Rough Guides author Kiki Deere delves into Malaysia‘s unique Baba-Nyonya (Peranakan) community and introduces us to their unforgettable cuisine.

The delicious hybrid cuisine of Malaysia’s Baba-Nyonya is one of southeast Asia’s finest. Like the community from which it takes its name, the cooking style is a unique hybrid of Chinese and Malay culture – a legacy of marriages between Chinese immigrants and native Malaysians in Melaka during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

At this time Melaka was was an important Portuguese and Dutch trading route, and the quest for spices resulted in a European community with large plantations growing cloves, pepper and nutmeg. Eager to benefit from these riches, and hoping to escape famine and poverty during Manchu rule, Chinese merchants and entrepreneurs flocked to Melaka. The Chinese settlers, who were largely male, intermarried with Malay women, and so the Baba-Nyonya community was born.

The Baba-Nyonyas adopted Malay customs and social practices while retaining Chinese traditions and religious beliefs, and over time, developed their own unique dialect, Baba Malay. But it’s their blend of Chinese and Malay cooking that remains the most significant legacy.

Their cuisine marries Chinese wok cooking styles with Malay ingredients and condiments, such as candlenut, Vietnamese coriander and fermented shrimp paste, relying on sour sauces and coconut milk. Added in the mix are Indian and Middle Eastern spices, Javan vegetables such as buah keluak (black mangrove tree nuts) and ulam (a plant native to Asian wetlands), resulting in a truly distinctive cuisine that bursts with flavours. Nyonya cooking simultaneously tastes sweet, sour, salty and spicy.

Here are six Baba-Nyonya dishes you have to try:

Laksa Nyonya (curry noodles with coconut milk)

A mouthwatering coconut curry soup, laksa nyonya is a mainstay of Baba Nyonya cuisine. There are a number of laksa variations and ingredients change from region to region. It is traditionally made with a fish-based gravy of prawns, often combined with chicken, and served with thick rice noodles or thin vermicelli. The final dish is garnished with a plethora of ingredients, including Vietnamese coriander, sliced cucumber, omelette, clams, fish ball and foo chok (fried bean curd) with a dollop of chilli sambal paste – it’s a must try.

Ayam Pongteh (Nyonya stewed chicken)

Ayam pongteh is a succulent meat dish of stewed chicken and potatoes in a heavy gravy sauce, commonly served with steamed rice. Shallots and garlic are pounded into a thick paste and sautéed until fragrant, along with dark soy sauce and palm sugar, which lend the dish its dark hue. Chicken is added in, along with water, potatoes and mushrooms, then left to simmer until the gravy has thickened and the chicken is tender. Ingredients are often left to steep overnight in order to enhance flavour.

Udang Masak Lemak Nenas (curry prawns with pineapple)

Simultaneously fruity, sour and spicy, udang masak lemak nenas, a rich, creamy dish made with prawns and pineapple, is traditionally prepared for Chinese New Year feasts and at family reunions. The sweet and tangy flavour of pineapple marries nicely with fragrant spices such as tamarind and lime leaves. A spicy chilli paste is wok sautéed and transferred to a cooking pot with water and pineapple chunks, where it simmers with coconut milk and prawns, resulting in an exquisite dish packed with flavour and aroma.

Ayam buah keluak (chicken with “black nuts”)

This exotic dish is made using the seeds (known as “black nuts”) of the kepayang, a tall tree native to the mangrove swamps of Malaysia and Indonesia. The nuts are poisonous and can be deadly if not cooked, so they’re soaked in cold water for at least two days, after which the flesh is scooped out and pounded into a paste with salt and sugar, before being stuffed back into the shell. The chicken and kepayang seeds are simmered for hours and coated with sautéed spice paste and tamarind puree, resulting in a piquant dish that melts in your mouth.

Nyonya Mee Siam (fried rice noodles with chilli paste)

A prawn-flavoured dish of fried vermicelli noodles, mee siam was influenced by neighbouring Thailand (its name translates as “Siamese noodles”). It is served with hard boiled egg, shredded omelette and fishcake. Calamansi limes are squeezed over the noodles, which are often served with a side of chilli sambal paste, giving the dish a gentle sour and spicy kick.

Nyonya Cendol (coconut dessert)

Very similar to cendol, a popular southeast Asian dessert, nyonya cendol is made with coconut milk, flavoured pandan leaf, jelly noodles, red beans and shaved ice with added sweetness from gula Melaka (palm sugar). This delicious ice-cold delicacy is particularly refreshing on a hot Malay day.

Where to try it
The restaurant of the Casa del Rio Hotel in Melaka is open to non-guests and serves traditional sweet and savoury Nyonya dishes in pretty tiffin boxes at high tea (noon–4pm). Their nyonya mee siam has a mouthwatering sour gravy sauce flavoured with tamarind, chilli and dried prawns, and is garnished with fresh prawns and a fried beaten egg that is rolled, sliced and sprinkled over the dish. 

Explore more of Malaysia with the Rough Guide to Malaysia. Compare flights, book hostels and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Whatever your scene, from sweaty electronic music dancefloors to open-air beer gardens, Cape Town has it all. Being a hedonistic city – especially in the summer – Cape Town has plenty of great bars where you can drink and party, especially on Long and Bree Streets where it’s safe and busy, and there are taxis to get you home. In the summer, the Atlantic Seaboard is a great option, and the party starts with the first sundowners. Taken from the new Rough Guide to Cape Town, these are 7 of our favourite places to sample the city’s nightlife.

Bar-hopping in the city centre

For a night out in the city centre, head to buzzing Long Street. This is one of Cape Town’s most diverse thoroughfares, lined with colonial Victorian buildings that house pubs, bistros and nightclubs, from whose wrought-iron balconies you can catch glimpses of Table Mountain and the sea.

For beer-lovers, modern “beer hall” The Beerhouse is an essential stop, with a menu comprising 20 taps and 99 bottles, 75 percent of which are local craft brews. Pick of the cocktail bars is rooftop TjingTjing, thanks to its upbeat soundtrack and mouth-watering drinks menu – expect unusual ingredients like fynbos, candyfloss vodka and balsamic vinegar. End your night at Fiction, host to stand-out electronic music nights by the likes of Skrillex, Diplo, Pendulum and Noisia.

