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Culinary culture: 5 reasons to get to know a new country through it’s food

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What’s the fastest way to get the pulse of a country? Some argue that to truly understand a culture, one must live and work with the native population. For those with a limited time-frame, you would do a lot worse in looking to the kitchen for those local insights. In fact, no matter how long you spend in a country, you should take the time to really get to know the local cuisine. Here are just five reasons to discover a country through your taste buds.

Ingredients are key

It’s no secret that understanding a country’s favourite ingredients gives you a better understanding of the native environment. Whether it’s the rice and noodle dishes of the East or the olive-infused dishes of the Mediterranean, the ingredients used in local dishes can tell you a lot about the cultural, geographic and historic influences embedded in a country’s DNA.

For instance, countries that sit along the ancient silk road stretching from the Far East to Northern Africa to Western Europe have, over the years, incorporated a range of spices into their own national dishes. By understanding where these ingredients originated you can begin to build a picture of the imports that have shaped the cultural landscape.
The next time you’re in a new country, take a stroll through the local markets and see what ingredients are on offer. Even when you think you know a country, wandering between the array of colourful herbs and spices is sure to offer up some unexpected finds.

Collection of exotic spices in bowls
The range of ingredients on offer can reveal a lot about the history and geography of a country

Eating styles can be enlightening

Turns out how a dish is eaten can tell you a lot about the local people. For instance, it is common in parts of East Asia to eat most meals with chopsticks. There are competing stories behind the origin of chopsticks. One argument is that the Chinese philosopher Confucius, a vegetarian, argued that knives were inappropriate at the dinner table. Another school of thought claims that, as populations grew, food became scarcer. As a result, food portions became smaller. Instead, people cut food into smaller morsels and employed chopsticks to ‘pick’ from the pot.

So when you’re next travelling, do some digging into the eating practices of the country. Take time to watch how others eat (without making it weird) and try to master the technique for yourself. It can help you learn more about the country but, just as importantly, it could also help you avoid any embarrassing social faux pas.

Noodle dish with chopsticks resting on bowl
Understand why people eat the way they do to understand the culture

Cooking methods are a revelation

Similarly to the eating techniques of different countries, traditional preservation and cooking techniques can reveal a lot about the way people live. In many countries, the cooking methods employed can vary hugely from region to region, making the national dish a valuable starting point to understanding the unique distinctions between different provinces, cities, towns and even villages.

For instance, in northern India, food is often cooked in a tandoor – a circular clay wood-fired oven – as it enables several different dishes to be cooked simultaneously. This has been an essential feature in north Indian villages for hundreds of years, as the women of the village would gather in the evening and cook their dough to make the roti for the other villagers.
On your next international excursion, take some time to inquire about the techniques used by the chef. You could go away with more than just a new recipe.

Chinese chefs cooking local dishes in kitchen
Cooking methods can be dictated by a range of factors, many cultural

Comparisons say more than you think

Going out of your way to sample the same meal in a range of restaurants can help shape your knowledge of how the rest of the nation enjoys their dish. Of course, you won’t want to eat one dish everywhere you go. Nevertheless, sampling a national dish in different locations can add some shading to your knowledge of the various influences in a country’s history.

For instance, in China, the same dish can be replicated multiple times with hugely different tastes, depending on the location. Whether it’s the spicy noodles of the subtropical Sichuan province or the saltier, richer flavours of the cold northeast, dishes can retain the ingredients while varying to suit local tastes.
Exploring the myriad varieties of a single dish allows you to appreciate the diverse hues that make up a country and understand the ethnographic and cultural differences behind regional identities.

Traditional Cuban dish of ropa vieja with rice and beans
The cooking and presentation methods of a dish can reveal hidden influences

Understanding through experience

It’s only by putting yourself in the shoes of the locals that you begin to truly grasp their circumstances. Food is universal but the ways in which we preserve, prepare and enjoy it varies hugely.

All of this requires not just sampling dishes, but talking to locals about other aspects of their culture. Seeing the dish prepared before your eyes can be even more enlightening.

With a Genie phone, guests can find incredible local cuisine at every turn. With an array of apps to guide visitors to the most authentic experiences, there’s never been a better time to explore the world through your taste buds.

Using a luxury hotel smartphone with apps to help you discover tourist destinations

Top 10 travel apps to help you discover a new city

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Travel apps are the new guidebooks, but choosing which to download for your next trip can be daunting. That’s why we’ve gathered the top travel apps to gets you feeling at home in a new city in no time. Happy travels!

Visiting a new destination is thrilling, but finding your way around an unfamiliar city can be a daunting task. You want to discover a city’s hidden pleasures but, of course, you want to avoid substandard meals or hours of wandering in circles.

Lonely Planet Guides

A staple of the travelling scene for over 40 years, it was only a matter of time until the Lonely Planet got in on the app game. While not offering much off the beaten track, the insights provided by Lonely Planet Guides are pretty solid.

The app comes with a simple, clean UI to enable easy navigation as you traverse new streets, while the audio phrase-books can give you the confidence to start engaging with locals like a pro.

Lonely Planet has always been a firm favourite in the traveller’s itinerary. That’s thanks in large part to the reliable recommendations. With the essential tips in this app, you can ditch the guidebooks without losing the knowledge.

Using smartphone apps with 4G to find tourist destinations

Sidekix

OK, so there’s a thousand apps out there promising to show you the top hidden spots in any given city. Most of these apps probably have a few hidden gems too but, for a consistently reliable exploration tool, Sidekix has to our first choice.

