Contributed by guest author Ashley Fleckenstein
Asia is a dream for foodies, with each country offering up its own unique dishes, ingredients, and culinary traditions. It can be hard to know where to start when it comes to planning a culinary tour of the region. Here are 10 foodie destinations that you can’t miss the next time you’re eating in Asia:
1. Hong Kong
Hong Kong is Asia’s economic powerhouse, located just off mainland China. In addition to being one of Asia’s major financial centers, it’s also a gastronomic hub and one of the top Asian destinations for all foodies. Hong Kong’s most famous dish is dim sum, a brunch during which dumplings, rice noodle rolls, and tea are served.
The best place to find dim sum in Hong Kong is Tim Ho Wan, known as the world’s cheapest Michelin star restaurant. A menu favorite is cha siu bao, or barbecue pork buns. The shumai, which are steamed pork dumplings, are also popular.
Must-try dishes in Hong Kong: beef brisket noodles, dim sum, char siu bao, and peking duck pancakes
2. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s sprawling capital, is easy to overlook as a tourist destination. Because of its limited number of touristic sites and decidedly pedestrian-unfriendly streets, KL is not a city that makes a good first impression. But what Kuala Lumpur lacks in aesthetic appeal, it makes up for in gastronomy.
Malaysian food is Asian fusion at its finest—a blend of Chinese, Indian, Thai, and Malay influences. No dish embodies this better than curry laksa, a curried coconut broth filled with deep-fried tofu, cockles and egg noodles, and topped with spicy sambal.
Must-try dishes in Kuala Lumpur: curry laksa, fish head bihun, and wanton mee
3. Penang, Malaysia
Penang is a treat for history buffs, with crumbling Chinese shophouses and stately Straits-Chinese mansions. Georgetown, Penang’s center, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Penang abounds not only in history, but also some of the best Asian cuisine. Penang’s most famous dish is char kway teow, a noodle dish of Chinese origin that features noodles stir-fried with shrimp, bean sprouts, eggs, Chinese chives, and soy sauce.
Another good dish to try is Penang asam laksa. A dish of Straits-Chinese origin, Asam laksa is a sour, fish-based soup made with tamarind. It is always topped with belacan, or Malaysian shrimp paste.
To find authentic food in Penang, head to local hawker centers such as Red Garden Food Paradise or CF Hawker Centre and queue up with the locals.
Must-try dishes in Penang: char kway teow, asam laksa, and putu mayam
4. Melaka, Malaysia
Colonized by the Portuguese and British, Melaka is a beautiful colonial city with tons of history. But Melaka’s best food isn’t found in the historic center. To find the best eats, it’s better to take a bus or rent a car to restaurants or hawker centers on the outskirts.
One gastronomic highlight of Melaka is satay celup at Ban Li Xiang Restaurant. Satay celup involves dipping roast pork, tofu, quail eggs and other savory foods on a stick into a bubbling pot of peanut sauce. Melaka also has wonderful Indian food. If you’re in the mood for brunch head to an Indian restaurant for chai and roti prata, a flaky flatbread dipped in dahl.
Must-try dishes in Melaka: satay celup, roti prata, and popiah
5. Bangkok, Thailand
While it’s difficult to find authentic Thai food in southern Thailand, there’s no shortage of it in Bangkok. At local wet markets like the Khlong Lat Mayom Floating Market, vendors sell salt water and fresh water seafood dishes from their long-tail boats.
Thai cuisine traditionally integrates both sweet and spicy flavors, and tropical ingredients such as coconut milk and kaffir lime leaves. Some excellent Thai dishes to try in Bangkok are curries like green or massaman curry, soups like tom yum goong (spicy shrimp soup) and tom kah gai (galangal and chicken soup), and noodle dishes like pad thai or pad kee mao (drunken noodles).
Must-try dishes in Bangkok: tom yum goong, pad thai, tom kah gai, massaman curry, and pad kee mao
6. Saigon, Vietnam
Hanoi may be the capital city of Vietnam, but Saigon is Vietnam’s economic and financial hub. Saigon is a modern metropolis where motorbikes are a dime a dozen and a good meal is never far.
For your first meal in Vietnam, sit down at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant for a bowl of Saigon-style phở. Don’t forget the garnishes, which include chili peppers, lime, bean sprouts, and Thai basil. When it comes to Vietnamese food, customization is half the fun! If you ever find Saigon a bit too overwhelming, retreat inside for Vietnamese iced coffee, a creamy and refreshing beverage made with condensed milk.
Must-try dishes in Saigon: Saigon-style phở, grilled pork with broken rice, bánh mì, and Vietnamese hot pot
7. Singapore, Singapore
Singapore is a one-stop shop for some of the best food in Asia, boasting Chinese, Thai, Malay, and Indian communities. Nicknamed the Little Red Dot, Singapore is as clean and multicultural as it is food-obsessed. Use HungryGoWhere, the Singaporean equivalent of Yelp, to find the best meals. Singaporeans are very serious about good eats so listen to the locals!
Singapore’s most famous dish is undoubtedly chili crab. Chili crab is served with a sweet, spicy chili sauce and is best mopped up with pillow-soft mantou buns. One savory alternative to chili crab is black pepper crab.
Must-try dishes in Singapore: chili crab, bah kut teh (Chinese pork bone broth), and chicken rice
8. Bali, Indonesia
Bali is the only Hindu island in predominantly Muslim Indonesia, with a unique cultural and food landscape. Steer away from the western cafés and head to warungs, which are Balinese family restaurants, to find authentic Balinese cuisine.
One of the most iconic Balinese dishes is bali sate lilit, ground meat grilled on a wooden skewer or lemongrass stalk. Balinese dishes rely heavily on peanut sauce, palm sugar and other sweet ingredients, but there are plenty of savory dishes available as well.
Must-try dishes in Bali: bate sate lilit, beef rendang, and gado gado
9. New Delhi, India
While all of India has incredible food, Delhi is a great place to discover Northern Indian cuisine, which is typically spicier than southern food and includes influences from neighboring Punjab and Rajasthan.
Northern Indian food uses many dairy products like paneer, or curd cheese, so a good dish to try in Delhi is paneer tikka masala. This vegetarian cheese dish is cooked in a creamy tomato-based sauce, and it’s particularly delicious when scooped up with still-warm naan or roti. For on-the-go eats, try a samosa, or flaky pastry filled with spiced potato, onion, lentil, and sometimes meat.
Must-try dishes in New Delhi: paneer butter masala, samosa, lamb skewers with dahl, and naan
10. Macau, China
While Macau may be best-known for its casinos, it’s also a wonderful place to experience colonial Portuguese architecture and great Chinese-Portuguese eats. The pastel-colored buildings and Portuguese signs here will have you wondering if you’re in Asia or Lisbon.
Macau is most famous for its Macanese egg tart, a flaky pastry with a custard interior that evolved from the Portuguese pastel de nata. The city is also famous for its Portuguese-influenced dishes like caldo verde, a light potato and kale soup, and balcalhau, which is salted cod.
Must-try dishes in Macau: Portuguese egg tart, caldo verde, and balcalhau
Ashley Fleckenstein is an American travel blogger and freelance writer who moved to Paris at 21, traveled the world for a year and now lives in Denver. She’s usually in pursuit of skiing, languages, and perfectly ripe cheese. Her writing has been featured in National Geographic, Viator, and Jetstar Australia.