These Are the Best Food Experiences in Asia – Part One

These Are the Best Food Experiences in Asia – Part One

Food connects people, opens up conversations and builds friendships. When we travel, we love joining a cooking class or a food tour to learn about the culinary traditions of a new destination. While it allows us to taste local cuisines, it also teaches us many things about a country’s or a region’s history. Some of our most memorable travel experiences revolve around food. We love sharing a meal with locals in a homestay. Sometimes, conversations over food lead to lifelong friendships. In this post, we asked travel bloggers to share their best food experiences in Asia.

Food experiences in China

1. Melissa from Parenthood and Passports suggests that Dong Hua Men Night Market in Beijing is one of the must-do activities. 

According to Melissa: Wangfujing is a popular shopping district in Beijing, but at night this area near the city center offers a few select culinary options that will test your courage and willingness to try new foods. Just off the street of Wangfujing, you’ll find a small alleyway filled with food vendors selling skewers of scorpions, silkworms, and snake skin, among other creepy, crawly delicacies.

The Dong Hua Men Night Market, as it is called, is a popular draw for tourists, primarily for the shock value and unique food offerings. The most popular item at the night market is a deep fried scorpion. Although terrifying to look at, a fried scorpion just tastes like a crunchy french fry or over-fried, crispy batter. Even if you choose not to sink your teeth into an arachnid, insect, or worm, it is worth experiencing the night market for the novelty factor alone.

If visiting Beijing with kids, Don Hua Men Night Market is a fun and exciting experience that they will definitely remember. Although fun to try, the food sold at the night market is not widely eaten throughout the country of China, so the market isn’t a true representation of the country’s cuisine. In fact, this food experience is more for the tourists than the locals. Regardless, it is an experience you won’t soon forget. 

 

2. Courtney from Courtney in the Middle Seat talks about her experience of joining a cooking class / market tour in Chengdu, China 

Chengdu Food Tour Spices

Chengdu is the capital of China’s Sichuan province and officially designated a UNESCO “City of Gastronomy”. The robust culinary history of Chengdu compliments the richness and spice of Sichuan cuisine. So, where should you start your Chengdu food adventure? I recommend taking a cooking class with Chilli Cool China! Learn the secrets of local favorites such as dandan noodles, Sichuan stir-fry and one of Chengdu’s most famous dishes: mapo tofu!

My 1/2-day cooking class began with a morning visit to one of Chengdu’s local community markets. Class size is limited, and my tour was super personalized with just three visitors. Our guide introduced us to local fruits, vegetables, hot peppers and, of course, different varieties of Chengdu’s signature spice: Sichuan pepper! We even had the chance to try traditional dumpling folding with one of the vendors.

After finding all the ingredients we needed for the day’s recipes, we headed to Chilli Cool’s kitchen classroom. The chefs taught us three recipes. Fresh, pickled salad. Sizzling, spicy twice-cooked pork. And, the true star: warm, flavorful mapo tofu! (You can also request a vegetarian menu.) Mapo tofu is made by cooking fresh tofu in a sauce of fermented black beans, garlic, rice wine, green onions, and a bit of sugar.

You get the heat of dried chilis alongside the unique sensation of málà (or numbing-spiciness) from the Sichuan pepper for mouth-watering goodness! The highlight of the class is learning about all the different spices that go into just this one dish. It took practice, but I’ve even been able to recreate this dish back home!

 

Food experiences in India

1. In Delhi, we went on a food tour with Delhi Food Walks. It was one of the best food tours in India. Ellie from The Wandering Quinn shares a similar experience with us: Old Delhi street food tour

 Delhi Street Food Tour

Reality Tours is an Indian run NGO that started with their signature tour in a Mumbai slum. They now run many tours in Mumbai and Delhi, all of which are ran by guides who grew up in the slums of both cities and profits from their tours go back into the slums too.

One of their many tours is an Old Delhi Street Food Tour. India is known for it’s street food and visitors to India must try it, but we also need to be careful of what and where we eat.

Going on Reality Tours Street Food Tour is one of my biggest Delhi travel tips because you’ll get to eat amazing food, meet a local, learn a lot and be guided through the crazy streets of Old Delhi safely! In addition to this, the money you are spending on the tour is going to good use to help schooling in the slums of Mumbai and Delhi.

