Be wary of those who tell you that travel is all flowers, rainbows and happy unicorns. There are times when you arrive bursting at a new destination, after seeing what it feels like to be a sardine in a bus with twice as many people as seats, times when your back swears eternal hatred for carrying a backpack that weighs more than you, and times when you wonder why you went sailing on the Mekong instead of going to Punta Cana with a bracelet and all inclusive.
Of course, there is always something that is able to bring a smile to your face, even on the worst travel day: the food. Maybe it’s because, as Woody Allen used to say: “reality sucks, but it’s the only place where you can have a good steak”. How right!
There is only one thing that makes me happier than traveling in Asia and that is eating while traveling in Asia. Don’t tell me that discovering the gastronomy of a place is not something wonderful! A little less wonderful is when we come back home with a couple of extra kilos but hey, let them take away what we ate.
Today I am going to take you on a tour of Southeast Asia through 9 dishes. Fasten your seat belt or, better yet, unbuckle it, we are going on a gastronomic tour!
Thailand: Pad Thai
Poof, choosing a dish that identifies Thailand has been a bit like choosing between mom and dad, because the land of smiles offers one of the richest and most interesting cuisines in the world. Why did I choose pad thai?
Because it is not only made of wok sautéed noddles, egg, soy, peanuts, chicken (or shrimp in its chic version) and a perfect mix of sweet, salty and sour… but for its secret ingredient, the one that has to do with the chats in front of a fresh Chiang in Khao Rambuttri street, with sunsets in front of the sea of Koh Lipe, with the temples of Chiang Mai, with the narrow streets of Ayutthaya and Pai…
Malaysia: chicken rice
Malaysian cuisine is possibly my favorite in Southeast Asia. The reason? Undoubtedly, its great cultural mix: in Malaysia (where you will have to pay in Malaysian ringgits) you can have Malay breakfast, Indian lunch and Chinese dinner, all without leaving the same city.
My favorite dish is as simple as it is delicious: chicken rice (Hananese style), a rice dish with chicken -which sounds like the blandest thing in the world- and which has a sweet and special flavor that makes me eat it over and over again every time I travel to Malaysia. Not to be missed!
Myanmar: Burmese curry
The truth is that I do not know the original name of the dish, I call it “Burmese curry” for being a curry the main dish and being cooked and eaten in Burma (I have not racked my brains much, but when I gave it the name I was digesting and had all the blood in my stomach).
The curry can be chicken, fish, lamb, or whatever, although beware, if you expect a small dish with a simple curry you are very wrong, here the main protagonists are the garnishes that accompany it: rice, salads, herbs, sauces, papadam, soups … come on, a host of fun and tasty supporting actors.
Laos: papaya salad
Laotian food didn’t make a dent in my stomach like Thai or Malaysian food did, but hey, that’s not to say that there’s nothing good to eat in Laos. Myself, I wouldn’t miss Tam Maok Hung, a very curious green papaya salad that is prepared with a dressing of chili, sugar, lime, peanuts and fish sauce. For me it is one of those dishes that you have to try (at least) once in your life.
Amok of my life! This Cambodian dish is one of my favorites in the world and it is finger-licking (and finger-licking good). Amok is a chicken or fish stew prepared substantially with coconut milk and lemongrass. Sometimes the coconut itself is used as a serving dish, very ecofriendly.
Vietnam: pho bo
There may be richer, more suggestive and more expensive dishes of Vietnamese cuisine, but one thing is certain, pho bo is the great star of Ho Chi Minh’s homeland. The Vietnamese eat this soup for breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner, and they never get tired of it!
The truth is that it is a super tasty and curious dish: the soup is prepared with rice noodles, broth and beef slices, but it is also served with a lot of vegetables and aromatic herbs that you add according to your taste, which is why each pho bo is different depending on who cooks it and who eats it.
Indonesian satay is nothing more than skewered meat (usually chicken) accompanied by a delicious peanut sauce. It is a cheap and delicious dish that is easily found in every corner of the country, which makes it fight for the number one spot in Asian streetfood. In Bali, I learned to cook it and if I could… so can you. The secret to a rich satay sauce is to mix warm water with sugar, soybeans, garlic and crushed peanuts.
Singapore: chili crab
Raise your hand if you don’t like spicy food. Well, bad news for you, you’re out of dinner! Although I would advise you to give a chance to this dish of crab and tomato sauce and chili … it’s to die for! It is not the cheapest dish on Singaporean tables, but it is worth making a small economic effort and take this delicacy to the mouth, not in vain is the national recipe of Singapore.