Wednesday
Oct022013

A Look at a Few of Europe’s Favorite Dishes

Much like movies or cars or music, there is no “one best” food that pleases everyone. Some like spicy, some like mild, some prefer a fine t-bone steak while others would prefer to avoid meat entirely. Every country or culture has its own specialties and favorites, and as fans of travel, Agoda.com thinks that trying the local dishes is the best – and tastiest – way to learn a bit more about the country you’re in. Here are a few of Europe’s most-loved and popular foods, and the country they hail from.

Bulgaria

Almost every restaurant in the Balkan Peninsula serves Shopska Salad, which gets its name from the Shopluk region where Bulgaria, Serbia and Macedonia meet. The story goes that it was created in the 1950’s  as a unique dish to offer visitors and place Bulgaria on the culinary map, much like Italian gelato or Chinese dumplings have done. The recipe is quite simple: chop up tomatoes, cucumber, onion, peppers and parsley, add oil and a few dashes of salt or pepper, and top it off with a healthy dose of grated briny sirene cheese. Splash a bit of vinegar on there if you want a stronger taste.

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Wednesday
Sep252013

Hotels of Note: The Manila Hotel

The Philippines is comprised of over 7,000 islands, which is a staggering amount of choice if you are an island lover. The most logical place to start a trip to the Philippines is the capital of Manila. Most international flights arrive here, and from Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport you can get to everywhere else. But before rushing off to those idyllic islands you may want to consider checking out the capital, and if you do you shouldn’t miss the majestic Manila Hotel.

Hotel History

The 570-room Manila Hotel opened in 1912, making it the oldest luxury hotel in the Philippines. It was a part of the plan to rebuild Manila when the US took over the Philippines from Spain in 1898, which included wide boulevards, stately buildings and elegant architecture. The grand design of the Manila Hotel matched this ambition well, and it was decided to place it next to Rizal Park.

The hotel was occupied by Japanese troops during World War II – that is, until American and Philippine forces launched the offensive that became the catastrophic Battle of Manila. Despite most of the city being destroyed, the hotel survived mostly intact. It returned to business after the war, and was expanded in 1976.

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Wednesday
Sep182013

Overview of the side dishes that make a Korean meal complete

With every meal you eat in South Korea, you’ll not only get the main dish, but also a variety of small side dishes known as banchan. From a Korean self-barbecue feast to a simple hot rice/salad mixture of bibimbap, everywhere you eat, tasty side dishes will be provided.

There are countless different types of banchan prepared in South Korea, but the exact ingredients will depend on where you are in the country and what ingredients happen to be locally available at that particular time. Soy sauce-braised tofu, boiled bean sprouts in chili, miniature seafood pancakes, quail eggs, candied lotus root, sesame seed-seasoned greens, stir fried potato starch noodles, and of course, kimchi, are just a sampling of the never ending list of banchan possibilities. In fact, banchan are so delicious and offers such a well-rounded realm of flavors, that the side dishes alone could be considered an entire feast of its own!

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Wednesday
Sep112013

Big City Transit: Jakarta

Just so we’re clear: Jakarta has a traffic problem. The city’s official tourism portal tactfully points out that congestion is a problem “despite the presence of many wide roads”. That’s one way of putting it, and here’s another – there’s plenty to enjoy in this energizing metropolis; but getting around isn’t one of them.

Jakarta is the biggest city in the world without a mass rapid transit system. Construction is underway, but relief is a long way off. Meanwhile, car ownership in the capital grows 10 to 15 percent each year. Analysts are even counting down to an impending ‘total gridlock’ apocalypse, where traffic becomes so bad that it begins to affect the efficiency of the city’s workforce and the economic output thereof. It sounds sensational, but total gridlock is no joke, and it’s a very hot topic in Jakarta.

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Wednesday
Sep042013

Osaka’s Food Scene

There are plenty of places in Japan where one can go to sample fine food, but there are few that have the culinary reputation that Osaka does. Indeed, the city and its inhabitants have embraced something called kui-dao-re (食い倒れ), which in Japanese means “eat until you die.” Osakans take eating seriously, and this is reflected in the many (many) great places to dine. There’s no room for amateur experimentation here – if a restaurant doesn’t meet the high standards of the food-happy locals, it’s time to close down. When you consider that Osaka has 99 restaurants that make the Michelin guide (4 of them rated 3-stars),  and is home to the Tsuji Culinary Institute, widely considered Japan’s finest, it’s clear that Osaka’s eating culture is very much worth checking out.

