10 Wednesday June, 2015
Food in Asia is both exotic and exciting; if you’ve travelled through Asia before, you’ll have experienced an explosion of flavours and the ying and yang of fresh aromas which tease the nose before they even hit your taste buds. It’s all about inciting the senses; and that’s what we love so much about Asian cooking. Famed for its focus on flavour and freshness, Asian cuisine is amongst the finest. And here are 14 fabulous foods you have to try on your next tour of Asia!
Similar to Nepal’s Dal-Bhat, Thali is an Indian meal made up of various dishes. Thali is very popular in South Indian cuisine and there really are no rules as to what the complete dish should consist of; the only rule is that rice is central to the whole dish. Traditionally, Thali is eaten with your fingers although you will find many restaurants where people devour Thali with cutlery instead. Another tradition is to consume your Thali dishes in a certain order (vegetables first, followed by the lentil based and tamarind based dishes mixed with rice, followed by the curd yoghurt to cool your mouth) but many diners like to eat Thali in their own ways – so there really is no pressure to conform.
2| Pad Thai
Pad Thai is very much a crowd pleaser and very few travellers return without telling stories of where they found the best Pad Thai noodles. Today, the dish can be found in many Thai restaurants in the UK but the most authentic dishes can only be sought where Pad Thai originally hails from – and that’s straight from the streets of Bangkok. Day in, day out, these vendors create nothing but the same iconic noodle dish – so it’s easy to understand how they have perfected it so. There’s also something so satisfying about watching your food get cooked right in front of your eyes, making it taste all the more delicious. Head to Yaowarat (Chinatown) at night, Silom Road, Soi Rambuttri, or the Banglamphu area to start your perfect Pad Thai search.
Travelling to Japan and not trying sushi at least once is simply sacrilege if you ask us. But if the idea of raw fish scares you, try the cooked sushi varieties crab and avocado rolls or shrimp sushi. For avid raw fish enthusiasts, sashimi is not to be missed; sashimi consists of thinly sliced raw fish varieties, including salmon, tuna (chutori and akami), scallop, squid and mackerel. Other more adventurous dishes include raw octopus, the dangerous Fugu puffer fish, or the strange looking sea urchin dish which is widely consumed by seasoned seafood connoisseurs. If you’re a keen sushi eater here in the UK, you will be amazed by the quality and variety available in Japan – it will blow you away. For the best sushi restaurants, try Tofuya-Ukai in Tokyo or Sukiyabashi Jiro.
4| Tom Yum Soup
Another must-try dish in Thailand is the hot and spicy Tom Yum Soup. It’s hard to imagine eating such a hot broth in the heat of Thailand’s busiest cities, but many locals will tell you that they find it rather cooling. The spicy kick of the soup is met with the sharp tang of lemongrass and a squeeze of lime juice, bringing together that famous ‘ying and yang’ of contrasting flavours which marry up so well together. This clear broth is perfect for consuming at any time of day and many locals will sit down at a food hawker stall to enjoy it as a pit-stop snack. The perfect pick-me-up during a busy day sightseeing.
5| Bai Sach Chrouk
When it comes to ingredients and presentation, Cambodians like to keep it very simple. But it’s the simplicity of flavours which makes Cambodia cuisine so special; when you have fresh ingredients at your fingertips, why mess with it? And it’s this kind of culinary mentality which makes Cambodian cooking so delicious. Bai Sach Chrouk translates simply as “pork and rice”, and this beautiful dish is a very simple arrangement of coconut cooked meat with the country’s favourite staple. Bai Sach Chrouk is usually served with pickles to add flavour and texture and you can find it at many street food stalls or restaurants.
Nepal’s national dish is Dal-Bhat and if you’re passing through, we urge you to taste this famous Nepal creation. There’s a well-known saying to the locals: “Dal-Bhat power, 24 hour” which means that you pretty much don’t need anything else but this one dish all day long. Eaten twice a day by every Nepali family, Dal-Baht epitomises essential dining. This platter of food consists of everything you need and contains all the proteins and goodness for a long day ahead, making it extremely popular for backpackers, hikers and sightseeing tourists. Although always made with the same basic ingredients, every Dal-Bhat dish you taste will vary from place to place. And that really adds to the beauty of it; every family, every chef, every restaurant or lodge will have their own unique take on this national treasure of a dish.
7| Burmese Biryani
Burmese cuisine varies from region to region, but much of its cooking philosophy is based on simple use of local, fresh ingredients. And one of the popular dishes that many people remember from their trip to Burma is the Burmese Biryani, which takes inspiration from neighbouring country, India. This dish – also known as ‘Danbauk’ – adapts the traditional Indian recipe and is usually made with chicken, turmeric, saffron, yoghurt, onions, garlic, ghee, cinnamon, bay leaves, cardamom, raisins, chopped almonds and rice. Bordering Laos, China and Thailand, Burmese cooking also takes influence from many cuisines including the varying cuisines from the different groups within Burma (such as the Chin people and the Bamars). For top quality Danbauk, some of Burma’s best restaurants can be found in the capital city of Yangon, and also areas such as Bagan, New Bagan, or Dagon Township.
