Sri Lanka food: The best things to eat

Best Sri Lanka food includes Sri Lankan curry, hoppers, sweets, and tea

A guest post from Lotte of Phenomenal Globe.

One of the main reasons I travel is to try new and exciting dishes. So, during our travels around Sri Lanka I tried out a lot of food. Even before traveling to Sri Lanka, I researched Sri Lanka food (I am a Type A traveler) and read about many different dishes and Sri Lankan recipes with delicious ingredients like coconut, chilli, and curry spices. Sri Lankan curry and hoppers were at the top of my must-try lists!

Despite its relatively small size (438 kilometres long and 225 kilometres wide), there are many cultures, languages and ethnic groups found within Sri Lanka. As such, there is also a lot of variety within Sri Lankan cuisine, making it a great culinary place to visit as well.

From the early days of trading, Sri Lanka has been involved in the spice trade. Known as spice island, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, turmeric, curry leaf trees and chilli are just a few of the spices cultivated in and exported from Sri Lanka. All these spices play an important role in the delicious Sri Lankan cuisine. That’s why Sri Lankan curry is one of the amazing dishes you can find in a Sri Lankan restaurant.

Throughout the years, Sri Lankan traditional food has been influenced by several nations, such as Portugal, Holland, Britain, and of course India.

While there is lots of variety in the Sri Lankan cuisine, rice plays an important part in most dishes. So important in fact, that there is a Sinhalese greeting which translates into ‘Have you eaten rice?Rice (dishes) are also part of important events such as weddings and New Year’s celebrations. And rice milk or kiribath is traditionally the first solid food given to a baby.

Nevertheless, there is much more to Sri Lankan cuisine, ranging from seafood, to fresh fruits, dhal, coconut, curries, chutney and more. And let’s not forget Sri Lankan beer and Sri Lankan sweets! After spending a month in Sri Lanka and trying out pretty much everything I came across, I have put together this post to give you a little peek into Sri Lankan (street) food!

Sri Lankan food

Traditional breakfast with rice. Photo by Lotte of Phenomenal Globe.

Best things to eat in Sri Lanka

Curry and rice

As explained above, rice is definitely a staple in many Sri Lankan food recipes and eaten every day. While rice is eaten in many varieties, curry and rice is considered the national dish.

Curry and rice may sound simple, but it’s far from it. Each time you order curry and rice you will get a completely different dish. It can be a vegetable curry, a fish curry, curry with chicken or curry with something you can’t define but that always tastes delicious.

There are usually several side dishes served with the curry and rice, and while these side dishes also vary (in number and content) sambol is bound to be included.

Kottu

Rice and curry may be the number one dish in Sri Lanka, but Kottu is a very close second! Kottu is delicious, I love kottu and would fly back to Sri Lanka just for a plate of this ultimately comforting (though admittedly not very healthy) food!

Kottu is a mix of chopped up roti, vegetables, and (depending on your preference) egg, chicken, or cheese. I usually asked for the spicy version. Though different at each Sri Lankan restaurant, I was never disappointed when ordering a plate of kottu.

My favourite roti kottu dish I ate in the famous Hotel de Pilawoos in Colombo, but my favourite kottu was a string hopper kottu. This type of kottu is made with very thin noodles instead of chopped roti. I bought this takeaway string hopper kottu from a tiny nondescript food truck somewhere along the road in Colombo and it was absolutely delicious!

Roti

There are numerous different types of roti found in Sri Lanka! There is vegetable roti, which usually comes in triangles, coconut roti, shaped like a small disk and egg roti, which is most often square shaped or rectangular.

I loved all types of roti and ate one or more pretty much every day of our one month Sri Lanka trip. Besides the more ‘traditional’ roti mentioned above, the Sri Lankans also serve lots of ‘exotic’ roti variations, such as pineapple roti, cheese roti, and peanut butter roti. I especially liked avocado roti and roti with banana and Nutella.

Roti is available everywhere in Sri Lanka, in restaurants, at train stations, in little streets carts by the road and even sold through train windows during short stops.

Sri Lanka hoppers

When looking for a hopper, Sri Lanka is the place to go! A hopper is a bit similar to a pancake, but with a hint of coconut and bowl-shaped. It was incredible to watch people making these tasty snacks. The layer of rice flower mixture in the pan is so thin, it’s amazing the hoppers don’t crack!

Hoppers come in several varieties. For breakfast an excellent choice is an egg hopper (a hopper with an egg in the middle).

Sri Lanka food

A dosa served with sambol in Sri Lanka. Photo by Lotte of Phenomenal Globe.

Dosa

While it’s a bit of an ongoing debate whether dosa originated in India or Sri Lanka, Sri Lankans do dosa well. Very well! [Editor’s note: I’m with the people of Udupi, Karnataka, who believe the dosa was invented there. Mariellen]

I ate my favourite dosa ever in Jaffna, in a local restaurant that was extremely busy with locals. The ghee dosa was superb, it was dripping with butter and so tasty. I would do the four-hour train ride from Anuradhapura to Jaffna all over again, just to eat one of those delicacies.

Other popular varieties are the ‘regular’ dosa or masala dosa.

Coconut rice

Breakfast is often said to be the most important meal of the day. The hostess at one of our lovely (budget) accommodations in Sri Lanka took this very seriously and made us such an extensive and delicious breakfast, including the aforementioned kiribath. Mixed with coconut and honey they made for an excellent (and very filling) breakfast!

Pani pol (coconut pancakes)

Another excellent Sri Lankan creation are these delicious coconut pancakes. Stuffed with sweetened coconut mixture, these rolled up soft crepes are a highly addictive. They can be eaten at breakfast but also at tea time. While not very healthy, pani pol is a very typical Sri Lankan food that you must try (at least once) during your trip.

Sri Lanka tea

Sri Lanka is one of the biggest exporters of tea. Photo by Lotte of Phenomenal Globe.

Tea

When a country used to be called Ceylon, no food list is complete without mentioning tea (even though it’s a drink).

The cultivation of tea in Sri Lanka started after the British colonized the island and imported tea plants from China. The climate of Sri Lanka turned out to be perfect for tea and in 1867 the first tea plantation was founded by James Taylor. Tea remains one of the most important export products of Sri Lanka, in fact, Sri Lanka is the third biggest producer of tea in the world!

We visited several tea plantations during our Sri Lanka trip. On our train trip through the mountains between Ella and Nuwara Eliya, we drove through beautiful green tea plantations for hours. On the plantations you can sample many different kinds of tea and buy special types of tea as a souvenir.

Fruit juice

Also a drink, nevertheless, fruit juice should be included in this list. Due to Sri Lanka’s tropical climate and fertile soil, many different native tropical fruits are cultivated.

For me personally, nothing beats a fresh pineapple fruit shake, though the mangoes in Sri Lanka are also amazingly tasty. And if you’re up for it you can try wood apple juice, a typical Southeast Asian fruit which smells a bit like blue cheese.

Though this may not sound like a very appealing drink, it’s actually not bad and definitely worth a try. Usually mixed with jaggery (cane sugar) and some water, it has a very typical sweet and sour flavour that many Sri Lankans absolutely love.

Vegetable fried rice with sambol

Officially a Chinese dish, but available all throughout Asia, vegetable fried rice is a great dish to eat for lunch. Or dinner. Or even breakfast! What makes vegetable fried rice in Sri Lanka special, is not so much the fried rice but the sambol. Sambol is eaten pretty much at every meal in Sri Lanka and why not, it makes everything taste better! (Pol) sambol is made from grated coconut and lots of chilli. Sometimes red onion, lime or fish is added as well.

General information about Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a beautiful island located in the Indian Ocean, about 1400 kilometres off the south coast of India. This tropical island is also called the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, and with good reason: Sri Lanka is a wonderful place for a holiday.

With mountains, rain forests, ancient cities, beautiful beaches, and national parks where you can find elephants, leopards, crocodiles, and more, Sri Lanka offers a whole lot of things to do! We’ve spent one month in Sri Lanka and not nearly managed to see everything Sri Lanka has to offer.

