobster pounds offer a classic, straightforward experience that hasn’t changed for decades. Here’s a look at the best places to enjoy Maine’s most famous food.

Young’s Lobster Pound, Belfast

Those who have never experienced a proper lobster pound should head straight to quiet Belfast, where Young’s Lobster Pound offers a quintessential experience. Visitors peruse giant tanks and have a variety of lobster sizes to choose from. Once their lobster is steamed-to-order, guests grab a seat on a picnic bench and enjoy water views.

Image courtesy of Camden Harbour Inn

Red’s Eats, Wiscasset

One of Maine’s most famous lobster rolls can be found in the tiny town of Wiscasset, where Red’s Eats – a family-run business that has been nestled at the riverfront since 1938 – lures a steady stream of foodies in search of lobster heaven. Each roll is stuffed with the meat of more than one whole lobster; whole claws are placed at each end of the roll and an entire split lobster tail rests on top. Each roll comes with hot drawn butter and/or mayonnaise on the side.

The Camden Harbour Inn, Camden

Operated by a pair of Dutchmen, the Camden Harbour Inn resides in the idyllic town of Camden. Guests of this decorated, Relais & Chateaux property stay in-house to enjoy the lauded restaurant Natalie’s. The kitchen puts the classic lobster roll on its head by offering offbeat varieties such as a tempura lobster roll with miso aioli and a traditional option with tart citrus aioli. Natalie’s offers perhaps the state’s standout lobster experience: a four-course lobster tasting menu.

The Black Point Inn, Scarborough

The Black Point Inn has been an institution in quiet Scarborough since the late 1800s. The inn offers a pair of dining options: the casual Chart Room and the classy Point Restaurant. When guests are able to tear themselves away from the dramatic views of the Atlantic ocean, they can enjoy classic preparations of fresh local lobster.

Image courtesy of the Chebeague Island Inn

Chebeague Island Inn, Casco Bay

Situated along the shores of Casco Bay, the Chebeague Island Inn can only be reached by ferry. The inn puts an earthy twist on a traditional lobster roll by using seaweed-infused butter. Guests looking for a more immersive lobster experience can opt for the “Lucky Lobstering” package. The two-hour excursion around the bay allows visitors to catch their own lobster and then enjoy the fresh catch back at the hotel with all the fixings and wine pairings.

Union Restaurant, Portland

Portland – the state’s biggest city and culinary hub – offers a dizzying array of dining options for lobster lovers. Those looking to get the most out of the city, which has often been named the American small city with the best dining scene, can stay at the the Autograph Collection’s Press Hotel, which is housed in the city’s old newspaper building. The in-house Union Restaurant offers a stylish spot in which to enjoy local lobster. Executive chef Josh Berry serves an upscale lobster roll featuring house-made lemon mayo and “snipped” chives.

Café Miranda, Rockland

In the scenic town of Rockland, Cafe Miranda lures foodies looking for an unparalleled lobster experience. Chef/owner Kerry Altiero is a big fan of Maine Lobster, incorporating it in unique dishes throughout the year. Altiero’s standout “Vacation in your Mouth” dish puts a spicy spin on mild, sweet lobster meat by adding chilli peppers, scallions, lime, Thai fish sauce, cilantro, kimchi flakes, black sesame seeds and more.

Image by Patrick McNamara

Hugo’s, Portland

One of the state’s most decorated restaurants, Hugo’s has been a mainstay of the Portland dining scene since 1988. Guests enjoy inventive lobster preparations such as a lobster sashimi, which comes to life thanks to sea beans, ginger, scallions and fried garlic.

MC Perkins Cove, Ogunquit

Two of the state’s most famous chefs, Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier, have won plaudits for their creative lobster dishes at MC Perkins Cove in the popular tourist town of Ogunquit. The chefs surprise diners with inventive creations such as lobster shortcake with rum vanilla sauce, and lobster in a “paper bag” with fresh green curry, lime, and coconut.