8| Soba Noodles
There’s no denying that Asia is heaven for noodle lovers. But in Japan, the choice is seriously outstanding. If you’re a noodle fan, you’ll be blown away by choice; udon noodles (thick whole wheat noodles), egg noodles (yellow in colour), rice noodles (vermicelli), ramen (wheat noodles), fen ssu noodles (made with bean thread), kelp seaweed noodles and many other exciting varieties. One of the most sumptuous options is the famous ‘Soba’. Soba noodles are made from buckwheat and they are made completely by hand by expert Japanese chefs. There are no fancy noodle machines that churn out sheets of noodles; tasting real Japanese Soba is an experience indeed. Find a traditional noodle house and you may even get to see the noodles being formed right in front of your very eyes. Then cooked with the freshest ingredients and simplest of flavours, this dish is truly refreshing on the palate. There are a range of Soba noodles dishes to try including Mori Soba (served cold), Kake Soba (served in a hot broth), Kitsune Soba (served with fried tofu) and Tanuki Soba (served with leftover tempura batter).
Kaiseki is a multi-course dinner in Japan that usually consists of dishes that require a certain level of skill to create. If you have the time and the budget, make sure you try Kaiseki; it’s the Japanese version of haute cuisine in the western world and it’s full of drama and theatrical grandeur. The small courses presented during Kaiseki are usually petite and well balanced in flavours. Traditionally, Kaiseki was made up of a bowl of Miso soup accompanied by 3 sides dishes but today, the dining experience has developed to incorporate a number of courses starting with an amuse bouche style course, a second course, a sashimi course, a vegetable course, a soup course, a grilled meat/fish course, some palate cleansing dishes, and a seasonal dessert.
10| Lo Mai Gai
Lo Mai Gai is China’s answer to Thai sticky rice. This sticky sensation of a dish brings together a real party of flavours, aromas and textures but the real beauty about it is the way it’s cooked (just magical) and the way it’s served (even more magical). A selection of ingredients including chicken (“gai”), mushrooms, Chinese sausage, scallions, dried shrimp, and if they’re feeling fancy – salted egg – are all wrapped together with “lo mai” glutinous rice, ready to be steamed. Wrapped beautifully in lotus leaves and tied together with string, these little green packages are put over a steamer until it’s fully cooked and congealed together. The aroma when you open it is just incredible and the flavours are magnificent. Served as is, slightly unravelled in its little parcel, the whole dish is just a great experience. Lo Mai Gai can be found in many street food stalls in China and Hong Kong, or in dim sum restaurants on the local high street.
11| Dim Sum
Dim Sum is not so much a dish as it is a way of life. Dim Sum translates as a “small dish” but the contents can be anything on the menu. The best way to describe it to first-timers is by comparing it to Spanish tapas – except it’s eaten at lunchtime and usually has a much livelier atmosphere. For centuries, Dim Sum has been a sociable affair for families, friends, neighbours and relatives to enjoy a good chinwag over great food. The dishes can either be ordered from a waitress or by stopping roving food trolleys that pass by your table (the latter is extremely fun) and typical dishes include steamed meat buns, chicken feet, shrimp dumplings, Ho Fun noodles, steamed meatballs, spare ribs, Congee rice porridge, spring rolls and tofu skin rolls. Some restaurants have a rotating glass centre so that diners can spin the platform to reach different dishes.
12| Luk Chup
If you’ve tried and tested all the Pad Thai noodles in Thailand, why not try something a little bit different? Luk Chup is a rather rare sweet treat that can’t be found just anywhere. Mainly found in the bigger cities such as Bangkok, Luk Chup is a very special and unique marzipan / mung bean sweet that is lovingly moulded and painted into tiny little fruits; it’s a real work of art. These glossy treats mimic real fruits and veg such as apples, pears, carrots, corn, red chilli or eggplants – and they are a complete vision to look at. You can find them at fine dining restaurants or 5 star hotels such as the Millennium Hilton or you can find them at Pratunam Morning Market served in a pick and mix style food box.
13| Goan Fish Curry
Goan Fish Curry is one of the most iconic curry dishes of Goa; and this light yet rich, delicate yet filling, sweet yet sour seafood dish is a beautiful sonnet of contradictions and contrasting flavours. The curry uses fish such as Kingfish, Monkfish, Halibut or any other fish that has a firm flesh, and is cooked in a pot with coconut milk, fresh ginger, chillies, onions, cumin, turmeric, garam masala, cardamom, tomatoes and other spices. For the best fish curry in Goa, go to Café Tato in the Apna Bazaar on Valaulikar Road, Sarvodaya Family Restaurant in the Calangute area, or Seven Seas Restaurant in Hotel Supreme in Vasco Da Gama.
14| Laksa Noodles
Laksa is a delicious noodle soup dish that is prevalent in both Singapore and Malaysia. It tends to vary from region to region but its main ingredients include laksa leaf, coriander and chilli paste – and it’s recognised as a spicy dish, loved by locals and tourists alike. With so many varieties across Asia, you’ll never come across the exact same dish twice. Katong Laksa is a Chinese influenced version of the Laksa noodle dish and it is usually made with thick rice vermicelli, dried shrimp and a coconut broth. If you’re eager to try it out for yourself, the best food hawkers for Laksa can be found on East Coast Road, Yishun Central, Roxy Square, at East Coast Lagoon Village and Queensway Shopping Centre.
This is just a small highlight of some of our favourite Asian dishes here at Ampersand Travel; but it’s by no means an exhaustive list. There’s a world of amazing cuisine to be discovered on this wonderful, vast continent.
To book your next trip to anywhere in Asia, get in touch with our team or take a look at our destinations and tour packages online.