History buffs must include Sigiriya, Anuradhapura, and Pollonnaruwa on their itinerary, while surfers should head to Arugam Bay, Unawatuna, and Weligama. Hikers will love to the mountains around Ella and Haputale. The mountains are also the place for train lovers, as the (dirt cheap) train rides are amongst the most scenic in the world.

Sri Lanka food: in conclusion

I hope you have enjoyed this list of the best things to eat in Sri Lanka. But don’t limit yourself to just these dishes as there is much more to try in this colourful country!

Lotte is a thirtysomething adventurer from the Netherlands who tries to combine a full-time job and traveling the world with her husband and 1y old son. She writes about their family adventures on her blog Phenomenal Globe, her favourite countries are Canada, New Zealand and Japan.

Annabel Langbein – Kiwi celebrity cook

Annabel Langbein has searched the world for the most delicious recipes. Here she gives us the ingredients for great travelling.

Mountain/desert/jungle/ocean which are you?

Jungle – I like being amongst trees and vegetation and I very much like having my feet on the ground. I like the sea but if you gave me a choice of the jungle for a week or sailing around the world for a week, I’d pick the jungle because I get terribly seasick. I wouldn’t choose the mountains because I don’t like being cold or worrying about falling down a crevasse, or the desert because I don’t like aridity. I like to see things grow. In a jungle there so much growing – it’s so luscious. In some ways, the southern beech forests of New Zealand are jungles, but not tropical jungles – jungles without the creepy crawlies.

First travel experience?

I remember going to Singapore with my mum when I was 16. That was my first big overseas experience and I can still remember stepping off the plane and feeling that wash of heat and all the smells of the tropics. In those days it was such a foreign culture, with street walkers, opium alleys and life on the street. It was such a culture shock.

Favourite journey?

Going somewhere I have never been before so I have no idea of what to expect. I love going on adventures on my own. It’s easier if you can speak the language, so you’re not such a foreigner and can make a connection, whereas if you don’t have the language you are much more on the outside. So usually I like going to somewhere in central South America or Spain because I speak Spanish. I’m probably more interested in going to those places than somewhere where people speak English – going into a culture that’s very different is quite appealing.

Top five places worldwide?

New Zealand is a very special place to be and often when people say, ‘It must be so thrilling to be going overseas all the time’, I think it would be nice to just be going down south to our cabin at Wanaka, where my new book Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook was shot!

I also love Sicily. Historically it has been the crossroads of many cultures, including African, Italian and French, so culturally it’s very rich. It’s much more cosmopolitan than you’d think but it’s still very traditional. People are still living a rhythm of life as they have for hundreds of years – they still dry their tomatoes on the roof, get together and have festivals and celebrate simple things. I like going somewhere that has that cultural integrity.

Other favourites are the coast of Brazil, Abruzzo across the Apennines from Rome, and Ibiza – if you get away from the crowds and you go in the summer when the smell of pine is in the air. If I think about it, they are places that aren’t big touristy cities. They are out-of-the-way places that are often by the sea. Except Paris – I love Paris!

Special place to stay?

At the old railway hotel in Hua Hin, on the coast of Thailand. It’s set on 20 acres of gardens and the Royal family used to go there all the time so it’s very old-world glamour with things like a topiary elephant made out of bougainvillea. But I wasn’t just lounging around the pool – I spent four days in the kitchens and learned how to make lots of fantastic Thai food.

Three items you always pack?

A notebook for writing down recipes and experiences, and a camera because when I look at photos later they take me back to that day and those people and what we ate. And a pair of party shoes.

Passport stamp you’re proudest of?

Kota Kinabalu in northern Borneo because it was such a culturally rich experience. You could still be with a medicine man and visit a longhouse where there were headhunters and honey gatherers and amazing old woven wedding skirts. It was such an intact culture, but already I could see that it was changing fast. You can read more about my trip there on my website.

Passport stamp you’d most like to have?

I haven’t spent that much time in Asia but I would like to go into Burma and I’d like to go to Bhutan, the country that invented the concept of gross national happiness!

Guilty travel pleasure?

I probably have quite a few! For me the greatest luxury of travel is that I get some time on my own, time out from my busy everyday life. It sounds selfish but it’s such a luxury to be able to do whatever I feel like doing. If I want to read a book or get room service, I can – I don’t have to worry about anyone else.

Window or aisle?

Aisle. I hate making other people get up when I want to get up.

Who is your ideal travelling companion?

I don’t like travelling with anyone who needs to know in advance exactly what time we’re going to arrive and what we’re going to have for dinner. I like a companion who shares a sense of adventure and is open to whatever the day brings.

Best meal on the road? Worst?

I’m terribly spoilt because I eat for a living so I get to taste all kinds of amazing food all over the world. At one end of the spectrum is a 15-course degustation menu I had recently at Vue de Monde in Melbourne. It took me five and a half hours to eat – too long to describe here but you can read all about it my blog.

But there are simple meals that are equally memorable. I’ll never forget a simple but exquisite picnic lunch of rustic bread and caponata I shared with weather-beaten grape harvesters in an Italian vineyard when I was there researching my book Savour Italy. You can read the whole story on my website.

My worst meal is another story! A few years ago I had Christmas in Colombia with a family up in the hills of Bucaramanga. I was really homesick because, unlike my own family experiences of Christmas, with presents and stockings and gargantuan day-long eating, there was just a rather motley table of cold corned beef and overcooked veg dished up on Christmas Eve, followed by all-night salsa dancing (there weren’t enough men so they passed the broom – that was quite fun!). The next day when I was quizzing them about their special food traditions, they said for a treat since I was an overseas guest they would make a very special Christmas dish. We all got in the car, drove to the abattoir and picked up a bucket of fresh blood (by this stage I was starting to feel a bit queasy), then they took it home and boiled it. Nothing else – no salt or pepper even – and THAT WAS IT. The smell was just so disgusting I could not even eat it.

Most surprising place? Most disappointing?

Going to the outer islands in Vanuatu was really wonderful. I thought it was going to be that cargo culture of people buying canned corned beef, but I found these wonderful people who pointed to the sea and said, ‘This is our supermarket’.

The most disappointing place was Acapulco in Mexico, which was just this zoo of tourism, and I also found Bali disappointing – just people trying to sell you something.

Where do you NOT want to go?

I have no desire to go to the Antarctic. I have no desire to go anywhere really cold. It just doesn’t spin my wheels.

Who/what inspired you to travel? Any travel heroes?

My grandmother was a great traveller. She used to travel on her own and she would come back with these great stories and treasures. When we were kids we would sit up in bed with her and she would make cups of tea and squares of toast with Marmite and tell us about her travel adventures.

I was also inspired by Bruce Chatwin’s book In Patagonia. I read it before I went to South America and I really responded to that kind of travel writing.

What do you listen to on the road? Any song take you back to a particular time or place?

Now I travel with my computer and I just log on to Spotify or itunes. I can put samba on and I can be back in Brazil crossing the border during carnival. But mostly I don’t travel with earphones and an ipod. I like to experience the now.

What do you read?

It’s a really great time to read when you’re away. I always stop at a bookshop and get a couple of novels to read – usually ones that are recently out. I just ask what’s fantastic at the moment – usually fiction but not crime or thrillers. I’ve just finished Lloyd Jones new book Hand Me Down World.

Is there a person you met while travelling who reaffirmed your faith in humanity? Anyone who made you lose it?

My wonderful friend Daniele Delpeuch reaffirmed my faith in humanity. I met her when I was a young student and was drawn to her because of her openness to life and her curiosity. We became lifelong friends – you can read about a visit to her French trufferie on my website.

As far as bad experiences are concerned, I’m sure there was someone somewhere who wouldn’t let me get on a train because my ticket wasn’t stamped in the right place. You have odd things happen to you when you’re travelling, like you have your passport stolen, but on the whole I have been lucky.

What’s the most impressive / useful phrase you know in a foreign language?

