Whether it’s Asian fusion haute cuisine, floating markets or $1 noodles from street vendors, Asia is bursting with foodie experiences. Chloe Cann gets a taste of what’s on offer
To make the most of an epicurean adventure in Vietnam, Clare Crowson, Premier Holidays’ senior marketing manager, extols the virtues of adding local food tours on to bookings. “The street food tour by Vespa in Ho Chi Minh City was the highlight of our recent stay in Vietnam and a fantastic experience. It’s a great opportunity to see the city at night, and your local guide takes you to places you’d never find on your own. We tried local delicacies such as Bun Cha (rice noodles with pork), beef spring rolls and red sticky rice with milk, all accompanied by Vietnamese beer.” The operator can also organise walking street food tours in Hanoi and cooking classes in Hoi An. Gastronomes looking for a dedicated foodie itinerary should turn to Regent Holidays, which offers a Culture and Cuisine of Vietnam tour. Highlights of the 14-day trip include taking a local sampan boat to Cai Be floating market, where visitors can watch hundreds of boats gathering to sell their wares, plus cooking classes in Hoi An and in a village on the banks of the Mekong. Stef Studley, Regent Holidays’ south-east Asia product executive, says: “The emphasis of the trip is on discovering the country’s most popular dishes – and maybe trying something new along the way.”
Book it: Premier Holidays offers an eight-night private Highlights of Vietnam tour from £1,699pp, including return flights from Heathrow, all transport in Vietnam and a guide. Price valid for April-June 2016. The evening street food tour by Vespa leads in from £69pp. Regent’s Culture and Cuisine of Vietnam tour leads in from £2,550pp and includes return flights from Heathrow, some meals, four-star accommodation and a guide.
Sandwiched between tourism big hitters Vietnam and Thailand, Laos is sometimes eclipsed by its neighbours. But this off-the-beaten-track destination boasts an intriguing French colonial legacy, pristine forest and jungle and a vast stretch of the mighty Mekong, as well as some of the most undercelebrated cuisine in all of Southeast Asia. Insider Journeys’ Laos Experience with 4,000 Islands tour aims to reveal how entrancing the destination is, with food serving as the conduit into local Lao culture. Lesley Wright, general manager commercial UK at Insider Journeys, says: “The Laos Experience is a truly immersive introduction to Lao cuisine. With hands-on cooking classes and opportunities to sample traditional dishes and eat with local people, clients will gain genuine insight into how Lao people cook and enjoy food. Exclusive to Insider Journeys, we organise a traditional dinner in a local family’s home for a unique insight into Lao cuisine, which our clients see as a real highlight.”
Book it: Insider Journey’s 14-day Inside Laos with 4,000 Islands leads in from £2,125pp and includes accommodation, some meals, local transport and airport transfers, the services of a tour leader, entrance fees and one cruise. Price valid for travel before June 30, 2016.
The home of Kobe beef, sushi, ramen, tempura and myriad other culinary institutions, Japan is a must-visit for even fledgling foodies. Whether your clients are set on sampling sea urchin sashimi straight from a sushi master’s hands or simply want to soak up the local atmosphere in the archipelago’s cosy izakayas (informal sake dens that also offer small plates), there is likely something to please all palates on InsideJapan’s 13-night Culinary Adventure. “Japan is a very different experience to anything else in the world and food plays a very big part of that,” says Ruth Hubbard, Japan product manager at InsideJapan. “Each destination has its own specialities, and with this trip we have tried to incorporate as many unique food experiences as possible, from a night out in an izakaya to [vegetarian] cooking at a Shojin Buddhist temple stay, soba noodle making in the castle town of Matsumoto or sake tasting at traditional breweries in Takayama. This year is also the last chance to eat a sushi breakfast at the famous Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, as the market is relocating in November. From the street food to the Michelin-starred restaurants of Tokyo, Japan has got to be the best place to travel for any lover of good food.”
Book it: InsideJapan’s Culinary Adventure leads in from £2,040pp. It includes all accommodation, transport, all food experiences and some private guiding, but excludes international flights.
Thailand may conjure images of pristine beaches with wooden long-tail boats, but it’s the nation’s food that has left a lasting impression on many visitors: the tang of Thai basil, the silky taste of glass noodles, the fresh scent of lemongrass, the tongue-tickling heat of bird’s eye chillies. To sample all of the country’s regional specialities in one place, Rachel McMurdo, assistant product manager, Asia, Travel 2, suggests sending clients on a gastronomic pilgrimage to the Thai capital. “Travel 2 recommends travellers to Bangkok visit Yaowarat (Bangkok’s Chinatown), Bang Rak District and Sukhumvit Soi 38 night food market – all of them street food hotspots in the city. Pad Thai (fried noodles) and Khao Pad (fried rice) are specialities, and Yam Nua (spicy beef salad) is one of my favourites. For a more upmarket meal, Travel 2 suggests Banyan Tree Bangkok. Its Vertigo and Moon Bar offers fantastic rooftop dining and cocktails with spectacular views.”
Book it: Travel 2 offers three nights at the Banyan Tree Bangkok, eight nights at the Mia Resort Nha Trang, return flights from London, private transfers in Bangkok and Nha Trang and all breakfasts, from £1,539pp. Valid for travel between May 1 and June 24, 2016.
China is often undersold in the food department. It has a culinary prowess that extends well beyond the usual takeaway gamut of sweet and sour chicken balls and special fried rice. Showcasing how diverse this nation’s cuisine is forms a big chunk of Wendy Wu Tours’ In Pursuit of Pandas itinerary. Ben Briggs, head of marketing at Wendy Wu Tours, says: “In just nine days, guests will explore the tastes of three unique regions, from Peking duck in Beijing to traditional Shui Jiao dumplings in Xi’an and Sichuan’s famous hot pot in Chengdu – as well as visit some of China’s most iconic sights.” He adds: “Food is an essential part of all Wendy Wu Tours’ itineraries. Guests will get the chance to experience a wide range of local cuisines and specialities as well as local food markets and handpicked restaurants.”
Book it: Wendy Wu’s In Pursuit of Pandas tour is priced from £1,790pp (including flights, transfers, domestic transportation, hotels, meals, touring with guides, entrance fees and visas for UK/EU passport holders.) Price valid for November 18, 2016 departure.