These Are the Best Food Experiences in Asia – Part Two
Culinary travel is one of the best ways to unravel a country’s culture and unique traditions. Food experiences like cooking classes with locals, homestay meals, food tours and market tours offer a glimpse into the culinary landscape of a new destination. We asked travel bloggers to share their best food experiences in Asia. This is part two of the blog series best food experiences in Asia. Part one of the series features exciting homecooking experiences, history of Kolkata’s aloo biryani, simple pleasures of kopitam breakfasts in Malaysia and plenty other wonderful food tours and cooking classes in Asia.
Food experiences in Bhutan
Anwesha from Going Places With Anwesha talks to us about the wonderful Bhutanese cuisine
Bhutanese food is unlike any other food you will ever taste. Bhutanese are in love with their spices which reflect boldly in many of their dishes. Even though you start your mornings with regular breakfasts, you will certainly get a chance to taste Bhutanese dishes during lunch and dinner. Lunches in Bhutan for us always consisted of a bowl of Ema Datshi – a delicious stew made of cheese and red chilies. Being the national dish of Bhutan, its unarguably the most popular dish in the country, and any discussion about Bhutanese food cannot go without the mention of Ema Datshi.
Another favorite of mine is a dish called Jasha Paa which has the chicken as the main ingredient along with the chilies. I love the mild taste of ginger that shines through the spices, giving this dish its essence. All the Bhutanese dishes are enjoyed with a plate of steamed red rice. Red rice is one of the staple foods of the Bhutanese people. After cooking, the rice becomes soft in texture and has a nutty taste, going very well with dishes with bold flavors.
Evenings were reserved for tasting the various kinds of dumplings that Bhutan serves. These steaming hot dumplings have a variety of fillings – including minced beef, pork, and other meats, as well as vegetables like cabbage. Cheese dumplings mixed with spices are also a popular option. One type of dumplings that caught my eyes is the ones made of Bhutanese buckwheat, stuffed with different green leafy vegetables, cheese, and meat. These are called Hoentay, originating from the Haa Valley of Bhutan.
Bhutan caught me off-guard with the way they like their tea. Locals love to have butter tea, commonly known as Suja which is usually served after meals and is found to be comforting in the cold weather. We learned from the locals that fermented yak butter is made from fresh yak milk which is then boiled along with tea leaves and water to prepare Suja.
If you are up for some noodles, try the traditional buckwheat noodles known as Puta. They are a healthier alternative to the regular noodles and taste incredibly delicious – spiced up by adding different sauces and sautéed vegetables.
Check Anwesha’s Bhutan travel itinerary if you plan on traveling to this landlocked kingdom.
Food experiences from Cambodia
Caroline from CK Travels joins a Food Tour in Siem Reap, Cambodia
One of my favourite and most authentic food tour experiences I had during my travels in Southeast Asia was in Cambodia. The morning Siem Reap food tour takes you off the beaten tourist track to sample authentic Khmer cuisine and to learn all about Cambodian daily life and culture.
The tour starts with a traditional fish porridge breakfast at a street side Cambodian restaurant, before heading on a scenic drive to the countryside in a tri-shaw. The first stop is a visit to a large colourful market where you get to meet the locals, learn about the different ingredients they sell and sample a few snacks from the street food vendors. Our British guide Steven (who is the co-founder of the company Siem Reap Food Tours) speaks fluent Khmer and it was fun watching the relationship between him and the locals who have got to know him over the years.
The second half of the tour is a drive through photogenic rice paddies to visit a small village where you get to meet families who make rice noodles, rice wine and palm sugar in their homes.
Throughout the tour there are several stops for food and we got to taste some amazing classic dishes, snacks, drinks and fruits. The highlight for me was trying a bowl of Nom Banh Chok – known as Cambodian fish curry noodles. The creamy curry was served with fresh hand made noodles and was incredibly delicious and I still crave it today.
Food experiences in Myanmar
1. In Myanmar’s famous Inle Lake, Debjani from The Vagabong enjoys a boat lunch
I had always praised the Thai street food experience as the best food experience in the entire South East Asia region. Until, I explored and experienced the delectable Shan Cuisine from Inle Lake during my Myanmar Trip.
Inle Lake is one of the most desired and popular places in Shan State of Myanmar. Apart from its stunning beauty, this village is also famous for its activities and fishing tradition in Inle Lake. And, due to this, fish is one of the most common staples in Burmese Cuisine apart from other condiments of leafy greens coupled with rice/noodles.