“Donde esta el bano, por favor,” which means “Where is the bathroom please” in Spanish.

What is your worst habit as a traveller?

I always order too much food in a restaurant because I’m greedy at the idea of these new things I’ve never tried before.

Snowbound in a tent in Anarctica, how would you entertain your companions?

There’s always cards – we’d play Five Hundred.

When and where in your travels have you been happiest?

I had the most brilliant holiday in Sicily. I swam for an hour and a half every day, then we’d go to the market, buy some fish or whatever, come home and light the fire. We’d cook over the fire and have a nice bottle of wine. It almost doesn’t matter where you are – it you can be with nice people and there’s a market to go to and wild apricots or figs to pick off the trees.

What smell most says ‘travel’ to you?

That hot Asian city smell. Because it’s so humid it’s all in the air at once. It’s fish and it’s duck and it’s durian fruit and it’s frangipani and it’s fresh and old at the same time, and there’s a hint of sewer in there too. Then I really know I’m travelling!

Given a choice, which era would you travel in?

Now. Because I can get there quickly and it’s far more comfortable. I’d really like to get to the point where we can just be teleported somewhere. They reckon they’re going to be able to send you up, the world will turn and you’ll come back down again where you want to be. A jet pack would be quite handy!

If you could combine three cities to make your perfect metropolis, what would they be?

Paris, Palermo and Barcelona.

Sweet Sicily: authentic dessert recipes

Want to recreate the buccellatini and torta you’ve scoffed in Sicily? These recipes bring a slice of island indulgence to your home kitchen.

Buccellato

The buccellato is a sweet pastry containing a rich filling of pumpkin jam, almonds, walnuts, candied fruit, honey, raisins and chocolate, flavoured with grated orange zest and cinnamon. The key ingredient of this stuffing is dried figs, that even today can be seen in the Sicilian countryside during the summer, skewered on canes and left in the sun to dry for the preparation of winter confectionery. The most common shape is round like a doughnut, with decorative cuts that allow glimpses of the delicious stuffing, but smaller bite-sized buccellatini are also made.

Sicilian sweet with dried figs and pastry (Shutterstock)
Sicilian sweet with dried figs and pastry (Shutterstock)

For the dough:
500 g (18 oz) flour
275 g (10 oz) butter
175 g (1 cup) sugar
2 tbsps Marsala
3 eggs
1 tsp salt
grated zest of 1 orange

For the filling:
250 g (9 oz) dried figs
80 g (3 oz) pumpkin jam
100 g (3½ oz) toasted almonds
100 g (3½ oz) walnut kernels
25 g (1 oz) pistachios
25 g (1 oz) plain chocolate
80 ml (3 tbsps) Marsala raisins
2 crushed cloves ground cinnamon grated zest of 1 orange

Begin with the dough: make a well of flour, pour in all the ingredients and work first with a fork and then by hand. Keep aside a little milk and use as needed, working the dough until it is compact and smooth. Place in the refrigerator.

Soak the figs in hot water, drain, chop finely with a knife and toast on a low heat together with the jam and honey. Remove the mixture from the heat, add the other ingredients along with the dried fruit and coarsely chopped chocolate; mix well.

Roll the dough into a rectangle with a rolling pin, place the filling, which should be compact, in the centre, wet one side of the rectangle with beaten egg and close the dough around the filling, forming a bundle. Pierce the buccellato with a crimping tool or the prongs of a fork, brush with beaten egg and bake at 180 °C (355 °F) until golden brown.

Leave the buccellato to cool, then glaze with unflavoured gelatin and garnish with candied fruit or sugar sparkles.

Torta Savoia

For the Savoia sheets:
6 eggs
70 g (1/3 cup) sugar
35 g (1 oz) honey
70 g (½ cup) flour
35 g (¼ cup) corn starch

For the filling:
200 g (7 oz) hazelnut praline
300 g (10 oz) dark chocolate
35 g (¼ cup) confectioner’s sugar

For the frosting:
400 g (14 oz) dark chocolate

Sicilian torta setteveli (Shutterstock)
Sicilian torta setteveli (Shutterstock)

Whisk the eggs and sugar at length, add the honey, stirring, and sieve in the flour and corn starch. Pour the mixture onto an oven tray to a height of 3 mm (1/10 in) and bake at 180 °C (355 °F) until brown. Repeat the operation until the dough is finished, keeping in mind that the cake requires six ‘sheets’. Once cooled, cut rounds with a pastry cutter of the desired diameter, and set aside.

In a double boiler melt the hazelnut praline with the chocolate. Add the confectioner’s sugar and leave to cool. Assemble  the cake by spreading the cream on all the sheets, except the last, then place in the refrigerator, using a cake tin to keep in shape. Tip the cake onto a wire rack.

Temper the chocolate by chopping and melting 2/3 in a microwave until it reaches a temperature of 45‒50 °C (115‒120 °F). Add the remaining chocolate and stir. The chocolate is ready when it reaches a temperature of 30‒31 °C (86‒88 °F). Pour into the centre of the cake and spread evenly with a spatula.

Recipes of the week: Mint pistachio pesto & spaghetti with mussels

Chef Ainsley Harriott shares two great Italian recipes he discovered while filming Street Food, his new food and travel series.

Mist pistachio pesto on bruschetta

“I made this delicious pesto for my Sicilian culinary guide Salvatori in an old bar in the seedy backstreets of Palermo whilst drinking some local red wine. He said not only was he impressed, his mama would be too – and she makes the best pesto in the world! You can make this with a pestle and mortar (the best way) or a mini food processor – although it’s best to use the pulse button to keep the pesto nice and rustic.”

Serves 4-6 as a snack

1 small garlic clove, peeled
50g shelled pistachio
15g pine nuts
4-5 whole black peppercorns
Pinch of salt
1 small bunch fresh mint
2 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese
5-6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (good quality)
6-8 slices of bruschetta (toasted sourdough bread) drizzled with olive oil

1. Pound the garlic in a pestle and mortar, then add the pistachio, pine nuts and peppercorns and continue to pound until coarsely ground (this will take a few minutes).
2. Tear the mint leaves into smallish pieces add to the mortar along with the Parmesan and pound again into a thick paste.
3. Add a little of the extra-virgin olive oil (about 2-3 tablespoons to start with) and then mix in more until you have the desired consistency. Check seasoning, then spread onto the bruschetta and serve immediately.

Spaghetti with mussels, tomatoes and olives

“The key to the success of this dish is the quality of the ingredients, so choose them with care and you will not be disappointed. The sprig of basil is added in to flavour the sauce but then gets removed before serving, as it will have done its job. Use a little extra torn basil to finish the dish – can there be anything more perfect?”

Pasta with mussels and basil (Shutterstock)
Pasta with mussels and basil (Shutterstock)

Serves 4

350g spaghetti
4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1kg fresh live mussels, cleaned
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Small bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves stripped and roughly chopped
3 anchovy fillets, drained and finely chopped
100g small ripe cherry tomatoes
Handful halved black olives, stones removed
1 large sprig fresh basil, plus extra torn leaves to garnish
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Cook the spaghetti in a large pan of boiling water for 10-12 minutes or until ‘al dente’.
2. Meanwhile, heat two tablespoons of the olive oil in a large sauté pan. Tip in the mussels and cover with a lid, then cook over a high heat for 3-5 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally to ensure even cooking until all the mussels have opened (discard any that do not).
3. Reserve about 12 nice plump mussels in their shells for garnish, and remove the meat from the remainder. Place in a bowl and strain in the cooking juices, then stir in the garlic and parsley and set aside until needed.
4. Wipe out the sauté pan and use it to heat the rest of the olive oil. Add the anchovy fillets and mash down to a paste, then tip in the cherry tomatoes and olives with the basil sprig. Sauté for a couple of minutes until warmed through.
5. Meanwhile, drain the spaghetti and quickly refresh under cold running water. Tip into the tomato and olive mixture and then fold in the reserved mussel meat and cooking liquid.
6. Finally, tip in the reserved mussels in their shells and toss until evenly combined, then season to taste. Remove the cooked basil and divide among warmed pasta bowls, then garnish with fresh torn basil leaves to serve.

