Cultural Shows & The Hokey Cokey

For a lot of people travelling is about experiencing new cultures. We like to try local dishes, some choose to do a home stay, others adopt some form of local dress for their trip.

One of the most popular ways of experiencing traditions and past times first hand that I’ve come across, (and this seems to be common whether it’s a low budget traveller in Vietnam or at a resort in the Caribbean) seems to be the ‘Cultural Show’. In other words, a performance of usually singing and dancing, sometimes with instruments performed by local people.

Over the years I’ve seem some incredible performances. Recently in Ladakh I got to watch a show put on by 4 local women who dressed in fantastically ornate traditional wear and performed 2 dances that told a story about the region’s rich cultural history.  For these women, putting on shows is one of the only ways they can make some extra money in an area that is closed off to the rest of the world for all but 3 months a year.

One of the performances that stands out the most in mind however is when I was in Botswana midway through an African overland trip. As a group we were heading into the Okavango Delta which entails 3 hours of rowing in a wooden canoe into the depths of the Delta before pitching our tents unnervingly close to the sound of Hippos.

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When it got to nightfall the local guides built a fire and after dinner they all joined together and did an impromptu dance and song. It was powerful and energetic, a dance somewhat choreographed but with allowances for personalisation and with individuals taking it turns to lead the group in rallying cries and echoes.

When the performance was over we all cheered enthusiastically until the local guides gestured that it was our turn. Four of our group sang an enthusiastic rendition of Jerusalem but the guides looked rather unimpressed and repeatedly requested that we repay them with a dance of our own.  The problem was; what song and dance do a group of Brits & Aussies, a handful of Kiwis & Americans and two Italians know well enough to perform impromptu in public.

I’ve experienced similar dilemmas before, I once attended an anniversary party for a lovely couple I was filming with in India when I was asked to sing a song to the audience.  I’m not talking about drunken karaoke with lyrics and a loud backing tracks. I’m talking about a capella with a loud microphone and a silent and expectant audience. In a panic I stood up and did my very best version of Colours of the Wind from Pocahontas to a group of largely confused but very polite West Bengalis.

Anyway, back in Botswana we eventually came upon a song we all knew the moves to and could perform as a group.

The Hokey Cokey, or Pokey if you’re Australian.

You know…left arm in, left arm out, shake it all about.

It was terrible. We were out of tune, out of time and largely confused about what was happening and what limb was to come next. The song finished and there was silence….Then the local guides erupted into applause and there was a lot of hand shaking and grinning.

Nobody seemed to mind how bad the performance was, we’d made the effort and given them a glimpse into our culture just as they had (a lot more skillfully) given us a glimpse into theirs.

I’m always up for a good cultural show when I travel and I’m sure I’ll see plenty more in the future but I guess for now I better be rehearsing some more Disney songs and perhaps ‘Heads, Shoulders, Knees & Toes.’

Affordable dates in London

1. Take a walk on Clapham Common.
Clapham Common is a huge open space in SW London on the edge of zone 2. There’s 220 acres of green space, 3 ponds and Victorian bandstand. The bandstand area is popular with dogwalkers and there’s a cute little café where you can get a coffee & cake watch the world go by.

2. Grab some dinner at Pizza Pilgrims
Pizza Pilgrims does Napoli inspired street food at locations on Dean Street and Kingly Street. Their pizzas are baked in a couple of minutes in the custom built stone bake ovens and are all under £10, including the delicious Nduja (spicy sausage) pizza. Top tip – Finish your meal with a delicious order of limoncello.

3. Walk from Kings Cross to Camden Lock.
If you head towards Granary Square from Kings Cross you’ll find some green steps leading down towards the canal.
If you walk along towards Camden Lock you’ll have some lovely sights including canal boats, a number of functioning locks & quaint cottages. When you arrive at Camden make sure to head to the food markets and in particular try the Bún Bao from the world food stands.

4. Take in the view from One New Change
Opposite St Paul’s Cathedral is a shopping centre called One New Change which has a wonderful roof terrace. It’s open from 6am-midnight daily and offers magnificent views of the London skyline and particularly of the cathedral from an angle you’ve probably never seen before.