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Sundowners on the Atlantic seaboard

Clinging to the slopes of Table Mountain in a dramatic ribbon, the Atlantic seaboard suburbs offer ocean views in spades, along with some of the city’s trendiest outdoor cafés and bars. The best place to embrace the scene is at Café Caprice, a beach-facing hangout in Camps Bay popular with celebs (and wannabes). Pavement tables are like gold dust after sunset, so get there early, order a cocktail and watch the sun sink slowly into the ocean.

Ocean-side drinks at the Waterfront

Head to the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town’s redeveloped Victorian harbour, for laidback ocean-side drinks. Best of the outdoor decks is Alba Cocktail Lounge, where the drinks list includes the JellyTot- and Apple Sourz-spiked “Albatizer” – an acquired taste, perhaps. With its private beach, outdoor deck and an infinity plunge pool to boot, nearby Shimmy Beach Club provides a more luxurious option – with the prices and clientele to match.

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Craft beer in Wembley Square

South Africa’s beer landscape has recently undergone a small transformation, propelled by a global microbrew renaissance in the USA, Australia, New Zealand and the UK. And if you want one of the best beer selections in the city, there’s only one place to head, the Wembley Tap. A menu of stomach-lining pizzas provides the perfect accompaniment to local brews by the likes of Jack Black, Mitchell’s and Cape Brewing Company.

A night at P&G’s

If you want to see the hipster side to Cape Town, this is the place to go. On any night of the week “PnG’s” (The Power and The Glory) is a magnet for Capetonians sporting neatly trimmed beards, checked shirts, red lipstick and vintage dresses. But don’t worry too much about fitting in, Cape Town is one of the world’s friendliest cities after all.

During the day you can grab a coffee in the well-styled bistro, kitted out with old-school metal chairs and botanical drawing prints, then it blends seamlessly with a smoking room and cosy bar serving craft beers at night.

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A nightcap at the theatre

As well as offering a real taste of the South African arts scene, the intimate Alexander Theatre also holds an excellent bar. Handsomely furnished in old world decor, this is a good spot for a quiet conversation or nightcap – a much needed addition to Cape Town’s social scene. Old rotary phones in the bar even allow you to call the table next to you while sipping a single malt.

Wine on the rocks at Kalk Bay

Kalk Bay
 might be one of the most southerly and smallest of Cape Town’s suburbs, but don’t overlook it. Head here for drinks at The Polana in the Harbour House complex. The setting, right on the rocks, is spectacular. In the summer you can nestle on battered couches and cushions by the open windows while a fire burns cheerily as the waves crash in winter. Local wines feature heavily on the drinks list and there’s sometimes live music and dancing.

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Explore more of the Cape Town with the Rough Guide to Cape TownBook hostels for your trip, compare flights, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

It’s not the most attractive area of London, but Shoreditch is  a compelling district. Once famous for its turbulent history of crime and immigration, today this corner of London’s East End has been enlivened by an ever-expanding street art scene, a cluster of Sunday markets and an influx of hipsters toting handlebar moustaches and double denim. You could use all the travel writing clichés to describe it: a melting-pot of cultures; a vibrant area with a rich cultural heritage; full of hidden gems.

The area has been home to the French Huguenots, who escaped persecution before the French Civil War in the 1500s, the Jewish community who settled here in the late 1800s, and a wave of Maltese, Irish, Scottish, West Indian, Somali and Bangladeshi migrants who have all impressed their own traditions and cultures on this part of London since the early twentieth century.

Thanks to all this diversity in such a small neighbourhood, Shoreditch is the ideal place to taste the best of East London’s varied cuisines. After taking a tour with Eating London, Lottie Gross recommends five foods for an edible exploration of the East.

Bacon sandwiches at St. John Bread & Wine

It’s a bold statement, but we’ll stand by it: this may well be the best bacon sandwich of your life: thick-cut, freshly baked bread, charred to bring out its natural sugars then slathered in melted butter inside and out; perfectly smoked, salt- and sugar-soaked Gloucester Old Spot bacon; and tomato-and-apple ketchup as the perfect accompaniment. Start your day with one of these and your average British bacon sarnie will never seem the same again. There’s no question that this is the best place for bacon in the city either: Bread & Wine is part of the St. John Group and run by renowned “nose-to-tail” chef Fergus Henderson.

Fish & chips at Poppies

The comforting smell of vinegar-soaked chips and battered fish greets you from metres away as you approach Poppies on Hanbury Street. Owner, Pop Newland, has been serving fish and chips in London his whole life, and hasn’t given up the traditional ways. The takeaway portions come in a “newspaper” cone (specially made with edible ink so as not to poison you) like in the old days, and Cockney rhyming slang phrases are printed on the wallpaper as a reminder of the East End’s now-fading cryptic tongue.

The fish, which comes from a third generation sustainable trader from Billingsgate, is beautifully flakey, the batter light, and the golden chips are fried to perfection. If you’re still not convinced, Poppies won the award for the Best Independent Fish and Chip Restaurant in the whole of the UK in 2014.

Salt-beef bagels at Beigel Bake

When the mood for bagels strikes you, whatever the time, Beigel Bake has got it covered. This 24-hour-a-day bakery is an institution on Brick Lane, most famous for its salt-beef bagels, cooked the traditional way and boiled before they’re baked. A traditional Jewish delicacy – introduced by the migrants that once made up 95 percent of the area’s population – the deliciously salty beef is carved to order from a big hunk kept warm on a plate by the window, served with mustard and gherkin between the bounciest bagel you’ll ever eat. If bovine isn’t your bag, take your pick from the intimidatingly large selection of pastries baked throughout the night.

Curry at Aladin

The smell of food from the  Subcontinent will invade your nostrils and arrest your appetite on a stroll down Brick Lane. It’s almost impossible to resist, and it’s just as hard to choose where to eat, when touts  outside establishments promise “award-winning chefs” and “the best curry in London”. Aladin, at number 132, who set up shop here in 1979 to serve spicy delights to the growing Bangladeshi community, is one of our favourites. Try the succulent lamb in a rogan josh gravy, a stiflingly hot chicken biryani and smoky naan breads from their tandoori oven.

