We all know you can’t visit Japan without trying the sushi, or Thailand without sampling a plate of Pad Thai, but there’s a whole lot more to Asian cuisine that’s just waiting for your tastebuds to discover. Here are some other must-try foods you can find throughout Asia that won’t be too hard on your budget either!
1. Dim Sum
@marissaloh – Dim Sum in Hong Kong
Dim Sum is a style of Cantonese cuisine that combines a number of small dishes and is usually served as brunch. Traditionally dim sum is served in teahouses, where diners will go to socialise, gossip or conduct business meetings. Authentic teahouses serve dim sum fully-cooked in steamed baskets or plates, pushed through the restaurant on a moving trolley which diners are encouraged to flag down to request a dish. More modern dim sum restaurants commonly use a checklist menu to order from. Unlimited tea is always served with dim sum, as social meetings can go on for hours.
Recommended dishes: Har Gow, a steamed prawn dish; Siu Mai, a steamed pork dish with cod roe; Cha Siu Bao, a steamed bun filled with BBQ pork; or glutinous (sticky) rice, normally served with a variety of mushrooms and meats.
Price: 20 HKD (€2) per dish
Best place for dim sum: Hong Kong
2. Thai Curry
@marissaloh – Thai red curry
Thai curry is a delicious infusion of curry paste and coconut milk with a selection of meats, vegetables & spices. Generally served with a side of steamed rice, Thai curry is a must try. The most popular variations are green, red or khao soi. If you can’t handle too much spice, Panang curry is a milder, creamier option that can provide a delicious introduction to Thai cuisine.
Price: 60 Baht (€2)
Best place for Thai curry: Chiang Mai or the southern Thai islands
3. Melon-Pan Ice Cream
@marissaloh – A melon-pan ice cream truck in Osaka
Melon-pan is a sweet bun that’s a popular snack across East Asia. Crispy and crunchy on the outside, fluffy and warm on the inside and often with a mellow vanilla taste. You can find these buns at most Asian bakeries for a very low price, but the best way to enjoy one is as a dessert. The freshly baked bun is taken out of the oven, sliced in half whilst still warm and filled with ice cream. This combination of tastes and temperatures is nothing short of perfection, and makes it one of the best street food desserts in Asia.
Price: 350 yen (€2.50)
Best place to have melon-pan ice cream: Osaka, Japan or Hong Kong
4. Chilli Pan Mee
@marissaloh – Chili pan mee in Kuala Lumpur
Chilli pan mee is a Malaysian dish with an overall flavour reminiscent of a spicy spag bol. The dish consists of dry pan mee (flat flour noodles), minced pork, small fried anchovies, fried & fresh onions and a very runny poached egg (#yolkporn). It’s often served with a veggie broth on the side. The key to the chilli pan mee is in its special dry chilli mix, a unique mixture of spices and blends that differs between every chef – so be careful, you never know how spicy it might be! If you like a bit of heat, join the latest trend and see how many scoops of chilli mix you can handle. I recommend no more than 1-2 to get you started, you have been warned!
Best place for chilli pan mee: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
5. Ube Hopia
@marissaloh – Ube hopia, Philippines
These brightly-filled snacks are proof that it’s what’s on the inside that counts. Hopia is a dry, flaky flour pastry with a chewier filled centre, which in this case consists of ‘ube’, better known as purple yam. These violet snacks are easy to carry in your day bag, and are perfect for refuelling on long trips and rides around the islands.
Price: 25 PHP (€0.40) for a pack of 5
Best place for ube hopia: Cebu, Philippines
@marissaloh – Raw octopus sashimi, Tokyo
Similar to sushi but a level up in the foodie stakes, sashimi is thinly-sliced raw meat or seafood served with soy sauce for dipping. In Western restaurants, it has become common to be able to order salmon or tuna sashimi. In Japan however, those are just your warm-ups. The best way to ease into sashimi is by starting with foods you’re familiar with, for instance scallops, oysters or shrimp. Before long you’ll be ready to get adventurous with items like tako (octopus) and uni (sea urchin).
Price: 1000 yen (€6) per serving
Best place for sashimi: Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo, Japan
@marissaloh – Chimaek in Seoul
Koreans love their fried chicken and beer so much that they invented a word to combine the two. From the Korean words chikin (chicken) and maekju (beer), chimaek is a surprising staple dish in South Korea. You can find and order this single menu item on just about any busy street in Seoul. It’s best sampled in an authentic neighbourhood restaurant though, where you’ll likely be served local craft beers with your order.
Price: 30,000 won (€27) for a large basket of fried chicken and 3 bottles of craft beer.
