The foodie's guide to Asia - United Hub

The foodie's guide to Asia

By Matt Chernov

It's impossible to underestimate the enormous cultural significance of food throughout Asia. In many countries across the region, the very first thing you'll notice when you arrive is the complex aroma of commingled spices and the tempting scent of grilled meats and cooking fires wafting through the air. It's enough to make your mouth water, and that's before you've even left the airport. Whether you spend your vacation snacking on the delicious street food that's served on virtually every corner in Thailand, having lunch at a stylish tea and noodle house in Japan or enjoying a banquet at a historic dining palace in China, eating is truly the best way to immerse yourself in the city you're visiting. To give you an idea of what dishes you can't afford to miss, here's a regional guide to some of the top meals in Asia.

Bangkok

When you hear the word “yum" spoken in English, it's typically an exclamation of foodie pleasure. Curiously enough, it's also a Thai word that refers to the ideal combination of the five main flavors of Asian cuisine: salty, spicy, sour, savory and sweet. To enjoy the perfect balance of yum while in Bangkok, you'll need to order an authentic plate of pad thai and several skewers of grilled satay. Unlike in America where pad thai is usually eaten in sit-down restaurants, in Thailand it's a hugely popular street food, much like satay, that's often enjoyed while standing in front of a cart on the sidewalk. Between these two iconic dishes, you'll taste several of the core ingredients of Thai cooking, namely fish sauce, lime juice, sriracha, curry paste and Thai chilies.

Tokyo

According to most chefs who specialize in Asian food, the central components of Japanese cooking include dashi (a traditional cooking stock), light and dark soy sauce, mirin, sake and miso. Used together in various combinations, these ingredients help form the basis of umami, a description of the savory taste that's become a familiar word around the world in the last decade or so. A great way to experience the essence of umami while in Tokyo is to spend some quality time with a large bowl of ramen. Ramen is at the center of any conversation that deals with Japanese cuisine and is an essential comfort food that's served everywhere — from award-winning restaurants to tiny neighborhood noodle shops. For a luscious bowl of ramen that you'll never forget, make reservations at the Michelin-starred Tsuta Ramen and prepare to launch your taste buds into orbit. But don't fill up on noodles too quickly, because you'll want to save room for an order of okonomiyaki, the savory egg and cabbage pancake that's been called Japan's version of soul food.

Hong Kong

Although authentic Chinese food incorporates a vast variety of ingredients to achieve maximum deliciousness, the fundamental flavors typically rely on elements like oyster sauce, fresh ginger, chili garlic sauce, rice vinegar and hoisin sauce. Each of these flavors can be found somewhere in Hong Kong's quintessential meal: dim sum. Commonly enjoyed in bite-size portions served in steamer baskets or from rolling carts, dim sum is a tradition that dates back to the teahouses of ancient China. Today, the most popular dim sum items include all manner of dumplings, rolls, buns, cakes, meatballs, tarts, spare ribs and puddings. Since taking colorful food photos is an intrinsic part of any modern vacation, plan to eat at Hong Kong's Yum Cha, an acclaimed restaurant that serves Instagram-worthy dim sum treats. Later on, make your way to Yung Kee restaurant for another essential Hong Kong specialty: roast goose. Since 1942, the chefs at this massive four-floor dining palace have been cooking some of the best fowl in the world.

Hanoi

Along with tropical fruits — like papaya, mango, rambutan and durian — and a wide assortment of rice served in various styles, the primary building blocks of Vietnamese cuisine include fish sauce, hoisin sauce and fresh herbs like mint, cilantro, lemongrass and basil. If you'd like to savor several of these intensely flavorful elements on your trip to Hanoi, order a bowl of beef pho with a side of fried spring rolls. The pho's aromatic broth and gently braised meat pairs perfectly with the crunchy rice skin of the rolls, making this an unbeatable combination. You'll find a superb version of it available at Quán Ăn Ngon. For a tasty lunch on the go, grab a duck pâté and egg sandwich from one of the many bánh mì vendors in Hanoi's Old Quarter.