During my stay in Inle Lake, I experienced a unique boat lunch tasting experience and savored on every possible dish which was prepared by Intha fisherman entirely on the boat. Inle Lake region is also famous for its stunning vineyard and their local wine. Hence, tasting wine along with the shan cuisine is considered to be one of the best food experience in Myanmar.
For my lunch experience, I was transferred from my commute boat which I was using to explore the place to another boat where the lunch set up done. What appealed to me was that the entire process of lunch from cooking till the serving, everything was done in the middle of the lake itself.
I was served with steamed rice cake wrapped in banana leaf, some tempura (fish and vegetable Burmese version of fritters) for starters along with wine, Shan noodles, Pork and cucumber dish, prawns in tomato paste, one avocado dish, steamed chicken in Burmese sauce and a fish and leafy greens curry dish.
The same was then followed by some delicious Kyauk kyaw which is a Burmese dessert and more servings of local wine. So, once you are heading to Myanmar, Shan Cuisine tasting should definitely not be missed.
2. Arnav from Eat | Travel | Live | Repeat joins a food tour in Mandalay on a trishaw
It was the second day of our 10 day trip to Myanmar, and we couldn’t have had a better experience. We were struggling on the first day, when it came to food, because of the language barrier, and the fact that we couldn’t find any menu in English, However on the second day, we signed up for a city tour with Beyond Boundaries, which also included a half day food tour, and this is something that I highly recommended in this exhaustive Myanmar Travel Guide.
Little did we know that we would be exploring the streets of Mandalay, that too in a trishaw. We were instructed not to have any breakfast, and am glad we didn’t, as in a span of 4 hours, we had a couple of local delicacies starting with Tempura and Sticky Rice, followed by some Mohingar. On the same lines as Mohingar, we also tried the famous Khao Soi / Khao Suey and the local speciality ‘Lahpet Thoke’ aka Burmese Tea leaf salad.
The best part of the tour was that we got to explore food, not only on the street, but in proper legit restaurants as well. Also, we got to visit a local market where we tried the fried stuffed potato and fried baby bananas.
Food experiences in Pakistan
1. Arabela from The Spicy Travel Girl learns to cook Pakistani food in Lahore
I was sitting at a table full of delicious kebab in Lahore when I realized I knew nothing about Pakistani food. Not only did I struggle to eat with naan. I also lacked even the slightest idea of how to make a delicious thick gravy out of a bunch of spices. But I was determined to learn. Hence, I decided to ask one of the greatest Pakistani chefs I knew for help: my boyfriend’s mother.
“How do you make such good biryani?,” I asked her. “Don’t worry, it’s really easy,” she cheerfully replied. “All you have to do is take some rice, add meat, spices, and that’s it!”
She probably saw the disappointment in my face. Of course, I knew that Asian moms aren’t very fond of measuring units but I certainly didn’t expect such a vague answer. I had to find another way.
The next day, I went to the neighborhood supermarket and bought nearly four bags full of masala mixes. The secret behind that? Every pack contains instructions with exact measuring units for the desired dish. Secretly, I accumulated a large collection of Pakistani recipes this way and learned to prepare the dishes by myself.
The first few times were rough. My rice was too sticky, my meat undercooked, and my gravy was more like a watery broth. But day by day, my cooking improved. Now, I feel confident enough to cook dozens of dishes without measurements, just like a Pakistani mom. The only dish I still struggle with is kebab. It will probably never turn out as delicious as the one I had back in Lahore!
Food experiences in the Philippines
1. Elsa from Travelling Quote joins the Manila Chinatown food tour
Manila Chinatown is considered the earliest Chinatown in the world. The river that used to be the center of business in earlier days made Chinese people settled near it, wherein they later called it Chinatown. It is found in Manila, Philippines.
We visited food stores and restaurants featuring Chinese cuisine. Eng Bee Tin hopia store made purple their motif color for its specialty is Ube hopia. Shanghai Fried Siopao attracts many customers forming up a long line.
Masuki restaurant offers mami noodles freshly-made every day. The noodles are made in a traditional way through a very-old kneading wooden roller. The roller measuring 7-feet had to be hopped on and place in between legs and must be moved like you are riding a horse. The movement will give weight to the pasta dough placed in between the roller and the table. Continually riding and moving the roller will knead the dough. They maintained this tradition, for it is the only way they achieve the texture of the mami noodles they want.
