If you’re experiencing sleeping problems, feeling tired and demotivated in the morning, and loss of appetite, you might be missing southeast Asia, and in particular, Southeast Asian food. No jokes here! Many travelers choose to spend months in southeast Asia because they want to travel low cost, and when they go back home all they are thinking about and craving for is in fact… Southeast Asian food! Are food and culture absolutely bound to a place? Do you think you can find authentic southeast asian food even far from southeast Asia? I’m sure that the best decision you can take to solve this riddle is to start planning your trip, and be opened to experience a destination through it’s people and culture. This include the most basic and enjoyable expression of a culture: food.
SOUTHEAST ASIAN FOOD THROUGH THE LENSES OF TRAVEL BLOGGERS
To get you inspired to book your flights to Southeast Asia, I’ve collected the knowledge about Southeast Asian food of several of the most experienced travelers around… I’ve asked them to pick one Southeast Asian dish that’s impressed on their mind in a special way. Here is the food you can’t miss in Southeast Asia, together with the places where you can have it!
Thai spring rolls
SPRING ROLLS in Chiang Rai, Thailand
by My Travel Scrapbook
Thailand is full of incredible street food. Hot and spicy to sweet and creamy aromas fill the air of cities across the land of smiles. If there is one type of street food you must try, make sure you eat at least a few spring rolls in Thailand. Spring rolls come in all sorts shapes and sizes. They have been a popular street snack in Asia for centuries. Some believe that spring rolls originate from China. It is said that they were a seasonal food consumed during the first quarter of the year, hence the mention of spring. Traditionally these snacks have been vegetarian as they started as a pancake filled with the new season’s spring vegetables. Locals enjoyed these tasty rolls as the fresh veg was a welcome change from the preserved foods of the long winter months. In Thailand, you will find spring rolls of all sizes with plenty of tasty fillings. From the north to the south you will not struggle to find these perfect treats. Their wonderful packaging makes them easy to consume whilst on the go. Make sure you try them with some sweet chilli sauce as well. Whilst you can, of course, order them at restaurants, make sure you try them at street markets. A particularly good street market can be found in the north. For example you find plenty of delicious street food in Chiang Rai’s market which includes the lovely spring roll. Whether you try a traditional spring roll or a quirkier one such as a Nutella spring roll, make sure you try at least one spring roll from a street food during your trip to Thailand. If you’re planning your trip to Thailand, have a peek at this 3 weeks Thailand itinerary first.
Curry mee (pic by Kit Yeng Chan)
CURRY MEE in Penang, Malaysia
by Monkey Rock World
Penang certainly has a lot of delicious food on offer, but in terms of street food (or “hawker food” as it’s locally called) few dishes beat the delicious Penang Curry Mee. Why? Mix the delight of hand-made yellow noodles with the zest of curry, one of Southeast Asia’s favorites. Then throw in fresh leaves of lemongrass, mint, and chunks of tofu that soak the heavenly broth like a yummy sponge. And if you don’t mind, add a few cubes of coagulated pork blood, exactly like the locals would. And there you have it: Penang Curry Mee. There are at least 7 best places for Penang Curry Mee, but we can’t get enough of the white curry mee version — made by mixing milk and water to the broth — sold at the Tan Jetty. The “shop” is simply a street cart set on the side of a busy and dusty street, but the tables are clustered away from the road shoulder, around a charismatic Chinese temple. The curry mee here is just delicious: big chunks of cuttlefish, spongy tofu, huge cubes of pork blood and a silky broth all conjure to make this our favorite Curry Mee spot in Penang.
BAHN XEO in Hoi An, Vietnam
by Intentional Travelers
Central Vietnam is home to bánh xèo, a savory pancake typically served with herbs, rice paper wrapper, and dipping sauce. In Hoi An, the crispy, fried pancake is made with rice flour and turmeric and may be stuffed with bean sprouts, green onion, pork, or shrimp. As with most Vietnamese dinners, it’s served family style. Each person gathers ingredients from the table to make a hand-held wrap, which is then dipped in the sweet-spicy sauce. You can find banh xeo served in almost any Vietnamese restaurant in Hoi An, with variations in the sauce and crispiness. Our favorite places to enjoy the dish are at Bon Restaurant on Cua Dai street or Com Linh on Pham Chu Trinh street, where it’s roughly $2 US or less. We love the interaction of multiple flavors and textures in this traditional dish!
