Multicultural cities and countries: Where to experience amazing culture, food, art and music in one place

Surely even the most remote sea-bound rock or mountain valley has by now been impacted by other societies. Every culture is blended, even famously homogenous Japan – its culture and language have Chinese roots, its Buddhist religion comes from India, and its contemporary society has welcomed the influences of western nations.

Enjoying these cultural collisions is one of the great joys of travel. If I were marooned forever just in Sicily I'd be happy. This beautiful island has a dazzling cultural blend to keep anyone intrigued for decades. Classical Greek theatres open onto smoking volcanoes, glorious Norman and Byzantine mosaic work glitters, and outrageous baroque churches are imbued with a sombre Spanish fondness for death and saintly disasters. Flavours from Sicily's Islamic era linger in its irresistible marzipan and pistachio pastries, and almond granita.

Anywhere that one culture unexpectedly encroaches on another is intriguing. It's startling to find Koranic verses looped across church walls in Andalusia, Welsh spoken in remote Patagonia, chicken tikka masala claimed as a Scottish invention. Even better are the unique societies created when cultures don't just collide but blend, producing an effervescent fusion of architecture, cuisines, religious beliefs, music and festivals. Here are some of the best.

PORT LOUIS, MAURITIUS

P065WB Woman street vendor selling clothes in a street market in downtown Port Louis, Mauritius SunJun24coverculture Mixing It Up Blended Cultures Worldwide ; text by Brian Johnston credit:?Alamy *** ONE TIME USE ONLY *** *** FEE $ APPLIES ***

Photo: Alamy

THE MIX

For a modest island, this Indian Ocean nation has a remarkable ethnic mix. Everyone from Portuguese pirates to French plantation owners, Indian sugarcane workers to Chinese shopkeepers and African slaves has made a home here. Capital Port Louis is imprinted with the leftovers of French and British rule.

SEE IT

Port Louis is a multicultural showcase, especially its Central Market. Blue Penny Museum (bluepennymuseum.com) – named for Mauritius's famous postage stamp – covers the island's successive cultural arrivals, while Eureka House (eureka-house.com) showcases aristocratic 1830s colonial living.

Advertisement

WHAT ELSE

The island is a tropical getaway of sweeping beaches, luxury resorts and water sports. The 1770s botanic gardens smell of nutmeg and cinnamon. L'Aventure du Sucre (aventuredusucre.com) relates the story of sugar and how the industry transformed the island's population mix.

ESSENTIALS

tourism-mauritius.mu

traveller.com.au/mauritius

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL

Brazil, Rio de Janeiro:A dancer from Sao Clemente samba school performs during the carnival in Rio de Janeiro on February 11, 2018.. (AAP Image/CrowdSpark/Cristiane Mattos ) NO ARCHIVING, CROWD SOURCED CONTENT, EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO ARCHIVING, CROWD SOURCD CONTENT, EDITORIAL USE ONLY SunJun24coverculture Mixing It Up Blended Cultures Worldwide ; text by Brian Johnston credit: AAP

Carnival in Rio. Photo: AAP

THE MIX

Brazil's vibrant culture flaunts an Afro-European mix in everything from residents' faces to art, music and dance. Samba has roots in African religious music and its traditional meat-and-beans dish, feijoada, also hails from Africa, while the coffee and pastries are very Portuguese.

SEE IT

Marvellous architecture is highlighted in the Portuguese churches, gracious plazas and Art Deco apartments of Centro, Santa Teresa and Lapa. The Art Museum (museudeartedorio.org.br) guides you through Rio's fusion culture, while Museo do Indio (museudoindio.gov.br) has insights into Brazil's indigenous people.

WHAT ELSE

Ascend Sugarloaf Mountain (bondinho.com.br) and statue-topped Corcovado (tremdocorcovado.rio). Beachside Copacabana and Ipamema – or Arpoador if you're a surfer – are glorious. Tijuca Forest National Park is home to toucans and monkeys. Niterói Contemporary Art Museum (culturaniteroi.com.br) is lodged in a spectacular flying-saucer building on the coast.