How to cook pasta like an Italian

Chances are, you’ve been doing it wrong all these years. Cooking pasta the right way is trickier than you thought – but Rome-based food writer Rachel Roddy shows us how it’s done.

One of the most useful lessons I’ve learned is one I had no idea I needed: how to cook pasta. I was incredulous when, after a few weeks of meeting and cooking together, [my partner] Vincenzo suggested that I might like to do things differently.

‘What?’ I said, placing the pan gauntlet quietly on the table in the old flat. ‘What should I do differently?’ To which he replied: ‘Do you really want to know?’ There was a lengthy pause, during which my pride, irritation and curiosity had a serious tussle before my curiosity and the anaesthetizing effects of a new relationship won out.

‘Tell me,’ I replied. There was another long pause while he lit a cigarette, inhaled, then exhaled towards the window. ‘Use a bigger pan and more water, add more salt, but not until the water boils, stir the salt into the water, start tasting 2 minutes before the end of the recommended cooking time, drain the pasta 1 minute before the time is up, always save the cooking water, and never overcook the pasta.’ In short, a list so long and comprehensive, so infuriating and so obviously true, that I was silenced and we didn’t have pasta for lunch.

A few days later, I did the most familiar thing in an unfamiliar way. I took the largest, lightest pan, the one that holds 6 litres, and for the first time ever I measured the water into it. The rule of thumb is 1 litre water for every 100g pasta, so for 400g spaghetti I needed 4 litres. It was more water than I’d ever used.

I brought it to the boil, which took less time than I thought, then weighed out 40g coarse salt – more salt than I’d ever used – stirred it into the water and tasted. It was, as promised, pleasantly salty, which is precisely what pasta, which doesn’t contain any salt, needs. I checked the time and added the pasta, gently pressing it down with the back of a wooden spoon before re-covering the pan until it came back to the boil.

I stirred and tasted in good time, drained the pasta quickly and saved a cupful of water for loosening the sauce if necessary. It wasn’t. I’d warmed the serving bowl; I tossed the pasta first with cheese, then with tomato sauce and served it. I’m not sure what I expected. After well-behaved initial thanks, what I got was silence as Vincenzo and Carlo wound the spaghetti round their forks and ate.

This is a long story for a task that’s usually too obvious to mention, but it’s one that’s executed badly so often, by me at least. In short, pasta needs lots of water and space to cook correctly. Too little water and it’s sticky, overly starchy, claustrophobic and quite simply the pasta won’t cook properly.

The water must be well salted or the pasta will be sciapa (without salt), a mistake nearly as grave as scotta (overcooked) pasta. This brings us to al dente, which means ‘to the tooth’ and refers to the firmness of the cooked pasta that is so desirable. Now, generally speaking, the further south you travel, the more al dente pasta is eaten. Vincenzo is from nearly as south as you can go in southern Sicily and would ideally have his pasta so al dente that it’s as stiff as a Scottish guard and, to some, raw.

I am an Englishwoman who, before moving to Italy, cooked my pasta in much the same way my grandma cooked vegetables: for too long. We have found a middle ground, and it’s usually a minute and a half before the end of the recommended cooking time, when the pasta has just lost its white chalky core, has bite and engages the mouth, but not excessively.

Tagliatelle with ragù (Shutterstock)
Tagliatelle with ragù (Shutterstock)

Recipe: Fettuccine al ragù

Just the thought of making ragù makes me happy, not least because if you’re adding a glass of wine to the pan, it would be careless not to have one yourself. This recipe takes inspiration from Elizabeth David and her interpretation of a traditional Bolognese ragù: that is, a rich, slowly cooked meat sauce made with olive oil and butter, given a blush of colour from just a tablespoon of tomato purée, depth from red wine and soft edges from the milk.

Its rich, creamy, yet crumbly consistency can come as a bit of a surprise if you’re used to redder, tomato-rich ragùs. Rest assured, it’s glorious, irresistible stuff. Like most braises, it’s infinitely better the next day. I almost always make a double quantity, half to eat with fettuccine (fresh if I am in the mood) and a dusting of Parmesan, the other half in rather more English style.

I have adopted the Bolognese habit of sprinkling the grated Parmesan over the pasta before adding the sauce; the cheese, which melts in the warmth, seasons the pasta deeply and helps the sauce cling to it beautifully. This mixing is best done in a serving bowl, which you can then bring proudly to the table along with a bottle of good Soave.

Serves 4 generously

1 white onion
1 carrot
1 celery stalk
50g pancetta or unsmoked bacon
50g butter
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 bay leaf
400g minced beef
300g minced pork
200ml red or white wine
1 tablespoon tomato concentrate dissolved in 100ml warm water
150ml whole milk
450g egg fettuccine, tagliatelle or farfalle, ideally fresh, but best-quality dried if not
5 tablespoons grated Parmesan
salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Finely chop the onion and carrot along with the celery and pancetta. Some people like to do this in a food processor.

2. In a large, heavy-based saucepan or deep frying pan with a lid, heat the olive oil and butter, add the vegetables and pancetta with the bay leaf and cook over a low heat until they are soft and fragrant, and the pancetta has rendered much of its fat and is starting to colour. This will take about 8 minutes. Increase the heat slightly, then crumble the minced meat into the pan and cook, stirring pretty continuously, until the meat has lost all its pink colour and has browned evenly.

3. Add the wine, turn up the heat and let it evaporate for a couple of minutes before adding the tomato. Simmer, covered, over a low heat for 30 minutes, by which time the sauce should have deepened in colour and have very little liquid. Add a teaspoon of salt, lots of black pepper and a little of the milk.

4. Cook slowly, covered, for another hour over a low heat, every so often lifting the lid and adding a little of the milk until it is used up. The sauce should be rich and thick with no liquid, but not dry either, so keep a careful eye on it. When you’re ready to eat, bring a large pan of water to a fast boil and, if it isn’t already hot, gently reheat the ragù.

5. Warm a serving bowl. Once the water has come to a fast boil, add salt, stir, gently drop in the pasta and cook, stirring every now and then, until it is al dente. For fresh fettuccine or tagliatelle this will only take a few minutes, but farfalle will take slightly longer. For dried pasta, check the timing on the packet and start tasting 2 minutes earlier.

6. Drain the pasta and turn it into the serving bowl (reserving a little pasta-cooking water), sprinkle over the cheese, then add the sauce. Stir carefully, lifting the pasta from below with two wooden spoons, so it is well coated with sauce. If it seems a bit dry, cautiously add a little of the reserved pasta-cooking water and toss again. Serve.

7 Sienese recipes

Sample Sienese cooking at its finest with these recipes full of Medieval influences but packed full with modern flavours from seven of the Italian city’s finest restaurants.

1. Tomato bread soup with mussels and cuttlefish

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

1kg fresh mussels
½ kg fresh cuttlefish
1 onion
500g canned tomatoes
Sprig of basil leaves
1 ground chilli pepper
300g stale bread
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste

Preparation:

1. Fry the onion adding the tomatoes, basil and chilli pepper. Leave to cook for 15 minutes, add the bread and carry on cooking on a low heat for another 15-20 minutes.

2. In the meantime, steam the cuttlefish and lightly sauté the mussels in a pan with parsley and extra virgin olive oil.

3. Serve the bread soup putting the cuttlefish in the centre of the dish surrounded by the mussels.

Recipe supplied by Liberamente Osteria

2. Pappardelle with wild boar sauce and black olives

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

2 bay leaves
1 garlic clove
1 onion
1 carrot
1 celery stick
250g wild boar meat
250ml red wine
1 tbsp tomato concentrate
10 black olives
260g pappardelle
Salt to taste
Extra virgin olive oil

Preparation:
1. Finely chop the vegetables, garlic and bay leaves and lightly fry in the oil over high heat.