Bread & butter pudding at The English Restaurant

A dish known to cooks since the sixteenth century and once the food of London’s poor (thanks to its basic ingredients and use for stale bread), bread and butter pudding is one of the most quintessentially English comfort foods. Fitting then, that you can indulge in the English Restaurant on Brushfield Street – the oldest house in Spitalfields. In its old-timely oak-clad interior (the wood salvaged from Christchurch, Spitalfields), taste a new twist on this dessert, made with home-baked brioche infused with orange juice and served soaked in a wonderfully refreshing, but still just as comforting, cardamom-and-brandy custard.

Eating London run food tours of Spitalfields and Shoreditch from Mon–Sat at 10am or 10.45am. Rest your head (and stomach) at the hipster Hoxton Hotel in Old Street for an insight into the East London scene.

There is no doubt that Scotland offers up some of the finest produce in the world and, no, we are not just talking about all that glorious whisky. It wasn’t too long ago that the best of it was always spirited off to be enjoyed on the fine dining tables of London, Paris and Madrid. That has all started to change in recent years and there’s now a rich bounty of places to eat dotted around Scotland – from deceptively simple looking chippies through to slick metropolitan dining rooms – where you can enjoy boat-fresh fish, world-class beef and ultra-fresh game within sight of the very boats and pastures that helped dish up your food. 2015 has been designated the Year of Scottish Food and Drink so what are you waiting for? Tuck in!

A Michelin temple

Edinburgh now overflows with a quintet of Michelin star restaurants. Renowned TV chef Tom Kitchin can still be spotted working hard in the open kitchen at The Kitchin, his mercurial signature Michelin temple in trendy Leith. Kitchin’s mantra is ‘from nature to plate’, which translates into sophisticated dishes such as boudin of Inverurie ox tongue served with braised ox shin, bone marrow potato and Parisienne carrots, plus more unusual seasonal options such as sea urchin bisque, served in the urchin, and whole grouse in season.

For seriously good steak

If you love steak – we mean really love steak – then Glasgow’s Butchershop Bar and Grill is for you. They present all the finest Scottish cuts for you to peruse before cooking, including their legendary ‘Tomahawk’, which comes in at over one kilogram. Their Sunday roasts are the stuff of local legend, while away from red meat their breast of local chicken comes with a colcannon mash and confit tomato in a satisfyingly rich red wine and lardon jus.

A Glaswegian buzz

Savvy Glaswegians rate Crabshakk and you will too. The downstairs space buzzes all day with slightly quieter tables upstairs, though at weekends the whole place rocks. No wonder, with such well-chosen wines, excellent sourcing, skilled cooking and ever changing specials spicing up an already impressive menu. The heaving seafood platter could probably feed four, but it makes for a real treat for two. You could keep it ‘simple’ with half a dozen creamy oysters to start followed by a plump Scottish lobster or rump steak and chips. Their seasonal vegetarian risotto comes highly recommended too.

Sustainable seafood

At Edinburgh’s Ondine pioneering head chef Roy Brett and his team take their sourcing seriously. Very seriously in fact. They ambitiously aim to make sure all their seafood is MSC certified. They offer a great dining experience here too. You can just slope in for a few oysters and a glass of wine at the bar or settle into a table for a seafood fiesta. The toughest choice is between the classic chilled fruits de mer platter for two or the shellfish platter roasted with garlic infused cream. (Truly decadent couples order both.) They also offer the best of Scottish beef, tartare style or rib.

The original Loch Fyne

The original Loch Fyne Restaurant and Oyster Bar on the banks of the eponymous loch may have sparked a UK-wide chain, but things are kept fairly simple and fresh in the original. They smoke many of their tasty delights here and haul in their oysters and mussels from the beds on the loch. A recent refurbishment and a revamp of the menu by Edinburgh uber seafood chef Roy Brett has added a renewed sparkle to proceedings. It’s practically impossible to leave without buying something at their shop.

An island escape

Out on the island of Mull lies Café Fish, a wee seafood oasis in the capital of Tobermory. It sits above the ferry pier and the seafood could not be fresher. On the menu are the likes of chunky local creel caught lobster and langoustines, alongside queen scallops landed at nearby Tarbert. Their strapline that ‘the only things frozen are our fisherman’ is no idle boast as they source the freshest catch possible and then cook it with as little fuss as possible. You can end your meal here with some of the delicious Mull cheddar, which is conjured up within walking distance.

The UK’s best chippie

Frankie’s Fish & Chips has won the Scotland title and come second in the UK in the National Fish and Chip Awards. With good reason, as its loyal followers will testify – they think it is always easily the UK’s best. What is even more remarkable is that Frankie’s sits in a remote spot in the ultra remote Shetland Isles. The active local fishing fleet keep them well stocked and they make a real effort to introduce their customers to such unusual chippie delights as king scallops. As well as fried sausage and steak pie, they also do a mean deep fried haggis supper – much nicer than it might sound.

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

Bolivian food has long been in the shadows of its more acclaimed South American neighbours, but the co-founder of Noma – the renowned Nordic restaurant named best in the world earlier this year – aims to change that. Shafik Meghji popped into his new venture in La Paz for alpaca jerky, freeze-dried potatoes, custard apple ice cream and more.

South American food goes from strength to strength. Peru leads the way, with Lima fast becoming the continent’s culinary capital and ceviche and pisco sours adorning menus across the world. Superstar chef Ferren Adriá, of Barcelona’s acclaimed El Bulli, has even declared that the “future of gastronomy is being cooked up in Peru”. Argentina produces the world’s finest steaks, as well as top-class wine. Chile has equally good vineyards, plus outstanding seafood. Time magazine, meanwhile, has named Alex Atala, chef at São Paulo’s much-lauded D.O.M, one of its 100 most influential people in the world.

But while its neighbours may be flourishing, Bolivia has remained in the shadows, its cuisine unable to shake off a long-held reputation for being stodgy and rather monotonous. Claus Meyer – co-founder of Noma, the two-Michelin-starred, Copenhagen-based restaurant named best in the world four times in the last five years – plans to change that.

His restaurant Gustu, which opened in La Paz in 2013 in conjunction with Danish NGO IBIS, assumes Noma’s locavore ethos, matching exclusively Bolivian ingredients with avant-garde cooking techniques. Meyer’s modest aim is to position Bolivia “as a leading tourist gastronomic destination”, and staff members – with a few exceptions, like a couple of senior chefs – are all Bolivian.