Eventide Oyster Co., Portland

In Portland, the trendy Eventide Oyster Co. wins raves for its lobster roll, prepared with a choice of hollandaise, homemade mayo, or the crowd favourite, brown butter vinaigrette. The fresh Maine lobster meat is served on a Chinese-style steamed bun.

Image by John Ewing

Bite into Maine, Cape Elizabeth

In Cape Elizabeth’s popular Fort Williams Park, Bite into Maine is a “Maine-centric mobile eatery.” Parked in the shadow of one of the state’s most famous lighthouses, the Portland Head Light, the food truck offers three styles of lobster rolls: “Maine” with light mayonnaise and fresh chives, “Connecticut” with hot butter, and “picnic” with coleslaw, hot butter, celery salt, wasabi, curry and chipotle.

Bob’s Clam Hut, Kittery

Located in the shopping haven of Kittery, Bob’s Clam Hut has been offering a classic seafood shack experience since 1956. The friendly restaurant serves up award-winning lobster rolls packed with fresh local lobster. Those looking for a more refined experience can cross the street, where Robert’s Maine Grill offers a welcoming environment for enjoying locally-caught lobster meat and views of picturesque Spruce Creek.

Image courtesy of Bob’s Clam Hut

The White Barn Inn, Kennebunk

In the coastal town of Kennebunk, the White Barn Inn provides out-of-towners with an upscale home-away-from-home. The classy, timber-frame barn wows guests with its eponymous, in-house restaurant, where smoked lobster is served with paprika butter sauce on corn puree. The key to this dish is the presentation; the plate is covered and filled with applewood smoke, which is then released at the table in front of the guest to enliven the senses.

Festivals

Lobster fans not content with a dining experience can seek out one of the many lobster-centric community gatherings and festivals held throughout the year. The biggest of them all, the Maine Lobster Festival, is held in Rockland every year in late July/early August. This year’s festival, the 68th annual gathering, will see some 20,000 pounds of lobster consumed, plus lots of fun events such as a lobster crate race, lobster cooking contest, and the coronation of the Maine Sea Goddess.

Explore more of Maine with the Rough Guide to the USA.  Compare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Think Germany and you think beer. It’s a country whose beer culture is so ingrained and recognised that Oktoberfest is celebrated around the world.

It’s the birthplace of lager, and one that is full of life and flavour (a far cry from the insipid mass-produced stuff). In fact, the word ‘lager’ just means cold-stored, and is a method of making beer rather than a specific style.

Most German beers are also held to the Reinheitsgebot, the German Beer Purity Law, that originated in the sixteenth century. It specifies that only water, malt and hops could be used to make beers – they didn’t know that yeast made beer ferment in those days.

All this adds up to a huge range of beers, but navigating the menu in a crowded Munich beer hall, or even in the bottle shops and online retailers, can be bewildering. So to hunt out Germany’s essential brews, we’ve compiled this handy guide to the best German beers and their styles.

Pale beers

Pilsner

This is the beer that took over the world after German and Czech migrants introduced Pils lager to the USA, UK and dozens of other countries, despite it being one of the most difficult beers to make. Pilsen is now by far the most popular style in Germany, if not worldwide. At its best, it is light, crisp, clear with an earthy hint of the Saaz hops. Helles is a slightly maltier version.

Try: Weihenstephan Pils from the world’s oldest brewery. For a Munich Helles pick up Augustiner-Bräu Lagerbier-Hell.

Märzen

This ‘March’ beer is a deliciously malty lager from Bavaria (and very similar to the Oktoberfest style). It’s usually a couple of shades darker than a lager, with a rich caramel flavour, but has that same crisp finish. It’s becoming more popular among craft brewers, and rightly so – it’s eminently quaffable.

Try: The classic is Ayinger Märzen.

Kölsch/Altbiers

This beer made in Cologne (Köln) looks like a lager, but is fermented warm like English ale then cold stored (‘lagered’). It’s one of the few beers with a Protected Geographical Indication, and is light and full of character. Altbiers from Düsseldorf are darker – the German beer most like a UK ale – but much crisper and cleaner.