PORK SISIG in Moalboal, The Philippines
No visit to The Philippines would be complete without sampling the popular, Pork Sisig. Served on a sizzling hot plate, Pork sisig consists of crispy pork pieces, chilli, onion and spices topped with a fried egg and tangy calamansi. Although found throughout The Philippines, it is the signature dish of Venz Kitchen in Moalboal, Cebu. Arrive hungry as the portions are very generous and usually come with a side portion of rice. Even if you have no intention of trying Pork Sisig, once you smell it you will be instantly enticed and serious food envy will incur when you witness someone else sampling it!
Ikan bakar gurami[/caption]
IKAN BAKAR GURAMI in Ubud, Bali
by Life of Doing
You will fall in love with Indonesian food during a trip to Bali. The one dish that you can’t get enough of will be ikan bakar gurami. It’s a grilled water carp topped with Indonesian spices and sambal chilli sauce. The spices mixed with sambal chilli sauce is similar to a sweet and spicy barbecue sauce once it caramelizes on the fish. It’s delicious and you may find yourself licking your fingers as the sauce is addicting! The dish often comes with rice and a side of vegetables. If you’re in Ubud, Bali, we recommend Warung Mina and Warung Pandok Madu. However, you can also find this dish at local warungs as you travel throughout the island.
BUN CHA in Hanoi, Vietnam
by Mum On the Move
Bun Cha is one of Hanoi’s most famous street food dishes and a must-try if you are visiting Vietnam. This delicious dish is made of pork patties that have been grilled over a smoking barbecue and then served in a tangy soup. The soup is accompanied by a plate of white rice noodles, and a plate of fresh herbs, lettuce and chillies for you to add in to suit your tastebuds. The pork in the Bun Cha is incredible – it is typically grilled over the hot coals until it is almost caramelized and the resulting sweet smoky flavour is amazing. Vinegar from pickled vegetables in the soup helps to cut through the fattiness of the pork, while the lettuce and herbs add freshness to the dish. You can find bun cha stalls and hole-in-the-wall restaurants all over Hanoi – just look for the smoking barbecue outside the front door.
AIS KACANG in Penang, Malaysia
by Dive into Malaysia
This typical Malaysian dessert dish is found all over the country. Pronounced “ice kachang” and meaning ice bean, it’s the perfect accompaniment to Malaysia’s hot weather! The dish does vary depending on where you eat it but is always going to be shaved ice with some red beans and a variety of other ingredients poured over the top. These can include sweet toppings, corn, jelly, coconut milk, condensed milk, fruit and more. It’s usually brightly coloured and, sometimes, you will also get a yummy scoop of ice cream. It might sound disgusting, but I promise, it’s delicious! You can find it everywhere and it can be a great way to finish a meal at a hawker centre. It can be very cheap but when it’s only a few ringgit you probably won’t get many toppings on top. The Ais Kacang pictured above is from the food court on Penang Hill.
Mee pok tah
MEE POK TAH in Singapore
by Rambling Feet
None of the hundreds of noodle dishes in Southeast Asia is quite as Singaporean as mee pok tah. Also known as minced pork noodles or bak chor mee, it is sold in practically every hawker centre in Singapore and one stall – Hill Street Tai Hwa – has even received a Michelin Star. What separates it from similar dishes in southern China (where it came from) and Vietnam, however, is the use of spicy sambal, which the cook tosses freshly-boiled flat egg noodles in. You can thank the local culture for this innovation. The cook then tops the bowl with a combination of minced pork, liver, soy sauce-braised mushrooms, boiled meatballs, chips of dried sole and crispy lardons. Give the noodles a good mix with your chopsticks and dig in. Enjoy the explosion of savoury, sour, funky and spicy flavours in your mouth. Don’t be afraid to add a little of the pork stock on the side to open up the dish. Every bite brings springy noodles, tender meat and crispy fish and fat together. It’ll leave you wanting more when you’re finished.
