If you’re traveling to Southeast Asia, your tastebuds are in for a treat! Southeast Asian food is some of the world’s best; gastronomic destinations like Thailand and Vietnam are universally acclaimed for their delicious cuisine, especially their fantastic street food. Even the more underrated kitchens of Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar serve up surprisingly tasty dishes.
Food in Southeast Asia can also err on the bizarre with creepy-crawly snacks and street food delicacies, many of which originated out of austere times, Asia’s no-waste policy, and as a rich source of protein and minerals. At street markets and kitchens, the more adventurous traveler can munch on deep-fried scorpions in Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos, grilled wild rat meat in Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam, and crunchy tarantulas fried in garlic, salt, and oil in Cambodia. Alternatively, spicy red ant salads and stir-fries are big in Cambodia and Thailand, along with deep-fried crickets and grasshoppers in lime and chili!
1. Nasi Lemak (Malaysia)
Nasi lemak consists of rice cooked in coconut milk that is traditionally served with anchovies, cucumbers, peanuts, and boiled eggs. The dish is rounded up with the addition of a spicy chili paste called sambal. Although originally invented as a breakfast dish, soon it surpassed its original purpose and became the Malaysian national dish that can be eaten at any time. Its invention occurred from the mere necessity to exploit all ingredients that were at hand, and the popularity of nasi lemak has continually risen since the 1980s, when this farmer’s meal evolved into a dish that is frequently sold by Malaysian street vendors. Eventually, the dish became a comfort food staple for the majority of Malaysians. With its popularity came different variations of the dish, and nowadays chicken, fried fish, fried eggs, or even curry are served on the side of nasi lemak. It is traditionally served hot and packed in banana leaves.
2. Hainanese Chickens Rice (Singapore)
Hainanese chicken rice is a dish of poached chicken and seasoned rice, served with chili sauce and usually with cucumber garnishes. It was created by immigrants from Hainan in southern China and adapted from the Hainanese dish Wenchang chicken.It is considered one of the national dishes of Singapore and is most associated with Singaporean cuisine, being widely available in most food courts and hawker centers around the country. Variants of the dish can also be seen throughout Southeast Asia, particularly in Malaysia and Thailand, where it remains a culinary staple.
3. GadoGado (Indonesia)
Gado gado is a popular Indonesian salad that consists of a mix of boiled or blanched vegetables, tofu, tempeh (fermented soybean cake), hard-boiled eggs, and lontong (compressed rice cake), all served with a flavorful peanut sauce. The name “gado gado” translates to “mix-mix” in Indonesian, which perfectly describes the nature of this dish.t usually consists of a variety of vegetables, eggs, tempeh, and tofu. The vegetables are usually just slightly boiled, tossed with a nut completed with the addition of crispy prawn crackers.
4. Tom Yum (Thailand)
Tom Yum, also spelled as Tom Yam, is a popular and iconic Thai soup known for its bold and spicy flavors. It is a clear, sour, and aromatic soup that is typically served with shrimp (Tom Yum Goong) or with chicken (Tom Yum Gai). The soup is a harmonious blend of spicy, sour, salty, and sometimes sweet tastes, making it a favorite in Thai cuisine.Tom Yum is typically served hot and is often accompanied by steamed rice. It is a popular dish in Thai restaurants worldwide and is appreciated for its vibrant flavors and aromatic spices. The soup’s balance of spicy, sour, and savory elements makes it a delightful and memorable culinary experience.
5. Adobo (Philippines)
Adobo or adobar (Spanish: marinade, sauce, or seasoning) is the immersion of cooked food in a stock (or sauce) composed variously of paprika, oregano, salt, garlic, and vinegar to preserve and enhance its flavor. The Portuguese variant is known as carne de vinha d’alhos.
Adobo holds a special place in Filipino cuisine and culture. Its simplicity, bold flavors, and ability to be made in large batches make it a favorite dish for gatherings, celebrations, and family meals. The dish’s origins can be traced back to Spanish colonial times, and its popularity has endured through generations. Adobo’s delightful blend of salty, sour, and savory notes has also captured the attention of food enthusiasts worldwide, making it one of the most recognizable and appreciated Filipino dishes internationally.
6. Ambuyat (Brunei)
Brunei’s proud national dish. Derived from the interior trunk of the sago palm tree, ambuyat consists of a mix of starchy, solid whites (similar to tapioca starch) and water. Served sticky with a dip called cacah (usually sour and spicy), ambuyat is completely edible without chewing it. In fact, it’s normal to just swallow it; it’s the savoury taste that people yearn for.
Ambuyat is also one of the dishes that has a specific method of consuming it. Using a V-shaped bamboo stick called candas (think chopsticks, except one end is adjoined together), the way you eat it is to twirl some of the sticky texture onto your tips and then dip them in the cacah . It’s a satisfyingly fresh way of eating that you just won’t expect!
7. Pho (Vietnam)
Pho is a Vietnamese soup that’s made with all the good stuff: broth, noodles, beef (or other protein) and lots of mix-and-match toppings. The best thing about pho is that it’s such a restorative food—the comforting soup is savory and rich, while still feeling clean and refreshing at the same time. But don’t just save it for cold days: Pho can be enjoyed year-round—and any time of day. In Vietnam, pho is a popular breakfast, and for good reason: It’s super satisfying!
8. Kaipen (Laos)
Kaipen (or kai paen) is a type of Laotian snack made with freshwater green algae harvested from the Mekong in northern Laos. After a rinse, the algae is pressed into paper-thin sheets and seasoned with sliced garlic and sesame seeds, before it’s left to dry in the sun.
The best way to eat kaipen is by frying the sheets until crispy and having it with jaew bong – this dipping sauce is a combination of roast chili and thin pieces of buffalo skin.
9. Mohinga (Myanmar)
Myanmar’s unofficial national dish is Mohinga – a type of fish soup with thin rice noodles, banana stem and perfumed with lemongrass. Optional toppings include boiled egg, akyaw (crispy fried bean fritters) and coriander. You can add drops of lime juice, fish sauce or dry chili powder for your preferable taste. It is Myanmar’s traditional breakfast but is also taken as a snack which people love to eat throughout the day.
10. Amok (Cambodia)
Amok trey is Cambodia’s national dish, a fragrant and spicy coconut fish curry tenderly steamed in banana leaves, which gives it a mousse-like texture which all but makes it melt in the mouth. The blended spice paste, kroeung, is also added to the dish. Chicken, tofu, and snails can be used as a substitute for the fish.
11. Ai Manas (Timor Leste
Ai Manas is the heartbeat of Timorese food. This spicy chili is made throughout the country with regional varieties and differences according to taste that varies from household to household. Typically Green or red chillis make up the bulk of the paste, which is ground with garlic, lime/lemon rind, red onions, ginger, bilimbi, and many other local ingredients. A couple of teaspoons on your plate will be sure to fire up any meaAi