2. Add the wild boar meat (previously minced), season with salt, add the red wine and reduce.

3. Cook for three hours. Half-way through the cooking, add the tomato concentrate. Cook the pappardelle in rapidly boiling salted water for about five minutes.

4. Drain and sauté the pasta with the wild boar sauce, adding the black olives.

Recipe supplied by Ristorante Pizzeria Due Archi
Address: Pian dei Mantellini, 48

3. Mushroom and pigeon risotto

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

300g rice
50g porcini mushrooms
1 pigeon
Half a white wine onion
50g butter
50g grated pecorino cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Extra virgin olive oil
Preparation:

1. Lightly fry the onion in four tablespoons of oil and half the butter in a saucepan until transparent.

2. Add the pigeon cut into quarters, season with salt and pepper and brown well. Pour some of the wine. When the wine has evaporated, baste the pigeon with a little stock, leave to evaporate and continue adding stock until the meat is cooked.

3. Bone the pigeon carefully and put the meat in the saucepan again.

4. Add the mushrooms, previously left to soak and then chopped up, and the rice, cooking everything by adding stock.

5. To serve, add the rest of the butter and sprinkle with pecorino cheese.

Recipe supplied by Trattoria Fonte Giusta

4. Pan-cooked rabbit

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

500g boned rabbit
2 carrots
3 onions
2 celery sticks
3 garlic cloves
2 sprigs of rosemary
1 sprig of parsley
15 juniper berries
Chilli pepper to taste
750ml white wine
3 slices of ‘rigatino’ bacon (or normal smoked)
1 sausage
3 tbsp of tomato concentrate
1 cup of stock
Extra virgin olive oil

Preparation:

1. Lightly fry the carrots, onions, garlic, celery, parsley, rosemary, chilli pepper and juniper berries. When browned, add the bacon (cut into small pieces), the sausage and rabbit. Brown well.

2. Add the white wine and leave to evaporate; add the tomato concentrate, stock and leave to cook on a low heat for 40 minutes.

Recipe supplied by La Taverna del Capitano
Address: Via del Captiano, 6/8

5. “Cinta” pork fillet with speck and braised radicchio

Serves:4

Ingredients:

4 “cinta” pork fillets, 5-6cm thick
4 slices of speck (Tyrol smoked ham)
1 red trevise or radicchio lettuce
250ml white wine (eg Vernaccia)
Vegetable stock
Cocktail sticks
Salt to taste
Extra virgin olive oil

Preparation:
1. Line the pork fillets with the slices of speck, roll and hold with a toothpick.

2. Put everything in a pan over a high heat, with a little of the oil.

3. Brown for some minutes, discard excess oil and and add the white wine, heating until nearly evaporated. Add the stock and carry on cooking for seven to eight minutes.

4. In the meantime, sauté the radicchio, thinly sliced, in a pan with some oil. Turn into the serving plates by placing the fillet without the toothpicks on a base of braised radicchio.

5. Serve alongside roast potatoes and seasonal vegetables.

Recipes supplied by L’Osteria del Bigelli

6. Beef fillet with pecorino cheese, mayonnaise and pears

Ingredients:
800g fillet of beef

2 pears
3 egg yolks and 1 whole egg
50g grated ‘romano’ pecorino cheese
50g grated, well-seasoned ‘toscano’ pecorino cheese
Juice of 1 lemon
½ tsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp mustard
1l vegetable oil
½l extra virgin olive oil
Salt, to taste

Preparation:


Mayonnaise:

1. Put the three egg yolks and the whole egg in a round-bottomed bowl, adding a pinch of salt, the lemon juice and slowly start stirring with a whisk adding the vegetable oil first and the extra virgin olive oil after, until the right density is reached.

2. Add the half teaspoon of vinegar and after that the mustard. Leave to set in the fridge for half an hour and after that add the cheeses by stirring from the bottom to the top with a wooden spoon.

3. Leave to set in the fridge for a further 15 minutes.

Pears:

1. Peel and slice the pears and put in a bowl with water and the juice of half a lemon. We recommend the preparation of the pears while the fillet is in the oven because if the pears are left too long in the water and lemon, they will lose their flavour.

Fillet:
1. Grease a non-stick pan with extra virgin olive oil, heat and brown the whole fillet on all sides, season with salt and pepper. Once it is browned stop cooking and leave to rest on a grid placed on a baking tray for about five minutes.

2. Put the fillet with the baking tin and grid in an oven, heated to 200ºC, for about eight-nine minutes and after that, slice the fillet into 12 rounds, making sure the internal temperature is about 34-40ºC.

Presentation:

1. With the mayonnaise, make three circles with a diameter slightly larger than the fillet rounds, place the fillet in the circles, placing a slice of pear on top. Serve.
Recipe supplied by La Sosta di Violanta

7. Duck in red wine

Ingredients:

1 duck
300g chicken or duck livers
250ml red wine
3 tbsp tomato concentrate
1 onion
2 garlic cloves
1 sprig of parsley
1 celery stick
1 sprig of rosemary
1 chilli pepper
A few sage leaves
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt, to taste

Preparation:

1. Finely chop the onion, garlic, parsley, celery, rosemary and put in a pan with the olive oil and the chilli pepper. When the vegetables are well-browned add the skinned duck. Add the chopped chicken or duck livers.2. Brown everything together and after that pour in the red wine. When reduced, add the tomato concentrate. Cover with warm water, salt and carry on cooking on a low heat for about an hour.

Recipe supplied by Trattoria Papei

Address: Piazza del Mercato, 6

These recipes have been taken from Great Sienese Cooking, which features 96 mouth-watering dishes born in the Middle Ages and are now part of the gastronomy of the new millennium thanks to the chefs of the city of the Palio. An original book with splendid photos by Bruno Bruchi, colourful graphics by Alessandro Grazi, publishing coordination by Barbara Latini, and made in collaboration with the Comune di Siena.

Top 12 trips to take… for food

Tantalise your tastebuds on the world’s most delicious departures – whether you want to learn to cook or just eat the spoils.

1. Mexico

Find flavours and fiestas

Intrepid Travel’s Real Food Adventure: Mexico was designed with help from Thomasina Miers, cookery writer and founder of ‘market-eating’ restaurant chain Wahaca. This means the trip is a true foodie treat, exploring some of Mexico’s best culinary regions. Visit Oaxaca’s aromatic markets, eat late-night tacos in Mexico City and learn to make Puebla’s chilli-chocolate mole poblano. There’s also time to see pre-Colombian ruins and take a foodie walk around the capital.

Who: Intrepid Travel
When: selected Fridays, Apr-Dec 2013
How long: 8 days
How much: from £820 (excl flights)

2. Thailand

Combine culture and cooking

Discover the tastes of Thailand on Tell Tale Travel’s Tamarind and Spice solo traveller orientated group trip. Explore four different regions as you travel from Bangkok to the Central Plains and Chiang Mai, ending on the Andaman coast.

As well as learning to cook traditional dishes in each location, there’s time to visit markets, see the sights and even learn some jungle survival skills.

Who: Tell Tale Travel
When: 23 Nov 2013, 1 Feb 2014
How long: 15 days
How much: from £2,225 (incl flights)

3. Japan

Sample sushi and then some

Inside Japan’s Japanese Gastronomic Adventure packs more than just sushi into its mouthwatering itinerary. Highlights include breakfast at Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market, dinner and drinks at a traditional izakaya (Japanese pub), a noodle-making class in the castle city of Matsumoto and a private tour of a sake brewery in Kyoto. The trip also includes stays in a Buddhist temple lodge (with authentic Buddhist Shojin cooking), and in a ryokan (inn) in the rural craft town of Takayama, before finishing amid the bright lights of Toyko’s Shinjuku district.

Who: Inside Japan
When: tailormade departures
How long: 13 nights
How much: from £1,999 (excl flights)

4. Italy

Pedal for pasta in Piedmont

Explore the vineyards and views of northern Italy’s foodie mecca, Piedmont. Headwater’s Gastronomic Barolo Cycling trip will have you pedalling past historic castles, frescoed chapels and medieval villages in between stays at the chicest hotels and meals at the region’s tastiest restaurants.

