Forget birthdays and anniversaries, what about these grand traditions?
High tea, The Ritz, London, England
Take a prime place in the Palm Court overlooking the Royal Gardens and watch for heads turning to see how famous or fabulous you are. Tea includes scones with clotted Cornish cream, fresh baked pastries and a range of sandwiches, from classic cucumber to smoked salmon. But the food is really secondary to being seen here, so be sure to preen yourself like a peacock in case of paparazzi.
Advance bookings are recommended, as is formal dress – jeans and sports shoes are not permitted.
Singapore Sling, Singapore
Few cocktails signal colonial opulence like swigging down this concoction at Singapore’s celebrated Raffles Hotel, specifically at the hotel’s celebrated Long Bar. In the early 20th century Singapore bartender Ngiam Tong Boon dreamed up this cocktail, a mix of gin, cherry brandy and Benedictine in roughly equal parts. Today the Long Bar serves its own refined version – at a price that means you’ll feel the need to savour every drop as you enjoy the plush environs of one of Southeast Asia’s most historic hotels.
If sampling the cocktail isn’t enough colonial indulgence, then make a reservation at the famous Raffles Hotel.
Hookah pipe, Cairo, Egypt
There’s no great ceremony behind taking in a hefty lungful at one of Cairo’s many hookah cafes, but it is the ideal way to polish off a meal or enjoy a cup of tea. While plain tobacco is popular, it’s often flavoured with molasses or nontraditional scents such as coffee, mint, pineapple or even bubblegum.
Smoking is also called shisha in many countries including in the UK; London’s Edgeware Rd boasts several shisha cafes.
La Tomatiña, Buñol, Spain
This energetic celebration of the tomato harvest in Spain is known as one of the world’s biggest food fights. Locals and visitors alike crowd into a small Valencia town to hurl the overripe red fruit at one another in a tradition that has been messing up the streets since 1952. It gets so grubby that local merchants have begun to haul plastic tarpaulins over their shop fronts to save them from stains.
Book into the food fight at the official website: www.latomatina.org.
Tea ceremony, Kyoto, Japan
Prepare yourself for a lot of bowing and ritual before you see your first cup, in this time-honoured ritual that can last up to four hours. There’s a Zen precision to everything from the placement of cups to the order in which you may drink, but it serves as a reminder to slow down and appreciate every gesture. Matcha (green tea) is ceremonially prepared and can be accompanied by anything from tenshin (snacks) to a kaiseki (four-course meal). The best ceremonies are in the traditional tea houses of old Kyoto, and can include a musical performance or dancing display.
Beyond Kyoto there are still some traditional tea experiences like Nara’s Isui-en & Neirak Art Museum, a memorable garden overlooked by an open tatami-mat tea house.
Buzkashi, Central Asia
Initially horseback buzkashi seems to be a rough-and-tumble game of polo played by the Turkic peoples of Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. On closer inspection, though, the ‘ball’ is actually a headless goat carcass that is pushed from one end of the field to another amid the yelps and screams of players.
Your best chance of seeing a game is in Afghanistan, where it has been played on the Kabul Golf Course. Elsewhere the game could be called ulak tartysh or kok boru.
Don’t be surprised if a Finn’s first offer to you is to get naked with them in a sweaty room. The sauna is at the core of Finnish life. The best saunas are heated with wood fires, and ideally the sauna house is suspended over a lake so you can jump out for a nude swim. To enhance the experience Finns slap themselves with vihta (bunches of birch twigs).
It’s customary to drink after or during your sauna, with either beer or gin long drink, a grapefruit-flavoured beverage.
Kava ceremony, Pacific Islands
Across the South Pacific several societies have built up rituals around a drink made from a plant root believed to be everything from a miracle cure to a narcotic and even a toxin. If properly prepared, kava gives a mild buzz like being slightly tipsy. Ceremonies, based around a kava bowl placed symbolically at the centre of a circle, were often used to welcome visitors and begin peace talks between islanders, though today they usually serve as the beginning of an informal jam session.
In Vanuatu, Tonga and Fiji, only men were traditionally allowed to participate, but many communities today allow female visitors to join in.
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This article was refreshed in June 2012