Journey Through the East: An Asian Food Tour
Some of the best things to eat across Asia
· 8 min read
Asia, the largest and most diverse continent on Earth, is a culinary treasure chest waiting to be explored. From the robust, spicy dishes of South Asia to the delicate, umami-rich fare of East Asia, each country offers a unique blend of flavors that reflects its rich history and culture. Join us as we take your taste buds on a journey through this gastronomical paradise.
Street Food in Thailand
Our food tour begins in the bustling streets of Thailand, a country renowned for its vibrant street food culture. Here, the air is filled with an enticing blend of aromas from simmering broths, frying garlic, and fresh herbs. First up, we have Pad Thai. This quintessential Thai dish is a symphony of flavors— tangy tamarind, spicy chili, salty fish sauce, and sweet palm sugar—all tossed together with rice noodles, eggs, tofu or shrimp, and a generous sprinkle of chopped peanuts. Check out Thipsamai for some of the best Pad Thais in Thailand.
Next, we must try Som Tum, a refreshing green papaya salad that packs a punch with its spicy, sweet, and sour notes. We also cannot forget Mango Sticky Rice, a sweet dessert featuring ripe mangoes served alongside sticky rice and drizzled with creamy coconut milk.
No food journey through Thailand would be truly complete without savoring some Tom Yum Goong. This iconic Thai dish is a spicy and sour soup that is sure to ignite your taste buds. With seafood as its main ingredient, along with a symphony of spices, Tom Yum Goong is a dish that encapsulates the soul of Thai cuisine. For one of the most acclaimed renditions of Tom Yum Goong in Bangkok, Jeh-O-Chula is an absolute must-visit.
Sushi in Japan
Our journey continues as we venture into the tranquil sushi bars of Japan, where 'itamae', or sushi chefs, devote their lives to the meticulous art of sushi-making. Traditional Nigiri sushi stands as a testament to Japan's minimalist culinary philosophy, featuring a slice of fresh sashimi delicately pressed atop a mound of vinegared rice. The dish's apparent simplicity masks the intricate balance of flavors and textures it possesses.
Japan's culinary prowess extends beyond sushi and sashimi to include comforting dishes like ramen - a hearty bowl of noodles bathed in a rich, savory broth, and adorned with toppings such as braised pork, green onions, and a soft-boiled egg. If the summer heat makes a steaming bowl of ramen less appealing, tsukemen, a dish featuring cold dipping noodles with a separate broth, is a splendid alternative. And if your travels take you to Kyoto, don't miss the opportunity to savor their renowned soba noodles!
Street food is another avenue to experience Japan's culinary delights. From sweet, fish-shaped Taiyaki cakes, to savory Takoyaki balls and Okonomiyaki pancakes, there's a myriad of options to explore. While you can find fantastic street food throughout Japan, Osaka stands out as a gastronomic paradise.
For more insights on where to find the best Tsukemen in Tokyo, or to delve deeper into the world of 'Yaki' cuisine and the best places to experience it in Japan, be sure to check out our comprehensive guides!
Korean Barbecue in South Korea
We cannot bypass the communal delight that is Korean Barbecue. In the lively heart of Seoul, friends and families gather around a grill, cooking marinated meats such as Bulgogi (a thinly sliced, marinated ribeye) and Samgyeopsal (pork belly). This convivial experience is heightened by an array of 'banchan', or side dishes, such as Kimchi (fermented cabbage), Gyeran-jjim (steamed egg), and Namul (seasoned vegetables). Traveling solo? Fret not, we've got you covered with some of the best places to go for a barbecue alone in Seoul.
Of course, a visit to Korea is incomplete without tasting the globally renowned Korean Fried Chicken. Crispy, juicy, and often glazed with a variety of sauces, it's a must-try for any foodie. And let's not overlook the country's vibrant street food scene. Dishes like Kimbap (seaweed rice rolls), Tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes), Hotteok (sweet pancakes), and Korean-style corn dogs offer an authentic taste of Korean cuisine.
To cool off during the scorching summer, a visit to Sulbing for a delectably soft ice dessert is a must. If you find yourself in Busan, where summers are particularly intense, don't miss out on trying Milmyeon, a chilled noodle dish perfect for beating the heat. For recommendations on the best places to enjoy Milmyeon in Busan, make sure to check out our curated list.
Night Markets in Taiwan
Our food tour next takes us to Taiwan, renowned for its vibrant night markets. Ranging from the popular Shilin and Raohe Night Markets to the more local-centric Shida and NingXia Night Markets in Taipei, these bustling hubs are a feast for the senses, overflowing with sights, sounds, and aromas from an array of food stalls.