Who: Headwater
When: various departures, May-Oct 2013
How long: 9 days
How much: from £1,479 (excl flights)

5. Cambodia

Feast on a frenzy of flavours

Cambodia is mouth-watering, its cuisine influenced by its French colonisers, Asian neighbours and beyond. Selective Asia’s Cambodia with Spice trip gives a taster, from local cooking classes to visiting Kep – home to the best seafood on the planet.

Who: Selective Asia
When: tailormade departures
How long: 10 days
How much: from £756 (excl flights)

6. India

Combine curry and culture

Learn the art of Keralan cuisine on TransIndus’s Flavours in Kerala trip. You’ll stay at Ayesha Manzil – a beautiful homestay by the Arabian Sea in the former spice-trading port of Tellicherry – where Mrs Moosa will teach you the secrets of preparing a Malabari feast.

Who: TransIndus
When: tailormade departures
How long: 7 days
How much: from £1,525pp (incl flights)

7. Jordan

Munch in the Middle-East

Jordan Holiday Architects’ Tastes of Jordan trip offers three different cookery courses: at a traditional home in Amman; at the Petra Kitchen (after exploring the city); and pizza-making by the Dead Sea! You’ll also tour a winery and the Roman ruins of Jerash.

Who: Jordan Holiday Architects
When: tailormade departures
How long: 9 days
How much: from £1,660 (incl flights)

8. Spain

Walk and wine-taste

Explore’s new Wine, Walks and Tapas tour journeys on foot from Bilbao to Barcelona through La Rioja, Montsant, Priorat and Cava, combining gentle walks with wine-tasting. Follow the coast and strands of the Camino, sampling innovative Basque, Catalan and Riojan tapas along the way.

Who: Explore
When: set departures, Apr-Oct 2013
How long: 10 days
How much: from £999 (excl flights)

9. Georgia

Enjoy heavenly hospitality

Legend says that God thought Georgian food was so good, he gave its people the best land. Decide for yourself on Regent Holidays’ Cheese & Wine Tour of Georgia, which includes vineyards, cheese, local guesthouses and fine hospitality.

Who: Regent Holidays
When: tailormade, Apr-Oct 2013
How long: 9 days
How much: from £2,030 (incl flights)

10. Sicily

Creative cookery in the Mediterranean

Explore the very best of Sicily’s diverse cuisine and culture as part of Peter Sommer Travels Gastronomic Tour of Sicily. Take part in cooking classes designed to teach you a range of specialities, shop in local markets accompanied by culinary experts and walk on Mt Etna with a volcanologist.

Who: Peter Sommer Travels
When: 5 Oct 2013
How long: 7 days
How much: from £2,495 (excl flights)

11. India

Dine like a local

Delve into the culinary diversity of Northern India on Travel the Unknown’s Delicacies of North India tour. Get to grips with the region’s real culture by dining with locals and shopping in village markets, savouring a range of cuisines along the way.

Along the way, visit North India’s iconic sights, including the Taj Mahal at sunrise, forts of Jaipur, Amritsar’s Golden Temple and colonial Kolkata, as well as cooking in family homes, palace gardens and in the Himalayan foothills.

Who: Travel the Unknown
When: 9 Nov 2013
How long: 15 days
How much: from £2,795 (incl flights)

12. Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam

Immerse in culinary diversity

Bamboo Travel’s Culinary Delights of South-East Asia Tour provides you the chance to indulge in some of Asia’s most exciting foods while exploring the immense history of the region. Touring three countries and visiting some of the best cooking schools, the trip will set your tastebuds tingling.

Travellers start their journey in sumptuous Siem Reap, working their way through pepper farms in Kep and freshly-caught crab on Rabbit Island. Floating markets, cooking masterclasses and a palate of different flavours await in Vietnam. The trip finishes up in bustling Bangkok, home to a raucous range of tastes and specialities.

7 tricky European cities for vegans

Struggling to avoid animal products abroad? If you can manage in these cities, you can manage anywhere, writes strict vegan Rosie Driffill.

Hummus may be catching on across Europe, but eating well as a vegan isn’t just about getting your basic needs met. On holiday, as at home, a little variety doesn’t go amiss, but choice is seldom the order of the day when it comes to vegan grub. One might be forgiven for snubbing seaside towns, cities with sub-zero winters and, well, anywhere where folks will flesh out their menus with as much meat and fish as tradition dictates.

In my personal experience, places like these tend to show the least mercy to the travelling vegan. But before you forgo any destination in favour of playing it safe, consider the following survival tips that won’t see you starve…

1. Naples

The Bay of Naples, where fresh fish and locally-sourced mozzarella are on hand to satisfy the non-meat eater, doesn’t have a great deal in the way of vegan food. Save from removing the cheese from an otherwise vegetable heavy – and rather humdrum – ensemble, chefs’ means of accommodating the vegan diet are satisfactory at best. It’s also typical for Neapolitan waiters to pass comment on your dish of choice, or, when requesting something suitable for vegans, to stare and cry oddio! or perché!?

How to get by: If you don’t want incredulous waiters to scoff while you… scoff, it’s worth doing a little planning before ordering a pecorino salad without the pecorino. In terms of eating out, some of the few vegetarian restaurants like Sorriso Integrale (Piazza Bellini) do serve up tasty vegan options, while specialist pizzerias like Da Michele (Via Cesare Sersale) offer pizza alla marinara, whose three ingredients – tomatoes, garlic and oregano – make for a delicious vegan bite. Lunches on the go can be managed if you stop by any small deli and stock up – most sell fresh baguettes and interesting fillings like olives, oil-soaked artichokes and sliced aubergine.

Need to cool down? While cities such as Florence and Venice have embraced soya ice cream like it was going out of fashion, only Caffe Augusto on the nearby isle of Capri serves up soy gelato.

2. Dundee

To say Dundee was the worst town in Scotland for vegans would be unfair, but for its size, the range of options isn’t great. Where stodgy meats and butter-soaked pastries are plentiful when winter creeps in, you’ll be hard pressed to find a roasted vegetable wrap atop the bakery stands. Small cafes and take-away stands won’t have much in the way of vegan dishes, unless you’re prepared to eat baked beans for the duration of your stay. And as for soya milk – forget it. Unless you fancy being branded a hippy and chuckled at shrilly, stick to black coffee.

How to get by: Vegetarian B&B Alberta Guesthouse (Forfar Road) makes for a good base, as vegan breakfasts, complete with mushrooms, tomatoes, toast with soy butter, potato waffles, beans and Linda McCartney sausages, can be easily adapted from the vegetarian version. As far as lunch and dinner goes, look to specialist stores, such as The Health Food Store (Commercial Street), for bags of tortillas, pulses, and dairy-free dips, as well as vegan cheese and cereal bars. When dining out, try Italian restaurant Bellini Dundee (Commercial Street): for vegans, starters such as focaccia ai pomodorini e oregano (focaccia with tomatoes and oregano), and mains like penne arrabiata (without the spicy sausage) are both tasty and filling.

Want to chow down on some haggis? The vegetarian version is becoming more widely available, but most recipes require eggs as a binding agent. Try asking Drouthy’s (Perth Road) if they’ll adapt their vegetarian version to suit a vegan diet – some places are willing to prepare an alternative if you request it in advance. Failing that, they do rustle up a lovely hummus and roasted red pepper sandwich…

3. Riga

When it comes to choosing a city break, the chilly Latvian capital might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but among vegans, it’s likely to fall even lower on the must-see list. As in many former Soviet countries bordering Russia, it can be tricky to order a meal without meat, let alone without dairy: here, mayonnaise, sour cream and butter find their way into almost everything. A friend of mine once visited Riga and tried to get by on a lactose-free diet; he lived, but he ate that many pistachios in place of proper meals he noticed an outbreak of calluses on his fingers from all the shelling.