There are 7 food stops on the tour and the food you’ll try ranges from sweet Jalebi to savoury and spicy dahi bhalla and aloo chaat before ending with sweet lassi. All of the establishments are popular with locals and most have been running for up to 100 years!

 

2. Traveling south of the country, Pooja from Fairytale Studios says that tasting Goan delicacies on a heritage walk in Goa was one of the best food-y experiences she had in Asia.

Goan Bun and Bhaji Pao

The story of the Goan land is incomplete without the secrets of its kitchens and a taste of everything that the locals are serving for ages. The best way to explore Goa, popularly referred to as the best beach destination in India, is by opting for a heritage walk. When we heard about Goa’s oldest Latin quarters in the capital city, we instantly signed up for a heritage and food tour walk. The mystery and joy of sampling local delicacies and pondering over their history have no bounds. Our walking trail offered us a culinary experience of the Goan homemade delicacies.

In the start of the walk, we meandered around the narrow and colourful lanes of Fontainhas with our tour guide engaging us with fun-facts, quizzes and interesting tidbits of the old quarters. We visited a 100-year-old restaurant to savour the very famous sweet Goan buns and bhaji pavs. The buns are made out of banana-all-purpose flour dough and tasted delicious. Later we visited a pao (Goan bread) factory where freshly baked pao was brought out of a hot oven. The paos melted in our mouths when we had it by dipping in sugary tea.

We then visited a Kaju-Feni distillery where a local alcoholic beverage was freshly brewed by crushing cashews. We got to taste the in-house brewery which reminded us of the quaint bars in small German towns. Goa truly is a melange of sights, smells and vistas that would never make you want to leave. This amazing foodventure left us feeling hungry and hence we ended up eating the very famous Goan Xacuti made out of vegetables in a spicy coconut curry.

 

3. Chhindwara is the largest corn-producing zone in India and a Corn Festival is held annually. Sundeep and Bedabrata of Delhi-Fun-Dos talks about their time in Madhya Pradesh, India. 

patalkot-ki-rasoi-via-delhifundos

You would think sarson-ka-saag and makke-ki-roti (mustard leaves dish and cornbread) are a Punjabi forte. But we stood corrected when we visited the Corn Festival in the city of Chhindawara, Madhya Pradesh. Patalkot ki Rasoi was a pop-up restaurant at the Corn Festival. The stall was made with mud walls adorned with local style rangoli or wall art. They were serving dishes indigenous to the village Patalkot adjacent to Chhindwara. Patalkot was home to Gond and Bharia tribes and still maintained a lot of their traditional practices. This stall had been set up to spread the word about the unique cuisine of Patalkot.

The proof of the pudding is in it’s taste, we had a traditional lunch thali or platter at Patalkot ki Rasoi. Corn was the king in the meal and Makke-ki-Roti was the staple. But it was way soft, coarse and thick than what we would have had earlier. Green chaane-ki-saag or a dish made comprising chickpea and mustard leaves was served on the side.  Conventional paddy rice was substituted by kutki-chawal or local millet rice on the platter. We saw the pink millet grains here that screamed nourishment. We ate the rice with a Bharia style tomato relish – bhejda tamatar chutney. What we loved the most was that every dish was moderate on spice and oil, healthy, refreshing and yet supremely tasty.

The best was perhaps saved for the last – corn halwa. The halwa was not overly sweet and was flavoured with ghee. The corn was not a gooey paste and we could feel the texture. It was one of the best desserts we have had.  The cherry on the icing was the beautiful singing by the Bharia women while people ate. In fact, the Patalkot meal was one of the best food experiences we have come across. So much so, we are motivated to visit Patalkot at the next opportunity to travel.

 

4. If there’s one word to describe Kolkata biryani, it’s love. Travel blogger Madhurima from Orange Wayfarer fondly talks about Kolkata biryani from the house of Awadhi Nawab

Kolkata Aloo Biryani India

Kolkata biryani is an enigma, in short. Kolkata Biryani has been dethroned from the royal court and has taken a permanent seat at the heart of every Bengali person ever, irrespective of the economic or religious divide. Only a few food items could ever excel in a manner that it did. 

Manjilat Fatima is a descendant of the Awadhi Nawab, “Jan e Alam” Wazid Ali Shah, who upon being exiled from Awadh (now Lucknow), briefly lived by the banks of Ganga at Metiabruz, Kolkata with his “Polton”. In Kolkata, the Nawab ran his show with a meagre pension by the British and imbibed the practice of adding potato in Biryani. Gourmet opine potato was a cheap substitute for Meat. Some differ, “No, the potato was exotic, and newly introduced by the Portuguese.” 

