Eating is such a huge part of traveling for me, so I usually spend some time exploring the local cuisine. I’m not a daredevil when it comes to dining though, so don’t go expecting strange, exotic stuff. It’s mostly comforting meals that I still daydream about; dishes, food stalls and restaurants that I’d recommend in a heartbeat.
Check out some of the best meals I’ve had in Southeast Asia:
Sure, you can eat other Vietnamese staples but bun cha is my favourite. It’s made up of char-grilled patties on top of rice noodles and served with vegetables, herbs, and a dipping sauce locals call nuoc cham. You mix everything in a bowl, then spice it depending on your preference. Go for a side of fried spring rolls for the full experience.
Butter Chicken Curry
Myanmar is bordered by Bangladesh, China, Laos and Thailand, so it’s only natural that their cuisine is influenced by their neighbours. The one thing that stands out for me though, is the constant offering of curry. I’ve had it in several variations, both in terms of ingredients and level of spiciness, but the best curry I had is in an unassuming family-owned place called Shwe Ou in New Bagan. It was this butter chicken curry that hits the spot. I wish I discovered it earlier during my trip, I would’ve gone back a second time. Bonus points: Shwe Ou also serves homemade ice cream!
Khao Muu Daeng
Marinated pork shoulder and crispy pork belly in a sweet and salty thick sauce, served with hard-boiled duck egg, Chinese sausage and white sticky rice? Count me in. You can pretty much get khao muu anywhere in Thailand, but if you find yourself in Bangkok, go to Chinatown’s Soi Sukorn 1 and look for the green painted entrance. It’s mostly a locals’ place – there’s a 99% chance you’ll be the only foreigner and there will be a bit of charade between you and the owner – but trust me, this dish will blow you away. Take the MRT line to Hua Lamphong then take Exit 1 to get to Chinatown.
The $1 Noodle Soup
Luang Prabang, Laos
If you’re in Luang Prabang, I know you’re bound to be one of the hundred or so waking up at dawn for the traditional Tak Bat*. It usually ends at around 7, when most of the restaurants and cafés in town are just waking up. What’s a good breakfast option? This humble noodle shop along the main tourist road serves a noodle bowl… at $1 each. Find the stall with the sign Xieng Thong Noodles and you’re golden.
*Tak Bat is the daily alms ceremony for the local Buddhist monks in Luang Prabang. After seeing the whole circus of it last year, I’m honestly conflicted on whether it should even be a tourist spectacle or not. It is a beautiful, moving experience… If only the rest of the tourists will learn how to follow the rules and respect the locals. I’m drafting a blog post on this, hoping the uninitiated will take the time to read and understand what the ceremony is truly about. More to follow on this one soon.
Roti with teh tarik
The ultimate breakfast food: warm, handmade roti slathered with thick kaya and a glass of ice-cold teh tarik. Penang’s Little India is home to several Indian stalls and restaurants, but my top choice is Kapitan. It’s a local favorite, so expect to compete when getting a table and getting the staff’s attention.
Sometimes all you need is a simple fried rice thrown with egg, vegetables and meat. This is the one. It’s inexpensive but comforting and filling, plus it’s such a staple that you can get it everywhere. Best paired with a stick or two of satay and a side of kropek.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
I’m going to get very specific: you have to go to a stall along the night market in Chiang Mai Gate. There’s only one stall selling biryani – it’s right outside a Tesco Express, standing beside another stall selling noodles. You’ll get a flavorful chicken drumstick served on top of biryani, sprinkled with scallions and with a side of chili lime sauce. One of the most unforgettable dishes I’ve had!
If you’re in Vietnam and you’re broke or you’re just overwhelmed with dining options, a banh mi will be a smart pick. It’s a baguette sandwich, filled with meat, vegetables, pate, cheese… Honestly, you can fill it up with anything and everything you want, as long as it’s available. Get a banh mi from one of the aunties on a bicycle – but watch and observe first if there are locals lining up. That’s a good sign that the food is fresh and safe to eat.
I’ve had several bowls of soup in different countries in Asia but this is one of the most memorable ones. Handmade noodles served dry or in a garlic pepper broth, topped with smoky meat and tasty pork wontons. Did I mention that each bowl is 40 baht? Find the stall along Bangkok’s oldest street, the Chareonkrung, the stall is right across Robinson.
This dish is a lot like the Philippines’ lechon: crunchy on the outside, juicy on the inside. It’s messy and it lacks in presentation, but it’s definitely delicious. Just like most of Indonesian cuisine, it tends to be on the spicier side but it’s worth a try! Visit the iconic Ibu Oka outside the Ubud Palace.
Which one are you most excited to try about? Drop me a note if you need more recos! 😉