We went excited when New Po Heng Lumpia house demonstrated to us how to assemble their vegetable lumpia. The aroma of the ingredients made our tummies growl. And when we started munching the lumpia, it made us smile for the wonderful taste and refreshing feeling it gave.
The experience had made me realize how exciting the old restaurants are. Thanks for the tour that I am glad to experience old traditional ways in this modern world.
Food experiences in Singapore
1. Shang from Zip Up & Go takes us to the greener parts of Singapore — Bollywood veggies farm
Located far away from the concrete jungles in Singapore is a quaint farm that has a nice surprise for you. It is a great escape from the skyscrapers and shopping malls in the city, giving you a chance to experience a green oasis like no other in this island nation.
Choose from a myriad of tours at Bollywood Veggies, found in the northwestern corner of the country, from learning how to plant paddies to being part of a culinary class that uses ingredients straight out of the backyard! Each class is unique and varies according to the produce in season, and you will have lots of fun during this interactive session. For example, you could be making tempeh, thunder tea rice, or good old Nasi Lemak.
Experienced guides first tell you the background information of some of the ingredients you will use before you proceed to a hands-on preparation of your lunch for the day.
If you prefer to let the professionals do the cooking instead, you can always visit the Poison Ivy Bistro, named after the charismatic owner Ivy Singh. She is a true force of nature, and if you are lucky enough to meet her, you will be impressed by this matron.
Outside of the classroom, you can opt to go on a self-guided walking tour of the farm, or join one of the tours scheduled for the day. These tours are a great way to learn how our food is produced, the process it goes through, and finally how it makes its way to our homes.
Whichever way you choose to spend a day in Singapore, you are in for a special treat!
Food experiences in South Korea
Bec from Wyld Family Travel joins a food tour in Seoul
Korean food is delicious but it can be completely confusing too, especially if you don’t speak the language! Whether you are going out for a Korean BBQ experience or you are shopping at the supermarket it is a daunting idea BUT not if you go on an amazing Korean Food tour.
We decided to do a Korean Chicken and beer tour to get some idea when we were visiting Seoul with our teenagers Not only would we be taken to a few different restaurants we would be able to experience the dishes Korean is famous for with the possibility of going back for more.
Korean BBQ is an experience in itself but when you have three different kinds which one do you chose? While all the dished contained chicken it was all cooked in different ways including the traditional BBQ method, fried chicken and our total favourite baked BBQ chicken with cheese and corn!
Our food tour was run by the amazing Joe from Zen Kimchi Tours and if was an easy walk around to the restaurants. Joe made sure all of the businesses had been running for a long time with the owners having their own special herbs and spices that made their dish stick out from all the rest.
A food tour in Korea especially Seoul was a great way to see some of the city, learn some traditional ways of cooking and have some amazing food at the same time.
Food experiences in Sri Lanka
We’ve blogged many times about Sri Lankan food, including the best Sri Lankan curry dishes, breakfast in Sri Lanka, street food in Sri Lanka and joining a cooking class in Colombo. Here, Lora from Explore With Lora joins a cooking class in Ella, Sri Lanka.
After tasting the food in Sri Lanka, I knew I had to take a cooking class there to find out how to bring some of the delicious flavors home. Cooking classes are found throughout the country, but Ella is a great place do one.
There are a couple of places there that offer cooking classes, but it’s one of the more popular things to do in Ella so it’s a good idea to book in advance. We did one with Lanka Cooking Class which was a wonderful experience.
There were seven of us in the class along with the chef and together we all made four different Sri Lankan curries, along with roti and rice. The teacher made sure that we were all following along with him as he cooked, explaining each step of the process.
What I loved most about this class was sitting down family-style after cooking to eat together. Not only was it one of the tastiest meals I had in Sri Lanka, but such a wonderful atmosphere getting to learn more about the host’s life in Sri Lanka and share travel stories. We made so much food that we couldn’t even eat it all! If you’re looking to take a cooking class in Sri Lanka, Ella is the perfect place to do it.
Food experiences in Taiwan
Taipei night market by The Traveling Asian
One of the best food experiences you can ever have is at the night markets in Taipei, Taiwan. And the most famous night market of them all is the Shilin Night Market in Taipei. It was here that I signed up for a food tour to be taken around this amazing market to learn all the neat things it has to offer.