Either way, it is the potato that stands as the winner in Kolkata Biryani. Even after all these days!

Nawab has passed away, leaving his legacy which is hard to keep up with at today’s democratic country. His harem was huge. No wonders his descendants will be living all over the world. 

In Kolkata, however, remains Manjilat, an accomplished advocate who has kept up the legacy of her family. The Biryani she cooks is derived straight from her Dadijaan, the grandmother. 

Manjilat runs a small pop up eatery at Kasba, on the terrace of her house. Show up early or else the food will be over before you know it. You can call her beforehand, confirm your order, especially if you are going with a large number of guests. Unlike the other Biryani giants in Kolkata, eating the “True Blue Biryani” at Manjilat’s is an experience in itself! 

 

Food experiences in Indonesia

1. In Yogyakarta, Indonesia, Kenny from Knycx Journeying joins a traditional cooking class.

Cooking class in Yogyakarta

I always want to take a cooking class in Southeast Asia. While I was in Yogyakarta, I finally signed up a cooking class at Viavia Jogja and had a great time there.

Viavia Jogja is located on Prawirotaman Road, a hip and trendy district with lots of cafes, shops, bars, and guesthouses. Viavia Jogja is a guesthouse with a fair-trade shop, a travel agency, and a restaurant. The chef of the restaurant (Diwan, a friendly lady) conducts cooking classes at the restaurant afternoon – and since we were the only two students of the day, we had a rather intimate, one-on-one cooking experience with her on the rooftop of the building.

First, we were brought to the nearby local market, Pasare Resik Rejekine Aik, to shop for our ingredients. There, we saw a lot of food that we don’t usually see in a supermarket, as well as fruits that could only be found in southeast Asia.

Once we headed back to the kitchen, we learned how to make Indonesian dishes like sambal goreng sayur (a vegetarian dish) and ayam goreng kalasan (a chicken dish), and many side dishes to go with the main course. Within an hour, we set our table and enjoyed an authentic Indonesian lunch that we cooked by ourselves!

I recommend taking a class in Yogyakarta because Viavia’s class is more intimate, less commercial, and more relaxed. We didn’t only make a dish, but we tried many different snacks and fruits; we also bought some original hand-made souvenirs in the shop when we leave. I spent an afternoon there as if I was invited to a local’s home for a nice chat and a home-cooked meal.

 

2. Gabrijela from Under Flowery Sky takes us to the rice fields of Ubud, Bali where she went for a buffet meal serving traditional Balinese food!

Ubud Bali Indonesia Cooking Class

Sawobali Cake and Coffe Shop in Ubud is a vegetarian heaven, this cozy buffet restaurant where you can eat anything you want for an excellent price. Picturesque town of Ubud at Bali is known by the wide varieties of veggie choices and yoga opportunities. Located in the centre of Ubud near Monkey Forest it’s easy to notice it, though it changed location once. Tranquille atmosphere makes you feel like home on the wide wooden tables. 

The vaste range of food is offered the whole day on the principle of self-service. It’s such a refreshing feeling to eat soup while travelling. There is not only a veggie choice but mostly it is. Traditional balinese food like tofu and tempeh can be found here, as well as different kinds of rice including the red one. Jackfruit was made into a curry is what I specially liked as well as the eggplant. It’s just amazing to eat all what you like for a small price, it was 50k IDR. As an extra delight, there are also crispy crackers. 

Not only we can find food here, but a variety of coconut oil and some skin cosmetics. The place is also a treasure of sweets so for an additional price it serves all tastes. I will surely be back when I come to Ubud.

 

Food experiences in Iran

1. Iran has been on our bucket list for so long. Ellis from Backpack Adventures shares why Iran is the perfect place for travelers with a sweet tooth

Sweets Yazd Iran NatnZin

Iranians have a sweet tooth. Cookies and sweets have always been an integral part of Iranian culture and they are essential on any occasion, especially when having tea. Guests are always treated to the best sweets the host has in his or her home.

Going to a sweet shop in Iran as a foreigner can be overwhelming. There is so much to choose from with lots of different varieties. Furthermore every city has its own local specialities. Yazd in Iran is most famous if it comes to sweets. They are so beloved in the country that it is almost mandatory to bring sweets back home for those who visit Yazd.