Penang assam laksa
PENANG ASSAM LAKSA in Penang, Malaysia
by Time Travel Turtle
In Malaysia, everyone tells you the best food is in George Town. There are so many local dishes you could try but my favourite is the Penang Assam Laksa. This noodle soup has a bit of a strange taste that locals often think foreigners won’t like – an odd mix of sweet and sour. But that’s what I think makes it so special. The sour taste comes from the tamarind that is one of the main ingredients of the soup, which is usually made with mackerel. The noodles are normally quite thick and the garnishes will include chilli, onion, and mint. You’ll be able to find Penang Assam Laksa at quite a few of the street restaurants but I would recommend the popular Joo Hooi Café. A bowl here will cost just RM5 (US$1.20) so there’s no excuse not to try a few of the other dishes too!
KHAO SOI in Chiang Mai, Thailand
by Adventure Family Life
Khao Soi, the famous noodle soup that hails from Northern Thailand is one of the best-kept secrets in Thai cuisine. Supposedly originating from the South of China, the dish is unique to the north of Thailand and some parts of Myanmar and Laos, although northern Thai restaurants serve this dish all over the country nowadays. The main ingredients are a fresh red curry paste, turmeric and curry powders, cooked noodles and chicken. The whole bowl is then topped with crunchy noodles and usually served with fresh lime, shallots, pickled cabbage and chilis. There are many places around Chiang Mai where you can sample this delectable dish, however, we love having it in the Night Market food court. The sights and sounds of the market make the perfect backdrop for enjoying a tasty bowl of Khao Soi.
by Tara Lets Anywhere
Sinigang is a Filipino comfort food. Essentially, it’s a stew with a distinct sour and savory flavor, which it gets from tamarind or other local sour fruit. The best sinigang has just the right amount of sourness, which will make you a little bit “kilig”. It also contains meat (usually pork) or fish (usually milkfish or salmon), as well as various vegetables such as taro corms, white radish, water spinach and eggplant. Sinigang is often eaten with rice. It’s an everyday staple in households in the Philippines and a favorite food during the rainy season. If you visit the country, you can easily find it in regular eateries and commercial restaurants. Sinigang is surely one of the dishes you should try in the Philippines.
BAHN MI in Ho Chin Min, Vietnam
by The Uprooted Traveler
How can anyone not love the banh mi sandwich, a pillar of Vietnamese cuisine since the mid-19th century? Made from a crusty single-serving baguette and stuffed with savory proteins, like pork or beef, and flavorful toppings, like cilantro, pickled daikon, and a hearty helping of mayonnaise, this sandwich is the culinary embodiment of the amalgamation of the heavy French influence on this former colony with the Vietnamese love of spice and zesty flavor. While in my home country of the United States, banh mi is generally considered a lunch or dinner food, in Vietnam, this dish is almost exclusively served for breakfast, as it is deemed to “dry” for an afternoon or evening meal. The best banh mi I had in Vietnam was at an unassuming street cart located off the beaten tourist path in Ho Chi Minh City at Banh Mi Tuy Duyen- with bread that is a heavenly combination of chewy and crusty and heaped high with perfectly seasoned tofu, pickled carrots, and a hearty helping of rice noodles to add some interesting texture, it is the absolute perfect dish to get your morning started. And don’t forget to add some chiles to your banh mi- we all need an extra bit of kick in the morning!
Bun bo hue
BUN BO HUE in Hue, Vietnam
by The Roaming Fork
The city of Hue, which once was Vietnam’s imperial capital, is well known for being a food destination, with possibly the most famous dish being a bowl of noodle soup, known simply as Bun Bo Hue. This tasty, predominantly breakfast dish, is a combination of noodles (Bun), cuts of beef (Bo), as well as a combination of pork, small balls of shrimp and crab, bone marrow, and sometimes cubes of congealed pigs blood. The above ingredients are added to a rich broth, which has been made by simmering pork and beef bones for hours, with a combination of shrimp paste, lemongrass, pineapple, and chilli, added along the way. The red colour of the dish comes courtesy of the addition of annatto oil. The dish is further enhanced by adding chilli, lime, and herbs. Although this dish can be found throughout the city, one of the more atmospheric places to enjoy a bowl is at the city’s main market, Dong Ba.