If you don’t know what a night market is, it basically is an area filled with vendors selling all kinds of things. You can find things like clothes, accessories, games, and most importantly delicious food being sold all over the markets.
My tour guide took me to this market and immediately I fell in love. There was literally so many kinds of food available for you to buy. Some of the foods I tried were soup dumplings which was packed full of soup and was amazingly delicious, black pepper buns which was savory yet very filling and also an ice cream burrito! The ice cream burrito was probably the most unique thing I have ever seen. I could literally spend hours on end here at this market as there was too many things to try all in one day.
What I loved most about this experience was that the tour was able to show me all kinds of different foods Taiwan has to offer. Many of which I have never seen or tried before. It was definitely an eye opening experience and one I would never forget.
Food experiences in Thailand
1. Here, Vicky from Travel on Uneven Pavements goes to a organic cooking school in Chiang Mai
The Smile Organic Cooking School is located just outside the city of Chiang Mai in Thailand. This unique cooking school offers the opportunity to learn to cook a range of delicious Thai dishes on a beautiful farm in the foothills of the mountains, with the added perk of being able to eat your creations at the end.
You’re able to cook 5 dishes from scratch, which include a curry paste, a curry, a soup, a stir fry and a spring roll, with a couple of different options in each category. As well as the cooking class itself where you are taken step by step how to make these fragrant dishes, the school also includes a trip to the local market where you can learn about the fresh produce, and a tour of the farm where you can pick some of the ingredients to use in your cooking.
During the cooking part of the class, we each had our own work stations and followed our instructor through the process. Everyone was cooking different dishes, so it was incredible how easy our guide made it to get the steps right.
My favourite part of the evening was ending the session by sitting with our group around a table and digging into our freshly made food. There was so much to eat we needed up taking some back with us, along with a beautiful recipe book filled with Thai dishes.
2. Jennifer and Tim from Luxe Adventure Traveler visits the Taling Chan floating market in Thailand
Thailand exists on an extensive network of canals and traveling around on a boat was once a way of life far easier than traversing through dense jungle. Life sprung up around the river banks and floating markets became a staple. While booming metropolises like Bangkok now have street markets and much more modern ways of life, you simply can’t visit Thailand without visiting the iconic floating markets.
Jennifer and Tim of Luxe Adventure Traveler recommend heading to the Taling Chan floating market, which isn’t as touristed as the most popular Damnoen Saduak floating market. It’s places like the Taling Chan floating market that still draw more locals than tourists and you can get an authentic feel for what these markets were all like once upon a time.
You can definitely visit Taling Chan on your own. The floating market has both a section you can walk through lined with vendors and the floating pontoons where patrons buy food from the boats and then sit at tiny tables to enjoy the messier dishes like chili-lime crab. Stroll around and watch what the locals eat, then sample the delicious food. Jennifer and Tim recommend you don’t miss the tempura fried basil, savory Thai pancakes and BBQ pork skewers.
To get there on your own, take the BTS to Wongwian Yai Station and then take a taxi the rest of the way for around 150 baht (less than $5 USD). If it sounds a little daunting to visit on your own or you want a guide that can tell you more about each dish, you can also take a food tour of the Taling Chan floating market leaving from Bangkok.
Food experiences in Vietnam
1. JB from Will Fly for Food joins a food tour in Hanoi
Hanoi is my favorite city in Vietnam. It’s got some of the best street food in the country so for me, going on a food tour is one of the best things you can do in Hanoi.
I’ve been on many food tours but the one I joined in Hanoi was different from any I had done before. For one, it was led by a chef. Chef Duyen of A Chef’s Tour is a practicing chef who teaches cooking classes in Hanoi. Within the first few minutes of meeting her, you’ll realize this woman lives and breathes Vietnamese food.
And two, it starts at 4AM so tour-goers can experience Long Bien Market at its busiest. Most tourists visit markets during the day when much of the action has already died down. But if you want to experience an Asian wet market at the height of its powers, then you need to go before dawn.
At that hour, Long Bien Market had the energy of the NYSE, but instead of stocks, people were trading fish and seafood. It was incredible to experience and something both food and photography lovers would appreciate.
After exploring the market, Chef Duyen took me to a few street food stalls to have a Vietnamese breakfast of bun cha, bun rieu cua, and xoi. I’ve had these dishes many times before but never as good as this. Led by a Vietnamese chef, you don’t expect anything less.
