Trying different foods while you’re out exploring the sights is a big part of holidays in South East Asia.
Visit just about any town or city in the region and you’ll find vendors selling all kinds of dishes. They look and smell tempting, with the aroma of spices and the colorful ingredients hanging above the cart or stall. But how to choose?
Chances are you’ll recognize some of the dishes on offer from Asian restaurants and noodle stands back home, but you can expect them to taste slightly different.
Ingredients will be fresh and local, and the recipe won’t have been changed to suit Western palates (which is great, as travel is about new experiences).
These meals should still be reassuringly familiar, but why not branch out and try something more unusual?
At home, you’ll often find all Asian dishes classed together. If you take holidays in several different South East Asian locations, you’ll soon discover that every country, and even every town, has its own distinct cuisine.
Noodle dishes are common, of course, but that’s where the similarity ends.
Vietnam offers the noodle soup called pho and the deliciously soft ban mi baguettes. Cambodia has amok trey, known in the US as Ho Mok, a dish made from fish and coconut milk.
Indonesia is the home of the ubiquitous nasi goreng, fried rice with a variety of ingredients.
Thailand's curries have a delicate flavor far removed from the Indian version, and pad Thai is a stir fry dish with its own distinctive character.
Malaysia's mix of Chinese, Indian and Western influences has given its cuisine a unique flavor, while you can find foods from all over the world in cosmopolitan Singapore.
If you’re in the mood for something really different, look out for local delicacies like chicken feet, and a variety of crispy fried critters including locusts, scorpions, ants and their eggs, and even tarantula.
The culture surrounding street food in Asia is very different to that in the US.
While hot dog carts in America are looked on with suspicion as purveyors of grease and potential hotbeds of harmful bacteria, across the ocean in Southeast Asia eating on the street is a regular, often daily ritual for families, friends and office workers alike.
The dishes on offer will usually be very cheap by Western standards, but this in no way reflects the quality of the meals.
Expect a world of variety, intense flavors, fresh ingredients, hygienic preparation, and service with a smile.
Images by Achim Voss, Michael Camilleri, dancingqueen27 and Phalinn Ooi used under Creative Commons License.
I'm JR. I come from a long line of adventurers, some were nomadic explorers of the sea and others wandering cultivators of the earth. Ultimately, this legacy of drifters has deeply affected my view of travel. Read more...