BBQ SNAKE in Siem Reap, Cambodia
by The Traveling Twins
You’ll be surprised how much your kids love southeast Asian food… They might even grow fond of the barbecued snake. Oh, yes, you can tick that box on the bucket list visiting Siem Reap with kids. Every evening on Siem Reap’s famous Pub Street you can find stalls with weird food. We chose from a menu including worms, scorpions, tarantulas and of course, snake. Some kids say it tastes better than chicken. Some adults think it tastes like leather strap with tiny bones. But be prepared to build your own opinion about it… At only $1, surely you’ll try this dish at least one time!
SATE LILIT in Lovina, Bali
by The Silver Nomad
Fresh fish and seafood is caught all along the coast in north Bali and made into a range of different dishes in the local restaurants. My favourite Balinese fish dish is sate lilit – Balinese Fish Satay, a blend of spices with the subtle flavours of ginger, garlic chilli and lemongrass are blended together with finely chopped and shredded coconut, then wrapped around a bamboo skewer. The skewers are then placed on a barbeque for about ten minutes to cook. These divine skewers are then served up with a tasty hot tomato and chilli sambal or sambal matah, a combination of chilli, shallot and lemongrass. Most warungs and restaurants have their own version of sate lilit, but when I am in Lovina, Bali, I always go to Warung Wayan in Jalan Mawar for the best homemade sate lilit.
PHO BO in Hanoi, Vietnam
by My Adventures Across the World
One of the foreigners preferred Southeast asian food is pho bo, a staple of Vietnamese cuisine. This can be found in any local restaurant, but as the locals eat it in the street, that’s where you should have it too. It can be found in most of the stalls and street food places in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, where a crowd of tourists and locals sitting will be good indication of the food quality. Pho bo is made with a thin broth which is obtained by cooking beef bones for several hours. Once the broth is ready, the soup is assembled by placing the broth in a large bowl with flat rice noodles, spring onions and thin slices of raw beef which ends up cooking with the heat of the broth. For more flavor and texture, you can add bean sprouts, mint and coriander leaves, sliced chillies and lime. Pho bo is served throughout the day. Vietnamese people usually eat it for breakfast but I am a fan of it at dinner time. You eat it with a spoon with which you sip the broth, and chopsticks for the noodles and all other ingredients. There is also a chicken version of it, which is not nearly as tasty.
SOUTHEAST ASIAN FOOD FOR VEGAN TRAVELERS
VEGETABLE CURRY in Ella, Sri Lanka
by Destinationless Travel
Most of the travelers to Sri Lanka expected a beautiful country, but they don’t expect such incredible food! From the countless delicious dishes to try out, one of the favorite will always be the vegetable curry. Vegetable curry in Sri Lanka is a fantastic choice for a meal. It doesn’t come with just one curry though; a typical order of “vegetable curry” comes with 4-6 different curries as well as rice and papadums. The types of curries included are often dhal curry (lentil curry originating from India), beetroot curry, squash curry, mango curry, eggplant curry, or potato curry. You might love vegetable curries so much that you’ll want to do a cooking class when you visit Ella in Sri Lanka! Here you can join cooking classes in a family kitchen and learn how to cook different vegetable curries, and in doing so, you’ll understand the amount of work and passion that goes into these dishes – no wonder they taste so good!
SAMOSA THOKE in Yangon, Myanmar
by Stories by Soumya
Samosa Thoke is a delicious Burmese salad made out of tiny potato and chickpea fritters, shredded cabbage, chopped tomatoes, onions, fresh mint, and coriander leaves. It is topped off with a thin lentil gravy that adds an extra savor to this already savory concoction. Add to it a bit of lime and chilli and you are all set. Considered to be a star among traditional Burmese dishes, Samosa Thoke is found everywhere on the streets on Yangon. I would highly recommend having it from the vendors at the Thakin Mya Park on Aung Yadana Street. You can get a plate for as low as 50 US cents. And the best part is the base dish isn’t spicy at all. Craft your plate of samosa thoke to suit your taste buds, seat yourself on a kiddy chair, and relish your samosa salad like never before.