ESSENTIALS

rcvb.com.br

traveller.com.au/rio-de-janeiro

XI'AN, CHINA

M67XPB Younger Hui Muslim woman working at the food market, Muslim Quarter Bazaar, Beiyuanmen Street, Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, China SunJun24coverculture Mixing It Up Blended Cultures Worldwide ; text by Brian Johnston credit:?Alamy *** ONE TIME USE ONLY *** *** FEE $ APPLIES ***

Photo: Alamy

THE MIX

Its location on the ancient Silk Road opened China's ancient capital to outside influences. Xi'an has a large Muslim Hui ethnic minority that makes its old town one of the most distinctive and atmospheric in China. Skewered meats, flatbread, mutton and beef soups, and preserved fruit and nuts are delights of the Islamic-influenced local cuisine.

SEE IT

The Grand Mosque, founded in 742, is still in use. The rambling complex of interconnected courtyards is very Chinese in style, with upturned eaves and dragons clashing with Islamic decorative motifs.

WHAT ELSE

The 2000-year-old mausoleum of the first Qin emperor with its serried ranks of 6000 terracotta warriors in rigid battle formation is the main drawcard. Xi'an also has impressive city walls, towers and temples.

ESSENTIALS

en.shaanxi.gov.cn

traveller.com.au/xi'an

OTTAWA, CANADA

SunApr22covervisit?Liveable vs Visitable Cities ; text by Brian Johnston SUPPLIED https://www.brandcanadalibrary.ca Ottawa?Ontario?Canada The Heart & Crown Pub, ByWard Market Credit / Source: Canadian Tourism Commission

The Heart & Crown Pub, ByWard Market. 

THE MIX

Ottawa sits right on the linguistic border between English- and French-speaking Canada. Its neo-Gothic parliament building is an unabashed homage to Canada's British heritage and yet the international flavours of ByWard Market and love of outdoor life are very Canadian.

SEE IT

Parliament Hill (visit.parl.ca) has all the symbols of contemporary Canadian political life. The Canadian Museum of History (historymuseum.ca) is particularly good for its First Nations galleries and immigration history, and gives proper prominence to early French explorers.

WHAT ELSE

The National Gallery of Canada (gallery.ca) has a good collection of European and Canadian art. World Heritage listed Rideau Canal is great for boating, cycling or ice skating. The city is dotted with parks, and in May hosts the world's largest tulip celebration (tulipfestival.ca).

ESSENTIALS

ottawatourism.ca

traveller.com.au/canada

GEORGE TOWN, MALAYSIA

JGNY7T Renovated facades of mixed-style (colonial and Peranakan, or Straits Chinese) shophouses, George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia. SunJun24coverculture Mixing It Up Blended Cultures Worldwide ; text by Brian Johnston credit:?Alamy *** ONE TIME USE ONLY *** *** FEE $ APPLIES ***

Photo: Alamy

THE MIX

Trading port George Town on island-state Penang has seen diverse ethnic groups (British, Chinese, Indian, Malay) contribute to its eclectic architecture, religions, cultural observances and cuisine. Chinese mansions sport rooftop dragons, Indian shops glitter with sequined saris, and Georgian-era government buildings are smug in pillared white.

SEE IT

A highlight of the World Heritage old town is magnificent Chinese clan house Khoo Kongsi (khookongsi.com.my), adorned with traditional paintings, gold leaf and writhing dragons. Stop by Sri Mariamman Temple, Kapitan Keling Mosque and Kek Lok Temple (kekloksitemple.com), southeast Asia's largest Buddhist temple.

WHAT ELSE

George Town has great street art and fabulous street food. Beyond the city you'll find beach resorts and Penang Hill (penanghill.gov.my), reached by funicular for great views, ancient rainforest and nature trails.