Around the central Amir Chakmak square are dozens of sweet shops. What makes the sweets in Yazd so special is the use of almonds, pistachios, saffron and rose water syrup. Yes, trying sweets in Yazd, really is a mouthwatering experience.

You can try any type of sweets. Some like gaz, a nougat with pistachio, are quite common in Iran. Others are unique to Yazd. Cake yazdi, for example, is a type of cookie made with pistache, cardamom and rose water. One of my favourites was loze nargil, diamond shaped coconut candies. You should also try ghotab or deep fried almond pastries.

If you want to try sweets in Yazd, simply go to one of the sweet stores and order a mixed box. They are best enjoyed with a cup of tea.

 

2. Esfahan is popular for its rich history, literature, art and culture. Here, Linn from Easy Way To Vegan shares about running late to a cooking class hosted by a Persian lady

Esfahan Iran Cooking Class

On my trip to Iran, I stayed at a wonderful guest house in Esfahan. I had spent the whole night chatting with the girls running the place, one of them who also ran Persian cooking classes. We loosely talked about that I could join the next day. But as the next day filled up with colorful mosques, quaint squares, and busy bazaars, I totally forgot about the cooking class. And my new friend forgot about our conversation too as I didn’t return for it.

Tired after a long day of walking, I bumped back into the guest house where a Chinese couple was doing the cooking class, nearly finished cooking. All three invited me in, made me a cup of tea, and told me I was welcome for dinner. The cooking class host quickly threw together some extra vegan eats for me so that I would have just as much food as the others (which was way too much!).

The meal was absolutely amazing with so many new flavors, awesome spices, rose water, and fresh ingredients. Though I missed the cooking experience, it was amazing to be welcomed to eat all this Persian home-made food. To make up for it, I paid for food at the supermarket the next day and we made a delicious vegan meal together.

 

Food experiences in Israel 

Anda from Travel for a while goes to the trendiest market in Tel Aviv. Here, she talks about the Carmel Market Tour in Tel Aviv.

Carmel Market Tel Aviv

One of the things I always look for in any new destination is a food experience. It can be either a food tour, a cooking class, or lunch in an agrotourism. What I love most about this type of activity is that besides great food, you learn more about the culture and day to day life of a city or region than by visiting any museum or reading any guide book.

Preparing my first trip to Tel Aviv, I came across these food tours of HaCarmel, the trendiest Tel Aviv market. Carmel Market is a loud, colorful, and perfumed agitation between the food stalls full of exotic fruit and spices. Food in Israel has a variety of influences, Mediterranean, Arabic, and Turkish mostly. 

The tour starts with Burekas, some traditional Jewish pastry with different fillings, fresh pomegranate juice squeezed right in front of you, then some of the best hummus you’ll ever have.

Of course, you must try halva-a confectionery made from sesame or sunflower seeds and sugar very popular in the Middle East. No tour will end without some traditional Malabi-a milk pudding scented with rose water and a cup of strong coffee.

During the tour, you learn a lot about local food, and we definitely knew by the end of it what other dishes we wanted to try in the next few days. Needless to say, we visited Carmel Market a couple more times and bought some delicious traditional sweets for home too. 

 

Food experiences in Japan 

Lena from Nagoya Foodie says that “Food tours are the highlight of every trip around Asia.”

1. If you ever happen to visit Nagoya, Japan’s 4th largest city right in between Osaka and Tokyo make sure to join a Specialties of Nagoya Food Tour. During this tour, you will taste your way around the special local dishes of Nagoya.

Food Tour at Yamamotoya in Sakae

There are a wide variety of dishes as well as snacks on the menu during this tour, including miso nikomi udon ( thick and white Udon noodles in a dark reddish-brown broth made of fermented soybeans). The dish tastes like nothing you will have ever tried before. You will also try tebasaki, the Japanese interpretation of chicken wings, and go amazingly well with beer. But the absolute highlight of the tour is hitsumabushi, grilled eel on rice. The way it is eaten in Nagoya is special which makes the dish into a real food experience.

The guide loves talking about food, Nagoya, and life in Japan and is happy to answer any and all questions. You will also get valuable tips on other things to do in Nagoya and the surrounding areas. The Specialties of Nagoya Food Tour runs daily from 2:30 p.m. for about 3,5 hours. There is a maximum of 6 places available per tour.