Take the lift up to the floor of Madison’s Restaurant and Bar, but then just head left onto the terrace instead of into the bar. They also host a number of outdoor events on the roof throughout the year, ranging including free screenings of Wimbledon.

5. Check out Colombia Road Flower Market
Every Sunday morning Colombia road turns into a multicoloured flower market complete with pleasingly Cockney sounding market-sellers shouting about their offers and trying to entice you to buy. The flowers themselves are very reasonably priced but if you’re just in the mood for browsing them make sure to check out the various trinket and antique shops lining the round.

Chicken Street in Hanoi | BBQ Chicken Street Ly Van Phuc

Hanoi is an absolute gem for street food lovers. I lived there 7 years ago and on my visits back since then, while a lot of the larger food establishments have changed hands or disappeared completely my favourite street food vendors have stayed put.

Top of this list has to be Ly Van Phuc (pronounced Lee Van Fuk) or as it’s more commonly known “Chicken Street/ BBQ Chicken Street.” It’s one of the top street food destinations in Hanoi if not the whole of Vietnam and despite this it’s still much better known amongst the locals and ex-pats than the many backpackers that visit the city as it’s slightly out of the main town area.

ly van Phuc bbq chicken street Hanoi

The vendors might all appear to be selling the same grilled chicken and potatoes but the tried and tested favourite is right down to the end of the road and on the right…trust me!

The menu is fairly simple and all the below are brushed with honey before being grilled to perfection on the open grills you can see all along the street. You’ll also be served chilli sauce and pickled cucumbers in sweet vinegar to go with it.

bánh mì – grilled bread
cánh gà – chicken wings
khoai – roasted sweet potato, cubed on skewers

For the more adventurous there’s also the option of local favourite; chicken feet. Don’t be concerned if you don’t fancy trying out your Vietnamese, staff here are used to foreigners pointing out what delicious food they want to try next, so just point and hold the appropriate number of fingers up!

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Make sure to wash down your meal with glasses of local Bia Hoi. If I’m honest I’ve never really understood the pricing system here and I’m sure it changes slightly every time I’ve been, however a meal for two including all the chicken, bread and potatoes we could eat plus 3 beers each came to less than $10 this time which I can’t complain about.

Now as you’re sat on small plastic stools which I’ve seen many a westerner break and rubbish is pushed onto the floor to be cleaned at the end of the night…admittedly you might feel that the surroundings are not 5* standard, however the scores of motorbikes arriving night after night shows that this place’ popularity is here to stay, and there isn’t a star system high enough to score how good the food here!

Burger & Shake – Top cheap eats London

London isn’t the easiest place to find a decent meal out without spending half your monthly income on food, so I was very pleased to be introduced to Burger & Shake, a small restaurant a short walk from King’s Cross serving consistently delicious food at reasonable prices.

Burger & Shake does quite literally what it says on the tin, and serves up American style burgers and hot dogs alongside heart attack inducing Bourbon infused milkshakes.

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The menu is fairly concise and ranges from £5.50 for the Fish Finger Sandwich up to £8.95 for the Pulled Pork topped burger served in a brioche bun. Sides such as the perfectly cooked sweet potato fries are also great but the mains on their own are filling enough that you don’t need to rack up the bill by adding lots of extras.

One extra worth noting is the fantastic range of shakes, both non-alcoholic and “hard shakes”. A particular favourite of mine was the “Ovaltini”, an unusual sounding mix of tequila, rum, coconut and malted caramel. You’re not scrimped on size and one shake is large enough and filling enough for two to share, not that you are going to want to!

I’ve been a number of times and tried a range of things on the menu, I’ve never been disappointed and food is always served with a smile. Burger & Shake is a much needed alternative to other quick eat chain restaurants like Nando’s and is one of my favourite spots in central for a well priced tasty meal.

Burger & Shake, 47 Marchmont Street, London WC1N 1AP Tel: 020 7837 7718 info@burgerandshake.co.uk.