ESSENTIALS

mypenang.gov.my

traveller.com.au/penang

HAVANA, CUBA

A taxi driver makes his way through the streets of Havana, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2008. (AP Photo/Dado Galdieri) SunJun24coverculture Mixing It Up Blended Cultures Worldwide ; text by Brian Johnston credit: AAP

 Photo: AP

THE MIX

The hot destination of the moment is crammed with crumbling Spanish-era architecture but also terrific French- and American-influenced Art Deco, while its music blends Afro-Caribbean and American sounds, and its roads are a fabulous living museum of old-fashioned American cars such as Oldsmobiles and Chevrolets.

SEE IT

Habana Vieja (old town) and especially Plaza de Armas and pedestrian Calle Obispo highlight colonial architecture, as do the harbour fortifications of Parque Histórico. There's a small Chinatown, with Chinese (and Italian) influences felt on Havana's cuisine, which blends Spanish, African and Caribbean flavours.

WHAT ELSE

Havana is cluttered with churches, small museums and seaside promenades, while Callejón de Hammel district is painted with giant murals. Evening brings the city alive, with nightclubs a showcase of Cuban music and dance, especially salsa.

ESSENTIALS

cubatravel.cu

traveller.com.au/cuba

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA

A7NHPJ South Africa Cape Town two girls 6 10 playing with inflatable toy on sandy beach smiling SunJun24coverculture?Mixing It Up Blended Cultures Worldwide ; text by Brian Johnston Cape Town credit:?Alamy *** ONE TIME USE ONLY *** *** FEE $ APPLIES ***

Photo: Alamy 

THE MIX

Dutch and British colonists, Muslims from Indonesia, India and Turkey, and a range of African peoples have influenced Cape Town's architecture, music and religion. The food is fruity, spicy and distinctly Asian in flavour, the wines were first produced by French Huguenot refugees.

SEE IT

Stately Dutch and British buildings stud downtown. Colourful Bo-Kaap is inhabited by descendants of Batavian slaves from the Dutch East Indies, a story outlined at Bo-Kaap Museum (iziko.org.za). Greenmarket Square sees immigrants from across Africa hawk Benin bronzes, Nigerian wood carvings and assorted souvenirs.

WHAT ELSE

Victoria & Albert Waterfront (waterfront.co.za) is lively with restaurants, pubs and theatres. Table Mountain (tablemountain.net) showcases Cape Town's stunning natural setting, and Chapman's Peak Drive is one of South Africa's most dramatic coastal roads.

ESSENTIALS

capetown.travel

traveller.com.au/cape-town

SINGAPORE

Little India - Roti Prata Images supplied by?Singapore Tourism Board?

Roti prata in Singapore's Little India.

THE MIX

A rich brew of Chinese, Malay and Indian cultures, plus British colonial influences, provide this city-state with far more richness than it's given credit for. Among other things, you'll find outrageous festivals such as January's Thaipusam Festival, in which Hindu devotees skewer their tongues and haul milk pots on their heads.

SEE IT

Downtown Singapore features whitewashed British-era buildings, plus collections of furniture, porcelain and fine arts at the excellent Asian Civilisations Museum (acm.org.sg). Then check out Chinatown (notably for Food Street and Hock Keng Temple), Little India (Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple and markets) and the Arab-Malay quarter of Kampong Glam.

WHAT ELSE

The giant Singapore Flyer Ferris wheel (singaporeflyer.com), innovative Singapore Zoo (zoo.com.sg), family entertainment destination Sentosa Island (sentosa.com.sg) and top-notch Singapore National Museum (nationalmuseum.sg) are among many attractions.

ESSENTIALS

visitsingapore.com

traveller.com.au/singapore

VALLETA, MALTA

EDF517 Valletta and Marsamxett Harbour with the Dome of the Carmelite Church and St Pauls Anglican Cathedral Valletta Malta EU Europe SunJun24coverculture?Mixing It Up Blended Cultures Worldwide ; text by Brian Johnston credit:?Alamy *** ONE TIME USE ONLY *** *** FEE $ APPLIES ***

Photo: Alamy 

THE MIX

It might be a tiny country, but Malta packs in a mighty cross-cultural history. The Maltese speak a Semitic language peppered with Italian and other loanwords, and have at times been under Roman, Arab, Norman, Aragonese, French and British rule. The Knights of St John, themselves a multicultural order, gave much of capital Valletta its impressive Renaissance-era architecture and harbour fortifications.