 

2. Lorenza from When I Roam suggests us that joining a cooking class in a local home in Tokyo is one of the best food experiences in Japan. 

Tokyo Japanese Home Cooking Class

In Taito City, close to Asakusa, we found ourselves in Miyuki’s house. Taking our shoes off, we go inside, tentatively at first as it is her home, but Miyuki’s bubbly personality puts us at ease. We are going to learn how to make a complete teriyaki chicken meal with miso soup, green beans, rolled omelet, mushroom, and pumpkin. I think after Mexican food, Japanese food is my favorite! 

First we are introduced to the ingredients and Japanese cuisine, then we dive directly into making the green beans dressed in sesame seeds, or Ingen Goma Ae. I need to make these again as they were so simple and delicious. Then we went to the hardest part, making the rolled omelet or Dashi-maki tamago. Honestly, making a perfectly rolled omelet is hard and time consuming, especially with chopsticks as a cooking utensil. My husband and I had so much fun competing over who had the best omelet, while we spread the egg and rolled it, having it half break, half roll semi-nicely. The chicken teriyaki and miso soup were relatively easy, and absolutely delicious. After cooking, we sat down to enjoy our meal with some desert made by Miyuki! 

We had chosen Japan for our honeymoon because of its food, and learning to cook at a local’s house was fun, informative, and shed a little light into how people live in Tokyo. It was the perfect activity in Tokyo.

 

3. Venese from Flip Guide talks about a wonderful food tour in Tokyo.

Tokyo-Food-Tour-NatnZin

I had the opportunity to go on a special food tour in Tokyo, sampling different local Japanese foods. I had never known that food can be so simple yet complicated. It was an amazing time hopping around different izakayas. Izakayas can be compared with taverns or pubs, where you share a few dishes with your group, along with drinks. 

We started the night at the first izakaya in the heart of Shinjuku, enjoying a round of nihonshu, Japanese sake. Japanese Sake is fermented Japanese rice wine. You can compare it to white wine. Pairing with the Japanese sake, we got to try small plates of tofu, local seaweed salad and fish. 

You might be thinking, that sounds like a very plain and boring meal. That was my first thought, but yet, it was absolutely amazing! The tofu was created in Okinawa, a region in the south of Japan. It’s called Jimami tofu and it’s created with peanut. The texture is unique and the simplicity of the tofu with a dash of soy sauce and a touch of sesame seed made this dish perfect! That was definitely the highlight of my food tour experience. 

We also got to visit a gyoza restaurant, where they served vegan, vegetarian and meat options. Along with the traditional gyoza, you can also get fusion gyoza, made with special sauce. Combining this authentic Japanese dish along with unique fusion twist, it was definitely worth the try! We got to see a ninja show when enjoying the gyoza. It doesn’t get more Japanese than this! It was very memorable and loved every moment of it. 

 

4. Anne from JapanAddictHQ reminds us about her time in Tokyo and joining a Harajuku food tour in Tokyo.

Harajuku Food Tour

Harajuku has the reputation of being a happening and exiting place to visit in Tokyo for good reason.  The eclectic mix of youth fashion, colorful and exciting food options and the energy of the crowds makes Harajuku a must see destination in Tokyo.

To make the most of your visit I definitely recommend that you should book in to do a foodie tour of the area.  We did the tour option through Arigato Food Tours and had a great time with our guide Lauren!  By visiting Harajuku with a guide we learnt a lot more about the history and culture of the area than would have occurred if we had just walked through the area by ourselves.

Highlights of our tour included learning more about the Japanese regional food culture and specialities, walking through the back streets of Harajuku, walking through the main Takeshita Dori street and tasting as we went.  We really enjoyed trying the delicious famous Harajuku crepes as well as amazing black sesame ice cream and much more.  Our hot lunch was great with an out of the way cook your own okonomiyaki (Japanese cabbage pancake) experience – a great option to learn how to cook this iconic dish!

 

5. Wendy from The Nomadic Vegan also joins a Japanese cooking class in Kamakura.

Japanese cooking class Kamakura

One of our last stops on our month-long trip across Japan was Kamakura, where unfortunately our sightseeing was spoiled by constant rain. But it didn’t matter, because my husband and I still have very fond memories of Kamakura thanks to our cooking class in a local Japanese home. Our host Naoko invited us to the apartment where she lives with her 88-year-old mother, and the two of them taught us how to prepare traditional, homecooked Japanese food.