2. Joanna from The World in My Pocket joins a cooking class in Hoi An
One of the best ways to get to know better the Vietnamese food is by taking a cooking class. And there is no better city to experience this in than Hoi An, in the centre of the country. There are many companies that offer cooking classes in Hoi An, some which include other cultural experiences such as a ride on a round boat, or a visit to a rice field.
The cooking class I took in Hoi An was one of the later. I booked my cooking class with Bay Mau Eco Cooking Tour because they had a lot of positive reviews. It lasted for half a day and started with a market tour, in the morning, where we’ve learned about the local herbs and we bought the ingredients for the dishes we were going to cook later. After, we boarded a boat and sailed towards the island where the cooking class took place.
We cooked four different dishes: pho, fresh spring rolls, banh xeo and prawn noodles. Besides these, we were also shown how to make peanut sauce, chili sauce and rice paper. It was a fully immersive experience, in which each participant got to cook every single dish alone, following the instructions of the chef. At the end, I got to keep the chopsticks I cooked with and also, I was given a booklet with the recipes, to recreate them at home. It was a fantastic experience and a nice introduction to the Vietnamese food.
3. Janine from Gastrotravelogue also takes us on a Hoi An Food Tour
I’ve eaten my fair share of good food in Asia, but one of my most memorable food tours was in Hoi An, in Vietnam. The town has been on the tourist trail for a number of years, but recently it has become a foodie heaven and I joined the Original Taste of Hoi An Tour to find out more about what it had to offer.
One of the best things about the tour is that although you might recognize the names of some of the town’s popular dishes what you will taste is nothing like you will find in many of the tourist traps in Hoi An. You are taken off the beaten track, exploring local markets and holes in the wall joints that only an insider would know how to find resulting in a unique experience.
Vietnamese food is all about freshness and locals can visit a market twice a day to ensure that only the best ingredients are used in the food they prepare. This is evident when you visit a bustling local market as part of the tour and learn about local produce and herbs used in the preparation of the delicious food of the region.
Once you have eaten your way around town, the next stop is a visit to the tasting room for more local treats and a chat about the food culture in the city. I loved every minute of the time spent on the tour, enjoyed chatting to passionate foodies, ate enough for 2 people and came away with a great deal of respect and a better understanding of Vietnamese food.
4. Bradley from Dream Big, Travel Far learns how to prepare Vietnamese spring rolls during a cruise on Halong Bay
For anyone visiting Vietnam, a cruise on Halong Bay is perhaps the best experience you can hope to have. And it really was one of the most beautiful and magical travel experiences we have enjoyed over the years. As a part of our cruise, we had the opportunity to learn how to make our very own Vietnamese spring rolls.
This happened on the final morning of our cruise, so was a nice way to round off the trip. Especially as we can then enjoy them as a part of our buffet lunch before departure! I really enjoyed how sociable the whole experience was, with all of the other passengers onboard joining in, making their own rolls.
All of the ingredients were laid out for us and the chef on board took us through the process. Compared to making other wonderful tasting Vietnamese dishes, I suppose these spring rolls weren’t particularly challenging. But they still tasted great and gave us an insight into local cooking. Plus, we can make them when we are back home and remember our incredible experience on Halong Bay!
5. Oli from Not Brits Abroad dines in the dark in Ho Chi Minh City
Around the world, there are a number of restaurants where you can experience dining in the dark and Noir in Ho Chi Minh City is one of the few in Asia. When dining at Noir, you will eat in a pitch-black restaurant while being served by blind or visually impaired waiting staff. This concept is designed to make you realise how much you rely on your sight when eating.
As with many dark restaurants, you don’t get to choose your meal. Instead, you select either the Asian or Western menu and give any dietary preferences. The challenge is to then work out what each dish is. Not only is it difficult to determine ingredients but using cutlery is a lot harder than you’d expect. After your meal, you get to find out what was on the menu and see how right (or wrong!) you were with your guesses.
The food at Noir is excellent but what makes it so memorable is the experience. Aside from gaining an insight into the lives of the visually impaired, dark restaurants don’t allow phones or technology in the dining room. Because of this, people talk more and really live the experience without being constantly distracted.
Personally, Noir was one of my favourite food experiences in the country and an absolute must on any Vietnam Itinerary. Noir also has a sister restaurant next door called Blanc. Here, the focus is on the deaf and hearing impaired, the lights are on and you’re encouraged to order using sign language.
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