Photo © GUSTU – Luis Fernandez

Earlier this year I dropped into Gustu for lunch with my friend Nick. En route from our hotel just off Sagárnaga street, La Paz’s bustling backpacker hub, we passed some of Bolivia’s more traditional food options: lurid, whipped-cream-topped red and green jellies in plastic cups; baskets piled high with salteñas (similar to Cornish pasties); mounds of gnarled potatoes, a small fraction of Bolivia’s 200-plus varieties; and interchangeable traveller joints offering pancakes, pizzas and llama steaks.

The culinary and geographical landscape changed dramatically in the taxi ride to the swish Zona Sur district, the city growing steadily smarter – bigger homes, more green spaces, fewer people. Gustu is in the vaguely Californian Calacoto neighbourhood, just round the corner from a gleaming EU office, and some 500m lower than precipitously high central La Paz. I’d booked a table the previous week, but needn’t have bothered. The only other people in the light, spacious dining room – with an open kitchen and vast windows – were a French couple and a huddle of wealthy local businessmen.

The surprisingly varied menu takes full advantage of Bolivia’s biodiversity, with ingredients from the Andes to the Amazon: Lake Titicaca trout; exotic fruits like chankaka, copoazu and red bananas; gamey alpaca and llama; coffee and chocolate; and cactus and chuño (freeze-dried potatoes). Given Bolivia’s landlocked status, seafood is the only major absentee.

Photo © GUSTU – Luis Fernandez

Gustu’s ingredients may be local, but its prices are decidedly not: a quick glance at the menu shows that the restaurant is way out of reach of most people in Bolivia, one of South America’s poorest countries. The 12-course “Bolivia Menu”, with a drinks pairing, costs 975 bolivianos (around £86/$135), with mains from 85 bolivianos (£7.50/$12). To put this in context, scores of restaurants across La Paz serve hearty (if rather less adventurous) three-course lunches for under two pounds.

As soon as the food arrived, however, any thoughts about the cost drifted away: it was imaginative, unusual and Michelin-star class. Highlights included: yucca fritters with coca leaf-spiked butter; melt-in-the-mouth duck confit with creamed Andean corn; intensely-flavoured native potatoes (one of them gloriously purple) on a potato cream sauce scattered with wild flowers; a surprisingly unctuous dish of raw heart of palm “tagliatelle” with strands of alpaca charque (jerky) and an egg yolk; and a tangy, distinctly adult dessert of chirimoya (custard apple) ice cream with tamarind sauce and chirimoya wafers. Even the occasional misses – notably the promising but underpowered dish of bacon smoked with wild cocoa – almost hit the spot.

Photo © GUSTU – Luis Fernandez

Drinks were also of a high standard: a gin, burnt mandarin juice and charcoal cocktail that somehow managed to be both refreshing and smoky at the same time; a quinoa beer from a microbrewery barely 50m away from the restaurant; and a fruity red tannat from Aranjuez, one of the highest vineyards in the world.

The service at Gustu was unfailingly charming if occasionally error-prone: the poor lad who brought out our first dishes was visibly shaking, and managed to drop a plate with a clatter; his colleagues in the glass-fronted kitchen were unable to contain their smiles as he hyper-apologetically cleared everything up. The incident highlighted another of the objectives of Meyer’s venture, which is to give around 30 young Bolivians from disadvantaged backgrounds – few of whom had prior restaurant experience – the chance to learn cooking, baking and serving skills in a professional environment at a linked culinary school.

Some twelve courses and four and half hours later, after a final limocello, Nick and I waddled satisfied to our taxi. Gustu has noble aspirations and genuinely ground-breaking food. Whether it’s enough to launch Bolivia as a “leading tourist gastronomic destination”, however, remains to be seen.

Shafik Meghji co-authors The Rough Guide to Bolivia. He blogs at www.unmappedroutes.com and tweets @ShafikMeghji. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Kosha Mangsho

One of Bengali cuisine’s most celebrated dishes, kosha mangsho is a hearty meal of semi-dry mutton in thick, velvety gravy. The meat is cooked in its own juices and flavoured with cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and numerous other spices, and the resulting rich, dark-brown delight has become a perennial family favourite for a lazy Sunday lunch. Try it at Golbari, in Kolkata, which has been specializing in kosha mangsho for over 85 years.

Naan bread

Another simple yet essential part of an Indian meal, in the north at least, naan is a leavened flatbread that is kneaded with yoghurt and baked on the sides of a deep clay over – the tandoor that lends its name to the tandoori cuisine of North India. Thick and chewy, it is the perfect accompaniment for rich meaty dishes. Purists prefer it plain, though you can also bake it with garlic or with coconut and almonds (peshwari).

Kaju barfi

Indian sweets can be very sweet indeed, and only the sweetest of tooths could work their way through a box of kaju barfi. Barfi is a kind of fudge made from milk that has been boiled down and condensed, and kaju barfi are creamy white chunks of temptation, topped with silver leaf (which you eat) for good measure.

Dosas

Dosas are a South Indian staple, and you won’t travel far in Kerala or Karnataka before coming across one of these moreish crispy pancakes. Made from fermented rice batter, they come in a variety of forms, the most common of which is the masala dosa, where the pancake is stuffed with a spicy potato curry.

Dhal

So simple and yet so significant, dhal is invariably served – in one form or another – with every Indian meal. These versatile curried lentils can appear alongside a main as anything from a soupy sambar, spiked with asafoetida and tamarind, to a tarka dhal, cooked with a masala of fried garlic, onions and spices.

Biriyani

Like many of India’s most popular dishes, biriyani was brought to the Subcontinent by Muslim invaders from Central Asia and Persia. It’s a classically rich North Indian dish that marries fragrant rice, baked with saffron or turmeric and whole spices, with chunks of moist marinated meat (and often a hard-boiled egg). Pungent and hearty, and especially appetising when sealed with a crusted pastry ‘lid’ that’s cracked open at the table.

Bhajis

Even if you never eat Indian food, you’ll no doubt have tried a bhaji at some point. Bhaji is just the Indian name given for a vegetable dish, whether that be a side of aubergine (brinjal bhaji) or potato (aloo) or chopped onions mixed in batter with flour and spices and then deep-fried – the onion bhaji, the ubiquitous street snack that has become a staple starter in curry houses across the UK.