One snack you simply can't miss is the chewy Sweet Potato Balls, a staple in almost all the night markets. Crafted from sweet potato and deep-fried, these balls offer a delightful contrast between their crispy exterior and chewy interior. Another must-try is the infamous Stinky Tofu. Despite its off-putting name, this fermented tofu transforms into a culinary delight when deep-fried, boasting a crunchy exterior, soft interior, and a surprisingly complex and satisfying flavor profile. For the more adventurous, consider sampling the Pig's Blood Cake—a unique delicacy that's not for the faint-hearted!
Beyond its night markets, Taiwanese cuisine has much more to offer. A signature dish is the Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup, a rich, comforting meal that features tender braised beef, chewy noodles, and pickled mustard greens simmered in a savory broth. For something sweet, indulge in a refreshing Mango Shaved Ice. And since you are in the land where bubble tea originated, why not grab a cup of bubble tea from one of the many bubble tea chains?
Hotpot and Barbecue in China
In the vibrant heart of Shanghai, we encounter the culinary marvel of Xiaolongbao. These soup dumplings are an impressive feat of gastronomic craftsmanship, each encasing a rich, flavorful broth and a succulent meatball. Steamed in bamboo baskets, the dumplings are eaten with care to savor the precious soup inside without spilling it. A visit to Shanghai would also be incomplete without trying Shengjianbao, the city's beloved pan-fried dumplings with a skin that's both crispy and soft.
However, the culinary landscape of China extends far beyond Shanghai and dumplings. This vast country boasts an immense variety of regional flavors. Even a single dish like a hotpot presents a plethora of variations depending on the region. In the Sichuan and Chongqing regions, the classic Sichuan hotpot and Chongqing old hotpot offer bold, spicy flavors. A unique standout is the skewer hot pot, a spicy and flavourful variant that is a must-try. Meanwhile, in Yunnan, the Mushroom Hot Pot offers a distinctly different taste profile that sets it apart from its Sichuan and Chongqing counterparts.
Lastly, let's shine a light on Chinese-style barbecue. The Zibo barbecue from Shandong province deserves special mention. Currently trending across China, this barbecue style presents a unique, tantalizing twist on traditional grilling methods, further showcasing the depth and diversity of China's culinary traditions.
Culinary Fusion in Hong Kong
Our gastronomic tour continues in the dynamic city of Hong Kong, where Eastern and Western cuisines seamlessly blend. A star of the city's culinary scene is Dim Sum. Originally from Guangdong, Dim Sum has since become integral to Hong Kong's food culture. These bite-sized morsels encompass an assortment of fillings and forms—from Chee Cheong Fun (rice noodle rolls) and Har Gow (shrimp dumplings), to Char Siu Bao (barbecue pork buns) and Liu Sha Bao (custard buns).
Hong Kong is also celebrated for its succulent roast meats, particularly the mouth-watering barbecued pork and roast duck, which stand as a testament to the city's mastery of roasting techniques. For one of the best roast meats in the city, head over to Po Kee BBQ Restaurant.
To truly immerse yourself in the local culture, a visit to a cha chaan teng, or Hong Kong-style café, is essential. These establishments serve as windows into the everyday lives of Hong Kong residents. One staple item to try is Hong Kong-style milk tea, a rich, creamy fusion of black tea and condensed or evaporated milk. This sweet, velvety drink is the perfect accompaniment to the city's fast-paced rhythm and offers a delightful start to your day. Don't forget to check out our list of the best cha chaan tengs and their must-order dishes.
Crossroads of Flavors in Singapore
Our culinary exploration reaches a grand finale in the vibrant culinary haven of Singapore. This island nation stands as a gastronomic amalgamation of Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Peranakan influences. One dish that captures the essence of Singapore's food culture is Hainanese Chicken Rice—a seemingly simple but tantalizing dish featuring poached chicken and aromatic rice, served with a spicy chili sauce and a refreshing cucumber garnish. Other must-try dishes include Bak Kut Teh, a peppery pork rib soup, and Chili Crab, a delightful seafood dish that combines sweetness, heat, and tanginess.
For a truly local dining experience, make your way to Singapore's hawker centers. These bustling food courts, such as Bedok 85 Market, Old Airport Road, and Maxwell Hawker Centre, offer a plethora of stalls serving everyday local fare. Amid Singapore's tropical heat, a variety of refreshing local desserts, like Ice Kacang a colorful mound of shaved ice topped with sweet syrups and jellies or Cheng Teng a sweet soup filled with barley, longan, and lotus seeds provide much needed respite.
And don't forget to start your day the Singaporean way with a traditional breakfast of Kaya Toast at Ya Kun. This iconic dish consists of toasted bread slathered with kaya, a sweet coconut jam, and served with soft-boiled eggs and a cup of strong local coffee, providing a perfect balance of sweet and savory to kickstart your day.