Try: Früh Kölsch has been a classic since 1904. A great Altbier is Uerige Alt.

Wheat beers

Hefeweizen/Weissbier

Stood overlooking the Alps or after a long day skiing, it’s the sumptuous Weissbier – a wheat beer – in that tall curvy glass that you’ll reach for. ‘Weiss’ means white, and these beers are usually hazy. Hefeweizen in particular has a yeasty taste (‘hefe’ means yeast) imparting a spicy clove aroma and, often, a suggestion of bananas.

Try: Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier.

Birra ufficiale via photopin (license)

Berliner weisse

As the clamour for sour beers continues in the craft beer world, it was only a matter of time before the once-obscure Berliner weisse returned. And be thankful it did. This summer beer is usually low in alcohol (2.5-4%), cheek-suckingly tart and sessionable (yes, it’s a beery word I’m afraid). Don’t miss the salty Gose either, a close cousin.

Try: Bayerischer Banhof make a great Gose and ‘Berliner Style Weisse’.

Dark beers

Dunkel

Brewing a light beer took time and skill, from the maltser who ‘toasts’ the cereal kernels to the brewer. First came the Dunkel, a dark lager, high in malt characteristics with very little hint of hops. It’s a popular style over the winter months and perfect for swilling down your classic Munich beer hall food, schweinshaxe – a roasted ham hock.

Try: The Augustiner-Bräu Dunkel (preferably in a loud Munich beer hall).

Schwarzbier

The ‘black lager’ is, for this beer enthusiast at least, one of the great beer styles. It can be as black as Guinness, but with an incredible lightness of touch, effervescence and as crisp as a pale lager. Buy one for a lager drinking friend and you’ll have them on it all night. Delicious.

Try: Köstritzer Schwarzbier. No need to look any further. Seek out now.

Achja! via photopin (license)

Bock

Steady with this one, the alcohol volume is often around 7%. It’s a sweet, malty, lagered beer that is popular in winter. A slightly lighter gold version is the Maibock, while the Dopplebock is even stronger and maltier; a sipping beer – but not as much as Eisbock that can turn to the alcohol volume up to 11%.

Try: The Paulaner Salvator Dopplebock is the original, first created in 1629.

Rauchbier

Bacon! Want to drink bacon? Well you probably never really thought of it before, but this is as near as you’ll get. There are a couple of other breweries around the world that make a Rauchbier, but really the Aecht Schlenkerla Marzen is the original and the one to pick up. The intense smokiness comes from malt that has been smoked. A bit of a surprise this one, but stick it out – it’s surprisingly drinkable!

Try: Aecht Schlenkerla Marzen.

Daniel is the editor of the craft beer publication Original Gravity%.

Explore more of Germany and its beer with the Rough Guide to GermanyCompare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

While in Rome researching the upcoming Rough Guide, Natasha Foges sampled gelato in every corner of the city – all in the name of research. Here’s the scoop on where to find the city’s best.

Every Roman has a favourite gelateria, and can spend hours arguing the merits of their local haunt. In the last few years, the debate has gathered momentum as gourmet gelaterias have sprung all over Rome, with a focus on natural production methods and the provenance of ingredients (pistachios from Bronte in Sicily, lemons from Amalfi, hazelnuts from the Langhe in Piemonte).

There are still plenty of places serving up bland gelato, so follow these golden rules – or head to one of the tried-and-tested places below for a first-class cone.

• Avoid places where the gelato is displayed in fluffy, whipped mounds unappetizingly overflowing their tubs. The volume is achieved by artificial thickeners.

• Run a mile from ice cream in lurid colours: there’s no surer sign that chemicals have been involved in their production. Banana should be off-white, pistachio pale green, mint white with a hint of green.

