Food & Drink holidays
Asia is a food-lover’s heaven, and there are as many ways to experience it as there are things to try.
In fact, there's a recipe to the perfect foodie holiday — and it all starts (and potentially ends) with a guided food tour. Once that’s under your belt, and you’re fully armed with knowledge of all those local delicacies, you can graze with confidence in the destinations to come. And wherever you go, be sure to take in a little drinks culture, too; whether you wind up at a hipster coffee café in Saigon or delving into Korea's 24-hour bar culture, you’ll soon find that Southeast Asia is home to some of the best people watching places there are.
To truly understand a cuisine, we’ll sing the praises of taking a cookery class to anyone who will listen. Plus, the classes we've handpicked (many of them community or charitable initiatives) are run by some of the best people we know. Tasty and memorable!
What’s it like to be a vegetarian or vegan in Asia?
Vegetarianism has been established in Asian cultures for centuries, particularly in Buddhist, Daoist and Hindu religious communities, but widespread vegetarianism and veganism is still far less common in Asia than in the West. This means a certain amount of vigilance is necessary to avoid fish sauce and other sneaky additions to plant-based dishes, but it’s certainly not impossible!
When eating out, you’ll find that most places have at least a couple of tofu-based dishes. Even if they don’t (in more rural areas, for instance) you can almost always construct a main meal out of sides, such as steamed veggies, rice and spring rolls. Vegetarian protein options can be somewhat lacking. On the plus side, being vegan isn’t much more difficult than being vegetarian in Asia, since dairy products don’t feature prominently in most Asian food.
Do you have any tips for travelling with a food allergy in Asia?
Specific things to watch out for will depend on where you’re going and what your allergy is. Peanut oil is a common cooking oil in Southeast Asia, so that’s one to be aware of if you’re sensitive to nuts, whereas coeliacs will have few problems since most Asian dishes are rice-based.
Whatever your particular allergy or intolerance, be sure to travel with translation cards to let people know about it (we can provide these if you travel with us). Most tourist-facing restaurants where food is cooked to order will be able to cater to you, but street-food stalls are best avoided. Chat to us when you book your trip and we’ll be able to offer tailored advice on how to cope.
Do I need to tip in restaurants?
In most Southeast Asian countries (including Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand) tipping is not customary but is generally gratefully received — especially in tourist-orientated places, where tipping has become more common. In South Korea and Malaysia, you don’t need to tip at all. If there is a service charge, it’ll be added to your bill.
When it comes to other tourist-related jobs, if you’ve received great service from a guide, driver or porter, a tip isn’t obligatory but it certainly won’t go amiss. It’s not generally expected for you to tip public services such as taxis.
Can you get by if you don’t like spicy food?
In a word, yes. While there are plenty of Asian dishes that are famous for their spiciness, there will nearly always be dishes on the menu that are a little less fiery. As a rule of thumb, if you’re worried about spice, try to go for “dry” dishes such as fried rice instead of soups, broths and curries, which tend to pack a little more punch!
Of course, this will differ from country to country! Laos and Myanmar typically have milder food than their neighbours, but there are always exceptions. Amok curry (a classic dish of Cambodia) is fragrant but not spicy, as it's made with coconut milk. In Vietnam, pho noodle soup can be spicy (especially in Hue!) but in other regions it can be milder, with chillies or chilli sauce served on the side to be added by the individual. In Malaysia, you'll probably need to avoid laksa & rendang, but other classic dishes such as satay skewers & roti canai are mild.
Should I make restaurant reservations in advance?
Most restaurants in our destination countries do not accept reservations. The exception to this is fine-dining establishments, such as Michelin-starred restaurants.
How easy is it to order food if I don’t speak the language?
That depends on where you are — though where there’s a will, there’s always a way! In popular tourist destinations, most restaurants will have an English menu or photo menu available. Even if the staff don’t speak English, you can still point. We recommend learning a few basic phrases in the local language — “please”, “thank you”, “the bill”, and “what do you recommend?” will go a long way. Luckily, since we’re talking about Asia, whatever you order is likely to be tasty! A little surprise here and there is all part of the adventure
Of course, if you need to avoid specific foods, you probably aren’t looking for surprises. If that’s the case, we recommend carrying translation cards to let you waiter know what you can’t eat. It’s also worth having a translator app on your phone to identify key ingredients.