One of the best ways to experience a country, its people and culture is through its food. Asia offers a variety of exciting, mind altering dishes to try and often the best meals are found in little hole-in-the-wall places with plastic chairs and a hand painted sign in the front. Here are some suggestions of meals to try on your next trip to Asia.
- Som Tam (Green papaya salad)
This deliciously refreshing salad has a base of unripe papaya with fish sauce and shrimp paste balanced with some chilli, lime and palm sugar. Other ingredients often include green beans, basil, garlic and cashew or peanuts. Although it is mostly found in Thailand you can also find variations in Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.
- Chilli Crab
Chilli crab is found in Singapore. It is usually a whole mud crab (although there different crabs can be used) in a sauce made from tomato, chilli, garlic and ginger. The dish is messy to eat and perfect to stick your fingers in. It is usually accompanied by steamed Chinese buns to soak up the sauce.
- Beef Rendang
A popular dish in Indonesia, beef rending combines a number of flavours. Some ingredients include ginger, turmeric, chillies, garlic, lemongrass, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and lots of coconut milk. The dish is cooked for ages so that the beef absorb the flavours. The sauce cooks away completely, leaving the beef to caramelize and develop a smoky flavour.
- Satay, Sate or even Satey.
Satay is a popular dish throughout Asia. It is made of marinated meat, skewered and grilled over charcoal or open fires. A variety of different meats can be used – often chicken or beef and sometimes even different kinds of organs. You can also get seafood and tofo satay’s. In Indonesia these skewers are usually served with a peanut sauce.
Momo’s are influenced by Chinese cuisine but originates in Nepal. They are meat or vegetable dumplings served with chilli sauce, dark soy and a side of soup.
Sushi has become popular all over the world. When traveling through Asia, where else to eat sushi than the birthplace of this amazing delicacy – Japan. It is cooked vinegared rice topped with ingredients that includes fresh fish, caviar and vegetables and seaweed. It is usually accompanied by soy sauce, wasabi and pickled ginger.
- Candied Haws
Candied haws is also known as Bing Tanghulu. It is made from Chinese Hawthorns, skewered and covered in a sugar syrup and left to harden.
- Dim Sum
Dim sum meant ‘a little token’ and refers to little portions of food inside bamboo steamer baskets. This often includes steamed buns and dishes served on small plates. They can include rolls, paus, meat balls, sweet desserts, cakes, tarts, puddings and even steamed dumplings, usually filled with a variety of flavours. In Hong Kong you can combine Dim Sum with a local tea tasting – this is called Yum Cha.
- Shan Noodles
Shan noodles is found at street food stalls and tea houses throughout Myanmar. It is thin rice noodles with a topping of spiced meat and usually served with soup broth, beansprouts, deep fried pork skins and tofu fritter on the side.
- Fish Head Curry
Singapore mixes a South-Indian style curry with the Chinese delicacy of red snapper fish head to create this mouth-watering meal.
- Nasi Campur
Nasi campur is a popular dish throughout Asia. It means ‘mixed rice’. Some canteens offer a wide variety of side dishes to mix into the rice.
- Bulgogi BBQ
In some restaurants in Korea diners cook their own meat over charcoal grills built into the tables. A popular meat is bulgogi- marinated beef. It is usually accompanied by chilli dipping sauce known as Ssamjang, kimchis and other side dishes.
- Bun Cha
Cha is grilled fatty pork and bun is noodles. This is mixed with fresh herbs and a sweet and salty dipping sauce with a bit of chilli (nuoc cham).
- Egg Tarts
Egg tarts in Macau is a creamy egg custard centre enclosed in a crispy, flaky pastry with a caramelized sugar top. Contrary to many Macanese dishes that are influenced by Chinese cuisine, egg tarts come from the Portuguese Colonial era. In Hong Kong the pastry in a buttery short crust pastry.
- Beef Noodles
Beef noodles even have an annual festival dedicated to it in Taipei. This dish is made by slow cooking beef in a broth and served with Chinese noodles and some vegetables.
- Mango Sticky Rice
This is the best known dessert in Thailand. A mixture of mango, coconut sticky rice, splashes of coconut syrup and sometimes sprinkled with mung beans.
- Breakfast Crepes
Breakfast crepes is found at street food stalls in China. They are think egg crepes (called Jianbing) with scallions and chilli sauce filled with lettuce and a crunchy fried dough.
- Massaman Curry
This curry mixes the Thai curry taste with beef (or chicken) and potatoes and pan fried peanuts. Sometimes spices like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg also gets added to the mix.
- Gulab Jamu
Typically found in India, this delicacy is made from deep fried curdled milk solids to which cardamom and rosewater sugar syrup has been added. They are best described as sweet, sugary, spongy dough-like dumplings.
- Bicol Express
This spicy pork dish is infused with garlic, chilli, ginger and shrimp paste before being simmered in coconut milk.
Pho is pronounced as “Fu” and is a rice noodle soup made with either chicken or beef broth. A variety of herbs and spices including Thai basil, chillies and a squeeze of lime is often added. .
- Beijing Duck
Also known as ‘Peking Duck’, this dish is oven roasted duck with a thin, crispy skin and soft, moist meat. The duck is eaten wrapped in pancakes with cucumber, scallions and hoisin sauce.
- Summer rolls
Summer rolls in Vietnam is a choice of meat, vermicelli (rice) noodles and fresh herbs rolled tightly in rice paper. The rolls are served with a peanut sauce known as Nuoc Leo.
- Dum Aloo
This dish originates in Kashmiri in India and is popular in Nepal and even Tibet and Bhutan. It is golden friend potatoes and sautéed onions cooked in a deliscious, spiced tomato gravy.