Thali

The beauty of a thali is its variety – and the fact that ordering one in most traditional restaurants is essentially a licence to eat as much as you want. Named for the metal tray on which it is served, a thali usually consists of an island of rice surrounded by a selection of vegetarian curries, chutneys and pickles, accompanied in the south by puris and a spicy soup known as rasam.

Chawalki kheer

This delicate North Indian rice dish is a favourite desert and a popular go-to for adding a touch of sweetness to festive occasions. Basmati rice, milk and nuts form the base; for extra flavour, saffron is added, along with cardamom and, when the kheer has thickened sufficiently, raisins. It’s hard to beat a comforting bowl of hot chawalkikheer, though the dish can also be served cold.

Golgappa

In the wide-ranging world of Indian street food, golgappa scores highly for its novelty value. Made from plain flour or semolina and fried until golden, these crispy balls (golgappa means "crisp sphere") are traditionally filled with spiced potatoes and/or chickpeas and dipped into a bowl of water peppered with cumin, coriander and other spices. Pop it into your mouth in whole go and enjoy the hit from the spiced water, the kick from the filling and the crispiness of the gappa itself.

Goan fish-head curry

Nothing invokes memories of Goa – the soft sands, the swaying palm trees, the little shack restaurants on the beaches’ edge – quite as much as fish-head curry. The fish, usually a pomfret, a flat fish, though the exact type can vary, is marinated in onions, coconut, garlic and chilli and then cooked up into a gloriously rich soup that is both hot and sour and very, very tasty.

Raita

Something of an unsung hero in the world of accompaniments, a good raita will provide the perfect balance to a meal, its combination of curd and coriander helping cut through the heat of spicier dishes. Boondi raita, where crunchy balls of fried gram flour are added just before serving, is almost a meal in itself, and includes chat masala, for a touch of tanginess.

Vada

The doughnut-shaped vada is a classic example of a snack that shouldn’t work but does. On paper, a spicy fritter that is made out of lentils and deep fried sounds like something that shouldn’t get any further than that. But in reality it’s a very moreish little South Indian snack, and you can quite easily chomp your way through a plateful. There are numerous variations on the theme: a vada pao (or vada pav), for instance, is a vada served in a bun with chutney.

Gulab jamun

The phrase "naughty but nice" might well have been invented for gulab jamun: spongy dough balls deep fried in ghee and served in syrup. The name is derived from the Hindi word for "rose" (gulab, as the syrup is scented with rose water) and a type of berry that grows in India, a reference to the colour and size of the dough balls. Unbelievably sweet, incredibly cloying – the syrup works right through the dough – but ridiculously addictive.

Seekh kebab

A common appetizer in North India, seekh kebabs are made of spiced minced lamb (sometimes beef) that is pressed onto a skewer and then grilled, though traditionally they were cooked in the tandoor. They are delicious with a squeeze of lemon and a mint chutney. As with other kebabs, they can also be served with sauces in a griddle-fried flatbread, known as a kathi roll, a street food that originated in Kolkata.

Rogan josh

A classic Mughlai dish, rogan josh is traditionally part of Kashmiri cuisine but has spread across North India. Succulent pieces of braised lamb cooked in numerous spices, it is a medium-hot curry, the name referring either to the way it’s cooked (from the Persian for "hot oil") or its appearance ("rogan" meaning "red", a reference to the dried Kashmiri chillies that lend the dish its deep rich colour.

Paneer paratha

The versatile paratha, a lightly fried bread, can be stuffed with anything from fenugreek leaves to minced meat, or just served plain with a touch of jam at breakfast. But there’s something about a paneer paratha that sets it apart, the contrast between the crisp exterior and the soft cheese inside, blended with salt, chilli powder and coriander leaves. Eat it immediately, with a melting knob of butter, or add some yogurt or pickle.

Mishti doi

Mishtidoi originates from Bengal but has become a popular dessert throughout India. It is essentially thickened milk mixed with jaggery or sugar, some of which is caramelized, but the result is a deliciously balanced pudding, with sweetness and tang jostling for position on your tastebuds. The yoghurt is usually served in earthen pots, which make it even thicker and creamier.

Mysore pak

A rich dessert that originates from the state of Karnataka in South India, Mysore pak is made using gram flour, ghee (clarified butter) and sugar. Legend has it that it was dreamt up by a chef at the Mysore Palace, a man who clearly didn’t do savoury – "pak", rather unsurprisingly, derives from the Sanskrit for "sweet". It is popular festival treat, particularly during Diwali.

Tikka masala

Purists will argue that chicken tikka masala is not, technically, an Indian dish at all, having been created for UK domestic diners in the 1970s, who wanted some "gravy" with their dry tikka dish. But there’s no denying the dish’s impact, and having famously been voted the UK’s most popular meal, it must be doing something right. A tasty introduction to Indian cuisine for the cautious, tikka masala combines the tandoor clay oven with pan-frying, using subtle spices in a rich, creamy sauce.

Gourmets rank Turkish food, along with French and Chinese, as one of the world’s three classic cuisines. The country’s rich and varied cooking derives from its multi-ethnic Ottoman heritage – when it was part of an empire stretching from the Middle East to the Balkans and the Caucasus to North Africa – and food is often the highlight of a visit. To whet your appetite, these are some of Turkey’s finest dishes, from A to Z.

Appetizers (meze)

Turkey is justly famous for its meze, in many ways the heart of the nation’s cuisine. The best and most common include: patlıcan salatası (aubergine mash), piyaz (white haricot vinaigrette), semizotu (purslane weed, usually in yoghurt), mücver (courgette croquettes), sigara böreği (tightly rolled cheese pastries), imam bayıldı (cold baked aubergine with onion and tomato) and dolma (any stuffed vegetable, but typically peppers or tomatoes).

Baklava and pastry-based desserts

There are a variety of different baklava-related desserts, all permutations of a sugar, flour, nut and butter mix. The best is antep fıstıklı sarması (pistachio-filled baklava); cevizli (walnut-filled baklava) is usually a little cheaper. Also worth trying is künefe, another southeastern Turkish treat made from mild goat’s cheese, topped wıth shredded wheat soaked in syrup, and baked in the oven.