Even though I’m a huge foodie traveler, I don’t really enjoy cooking very much. My main reason for wanting to join a cooking class was to have an authentic exchange with Japanese people and learn from them about their culture through their cuisine. I explained this to Naoko when booking our class through airKitchen, and she was very accommodating. She and her mother had already done a lot of the prep work when we arrived, so we just helped them a bit in the kitchen, learned how to plate our food in accordance with traditional Japanese aesthetics, and then sat down to enjoy the meal with them.

Naoko’s family eats a mostly plant-based diet anyway, but since my husband and I are both vegan they adapted some of the dishes so that they were completely free of animal products. To replace the fish-based dashi (stock) that is used in many Japanese soups and sauces, Naoko taught us how to make dashi from kombu seaweed.

 

6. Sushi for breakfast. Shelley from Travel Stained takes us to Tsukiji Fish Market.

Sushi Breakfast at Tsukiji Fish Market

Eating a sushi breakfast at one of the restaurants in Tsukiji’s Outer Fish Market in Tokyo is a rite of passage for any serious sushi lover. After all, Tsukiji is the biggest, busiest marine market in the world, located in Japan – the epicentre of all things fresh and fishy.

A meal there, guarantees the most flawless fish possible, at a price that’s pretty much impossible to match anywhere else in the world for the quality. And the most coveted seats in the entire Outer Market are at humble Sushi Dai. There are just 12 shoulder to shoulder counter seats available inside, and waits can be as long as 5 to 6 hours.

The thing to order at Sushi Dai is the Omakase set. This is basically a “Trust the Chef” course meal, where the sushi chef chooses the best fish of the day for you. When we visited, we were served mouthwatering surf clam, fatty tuna, sea urchin, mackerel, and more. At the end of the Omakase, you’re allowed to select one final piece of sushi off the a-la-carte menu, and a bowl of flavourful soup is served.

Each piece of fish at Sushi Dai is lovingly prepared by the chef, then placed directly on the counter in front of you, one perfect morsel at a time. It’s really the most personal and incredible way to eat a sushi breakfast, and part of what makes a meal at Sushi Dai so very special.

If you want to visit, plan accordingly. Line up as early as possible before the 5:30 AM opening, perhaps even the night before. If you go alone, there’s a small chance you might skip the line, when a solo seat appears. Sushi Dai is open every day except Wednesday and Sunday.

 

Food experiences in Jordan

Talek from Travels with Talek joins an authentic cooking class in Petra, Jordan

Jordanian cuisineThe best and most authentic food experiencs have to do with food. A nation’s cuisine is an integral part of its culture. By extension, cooking is also part of the food cultural experience. 

I recently had the pleasure of participating in a cooking class in Jordan just a few minutes from Petra, one of the world’s most spectacular sights. I was looking for an off-the-beaten-path cultural experience in Jordan, and I got much more than I anticipated.  

The cooking school is Petra Kitchen.  I learned about it in a travel guidebook then one of my taxi drivers also recommended it to me. What a treat!

The cooking school was spotless and very much state-of-the-art.  There were about 12 people in the class, mostly couples on a tour. The chef instructor, believe it or not, was Filipino. Go figure! She explained the processes in detail with professionalism and charm.  It was great fun to follow her instructions until all the dishes were completed. 

Some of the tasty dishes we prepared included Mansaf made with rice, yogurt, and lamb, Munjadura a mixture of lentils and rice, and, of course, the classic houmous. The best part of the experience was eating our creations. And the bonus was we all got to take home the recipes to make on our own.    

For an admission fee of 35 JD you and other travelers get 2 soft drinks, about an hour and a half of cooking instructions and a terrific meal!

 

Food experiences in Kazakhstan

Megan from Megan Starr takes us to Central Asia and suggests that a tour around Green Bazaar in Almaty, Kazakhstan is one of the best food experiences in Central Asia. 

Almaty Green Bazaar Food Tour

One of the best food experiences in Asia is most definitely strolling around the Green Bazaar in Almaty, Kazakhstan.  The Bazaar is also called the Zelionyj Bazar by locals and it has been a staple in the city for decades and truly brings a piece of Central Asian Silk Road history to the modern-day.

When you walk in the Green Bazaar, you will see hundreds of vendors sprawled out in the different sections. Many tourists don’t realize this, but the bazaar also goes underground and throughout passageways surrounding the main building.  Inside the main building, you will immediately find Uzbek dried fruit sellers.  The fruit sellers are mostly hailing from Samarkand, Uzbekistan and are very chatty and excited to have foreigners try their products.  