Gelateria del Teatro

A long queue is always a good sign, and Gelateria del Teatro (Via dei Coronari 65) is permanently mobbed by hungry Romans. There are always some surprises in the daily-changing list (concocted in the laboratorio in the back): dark chocolate with Nero d’Avola wine, say, or fennel and caramelized almonds. Scenically sited next to an old theatre, it’s also the perfect place for that obligatory “Here’s me in Rome with an ice cream” snap – sit on the theatre’s crumbling stone steps and tuck in.

Must-tries garden sage and raspberry; ricotta with cherries 

Il Gelato di Claudio Torcè

Rome’s recent gelateria renaissance is largely thanks to master gelataio Claudio Torcè (ilgelatodiclaudiotorce.com), who led the movement towards all-natural gelato a few years ago, and now sells his sensational ice cream from seven locations across Rome. With a hundred flavours, running the gamut from savoury (celery, gorgonzola) to sweet (blueberries and cream, apple strudel) and with much in between, you could arguably have a full meal here and leave very happy.

Must-tries black sesame; pear and cinnamon


Image by Natasha Foges

Carapina

Florence’s top gelateria now has a branch in Rome. Carapina is owned by gelato pioneer Simone Bonini, whose recipes include booze-infused ice cream – the cream of whiskey flavour almost works in lieu of a post-dinner drink – and cheese flavours (parmesan is popular). Bonini’s insistence on premium-quality ingredients ensures the ice cream is fresh, creamy and delicious (and justifies the higher-than-average prices). Unusually for a gelateria, there are tables here, so you can take the weight off and give this gourmet gelato the attention it deserves.

Must-tries nero assoluto (chocolate sorbet); Vin Santo

Come Il Latte

At Come Il Latte two-thirds of each scoop is cream, which accounts for the wonderfully silky end product. The shop is cute as a button, with gushing chocolate fountains and floor-to-ceiling milk bottles (the name means “Like Milk”). If you were once the sort of kid who smothered their ice cream in sauces and sprinkles, this is the place for you: toppings are a big deal here, with white or dark melted chocolate poured inside your cone or on top, plus flavoured whipped cream and a chocolate-dipped cookie for dunking.

Must-tries caramel with pink Himalayan salt; pineapple and basil

Otaleg

Relative newbie Otaleg (gelato spelled backwards) is owned by Marco Radicioni, who was trained by Claudio Torcè, no less, which explains the creative flavour pairings and gourmet ingredients (there are four different pistachios: from Sicily, Turkey, Iran and California). Unusually, the laboratorio is out front, rather than hidden away in a back room, so you can watch the magic as it happens. Otaleg is out of the centre in southwestern Rome, but worth the trek for gelato pilgrims: if Michelin awarded stars to gelaterias, this place would be first in line.

Must-tries zabaione with Marsala; white chocolate, liquorice and mint

Image courtesy of Otaleg

Gelateria dei Gracchi

With plenty of tempting flavours you won’t find elsewhere (zibibbo wine, or dried fig and almond), Gelateria dei Gracchi has a loyal following. Ingredients are always fresh, and every season brings its own special flavour – if you’re in Rome in winter, persimmon is a must-try (cold weather be damned). It’s apparently Anthony Bourdain’s favourite gelateria – and who are we to argue?

Must-tries pistachio; cubano (dark chocolate with rum)

Fatamorgana

As a teenager, Maria Agnese Spagnuolo, founder of Roman mini-chain Fatamorgana, came across a dog-eared book of gelato recipes at a market, picked it up on a whim, and worked through many of the 214 recipes at home. Fast forward to 2003 and the opening of her first gelateria, which soon became known for its emphasis on healthy recipes, with gluten-free gelato, all-natural methods and experimental recipes drawing on herbs and spices. Head to the branch at Piazza degli Zingari 5, in the atmospheric Monti district, and wander the cobbled alleys with cone in hand.

Must-tries pear, port and elderberry; panacea (ginseng, almond milk and mint)

Explore more of Rome with The Rough Guide to Italy or the Rough Guide to RomeCompare flightsbook hostels or hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.  

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month