Bread (ekmek)

The standard Turkish loaf, sold from glass-fronted cabinets outside grocery stores across the city, is good if an hour or two old, but soon goes spongy and stale. Flat, semi-leavened pide bread is served with soup, at kebapcıs and during Ramadan. Unleavened durum, like a tortilla, is the wrap of choice in cheap döner joints. Mısır ekmeği (corn bread) is a Black Sea staple, sometimes makes an appearance.

Cheese (peynir)

There’s far more to Turkish cheese than beyaz peynir (like Greek feta), a ubiquitous element of the standard Turkish breakfast. Dil peynir (“tongue” cheese), a hard, salty cheese that breaks up into mozzarella-like filaments, and the plaited oğru peynir, can both be grilled or fried like Cypriot halloúmi. Tulum peynir is a strong, salty, almost granular goat’s cheese cured in a goatskin. Otlu peynir from the Van area is cured with herbs and eaten at breakfast; cow’s-milk kaşar, especially eski (aged) kaşar from the Kars region, is also highly esteemed.

Fish (balık)

Budget mainstays include sardalya (sardines – grilled fresh), hamsi (anchovies – usually fried) and istavrit (horse mackerel). Mercan (red bream), lüfer (bluefish), kılıç (swordfish) and orfoz (giant grouper) are highly prized and expensive. Çipura (gilt-head bream) and levrek (sea bass) are usually farmed and consequently good value – if less tasty. But whatever its price, fish is generally simply prepared and grilled.

Meat dishes (etli yemegi)

Kebabs include the spicy adana, with its sprinkling of purple sumac herb betraying Arab influence; İskender kebap, best sampled in the city of Bursa, is heavy on the flat bread and yoghurt. Köfte (meatballs), şiş (stewed meat chunks, usually mutton or beef) and çöp (bits of lamb or offal) are other options. Chicken (piliç or tavuk) is widely available, usually either as a skewer-cooked şiş or a breast fillet. Karnıyarık, aubergine halves stuffed with a rich mince-filling, is another delicious staple, as is güveç, a clay-pot fricassee. Hunkar beğendi (beef stew on a bed of puréed eggplant and cheese) has its origins in Ottoman times and is a must-try.

Milk-based puddings (muhallebi)

Süpangile (“süp” for short, a corruption of soupe d’Anglais) is an incredibly dense, rich chocolate pudding with sponge or a biscuit embedded inside. More modest dishes are keşkül (a vanilla and nut-crumble custard) and sütlaç (rice pudding) – one dessert that’s consistently available in ordinary restaurants. The most complicated dish is tavukgöğsü, a cinnamon-topped morsel made from hyper-boiled and strained chicken breast, semolina starch and milk. Kazandibi (literally “bottom of the pot”) is tavukgöğsü residue with a dark crust on the bottom – not to be confused with fırın sütlaç, which looks the same but is actually sütlaç pudding with a scorched top baked in a clay dish.

Offal (çöp)

Böbrek (kidney), yürek (heart), ciğer (liver), and koç yumurtası (ram’s egg) or billur (crystal) – the last two euphemisms for testicle, less commonly found of late – are just some of the more entertaining specialities, but far more readily available is kokoreç, seasoned lamb’s intestines often cooked on a charcoal grill and available from street vendors.

Salad (salata)

Çoban (shepherd’s) salatası is the generic term for the widespread cucumber, tomato, onion, pepper and parsley salad (beware, the peppers are sometimes hot); yeşil (green) salad, usually just some marul (lettuce), is only seasonally available. Mevsim salatası or seasonal salad – perhaps tomato slices, watercress, red cabbage and lettuce hearts, sprinkled with cheese and drenched in dressing – resembles a Western salad and often accompanies a kebab meal.

Soup (çorba)

The most frequently encountered soups are mercimek (lentil), ezo gelin (rice and vegetable broth – thick enough to be an appetizing breakfast), paça (trotters) or işkembe (tripe) soup laced liberally with garlic oil, vinegar and red pepper flakes, an effective hangover antidote/preventative.

Steamtray dishes (hazır or sulu yemek)

Dishes such as kuru fasulye (bean soup – rather like baked beans in tomato sauce), taze fasulye (French beans), sebze turlu (vegetable stew) and nohut (chickpeas) are usually found in lokantas (and the home). Meaty favourites include sebzeli köfte (meatballs stewed with vegetables) and various types of chicken stew.

Turkish Delight (lokum)

The best-known Turkish sweet, lokum is ubiquitous. In its basic form, it’s just solidified sugar and pectin, flavoured (most commonly) with rosewater and sprinkled with powdered sugar. More expensive are versions liberally studded with nuts, usually either walnuts or pistachios.

 

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

Basking in sunshine pretty much year-round but surprisingly untroubled by tourist crowds – they’re queuing for the Prado in Madrid, or lining the beaches of the nearby Costa Blanca – Valencia is the perfect city for a laidback weekend break. Lacking the iconic sights of Barcelona and Madrid, the focus here is the amazing food. This is a city for gluttons and gastronomes alike, running the gamut from moreish market-stall snacks to Michelin-star dinners. It’s tempting to spend most of your time guzzling tapas but there’s plenty more to this fast-regenerating city, from the high-profile architectural showpieces mushrooming all over town to the explosive Las Fallas, one of Spain’s most important fiestas.

Paella por favor

The city’s biggest claim to fame is that it’s the birthplace of paella, and a plateful of sticky, saffron-tinged rice with meat or seafood (Valencian tradition vetoes mixing the two) is a must-try while you’re in town.

The traditional day to eat paella is Sunday, when locals flock to the beachside restaurants for their weekly fix. The vast dining room of La Pepica resounds with the chatter of locals putting the world to rights over sizzling pans of fragrant rice. The authentic local version comes with rabbit, chicken and snails (not a fan of molluscs? Ask for it sin caracoles); you could also try fideuà (with noodles and seafood) or the dense, inky arroz negro (with cuttlefish). Afterwards, snooze the day away on Malvarrosa beach, a dreamy stretch of golden sand.

Shop for foodie souvenirs

Valencia holds Europe’s biggest covered market, a gorgeous Modernista affair with a stained-glass facade and a tiled cupola embellished with bright Valencian oranges. The thousand-plus stalls are piled high with seasonal produce, selling a tempting array of goodies, from Iberico ham to turrón (nougat). Central Bar, owned by Valencia-born superchef Ricard Camarena – best known for his eponymous Michelin-star restaurant in the same city – serves up simple meals amid the bustle of the market, and is also a good spot to sample the celebrated local cava, from the nearby Requena region.