With curated listings specially chosen by locals, the app gives you a personalised insight into new cities.

The real gem of Sidekix, however, lies in its interest-based routeing. The app doesn’t just give you directions to reach your destination, it selects routes based on what you can see and do on the way, so every step offers the opportunity for discovery.

Hotel guests tracking their route in a new city using smartphone data

Spotted by Locals

Spotted by Locals does exactly what it says on the tin – recommending the best local hangouts to check out in a new area.

The app is pretty versatile, allowing you to choose local venues based on your interests and even specify further. Looking for food? Choose from a huge range of cuisines across hundreds of cities. After some entertainment? Spotted by Locals comes with a whole host of categories to ensure you find just what you’re looking for.

With regular updates on all the latest shows, events and haunts, Spotted by Locals could well be your new favourite travel companion.

Using guest smartphone with mobile data to find tourist spots

Sit or Squat

We’ve all been there. You’re exploring a new area when nature calls, but you don’t know where to go without causing an international incident. Step forward Sit or Squat, the toilet-finding app that rates latrines based on such vital attributes as their cleanliness and accessibility.

Of course, Sit or Squat probably won’t help you discover the secret spots of a new city, it probably won’t help you find your new favourite hangout and it definitely won’t lead to any incredible photo opportunities. What it will do, however, is help you find a clean public restroom, and that can be just as important, especially if you’re regretting that seafood dish the night before.

The app allows you to add new locations and spread the word about the best restrooms in town, although why anyone would want to read toilet reviews on holiday is another matter altogether.

A toilet finding app to discover new locations while travelling with free data

EatWith

How do you tap into the vibe of a new city? Some people will tell you it’s by talking to the locals. Others will say it’s all about getting acquainted with the local cuisine. Well, EatWith takes both of those and combines them to give you a dining experience you’ll never forget.

EatWith has created a community of dedicated foodies and uber-sociable home chefs to give you the real taste of a new city. Just download the app, check out the menus in your area and book a seat.

The app comes with an added advantage – every meal is eaten around a communal table with other strangers, allowing you to meet new and interesting people from all walks of life while chowing down on delicious local cuisine. Bon appetit!

Finding food in a new city with free data roaming and travel apps

Trippy

Like a lot of great ideas, Trippy’s appeal lies in its simplicity. Download the app, ask a question to the community regarding a new place or an upcoming trip and make decisions based on the feedback.

Not only does Trippy provide a platform to learn about great events and experiences, it allows you to contribute your own responses. This gives you the opportunity to develop your reputation as a tastemaker while giving visitors to your area a real local experience.

Because the app works on a rating system, you can see which responses have the highest number of ‘Likes’, and begin to build your trip around this advice.

Discover and track new places with unlimited free data abroad

Dark Sky

Every now and then, travelling requires you to relinquish control and accept whatever comes your way. One thing definitely beyond your control when exploring a new city is the weather, but that doesn’t mean you can’t coordinate your day around what you know.

Step forward Dark Sky, the most accurate hyper-local weather report app around. With to-the-minute forecasts, you can traverse a new city and know exactly what the weather will be like at all times.

With stunning, detailed maps and real-time updates, Dark Sky could mean the difference between a day of unspoilt exploration or a miserable sodden slog.

View weather patterns in real time using free mobile data abroad

HearPlanet

Think about the first time you explored a new location – what senses come to mind? Well, HearPlanet is here to give you an aural-jolt to the senses. As the world’s largest audio guide, you can explore hundreds of thousands of locations with the aid of a personal tour guide.

For such a remarkably simple concept, HearPlanet is insanely handy. Not only can you choose from a range of great tours with filters to find exactly what you’re looking for, you can add your own, personalised tour for others to enjoy later.

For an added bonus, give HearPlanet a try in your native city. You never know what you might find out.

Find the best personal walking tours with free hotel smartphone

Citymapper

One of the hardest parts of getting to grips with a new city is the transport. What might seem like a logical network to locals can look like a baffling maze to the uninitiated.

That’s why Citymapper, the app for all things transport-based, is so useful. It’s the ultimate tool for navigating confusing routes, giving you details on every possible mode of transport in your new city while helping manoeuvre the often bewildering intricacies of foreign transport networks.

What separates Citymapper from the array of other travel apps out there is its common sense approach. The app provides regular updates to ensure all routeing info is relevant while providing the simplest, cheapest and most direct routes.

Using a city mapping app while exploring a new city with 4G data roaming

ChefsFeed

Looking for the best culinary offerings in a new city can be a challenging experience. You want an authentic experience, but not necessarily one that involves unfortunate mistranslations and dodgy dishes.

ChefsFeed takes the guesswork out of finding the best restaurants by asking top chefs for their recommendations. The easy to navigate UI lets you read reviews from the best in the business, while the chef profiles allow you to see videos and stories on every aspect of the industry.

Picture Yelp or TripAdvisor, but with all the reviews done by industry specialists. Say goodbye to sub-par pasta, rubbish roasts and mediocre meze. Say hello to delicious dishes from some of the world’s top chefs!

Find incredible food by top chefs with luxury hotel smartphones

So there you have it; just a few of the best apps to make the most of your next city trip. Of course, when you’re in a new country, it can be difficult to get mobile data without incurring significant charges. With a Genie phone, you can stay connected all day long, wherever you are, and it won’t cost a thing.