SEE IT

The Grand Master's Palace (heritagemalta.org) and Co-Cathedral of St John (stjohnscocathedral.com) are Valletta highlights. Hilltop Mdina (mdinacouncil.com) is a hybrid Arab-baroque fortified medieval citadel.

WHAT ELSE

Malta has extraordinary archaeological remains, including the ancient ruins of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra and Roman catacombs beneath Rabat (heritagemalta.org), plus great beaches and diving, natural attractions such as the Blue Grotto, and abundant festivals.

ESSENTIALS

visitmalta.com

traveller.com.au/malta

NEW ORLEANS, US

EN0X7B New Orleans,Louisiana: a Cajun band busking on Bourbon Street,French Quarter. Image shot 04/2014. Exact date unknown. SunJun24coverculture?Mixing It Up Blended Cultures Worldwide ; text by Brian Johnston credit:?Alamy *** ONE TIME USE ONLY *** *** FEE $ APPLIES ***

Photo: Alamy 

THE MIX

Puritan America is banished at the gates of this rollicking city of voodoo shops, African-influenced music, vampire stories and boozy revels. Early Spanish colonial architecture erupts in plasterwork and curlicues, and the food is rich and spicy with Caribbean flavours. Even the cemeteries flaunt flamboyant French and Spanish design.

SEE IT

The French Quarter was laid out by 1820s French settlers but has mostly colonial Spanish architecture. The Garden Quarter, more Anglo-American, is dense in Georgian and Italianate mansions. Voodoo Museum (voodoomuseum.com) takes a look at the city's influential voodoo culture.

WHAT ELSE

Enjoy the notorious nightlife along Bourbon Street, the brilliant jazz and blues heritage still alive in venues such as Preservation Hall (preservationhall.com), and the impressive New Orleans Museum of Art (noma.org).

ESSENTIALS

neworleans.com

traveller.com.au/new-orleans

MANILA, PHILIPPINES

Filipino children play on steel barriers along a road in Manila, Philippines on Saturday Aug. 6, 2011. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila) SunJun24coverculture?Mixing It Up Blended Cultures Worldwide ; text by Brian Johnston credit:?AAP

Photo: AP

THE MIX

The Philippines is enduring difficult times, but it has a rich multicultural history and everything from the language to the food is peppered with Filipino, Spanish, American and Chinese influences. Manila started at started at Intramuros, whose shady plazas, grand colonial residences and Fort Santiago were Spanish built. Its oldest church, San Augustin, is guarded by Chinese lions. Manila's 16th-century Chinatown is probably the world's oldest.

SEE IT

Recreated Casa Manila provides a beautiful example of a Spanish-era mansion chock-full of antiques. Rizal Park, where locals practice tai chi, ballroom dancing and traditional stick-fighting, has a Japanese garden and National Museum, where items recovered from a Spanish galleon are entrancing.

WHAT ELSE

Makati district has great shopping and nightlife. Ayala Museum (ayalamuseum.org) has outstanding exhibitions on Filipino history and culture, including pre-Hispanic gold jewellery and painting collections by leading Filipino artists.

ESSENTIALS

visitmyphilippines.com

traveller.com.au/manila

ART FUSION

These excellent museums highlight the contributions of immigrant and ethnic groups to five very different cities.