If you walk around more, you will see the meat in the back of the building.  There are sellers from all throughout Kazakhstan and Central Asia and you’ll discover everything from horse sausage to chicken and other poultry.  In between all that, one will be delighted to find other Central Asian staples from fresh, organic fruit to bread.  Kazakhstan has a huge passion for Korean food and you’ll also find a lot of kimchi and Korean salads throughout.

The Green Bazaar also has two must-tries for tourists- kumis and shubat.  Kumis is fermented mare’s milk and shubat is fermented camel’s milk.  When you walk in the main building… you can head left a bit where you will find a stand that gives samples for a small price to curious travelers.  It offers a great opportunity to try it and if you don’t like it, the women that work there will not be offended in the slightest.

If you’re keen to try some Central Asian plov, you can taste a plate of it cheaply by heading up the stairs to the small restaurant in the main building.  If you head to the other elevated area, you will find Bowler Coffee Roasters, home to the best coffee in Almaty.  The Green Bazaar is definitely one of the best places to go to when you visit Almaty.

 

Food experiences in Kyrgyzstan

Stephen from Asia-Hikes says that joining a Dungan family for dinner in Karakol, Kyrgyzstan is a unique opportunity to get a glimpse of the rural Kyrgyz culture.

Dungan Family Dinner in Karakol, Kyrgyzstan

In far eastern Kyrgyzstan, outside the city of Karakol, the region’s Dungan ethnic minority gives travellers a unique chance to spend an evening exploring their culture and cuisine. In partnership with the local Destination Karakol DMO, travellers can spend an evening with a Dungan family in the village of Yrdyk sampling the group’s cuisine.

It’s an unusual mixture of Central Asian and Chinese flavours and one of the tastiest of culinary creations in Central Asia. Visitors are often invited into the kitchen to help prepare ashlyan-fu, a cold noodle dish served in a spicy vinegar-based sauce and topped with slices of shaved potato starch, a signature Dungan dish (and also popular local hangover cure).

Guests and hosts share a dining space seated on the floor around a large dastorkhan tablecloth, as is common throughout the Central Asian countries, and overloaded with various dishes from meatballs and dumplings to salads and soup. Host families are often very open to discussing the history of the Dungan people – of their flight from China in the late 1800s as a result of religious persecution, and of their legendary Silk Road origin as a union of Arabic traders and Chinese brides in the west of the country.

Even for travellers just passing through Karakol en route to epic local hikes like the Ak-Suu Transverse, the Dungan Family Dinner experience offers a fun insight into local customs, and a chance to taste some of the most delicious dishes that Central Asia has to offer. 

 

Food experiences in Laos

1. Roshni from The Wanderlust Within joins a cooking class in  Luang Prabang, Laos.

 Luang Prabang Cooking Class 

One of the most popular things to do in Luang Prabang, Laos is to join a traditional cooking class. Classes last around four hours and are based around everyday dishes that are common in Northern Laos. These dishes are referred to as Laap, and are flavoured using garlic, lemongrass, and chillies.

The cooking class starts with a visit to the local morning market to pick up herbs and ingredients, followed by a short lesson in how to weave bowls and containers using banana leaves. Then the cooking class begins by creating the most fundamental dish in Laos, steamed sticky rice. Next you will create five other traditional dishes including a spicy tomato dip called jaew, vegetable soup, Laos chicken salad, lemongrass parcels stuffed with chicken, and fresh mango sticky rice for desert.

Once you have created all the courses, you can sit down and enjoy the meal with everyone in the class, and will be able to take home the recipes so you can recreate the dishes upon your return. Half day cooking classes in Luang Prabang take place in small groups or privately, but as they are very reasonably priced I would suggest choosing a private one so you can be more hands on with the cooking.

 

2. Marie from A Life Without Borders takes us to rural Laos. In Luang Namtha, she shares a traditional Lao Yuan meal with her host family and the local community. 

Lao-yuan-meal

Nestled amongst the mountains of northern Laos is the remote town of Luang Namtha. Surrounded by pristine mountains and rivers, it is one of the best hiking and cultural destinations in Laos.