- Fruit Rujak
This treat is a mixture of seasonal fruit and a chilli and tamarind dressing. It is mostly found in Indonesia but also popular in Singapore and Malaysia.
- Lao Baguettes
This street food in Laos comes from French colonial influences. There is a wide variety of fillings although common favourites are pork liver pate, steamed pork (known as moo yor), carrot, radish and cucumber.
Commonly found at street food stalls in Japan, Takoyaki is octopus dough balls willed with spring onions, pickled ginger and tempura scraps. They area served in a ‘boat’ and topped with mayonnaise and a sauce similar to soy sauce.
- Fish Amok
Although other meats can be used the favourite in Cambodia is fish. This meal is prepared by infusing fresh fish with coconut cream, ginger, galangal, turmeric, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and Khmer curry paste and steaming it in banana leaves.
- Laab Moo Salad
Laab Moo originates in Laos and is very popular in Thailand. It is a spicy salad made from minced pork stir-fried with shallots, coriander and mint leaves. It is usually enjoyed with sticky rice.
- Curry Mee
Curry Mee is a Malaysian dish consisting of a spicy coconut curry soup served with egg noodles, fried tofu, beansprouts and (sometimes) cubes of congealed pigs blood.
- Tandoori Chicken
Tandoori chicken is an Indian dish. Spices are added to chicken pieces which are then marinated overnight. The pieces are skewered the next day and cooked in a large earthenware oven. The chicken is then smoked leaving them soft on the inside and crispy on the outside.
- Khao Soi Curry
This Thai curry mixes the flavours of turmeric, lime, onion (or challots), chilli and pickled cabbage in a coconut curry sauce. The curry usually includes either chicken or beef and is served over soft egg noodles and topped with crispy egg noodles to add a bit of crunch to the meal.
Adobo comes from the Spanish colonization of the Philippines. Meat (chicken, pork or both) is slow cooked after being marinated in a sauce that includes palm vinegar (suka), oil, ginger, garlic, black pepper and soy sauce.
- Halo-Halo and Ais Kachang
This translates to ‘mix-mix’ and is common in the Philippines. It is exactly what the name says: a whole bunch of toppings that you mix together. Although the toppings vary, the dish usually have a starch base like boiled beans or ube, jelly, shaved ice, a syrupy fruit (like coconut or jackfruit), ice cream or leche flan, finally topped with evaporated milk. A similar dish (known as Ais Kachang) is found in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei where red beans, sweet corn, grass jelly and cubes of agar jelly are popular ingredients.
A popular street food in the Philippines, this snack is made by wrapping bananas, jackfruit and brown sugar in a thin pastry like a spring roll. The roll is deep fried until the sugar melts and coats the outside with a caramel syrup. The rolls are served with ice cream.
- Fish Balls
Fish balls are made from minced fish meat mixed with vinegar, garlic, sweet soy sauce or spring onions and then shaped into balls. It is usually eaten in soups or skewered. They can be cooked, fried or steamed and served in street stalls.
Laksa is a spicy soup made with coconut milk, curry, fish sticks, shrimp, beansprouts, lemon grass, citrus, noodles, egg and tofu. Sometimes the seafood is substituted with chicken. The soup can be watery or thicker with as little liquid as possible.
- Banh Xeo
In Vietnam you will find this delicious crispy pork and shrimp pancake. Shrimp and minced pork are fried and stuffed into a crispy rice and turmeric shell. It is topped with beansprouts and fresh herbs, wrapped in rice paper and dipped in nuoc-cham sauce to round it off.
- Babi Guling and Lechon Baboy
Both are slow-roasted pork dishes. Babi Guling is found throughout Indonesia and includes flavours like ginger, galangal, chilly, shrimp paste, and a variety of spices from turmeric to black pepper. Lechon is a similar dish found in the Philippines. Both countries soak the skin in sprite to obtain an amazingly crispy skin.
- Pad Ga Pao
This simple but delicious meal is found throughout Thailand. It is made by stir frying a choice of meat with garlic, chillies and holy basil. The dish is usually served over rice with a fried egg on top.
- Yum Woon
Also known in Thailand as glass noodle salad. This is a super spicy dish of glass noodles mixed with fresh vegetables, peanuts, coriander, and lots of chillies. The sauce is made with Thai fish sauce, lime juice and sugar.
Puri is unleavened Indian bread that has been deep fried. For Panipuri the puri is hollowed and fried until it is very crispy. It is then filled with ingredients like potato, chickpeas, coriander, chilli and chutney. Lastly flavoured water (Pani) is added for extra flavour.
- Masala Dosa
This is a breakfast food found in Southern India. Dosa is a pancake made by soaking rice and lentils overnight and then blending it into a batter. Once cooked it is stuffed with potatoes spiced with fenugreek and curry leaves. It is served with cutneys and sambar (a lentil based stew cooked with tamarind).
- Ban Bing
A popular Taiwanese breakfast, ban bing is a crêpe made from water, flour and corn starch. It is cooked and layered with beaten egg and toppings that could include spring onions, chicken, bacon, cheese, basil, tuna mayonnaise and fried chicken.
- Kai Jeow
Kai Jeow is a minced pork omelette, sometimes with spring onions, shallots or herbs. It is served with steamed rice and a spicy tomato sauce. The eggs are seasoned with fish sauce.
There is no doubt that after a trip through Asia you might come back a few kilograms heavier. But that is just a sign of a trip well lived and loved.
*A version of this article first appeared at www.zafigo.com