AFRO BRAZIL MUSEUM, SAO PAULO

The history, heritage and culture of black Brazil is presented at this museum through some 3000 works of art, presided over by a towering statue of Zumbi, an escaped slave turned warrior who figures large in Brazilian history. The Slave Ship room, which depicts the early journeys of Africans across the Atlantic, is especially striking, but the museum emphasises the positive contributions of Brazil's black community rather than its travails. See museuafrobrasil.org.br

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF IMMIGRATION HISTORY, PARIS

This fascinating museum outlines the story of immigration to France from the early 19th century onwards, with interactive exhibits and multi-media installations as well as drawings and photography. Particularly interesting are the personal items – everything from children's toys to suitcases and maps – that belonged to immigrants and refugees, and which illuminate individual stories about those who've sought a new life in France. See histoire-immigration.fr

ELLIS ISLAND, NEW YORK

Between 1892 and 1954, some 12 million immigrants, from which an astonishing half the current US population is descended, passed through this processing station in New York harbour. The original exhibits concentrate on that story, while a newer addition addresses the whole history of immigration to America. Browse through artefacts, photography and documents, and listen on headphones to the stories of actual immigrants and their Ellis Island experiences. See nps.gov

JEWISH MUSEUM, BERLIN

Housed in a striking, zigzag contemporary zinc and titanium building of deliberately disorienting spaces, this museum traces the turbulent history of Jews in Germany. Although there are some exhibits on the Holocaust – prior to which Berlin had one of the world's largest Jewish populations – there's plenty that celebrates German Jewish life through the ages, while a lively program of events, concerts and workshops keeps this age-old culture alive. See jmberlin.de

CHINESE MUSEUM, MELBOURNE

This delightful Chinatown museum recreates a 19th-century goldfield town with cook shop, temple, Cantonese opera theatre and Chinese lottery shop, and highlights the importance of Chinese immigrants in the gold-rush era. Other areas explore the rest of Chinese-Australian history, including its uglier racist side, and host temporary exhibitions. A treasure hunt encourages children to explore. The museum houses Dai Loong, the huge dragon used during Chinese New Year celebrations. See chinesemuseum.com.au

FOOD FUSION

There's no better way to appreciate blended societies than on a plate. Here are five must-try, lip-licking fusion cuisines.

1. CARIBBEAN

Sweet, spicy, citrusy Caribbean food is a heady mix of African, American, Indian, Indonesian, Arab and European flavours, the latter varying between islands depending on their British, Dutch, French or Spanish colonial heritage. Expect curries, roast meats, stews and abundant seafood. Notable dishes are goat stew, suckling pig, jerk (meat rubbed with spices, then smoked or grilled) and rice with chicken. See caribbeantravel.com

2. VIENNESE

Food in the Austrian capital has been influenced by the Czech, Hungarian, Slavic, Jewish and other cuisines of Austria's former empire, and Italian and French cuisines were also historically fashionable. Now Turkish and Middle Eastern immigrant food is making its mark. Typical Viennese dishes include boiled beef, dumplings, goulash, smoked meats, pastries and – perhaps Milanese in origin – Viennese schnitzel. See wien.info

3. MALACCAN

The Malaysian trading port of Melaka has been controlled by the Malays, Portuguese, Dutch and British and settled by Chinese and Indians. All have left their mark on its food. Malay-Portuguese fusion Kristang cuisine is notable for coconut-based curries and light vegetable dishes, while spicy, herbal Malay-Chinese Peranakan cuisine has produced the popular chilli-rich rice-noodle soup dish laksa. See malaysia.travel

4. LOUISIANA CREOLE

French, Spanish and West African cooking, further influenced by German, Italian and US flavours, come together in this cuisine, characterised by creamy sauces and soups, and use of spices, red beans and rice. The famous gumbo stew has its origins in French bouillabaisse, while jambalaya (a casserole of rice, vegetables and meat or seafood) derives from paella. See louisianatravel.com

5. BURMESE

Myanmar is surrounded by influential countries with potent cuisines, resulting in stir fries, bean-curd dishes and noodles from China; biryanis, naan bread and samosas from India; and curries (plus a liking for fried insects) from Thailand. Ethnic minorities add further complexity. The national dish, most often eaten for breakfast, is a sour and fragrant fish soup called mohinga.

Comments