Seoul

If you're planning a trip to the capitol city of South Korea, it's virtually guaranteed that you're already well acquainted with ingredients like soy sauce, garlic and sesame oil. Gochujang, on the other hand, might not be in your daily food repertoire just yet, but it will be after your visit. A zingy red chili paste made with chili powder, glutinous rice and fermented soybeans — among other things — gochujang's sweet and spicy flavor makes it an excellent condiment to use when you order an enticing combination of barbecued meats that are cooked directly at your table in restaurants throughout Seoul. The second dish that you have to try while traveling in Korea is bibimbap. Served in a heaping bowl, bibimbap typically consists of rice topped with local veggies and loaded with bits of egg and meat slices. Each establishment puts their own unique spin on it, and the bibimbap served at Jeonju Jungang Hoekwan is among the tastiest.

Singapore

When you find yourself hungry in Singapore, scan the nearest menu and ask for a bowl of laksa and an invigorating seafood dish called chili and garlic crab. Laksa is a comforting noodle soup that's frequently served with chicken, shrimp or fish. Depending on your preference, the base of the soup can be made with either rich curry coconut milk or sour tamarind broth. Laksa occasionally comes with rice rather than noodles, but either way you can't go wrong. If you're averse to intensely hot spices, don't let the name of this dish dissuade you. The tomato-based sauce helps cut down on the heat of the chilies, making this a surprisingly mild treat rather than a spicy one.

Shanghai

When eating in Shanghai, always keep in mind the four S's: soup dumpling and sweet & sour spareribs. Xiaolongbao — or soup dumplings — are adorable steamed buns that fit perfectly in your mouth and pop with incredibly flavorful broth when you bite down on them. Keep plenty of napkins handy though because they have a tendency to be a bit messy. Save room for other dumplings found throughout the city filled with pork, shrimp, minced crab, veggies or any number of other items. Sweet and sour spareribs with black bean vinegar sauce — a Shanghai specialty — are another wonderful dish to try while exploring the restaurants across China's central coast. When braised to perfection, there's simply nothing better on the menu.

Getting there

Regardless of where you decide to eat in Asia, you can plan your fantastic food tour by visiting united.com, or by using the handy United app to book your tickets.

Entertainment for all

By The Hub team, August 04, 2020

Our Marketing Inflight Entertainment and Connectivity team and Bridge, our Business Resource Group (BRG) for people with all abilities, partnered together to test and provide feedback on our award-winning seatback inflight entertainment (IFE) system.

Aptly named "Entertainment for all," our new seatback IFE system offers the an extensive suite of accessibility features, allowing for unassisted use by people of all visual, hearing, mobility and language abilities.

"It's nice to know that I can get on a plane and pick my favorite entertainment to enjoy, just like every customer," said Accessibility Senior Analyst and Developer and Bridge Chief of Staff Ray C., who is blind.

"As a deaf employee, the closed captioning availability on board our aircraft is something I value greatly," added Information Technology Analyst Greg O. "The new IFE further cements United's visibility within the deaf community and elsewhere. It makes me proud to be an employee."

Accessibility features of the new IFE include a text-to-speech option, explore by touch, customizable text size, screen magnification, color correction and inversion modes, and alternative navigation options for those unable to swipe or use a handset. For hearing-impaired and non-English-speaking passengers, customization options provide the ability for customers to be served content and receive inflight notifications based on their preferences and settings —with closed captions, with subtitles or in the language of their choice from the 15 languages supported. Our "Entertainment for all" system won the Crystal Cabin Award in 2019, and recently, the Dr. Margaret Pfanstiehl Research and Development Award for Audio Description by the American Council of the Blind.

"This really showed the benefits of partnering with BRGs in helping us improve products and services for our customers and employees," said Inflight Entertainment and Connectivity Senior Manager Corinne S. "Even though we have been recognized with awards for our IFE accessibility features, we are not resting on our laurels but continuing to work towards improving the inflight entertainment experience for all of our customers to ensure entertainment is available for all."