Tuck into tapas

There are scores of bars where you can gorge on tapas or grab a quick pintxo (like tapas but often more elaborate, skewered with a cocktail stick and eaten at the bar), especially in the winding lanes of the Barrio del Carmen. The best place for a tapas blow-out, though, is the atmospheric Bodega Casa Montaña in the Cabañal fishermen’s quarter. Duck under the wooden bar-top to the back room, with its vast barrels and wine-making apparatus, and feast on clóchinas (Valencia’s tasty small mussels, in season May to August), chorizo in cider, morcilla (black pudding), broad bean stew and more – come hungry.

Other tapas highlights include mussels in spicy broth at spit-and-sawdust Bar Pilar (Calle del Moro Zeit 13), where waiters holler your order to the kitchen; Tasca Angel (Carrer de la Puríssima 1) for stellar grilled sardines; and buzzy Las Cuevas (Carrer del Comte d’Almodóvar 8), which has a huge variety of dishes. For a lively overview, take a tapas tour with Suzie Anon y Garcia, a dedicated foodie and licensed tour guide with an in-depth knowledge of the local scene.

Drink and be merry

The historic Barrio del Carmen and hip Russafa districts are perfect for bar-hopping. Do as the Valencianos do and order a pitcher of agua de Valencia – a refreshing but lethal mix of cava, orange juice, vodka and gin. Top bars to try it are Sant Jaume (Calle Caballeros 51), an atmospheric old pharmacy with wood-panelled walls, and and Café de las Horas, with a star-spangled ceiling and a theatrical vibe..

The City of Arts and Sciences, by o palsson via Compfight cc

If it’s daytime refreshment you’re after, try horchata – a sweet and creamy local speciality made from tiger nuts and served with long slivers of cake called fartons; horchatería El Siglo (Plaza Santa Catalina), founded in 1836, serves the best in town, and has a marvellously retro interior.

Go gourmet

Valencia boasts five Michelin-star restaurants but the place currently creating a buzz is as-yet-unstarred La Salita. The food is nouvelle but satisfying, and the whimsical creations of chef Begoña Rodrigo (winner of Spain’s version of Masterchef), such as a starter of little shrimps caught in a seaweed fishing net, or a “washing line” of petits fours (complete with clothes pegs), make this a great place for a special occasion. The 7-course tasting menu costs under €50 – a bargain.

Have a blast at Las Fallas

Valencia’s biggest fiesta, Las Fallas, in honour of St Joseph, takes place every year in March. Each neighbourhood builds huge cartoonish figures – some as big as houses – which are spectacularly set ablaze on the night of March 19. In the preceding days, there are paella contests, parties and bullfights, and every day at 2pm the central Plaza del Ayuntamiento is filled with ear-splitting displays of pyrotechnics set off by rival neighbourhoods.

See the sights

Work off the paella with a stroll, starting in the Barrio del Carmen, a labyrinthine network of streets that holds the Baroque-Gothic cathedral, said to house the Holy Grail; climb the bell-tower’s 207 steps for dizzying views. Nearby La Lonja, the old silk exchange building, is a UNESCO-protected Gothic masterpiece.

La Lonja by Pleuntje via Compfight cc

Wind your way north through the backstreets towards the lovely Jardínes del Turia, a scenic sunken park that takes the route of the old river Turia, which was diverted following flooding in 1956. Wander through the park and you’ll arrive at the focus of Valencia’s recent regeneration: the City of Arts and Sciences. Mostly designed by local-born architect Santiago Calatrava, this futuristic ensemble of bleached-white buildings surrounded by turquoise pools includes the curvy Oceanogràfic, Europe’s largest aquarium, and the astonishing eye-shaped Hemisfèric, used as an IMAX cinema. From here it’s a short hop to the redeveloped port area, which boasts the sleek Veles e Vents marina building, headquarters for the Americas Cup twice in recent years.

Further along the waterfront is a stretch of fine-sand beach backed by a promenade of breezy paella restaurants. Ernest Hemingway famously tried his first paella here, and it soon became a favourite haunt. In fact, he was so taken with the town that he chose it as the perfect location to begin his first novel The Sun Also Rises; take a beachside seat in the sunshine, order a plateful and you’ll soon see why.

There are direct flights to Valencia from London, or fly to Madrid and catch the high-speed AVE train from there. Explore more of Spain with the Rough Guide to Spain. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Sandwiched between Italy, Croatia, Hungary and Austria, Slovenia might be small but it’s a surprisingly diverse country. Venture just an hour or so from the compact capital, Ljubljana, and you’ll find nearly 50 kilometres of sunny Adriatic coastline, tranquil wine regions and the stunning Lake Bled, backed by the soaring Julian Alps. Travel a little further and you’ll hit the dramatic Logarska Dolina, karst plateaus riddled with cave systems and Maribor, the country’s engaging second city. It’s no wonder Rough Guides readers voted Slovenia as one of the world’s most beautiful countries. To find out more, this year we’ve explored the country season by season. 

Winter

In winter, our adventure travel expert Helen Abramson took to the slopes in the Julian Alps. Trying her hand at cross-country skiing, snow-biking and a couple of black runs, she found out why Slovenia is one of the most affordable and accessible European ski destinations.

Spring

Spring saw Lottie Gross explore the country out of season. Over five days she cycled and paraglided without the summer crowds in Logarska Dolina, overindulged on a food tour in Ljubljana and sampled a taste of traditional life on a tourist farm.

Photograph © Lottie Gross 2014

Summer

Over a sunny summer weekend in late August, Tim Chester hit the coast on a short tour of the Slovene Riviera. Never straying far from the Adriatic, he scouted out the seaside city of Piran, Izola’s fish festival and salty spa treatments at Sečovlje.

Autumn

To round off the year, this autumn Eleanor Aldridge travelled to Slovenia’s far west. Visiting the Vipava Valley and Goriška Brda at harvest time, she met some of the country’s pioneering orange winemakers and discovered the natural beauty of these rural regions.

nejcbole via Compfight cc

Discover more about Slovenia with our online guideBook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Header image © Lottie Gross 2014

Xia long bao

Xia long bao are a Shanghainese specialty. Often known as soup dumplings, these little pleated parcels contain minced pork in jelly, which once steamed, melts into a rich, warm broth. The trick to eating them is to pick the dumpling up gently from the top, dip it in dark vinegar and then nibble a small hole through which you can slurp out the soup.