How to get by: To avoid nut-induced repetitive strain injury, make the most of the vegan/vegetarian restaurants available. According to happycow.net this blowy Baltic city has one of the former and four of the latter, meaning a varied diet is possible on your trip but not exactly cheap. If you want something on-the-go, street food is not to be snubbed: a piping mug of borscht soup (without the almost inevitable drizzle of cream – make sure you utter a well-timed ‘nyet!) or a doughy piroshky with a cabbage or berry filling are great for tiding you over.

4. Scarborough

After trawling round this seaside town for what seemed like hours in search of vegetarian chips (most chips are fried in beef dripping, not vegetable oil), I wonder if my inclusion of Scarborough is more a nod to my aching, frozen limbs than a warranted feature. On a serious note, British seaside towns are awash with fish terrines and battered meats, but don’t always cater well for people on vegan diets (coeliacs might struggle too – chips are often coated in gluten as a result of their being fried in the same oil used for fish batter).

How to get by: To its credit, Scarborough has a fantastic all-vegan restaurant and take-away called C-A-L-F (62 Eastborough Road near the seafront). Diners will find bagels, hot meals and a range of sandwiches, not to mention indulgent vegan desserts. Cafe Venus (Ramshill Road) serves vegan options as well. However, the fried food, chewy candy and ice cream remain largely the preserve of the omnivore; only Small Fry on North Street serves chips in vegetable oil. For picnic food, try stocking up in Fairchild’s Green Shop (Victorian Road), where you’ll find organic and locally sourced fruit, vegetables, jams, spreads and juice.

5. Faro

The number of vegetarians in Portugal was estimated at 200,000 in 2012, a figure somewhat dwarfed by the number of British who claimed to be vegetarians that same year: about 4 million. In a country where veganism is still in its neonatal stages, finding a restaurant outside the capital that caters specifically for vegans isn’t exactly child’s play. In the southern city of Faro, you’ll be hard pushed to find anything on the menu that doesn’t have a face: where meat doesn’t reign supreme, you can bet it’ll be ‘catch of the day’ scrawled across the restaurant’s chalkboards.

How to get by: Restaurants Gengibre E Canela (Rua Santo Antonio) and O Ribatejano (Rua de S. Luis) both serve vegan dishes; try the former for a spiced tofu and courgette ensemble followed by a vegan chocolate mousse to finish, and the latter for raviolis with quinoa and millet. For something quick to take to the beach, take advantage of the North African influence on local gastronomy and opt for something legume-y; Faro is full of take-away cafes stocked to the nines with tubs of hummus, olives, pita and falafel, so make like a Moroccan and go all out on the finger food.

6. La Rochelle

For a sprawling seaside metropolis, La Rochelle, on the west coast of France, has surprisingly few vegan/vegetarian restaurants. Only ‘veg-friendly’ options exist, though it wouldn’t hurt to be cautious as a vegan: where the salads may not contain cheese, they’re leafy exterior is bound to belie some buttery or honey-glazed truth. From La Rochelle to St Jean Dangely to the east, simple cuisine relies on stoic centrepieces made up of meat, fish or cheese.

How to get by: A stay at the Vieux Monastere (Rue St Martin) will set you up for the day: providing nutritionally-balanced vegan meals, this rustic countryside retreat is known for its flesh-free ethos. When taking lunch in the city, go for breads and oils, fries and fruit salads; for dinner, best to opt for pizzas without the cheese, pasta with tomato-based sauces and… Chinese food. Le Jardin des Saisons (Boulevard Joffre), for example, serves up delicious rice-based dishes with locally-sourced, seasonable vegetables, most without even a whiff of fish sauce.

7. Århus

Probably owing to Århus’ large student population, vegan restaurants do exist: Rabar (Vester Alle 15), for example, serves all manner of vegan delights from sushi to ice cream. There’s not much scope for vegan dining in general, however, and a balanced, relatively cheap diet will require some good prior research.

How to get by: While not exactly famed for their love of vegan cuisine, Danes are big on organic produce. Even in the cheapest grocery stores, there’s enough supply to meet one of the biggest demands for organic fare in Europe, so stocking up on fresh snacks is a doddle. Larger supermarkets do sell soy milk, soy yoghurts, vegan cheese and tofu, not to mention hummus, seitan and millet, but they don’t come cheap.

Lucky, then, that Århus has a huge ‘dumpster living’ culture complete with Facebook groups and organised ‘dives’ (it’s even possible to arrange for a car to pick you up and transport your ware home post-forage)! And if, after all that, you need something to slake your thirst, rest assured – Danish Carlsberg is vegan friendly.

6 of the best Christmas drinks from around the world – and how to make them

Boozy, warming, and very indulgent – what more do you expect from a Christmas cocktail? Try one of these delicious drinks from around the world while you’re wrapping presents this year…

In many countries, nothing says winter quite like the smell of brewing mulled wine wafting through your home. But Christmas is celebrated across many diverse cultures – each with their own parcel of traditions and practices – so why limit yourself to the same festive brews year on year? We searched high and low for the world’s tastiest concoctions, and found some winning combinations…

1. Coquito, Puerto Rico

This Puerto Rican coconut eggnog is especially popular during Christmas time, and some say it even tops its more popular American counterpart!

Eggnog with cinnamon sticks (Shutterstock)
Eggnog with cinnamon sticks (Shutterstock)

It’s made by mixing several types of milk with coconut cream, egg yolks, cinnamon, vanilla and white rum. Serve cold, sprinkle with grated nutmeg and cinnamon, and share with family and friends. Get the recipe

2. Irish coffee, Ireland

There are many ways to drink Irish coffee, and just as many occasions. But during the festive season, the way to do it is with as many cream liqueurs as possible (within reason, obviously). Along with the Irish whiskey, add in some Kahlua Coffee Cream and Baileys. Top it off with a swirl of whipped cream.

Irish coffee (Shutterstock)
Irish coffee (Shutterstock)

Hot port is another winter drink favoured by the Irish. As a bonus, it’s also thought to cure the early signs of a head cold – perfect! Stir some sugar into a shot of whiskey, pierce a slice of lemon with some cloves, add it to the glass and fill with hot water. Get the recipe

3. Cuban aliñado, Cuba

Technically, this drink is not a Christmas exclusive. It is part of a tradition that emanated in eastern Cuba: as soon as a woman found out she was pregnant, the family would start preparing the aliñado in time for the child’s birth. The drink would age for nine months or so, enhancing its flavour, before being handed out to those who came to visit the new baby.

Spiced winter cocktail (Shutterstock)
Spiced winter cocktail (Shutterstock)

It has since been adopted by some, and incorporated into the season’s celebration of the Nativity. The three main components are chopped fruit – usually apple, papaya, cherry, plum, fig or pear – syrup and sugarcane liquor (rum). So close your eyes and dream of Havana. Get the recipe

4. Bombardino, Italy

The bombardino is Italy’s version of eggnog and made of one part Advocaat and one part brandy. Popular in the ski resorts, it provides a welcome burst of warmth among the snow. Its name apparently derives from the exclamation of one of its first ever tasters who, noting the kick of the alcohol and the high temperature, said: “It’s like a bomb!”

Advocaat Bombardino (Shutterstock)
Advocaat Bombardino (Shutterstock)

There are several variations of the bombardino: some include rum rather than brandy, and others – like the calimero – have a shot of espresso, too. Get the recipe

5. Wassail, UK

Otherwise known as spiced cider, this has been a winter favourite in Britain for centuries. It’s a good alternative to mulled wine, especially if you have a slightly sweeter palate.

Wassail (Shutterstock)
Wassail (Shutterstock)

A mixture of all things festive – apple cider, oranges, lemons, cinnamon, cloves, allspice and nutmeg – it’ll warm you on the dreariest of days. Get the recipe

6. Café Mexicano, Mexico

Fancy a taste of festive Mexico? Their Christmas cocoa has an irresistible chocolate twist, and you can enjoy it with or without alcohol.

