Until a food-filled jaunt around Southeast Asia is possible, explore the vibrant region through its delicious and colourful cuisine
Southeast Asia is known for many things: its melting pot of cultures, lush and beautiful scenery, the warmth of its people, and so much more. But one of its most talked-about characteristics is undoubtedly the sheer variety of mouthwatering food the region beholds. It is widely known that its people are so passionate about their food that it’s often a hotly-debated topic, especially when it comes to pinpointing where a particular dish originates from.
If you’re missing the flavours, colours and richness of the region’s cuisine, you’re not alone. Take your tastebuds on a quick culinary trip around Southeast Asia with these seven iconic local dishes.
1. Indonesia: Bakso
In Indonesia, you can find bakso everywhere – from mobile cart vendors and streetside stalls to restaurants. The local version of a meatball, it’s made with a meat paste from chicken, beef, or fish. Locals usually enjoy it served in a bowl of steaming hot soup, alongside fixings such as noodles, bean sprouts and tofu.
2. Singapore: Chilli Crab
Considered the “King of All Crab Dishes”, Singapore’s chili crab is a messy, delicious and oh-so-satisfying meal. Mud crabs are normally used for the dish, and are doused in a thick tomato-chili sauce that strikes just the right balance of sweet and savoury. It’s typically served with mantou (a soft Chinese steamed bun).
3. Thailand: Tom yum Goong
The aromatic blend of lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, lime juice, fish sauce, and crushed chili peppers come together to make this world-famous hot and sour broth. While there are many different versions of the spicy and fragrant noodle, perhaps the most well-known is tom yum goong, a version that’s made with prawns.
4. Vietnam: Pho
Vietnamese street food has grown in popularity over the years, with pho (pronounced ‘fuh’) arguably its most famous star. Consisting of broth, rice noodles, herbs, and topped with sliced or shredded meat, this wholesome dish has all the hallmarks of a comfort food dish. There are a few variants to the pho, but pho nam – the version popular in southern Vietnam that’s made with added spices, herbs, garnishes and hoisin sauce – is the version that we’re all familiar with.
5. Cambodia: Fish Amok
The fish amok is a classic generations-old Cambodian dish and a must-try the next time you’re visiting the country. This classic Khmer dish is essentially a steamed, mousse-like curried fish. Chunks of fish (typically river fish) are added to a savoury custard made with curry spices and coconut milk, which are either served in a banana leaf cup or coconut shell. It’s a popular dish during the Cambodian New Year, locally known as Chaul Chnam Thmey.
6. Malaysia: Nasi Lemak
There’s nothing more quintessentially Malaysian than nasi lemak – you’ll be hard-pressed to find a Malaysian who doesn’t like it. The dish has it all: fragrant rice infused with coconut milk, often served with a piece of deep-fried chicken and a side of fried ikan bilis (local anchovies) and peanuts, a hard-boiled egg sliced in half, cucumber slices, and last but not least, the sambal (spicy chilli paste).
7. Philippines: Halo-halo
This colourful, Instagram-worthy Filipino dessert is a welcome (and sweet) reprieve from the blistering tropical heat. This shaved ice dessert is served with evaporated milk, an assortment of toppings, and with a striking scoop of purple-hued yam ice-cream.
This article was first published in November 2017.