If you’re heading to Southeast Asia, the food is likely to be a major highlight of your trip! In 2015, I visited Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand; the year before I went to Sri Lanka. So although I’m hardly an expert, I picked up a few things along the way!
So if you’re a foodie flashpacker, here are my top 5 must do!
Bangkok Food Tour
I did the Best Eats Midnight Tuk Tuk Tour with Bangkok Food Tours and I highly recommend it! Our guide was friendly and extremely knowlegdable about Bangkok, its food and its history; the food we had was even better than I had expected. There was a real variety shown and choosing to get around by Tuk Tuk rather than on foot meant we could scoot around the city and experience the best all over. We made at least four restaurants stops, a late night temple visit, a market stroll and a rooftop beer overlooking the river.
My favourite dish? Probably Khao Moo Daeng, a rich, sticky barbecued pork dish. We went to this place which is a Bangkok insider fave.
Hoi An, Vietnam
Everyone loves Hoi An. Full of gorgeous architecture, its old town lantern lit, it’s close to the beach and it has ace food!
It’s hard to go wrong food wise in Hoi An to be honest. Just eat as much as you can while you’re here! Cao Lau is the local specialty; a hearty thick noodle, pork and broth dish, locals believe it can’t be made properly anywhere else as what makes it special is water from the local well. But I did a cooking class (at An Bang Beach Restaurant) and the chef winked and told us taglitelle makes a good substitute for the thick Vietnamese noodles!
Also make sure to visit Reaching Out Teahouse. Aside from the good coffee and gorgeous presentation, it’s an experience in itself. All the staff are deaf or hearing impaired. Ordering is done via pencil, paper, word block and gestures. It’s a lovely environment and really chill. Make sure to visit!
Thai Cooking Class
Common travel wisdom dictates Northern Thailand has the best food in Thailand and consequently, Chiang Mai the best spot to try a Thai cooking class. But I skipped Northern Thailand so instead I did a class in Krabi. Scouting out some flyers in my hostel (the excellent Pak-Up), I looked at some Tripadvisor reviews and went for Thai Charm Cooking School.
Run by husband and wife team, Yoke and Heng, this was such a great experience. For 1200 baht (about 3o euro/33 USD) you get picked up from your accommodation, a four hour long class where you cook at least 5 dishes, a great little cookbook to take home and drop off when you’re done! Yoke has a degree in English and Mandarin with a vocabularly to match which makes the classes run really smoothly! Everything was professional but fun and the food was delicious. There was five in the class I did and we each got to choose from a great menu three-four dishes that we wanted to learn how to cook so there really was something for everyone.
I really loved learning how to make the curry pastes properly and, of course, sitting down to a huge meal when we were finished!
All of the food in Kuala Lumpur
KL is a diverse city, its inhabitents a mixture of ethnic Indian, Chinese and Malay resulting in an amazing food scene! I can’t tell you the best dishes to try in KL; I had 36 hours in the city and I needed to eat as much good food as I possibly could (obviously); so I asked the staff at the hostel I was staying for good places to eat and then, once there, I let the waiting staff choose for me. Everything I had was absolutely delicious. Just go forth and eat!
Insider tip: Most local spots in KL don’t do extensive menus but have their own specialties, one dish that they do better than anyone else. So don’t feel like you need to stick to breakfast-lunch-dinner; walk your way around this compact city, stopping to graze as you go!
Sri Lankan Curry
Sri Lankan curry is the best. You get a main dish of rice with a number of accompanying plates, anything between 4 and 9! Typically, this would include chicken, sambal, lentils, greens, potatoes, often a breaded and fried egg, all delicately flavoured in a beautifully spiced curry! It’s perfect for people (like me) who have a fear of not getting enough food!
A typical Sri Lankan curry is flavourful and spicy but has a depth of flavour; when done well, the spices should be layered and build up as you eat, it shouldn’t just taste hot!
Have a look here for more on Sri Lankan cuisine.
And these two I haven’t managed yet but will get to in the near future hopefully!
Hong Kong Dim Sum
I’m a big fan of Dim Sum (and tapas, mezze, etc. basically any way of serving food that allows me to have a lot of everything!). Dim Sum is a Cantonese style of preparing food into small, often bite sized portions of food, and served in small plates. Some traditional restaurants serve the food in carts brought table to table for diners to chose. I’ve had good Dim Sum before (Hello, SF Chinatown!) but I would love to try the real thing!
If you can’t get to HK: If you’re in Abu Dhabi, Dai Pai Dong at the Rosewood Hotel does great Dim Sum in gorgeous surroundings. The bar is a cross between 1930s Shanghai and a London club; lots of polished dark wood and low lighting. The bar staff do great cocktails I’m told but I never managed to get off the prosecco!