PEANUT CANDY in Vietnam
by The Nomadic Vegan
Kẹo đậu phộng can be translated literally from Vietnamese as “peanut candy”, and that’s exactly what it is! This popular sweet treat comes in many shapes and sizes in Vietnam. The most common type is similar to peanut brittle and is a mix of sticky sugar and peanuts cut into rectangles. Sesame seeds are often mixed in as well. You may also come across round versions that are made with rice paper and are topped with sesame seeds and ginger. Be warned, kẹo đậu phộng is addictive! Luckily you’ll find it just about everywhere in Vietnam, including in bus and train stations, making it a handy travel snack. It’s also naturally free of animal products, so it’s great for vegetarian and vegan travelers in Vietnam.
Tea leaf salad.
TEA LEAF SALAD in Chiang Mai, Thailand
The tea leaf salad is a Burmese dish found everywhere in Myanmar, and fortunately, has made its way over the border to Thailand thanks to migrants. The tea leaf salad is unique with its feature ingredient, the fermented tea leaves. The rest of the dish is comprised of beans, tomatoes, garlic, and often a small green salad on the side. In Chiang Mai, order a tea leaf salad at Nong Bee’s Burmese Restaurant & Library and rice, a long time favourite of people who spend extended time in the city.
NYONYA DESSERT in Penang, Malaysia
by Aarong One Travel
Nyonya kuih (or Nyonya dessert) is the chef d’oeuvre of Nyonya cuisine. Being able to make Nyonya kuih is considered a must for the females in a traditional Nyonya family. As arranged marriages were prevalent back in the days, the young Nyonya (female) was not allowed to see which Baba she’d be married to. Therefore, the Baba would taste the Nyonya kuih to decide whether to marry the Nyonya! This is an old tradition, and now you can find these desserts at Moh Teng Pheow in Penang. If you are vegan, you are in luck because more than 50% of the kuihs here are vegan! The “Rempah udang” variety is a slightly spiced and salted coconut mixture with dried shrimps wrapped in thin puff pastry sheet. The “Seri muka” is a layered cake with the green layer being pandan supreme and the white being sticky rice with coconut milk. Kuih talam is another layered cake with an agar texture, the white layer being coconut cream with tapioca flour while the green being pandan. Kuih bingka is a glossy purple yam cake roasted on the side for a crispy texture and grilled flavour For more goodies in Penang, try out the Penang Self-Guided Food Tour to get the most out of this foodie city!
The most popular Southeast Asian food: PAD THAI in Thailand
by Dream Big Travel Far Blog
Thailand is filled with some amazing cuisine, but travelers usually go for pad thai. This local dish can be found all across the country and consists of rice noodles, various vegetables, ground peanuts and some form of chicken, meat or fish. You can even have a tofu version to make it suitable for vegetarians. My personal favourite is with chicken as I think the flavour combination with the peanuts works perfectly. Pad Thai is actually a popular street food dish, and I believe this is where it tastes it’s best. It’s quick to make and the results are delicious. If you want to find the best Pad Thai in all of Thailand, then I suggest you hit the street food markets of Pai in Northern Thailand for delicious, authentic and cheap Pad Thai dishes in a variety of forms. The street is known as “Pai walking street” and it’s super easy to find.
BABI GULING in Bali, Indonesia
by Living Out Lau
Babi Guling, or “suckling pig” in English, is a famous Balinese made with plenty of spices including turmeric, lemongrass, black pepper, chilli, and a few more to create the unique flavor it’s got. Back in time, it was a ceremonial-only dish, but now it has become a must-try dish for tourists. Even though you can find the babi guling in most of the warungs (local restaurants), there is one place that you should check out first. The Warung Ibu Oka in Ubud, Bali, is a local restaurant that has been in business from 2000. It only serves one thing, and that is the babi guling. Even the famous chef Anthony Bourdain has been to this restaurant and he highly recommended it!! You know this is something you can’t miss then! And when you feel full, why not exploring some of the best waterfalls in Bali?
I’m done for now talking about the amazing food you can have in Southeast Asia…
If you want to read further about delicious food, have a look at these articles:
Do you feel better now, after looking at the photos and the descriptions of our favorite Southeast Asian food?…