Cocoa (Shutterstock)
Cocoa (Shutterstock)

Pour chocolate syrup into a warmed cup – stir in Kahlua or brandy, if you fancy – add the coffee, then top it off with a dollop of thick cream and cinnamon. Hello, heaven.

9 of the best boozy breaks

From Russian vodka and Japanese sake to the world’s finest wineries: get to grips with new cultures on these intrepid and intoxicating trips (Not a stag-do in sight – we promise)

1. Craft beers of New England, USA

Brew England: The Art of the Microbrewery, Abercrombie & Kent

Sip award-winning brews on this 11-day tour of New England’s micro breweries: if you love your beer, this is the trip for you. From ‘banana beer’ in Redhook to the rare Imperial Pilsner and Triple Bock tipples, you’ll get stuck into the region’s finest drinks on The Art of the Microbrewery – and the itinerary includes plenty of brewery tours too.

Fall foliage, Vermont (Shutterstock)
Fall foliage, Vermont (Shutterstock)

When you’re not knocking back beers, you’ll be hiking through Maine’s Acadia National Park, driving on dramatic coast roads, and taking the Conway Scenic Train through magnificent mountain passes. Happily, the food in New England is just as delectable as its beers: work up an appetite for Maine lobsterbake, pancakes with Vermont maple syrup, and even a tour of the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory.

2. Swig wine in South Africa

Cape & Winelands Escape – Self Drive, Rainbow Tours

This 9-day self-drive holiday takes in South Africa’s best bits: from the heights of Table Mountain to the friendly penguins of Boulders Beach. But for us, the highlight of Cape & Winelands Escape is three days in Stellenbosch: this is the heart of the Cape winelands, and quite frankly it’s one of the world’s best wine-growing regions.

Stellenbosch vineyards with Simonsberg mountain (Shutterstock)
Stellenbosch vineyards with Simonsberg mountain (Shutterstock)

You’ll spend the days touring Stellenbosch’s vineyards, sipping world-class wines against a  spectacular mountainous backdrop. This is also a foodie hotspot, and many vineyards boast their own fantastic restaurants. With accommodation in a country house hotel and spa, this is a grown-up boozy break – perfect for wine-loving couples.

3. A grape escape in Chile & Argentina

Vineyards of Chile & Argentina, Journey Latin America

On the sun-drenched slopes of the Andes, some of the world’s finest wine grapes thrive. In this southern sliver of South America you’ll find charming vineyards and spectacular remote hotels – the perfect combination for a two-week Vineyards of Chile & Argentina trip.

Volcano Aconcagua and vines at a vineyard, Argentina (Shutterstock)
Volcano Aconcagua and vines at a vineyard, Argentina (Shutterstock)

Every stop on this luxurious private journey is picked for its wow-factor: when you’re not quaffing wines while overlooking the Andes you’ll be gawping at Iguazu Falls, or taking tango lessons in Buenos Aires. The canyon country in north-west Argentina awaits too, as do the remote working ranches. With luxury transfers and internal flights throughout the itinerary, you’ll have Chile and Argentina’s best bits at your fingertips.

4. Quaff France’s fanciest wines

Cycling The Vineyards & Villages of Burgundy, Exodus

With its gently rolling country hills and pretty canal-side routes, it’s almost as if Burgundy was made for cycling trips – and this Vineyards and Villages holiday is a laid-back boozy summer adventure. Weave your way through pretty villages and picturesque farms on your vineyard-hopping itinerary, pausing for tasting sessions and glasses of chilled Pinot Noir.

Vineyards near Savigny-les-Beaune, Burgundy (Shutterstock)
Vineyards near Savigny-les-Beaune, Burgundy (Shutterstock)

If you’re travelling a deux, how about hiring a tandem bike? Most of the cycling is on very quiet country roads and tracks, so don’t worry if you’re not an experienced cyclist. Better yet, there’s separate transport for your luggage, so you don’t have to squeeze everything into your panniers. Simply pack a small rucksack and head off on two wheels for the day.

5. Sip spectacular sake in Japan

Sushi to Sake, Peregrine

In Japan, you’ll find a new foodie experience at every turn – and this Sushi to Sake trip unveils the most memorable moments. You’ll make soba noodles in a Tokyo cooking class, gorge on Osaka’s street food, feast on hand-rolled sushi in Kyoto, and sample incredible sake. This rice wine is a key part of Japan’s cultural identity: it origin is uncertain, but it likely originated as a ceremonial drink in the third century.

Japanese sake in Nara (Shutterstock)
Japanese sake in Nara (Shutterstock)

Sake is the nation’s favourite drink – and it’ll become your favourite too, as you sample Japan’s top tipples in bars and restaurants all over the country. Drink it from traditional dinky cups called choko, or (in more modern watering holes) as a mixer in cocktails.

6. Tour Germany’s beer gardens

The Bavarian Beer Garden Holiday, Ramblers Worldwide Holidays

Bavaria’s beer gardens were made for balmy summer evenings. This Bavarian Beer Garden Holiday is dedicated to Germany’s finest leafy drinking establishments, combining pub-hopping by night with easy hiking routes by day. And with Bavaria’s picturesque lakes and waterfalls, it’s a spectacular place to work up a thirst.

Ettal monastery, Bavaria (Shutterstock)
Ettal monastery, Bavaria (Shutterstock)

You’ll be based in one place, tackling different walking trails every day – and different beer gardens every night. One stand-out spot is the Ettal monastery, which serves beer that the monks have been making for the past 400 years – if practice makes perfect, this is probably the best pint you’ll ever have. Prost!

7. Toast the new year with Russian vodka

Russia Highlights: New Year, Intrepid Travel

Under a blanket of snow, Moscow takes on an even more mysterious, magical air: sure it’s cold, but the Red Square and St Basil’s Cathedral never looked better. Wrap up to welcome the new year on this special Russia Highlights departure, an 11-day tour of the country’s cultural gems. On New Year’s Eve, you’ll celebrate in Suzdal with a local family homestay: you’ll feast together, swap stories, and they’ll ensure your vodka glass is always overflowing.

Night view of the Red Square (Shutterstock)
Night view of the Red Square (Shutterstock)

Nothing gets you to the heart of a culture quite like a homestay, so this NYE celebration is a unique start to the trip. After saying goodbye to your new-found Russian friends, you’ll continue to Kostroma and St Petersburg for craft markets and city tours, and a traditional tea party and Russian Orthodox church service with another local family.

8. Hike through Italy’s vineyards

Classic Tuscany Guided Walk, World Expeditions

Crumbling medieval villages? Check. Vine-blanketed hills? Check. Nowhere does fairytale winelands quite like Tuscany – and the Chianti region is the jewel in its crown. This Classic Tuscany Guided Walk rambles along at a suitably laid-back pace; life here is leisurely, with a focus on great wine, food and company. You’ll have all three in abundance with your merry band of walking companions and itinerary of wine tastings, vineyard tours and fantastic restaurants.

Chianti vineyard (Shutterstock)
Chianti vineyard (Shutterstock)

After setting off from Florence, you’ll visit the fortress village of Monteriggioni, spend two nights at a characterful agriturismo (farm homestay) in Chianti, and weave your way through vineyards, food markets and olive oil presses all the way to Siena.

9. Sample the South Island’s world-class wines

New Zealand Food and Wine Trail, Audley

Marlborough is home of the ultimate New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc: with its rich soil and sunny climate, the region’s grapes are grown to the highest standards, and thousands of vines cover the mountain-fringed plains. On Audley’s New Zealand Food and Wine Trail you’ll have no trouble finding the perfect glass of chilled white wine – and you’ll stay at boutique wineries so you’ll get to know the people who made it.

Marlborough district of New Zealand's South Island (Shutterstock)
Marlborough district of New Zealand’s South Island (Shutterstock)

When you’re not swigging Sauvignon Blanc, you’ll be gorging on freshly-caught seafood on pristine beach barbecues and cycling through the vineyards of Hawkes Bay. Waiheke Island awaits too: even if you’re not a big beach-break lover, you’ll have a hard time tearing yourself away from these spectacular sands.