With an astounding ethnic diversity, Luang Namtha is the perfect place to learn about ethnic minorities and their way of life through an overnight village homestay. One of the most interesting homestays is Vieng Neua, a Lao Yuan village. Just a short drive from Luang Namtha, you can take part in a traditional Lao Yuan meal with family members and the local community.

Watch as the preparations take place, with several women cleaning, chopping and cooking the vegetables and herbs required for the many dishes – and if you wish, take part in the preparations yourself!

What I loved most about the experience was eating the meal communally, with numerous small dishes set on a low, round rattan table on the ground. Amazingly presented, each dish was contained in its own banana leaf bowl. The dishes consisted of fried fish, chicken laap, and several vegetable dishes, including the local riverweed, along with sticky rice and noodles.

Learn how rice is traditionally eaten – with the fingers, by rolling the rice into a small disc, making an indent with your thumb, and thereby forming a small “scoop” which you then dip into the other bowls. You even get the chance to finish off your meal experience by tasting the potent Lao-Lao whiskey!

 

Food experiences in Malaysia

1. Malaysia-based writer and blogger Marco from Penang Insider suggests that the cooking class at Nazlina Spice Station in Penang, Malaysia is one of the best cooking classes in Asia. Here’s why:

Penang Island in northwestern Peninsular Malaysia is well-known around the world for being a magnet for foodies. In 2014, Lonely Planet voted it as the best food destination in the world, and certainly, the reputation is ongoing and encompassing – beyond great local dishes, there’s also a whole gamut of Western food in Penang

But aside from eating, if you want to actually learn how to approach the world of Penang curries and spices, you should try a cooking class at Nazlina Spice Station, hosted in a traditional shophouse in central Campbell Street. Your host and teacher will be Nazlina Hussin, an expert local cook and the author of “The Fierce Aunty’s No-Nonsense Guide to the Perfect Laksa”.   

Nazlina’s class is very popular and you need to book in advance to reserve a spot. Classes are held from 8 am to 1 pm on Mon, Tue, Thu and Fri every week, cost RM250 per person, and start right off with a local-style breakfast. After that, Nazlina leads people to the market where the foraging for prime ingredients begins, and it’s back to the kitchen.

Usually, every class includes the preparation and teaching of 4 to 5 dishes — which, of course, you will eat for lunch together with the other students. When I went, we learned the basics of tangy Penang Asam Laksa directly from an expert like Nazlina. I loved her passion and professional/severe frown as she taught us how to dish up one of Penang’s quintessential noodle soups. Then we rolled and fried some Nyonya spring rolls and Banana fritters, and learned about making Otak-Otak — a Malaysian unique grilled fish cake mixed with tapioca starch and spices. We had a feast, of course.

Vegetarians can still take one of the afternoon classes from 3 to 6 pm, and follow the market tour in the morning.

 

2. Travel bloggers Aninda and Mohana from Two Together talk fondly about their time in Malaysia and starting their day with a delicious breakfast at Kopitams all around the country. 

Breakfast Malaysia Kopitams Food Tours Asia

All our days in Malaysia began at kopitiams, Malay cafes. We would seat our groggy selves at a table that we usually shared with locals and drive sleep away with kopi. Black for me and sweet with condensed milk for her but at kopitiams, you get more than just drinks. At Nam Heong and Sin Yoon Loong in Ipoh, we gorged on bowls of Curry Mee laden with fish balls, fried bean curd skins, pork, and greens. 

And Ipoh’s famous, sunshine yellow egg tarts that I still crave every now and then. There are curry puffs, chicken floss, and a variety of other goodies, too. In Kuala Lumpur, we had glasses of iced kopi with piping hot bowls of clam noodle soup at the packed Kedai Kopi Lai Foong. At George Town’s Toh Soon, we had the dan zhi and the charcoal-grilled bread slathered with butter and kaya as a tropical downpour raged outside. 

You will find different sellers at a kopitiam: In a true co-workspace spirit, space is shared by many hawkers who specialize in one or two dishes, for example, Penang’s beloved Tiger char kuey teow stall is housed inside Kafe Ping Hooi. Mornings in kopitiams are busy; they open at daybreak and locals and tourists all flock for breakfast. 

Servers move deftly through the aisles, balancing large bowls of filling noodle soups that fog your glasses as your dig in with your soup spoon and chopsticks. It’s busy yet laidback, a lesson in sharing tables and stories. And that is how we spent our mornings, sweating and slurping from our bowls, then sitting back with more kopi and people watching.


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