Stinky tofu

Stinky tofu divides opinion like no other Chinese street food. Fermented and then deep-fried, this distinctive snack often comes with lashings of chilli sauce. Unsurprisingly, given the name, you can usually smell it several streets away. The taste, however, often has inquisitive visitors pleasantly surprised.

Siu mei

Siu mei, or Cantonese barbecued meats, are a Hong Kong classic. If you’re not sure where to start, search out a restaurant serving whole roast sucking pig. This is no ordinary hog roast: the beast is stuffed with sticky rice and roasted over an open flame until every inch of skin is perfectly crispy.

Sichuan hot pot

Hot pot, or huo guo, is one of Sichuan’s best-known dishes and makes good use of the fiery chillies which the province is known for. Try it at a dedicated hot pot restaurant in Chengdu, where the dish is heated at your table. You’ll be presented with thin slices of raw meat and vegetables to cook in an oily stock spiked with chilli and peppercorns.

Rou jia mo

Rou jia mo might have gained the moniker “the Chinese hamburger”, but the sandwich-like snack has been around far longer than its Western counterpart. The recipe is thought to have originated in Shaanxi province, and the capital, Xi’an, remains the spot to order one. Inside the dense wheat flatbread (the "mo") you’ll find minced lamb or beef with fresh coriander and spices.

Peking duck

It’s been decades since Beijing was known as Peking, but somehow the name has stuck among foreigners when it comes to the city’s famous roast duck. Beijing kaoya, as it’s properly known, will be carved at your table: morsels of crisp skin are eaten first, then the meat is dunked into sweet bean sauce and wrapped in a thin pancake with cucumber and spring onions.

Mooncakes

Mid-autumn festival means one thing when it comes to food in China: mooncakes. These small, round pastries are available in more and more flavours each year, with fillings ranging from traditional lotus bean paste and egg yolk to strawberry and black sesame. Today they’re often given as gifts, presented in elaborate boxes to family, friends and business associates.

Lanzhou la mian

There’s nowhere better to try Lanzhou’s classic beef noodle soup, Lanzhou la mian, than in Lanzhou itself, capital of Gansu province in China’s northwest. The city’s famous hand-pulled noodles are the star of the dish, served with beef, spring onions and chilli oil in a clear, aromatic broth flavoured with spices like turmeric and cumin.

Jiaozi

If you’re in Beijing around Chinese New Year, you’re sure to come across these moreish crescent-shaped dumplings, which are traditionally served at this time of year. Jiaozi recipes vary, but often contain pork, cabbage and chive. Traditionally they’re steamed rather than fried and served with soy, vinegar and chilli oil for dipping.

Jian bing

Thin egg and spring onion pancakes, jian bing are a popular breakfast food. Sometimes known as Chinese crepes, just like their European namesake they’re bought from street stalls and eaten on the go. Sometimes you’ll find them served simply with a smear of hot sauce; other vendors add fillings like pickles, vegetables and crunchy, deep-fried wonton skins.

Hairy crab

Come autumn, steamed hairy crabs are the ultimate delicacy in Shanghai and the state of Jiangsu in eastern China; some of the finest are said to be caught in Yangcheng Lake near Suzhou. Eating them is a fiddly task. First remove the shell, then pick out the highly-prised roe inside. The crabmeat itself can finally be extracted and dipped into a rice vinegar and ginger sauce before eating.

Hainanese chicken rice

Hainanese chicken rice might be best known as Singapore’s national dish these days, but there are no prizes for guessing where the recipe originated. The dish has three key elements: poached chicken, sticky rice cooked in chicken stock and ginger, and a thin broth on the side. Lip-numbing chilli sauce is the traditional accompaniment.

Dragon well tea shrimp

The city of Hangzhou in Zhejiang province might be famous for its lake, but it’s the local rivers that we have to thank for this dish. Dragon well tea shrimp, or longjing xia ren, sees local river prawns stir-fried with longjing green tea leaves. Reportedly the dish was created by accident after a chef dropped in the leaves by mistake while cooking for a former emperor.

Congee

This simple rice porridge is China’s most famous breakfast dish and comfort food – and it appears in numerous guises. Some of the most common congee toppings and accoutrements include minced pork, century eggs, mushrooms, coriander, chilli oil and fresh ginger. At breakfast, meanwhile, you’ll nearly always find it served with deep fried dough sticks called you tiao.

Mapo doufu

There’s more to Sichuanese cuisine than its famous hot pot. One of the most traditional recipes is mapo doufo, a tofu dish that can be roughly translated as "pockmarked grandmother’s bean curd". As in much of Sichuan’s cuisine, chillies feature heavily in the dish, usually with ground beef or pork, fermented black beans and spring onions.

Char siu bao

Dim sum doesn’t get much better than char siu bao, sweet and sticky barbecued pork encased within a fluffy, cloud-like bun. Cantonese in origin, this dim sum staple is now a favourite all over China. Baked versions pop up on menus here and there, but traditionally the hand-rolled dough buns should be steamed for just ten minutes.

Century eggs

No, they aren’t aged for a century, but these preserved eggs might have you fooled. Don’t be put off by the translucent, jelly-like whites or soft green-grey yolks: century eggs
are a widely-consumed delicacy. The off-putting appearance comes from the preservation process: several weeks encased within a mixture of rice husks, ash, clay, lime and salt.

Zongzi

Sticky rice parcels somewhat like tamales, zongzi are traditionally eaten as part of the Dragon Boat Festival celebrations in early summer; each region has their own variation. Inside the bamboo leaf wrapper, which has been steamed for several hours, you’ll find a fistful of glutinous rice surrounding fillings like marinated pork belly, shitake mushrooms or red bean paste.

Chicken feet

Like them or loathe them, you can’t deny that chicken feet remain a resolutely popular snack. If you’re trying them for the first time, you might find the texture harder to handle than the taste. Look out for steamed, stir-fried and marinated variants to ease you in, particularly in Hong Kong where they are a traditional dim sum staple.

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