Best place for chimaek: Seoul, South Korea
@marissaloh – Chicken laksa in Kuala Lumpur
Laksa is a famous spicy noodle soup commonly found in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. The dish comes in many variations, but usually consists of laksa noodles with coconut milk and a curry base. A popular Malaysian version known as Asam Laksa replaces coconut milk with a fish and tamarind base for an unmistakably sour taste.
Price: 5 RM (€1)
Best place for laksa: Penang, Malaysia or Singapore
9. Rainbow Rolled Ice Cream
@marissaloh – Ice cream on Takeshita Street, Tokyo
Found on a Harajuku street where standing out is blending in, this colourful treat is no exception. Stir-fried or rolled ice cream is made on a cold grill with fresh liquid ingredients moulded from a milk to a cream. The cream is then spread over the cold grill and solidified before being scraped into colourful rolls to serve. Each bright colour has its own distinct flavour, bringing an interesting mixture of tastes and aromas to your senses.
Price: 950 yen (€7)
Best place for Rainbow Rolled Ice Cream: Harajuku, Tokyo, Japan
10. Fresh Coconut
@marissaloh – A coconut vendor on Siquijor Island, Philippines
Nothing gives off island vibes quite like drinking from a fresh coconut that’s been cracked open right in front of you. You can enjoy them almost everywhere in South-East Asia for an absolute bargain price. Return it to the vendor when you’ve finished drinking and they’ll hack it open for you to enjoy some fresh coconut meat. Holiday mode = entered.
Best place to have fresh coconuts: Any island in South-East Asia
@marissaloh – Mul-naengmyeon in Seoul, Korea
Translated from Korean as ‘cold noodle soup’, the thought of ordering this dish may initially be off-putting to the average Western traveller. In the scorching summer heat however, this is an extremely popular dish among locals. It consists of buckwheat or rice noodles in a spicy, sour broth, with an optional selection of meats and vegetables to add. Complementary side dishes of kimchi and daikon are usually served alongside.
Price: 5,000 Korean Won (€3.50)
Best place for mul-naengyeon: Seoul, South Korea
12. Egg Waffle
@marissaloh – Mammy Pancake, Hong Kong
Cooked on a hot griddle, egg waffles are an edible, delicious version of bubble wrap. Created in Hong Kong, they’ve seen a recent popularity surge amongst Western countries – though nothing compares to the original. They come filled with a mixture of sweet and savoury options such as cheese, nori and chocolate.
Price: 20HKD (€2)
Best place to try egg waffles: Hong Kong
@marissaloh – Black pepper crab, Singapore
The crab that you’ll find in Asia will be dressed a whole lot differently to what you might get at the seaside back home. You won’t find any melting butter pots, finger bowls or picks at the local restaurants, so be prepared to dig in with only a stack of napkins and your hands. Some of the most succulent crab can be found on the coasts, served with various toppings and accompaniments like chilli, black pepper, and noodles.
Price: S$20-40 (€12-€25)
Best place for crab: Singapore
@marissaloh – Soba noodles in Tokyo
Soba noodles are buckwheat flour based noodles typically eaten in Japan. They are either served hot in a broth with seasonal vegetables and a poached egg, or drained and served chilled with a dipping sauce. It is widely accepted – and expected – to slurp your hot noodles to cool them down. The noisier, the better!
Price: 400 yen (€3)
Best place for soba: Japan
@marissaloh – A popular cendol stall in Georgetown, Malaysia
An unusual dessert that’s well known throughout South-East Asia, cendol is a traditional dessert drink with a flavour similar to the sugary cereal milk of your childhood memories. It’s largely made up of coconut milk, shaved ice and sugar syrup, with toppings that might include red beans, fruit, or sweet corn.
Price: 12 RM (€2.50)
Best place for cendol: Malaysia and Indonesia
16. Street Food
@marissaloh – Street food in Bangkok
Street food is a must for anyone who plans on backpacking Asia on a small budget. Even if you’ve got the cash to spend, street food often contains the most authentic and delicious local ingredients, and you’ll find more locals swarming these stalls than at most restaurants. If there’s a long queue, there’s a reason for it. Stay open-minded and be adventurous!
Price: €0.50- €5
Best place to try street food: Bangkok, Thailand
So many hostels offer cooking classes, or can point you in the right direction for the best classes in town. So, if your tastebuds are tingling and you know you’re going to want to recreate these dishes back home, now is the time to tool up with local skills.
Fill our comments up with your must-try Asian cuisine!
About the Writer
Marissa is a writer from Canada, currently getting lost on the other side of the world. Her travel hobbies include bartering for deals at the local markets and accidentally misdirecting people from the back of a scooter. She’s on her way to Australia next to enjoy the best Canadian winter she’ll ever have. Follow her adventures on Instagram.