Like most big cities, you’ll find the highest concentration of restaurants near to the busiest shopping and nightlife districts. This includes exclusive reservation-only establishments with outrageous prices to local hole-in-the-wall eateries with no frills and no guidebook write-ups. No matter which one you choose, you’re bound to have a good meal.

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Wednesday
Aug282013

Luck & Superstition in Different Countries

One interesting aspect of traveling is that there are so many facets of a new country or culture that you never really think about. The big things are easy to spot – language, dress, religion, government, currency – but there many little ones that go unnoticed. For instance, in English-speaking countries, a dog says woof woof! But in Thailand, a dog says hong hong! It’s the little things that are often the coolest.

Another cultural aspect with many differences is people’s perceptions of good and bad luck. Certain things, like black cats and lucky/unlucky numbers seem to be cross-cultural, but there are plenty of other elements that are unique to a certain culture or country.

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Wednesday
Aug212013

Walking, Exploring and Eating in Tainan, Taiwan

For Taiwan’s oldest and fifth-largest city, Tainan can be deceiving. One may expect skyscrapers and crowds of millions pushing through wide streets, but you may be surprised to find a more serene environment with a small town vibe. It’s known far and wide as a place where you can find “real” Taiwanese cuisine, as well as for its gorgeous temples, friendly people and charming neighborhoods linked by narrow, winding alleys and roads. It’s definitely a must-see city!

There is evidence of habitation going back at least 20,000 years but the area around what is now Tainan really came into its own in the 1500’s, when Chinese and Japanese sailors set up thriving trading posts. This led to a healthy blending of linguistic, cultural, and ceremonial traditions, and the city today still shows clear signs of these influences. Of course, the island wasn’t immune to the surge of European exploration in the mid-1600’s especially the Dutch, who set up a fort on the island and dominated the area for 40 years until they were forced out by the Chinese.

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Wednesday
Aug142013

The Kathmandu Valley: Three Cities in One

Few cities on earth are as accessible or unique as Kathmandu, Nepal and its greater valley area. Steeped in history, the region’s dizzying array of religions, a traditional yet friendly culture, an incredible assortment of food, and stunning attractions come together to make this a supreme destination for travelers. The best part – it’s reachable from most countries in south and southeast Asia in just a few hours. This area really is one valley with three distinct cities – Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur.

Modern Nepal was formed in 1768 by Prithvi Narayan Shah who united a wide range of people across varied and unforgiving terrain to form what is now more less modern day Nepal. Prior to this the Kathmandu Valley had three city-states: Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. Each had their own sitting kings and elaborate Durbars (Royal palaces), which today are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and serve as the centerpieces to each city. Not only do these Durbars rank as must-see attractions, but the cities and their residents are each unique, holding stories and allure around every corner.

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Wednesday
Aug072013

Hotels of Note: The Oriental, Bangkok

Bangkok is one of the biggest cities in Asia, and also one of the most chaotic. That of course is part of its charm, with modern malls and skyscrapers mingling with traditional wats (temples) and pedestrians milling past food stalls, motorbike taxis and vendors along the busy sidewalks.

Bangkok also happens to be home to one of the world’s great hotels, the Mandarin Oriental, a five-star legend which has been winning awards for years. With its location on the banks of the Chao Phraya River at the end of a quiet soi (street) and surrounded by lush tropical gardens, this hotel is a true oasis. It’s also the oldest hotel in Thailand, and features buildings ranging from its original colonial style 19th century property to the present day towers.

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Wednesday
Jul312013

Big City Transit: Seoul

If a think-tank full of the world’s top city planners and developers put their heads together to design a state-of-the-art public transport system, it would probably end up looking a lot like Seoul’s. To be fair, that’s not far from what actually happened. The Seoul of post-war Korea expanded rapidly as people from the surrounding countryside poured in. Those people needed practical and effective infrastructure, and transit solutions that worked. And that’s exactly what they got.

That’s good news for today’s visitors. For all of Seoul’s drab (some would say ‘soulless’) architecture, the city redeems itself with one of the cleanest, most beautifully organized public transport systems in the world. All a visitor needs is a public transit map, a card with the name and address of their Seoul hotel written in Korean and a stored value card (try the Seoul City Pass or T-Money card) and you can get pretty much anywhere you need to go. You’ll end up doing a little bit of walking between stations and your onward destination, but this is nominal. Wherever you are headed, the subway, taxis and buses of Seoul will get you there quickly.

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