Shaping an inclusive future with Special Olympics

By The Hub team, July 24, 2020

If your travels have taken you through Chicago O'Hare International Airport anytime since October 2019, you may have had a friendly, caring and jovial exchange with Daniel Smrokowski. Daniel is one of four Service Ambassadors thanks to our ongoing partnership with Special Olympics. This inaugural ambassador program aims to provide Special Olympic athletes employment opportunities within our operation, affording them a unique and meaningful career.

Since 2018, our partnership with Special Olympics has become one of United's most cherished relationships, going beyond the events we take part in and volunteer with. While the plane pull competitions, polar plunges, duck derbies and Special Olympics World Games and other events around the world are a big part of our involvement, the heart of this partnership lies with the athletes and individuals supported by Special Olympics. To advocate for their inclusion in every setting is one of our biggest honors, and we take great pride in the role we play in the organization's inclusion revolution.

Aiding in the success of Special Olympics' mission to create continuing opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities, throughout the two-year partnership, United has volunteered over 10,500 hours and donated over $1.2 million in travel to the organization. The impact of this partnership is felt at every level, both at Special Olympics and within our own ranks.

"The Inclusion Revolution campaign, led by our athletes, aims to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities. United Airlines has joined in our fight for inclusion, empowering our athletes with the skills needed to succeed and opportunities to contribute their abilities as leaders," said Special Olympics International Chairman Tim Shriver. "United Airlines believes that people with intellectual disabilities should be perceived as they really are: independent, world-class athletes, students, employees, neighbors, travelers, and leaders who contribute to make this world a better place."

Our Service Ambassador program is just one of the many ways Special Olympics has impacted not only our employees, but also our customers. "I see every day how our Service Ambassadors connect with our customers the moment they walk into the airport lobby," said Senior Customer Service Supervisor Steve Suchorabski. "They provide a warm, welcoming smile ad assist in any way they can. To see these young adults hold positions that a society once told them they couldn't is truly the most heartwarming part of my job," Steve continued.

"The opportunity to be a part of the United family means everything to me," Daniel said. "I feel so much pride showing up to work in a Special Olympics/United co-branded uniform, working among such a loving and supportive community. The relationship between these two organizations is truly helping to shape my future while letting me use my gifts of communicating and helping others. Hopefully, I can spend my entire career at United," Daniel added.

In honor of Special Olympics' Global Week of Inclusion in July, we're asking our employees, customers and partners to sign a pledge to #ChooseToInclude at jointherevolution.org/pledge.

And be sure to check out Daniel's podcast The Special Chronicles.

United works with partners to send food to USDA food bank

By The Hub team, July 23, 2020

In collaboration with food-logistics company Commodity Forwarders Inc. (CFI), United moved nearly 190,000 pounds of fresh produce to Guam for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Coronavirus Farm Assistance Program. This new program was created to provide critical support to consumers impacted by the COVID-19 global pandemic.

A variety of fresh fruits were transported from Los Angeles (LAX) to Guam (GUM) on United's newly introduced, non-stop cargo-only flight – a route added to meet cargo demand during the COVID-19 crisis. The fresh food was repacked in 10-pound cases in Los Angeles, prepared for departure at CFI's LAX location, and flown to GUM by the United team. Through this beneficial partnership between United and CFI, the perishable goods were kept cool during every step of the process and distributed as part of the food bank program in Guam.

"Everyone on our team has worked relentlessly during the pandemic to get critical goods to where they are needed most. Establishing a comprehensive network of cargo-only flights have allowed us to keep the supply chain moving even while passenger flight capacity has been reduced," said Regional Senior Manager of Cargo Sales, Marco Vezjak. "Knowing that we are able to help during these difficult times – in this case the Guam community – is our biggest reward and greatest motivation to keep moving forward."

United is proud to play a role in maintaining the global food supply chain and helping people access the supplies they need. Since March 19, United has operated over 4,000 cargo-only flights, moving over 130 million pounds of cargo.

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