Xiaolongbao, Shanghai

15 Best Foods in Asia and where to find them

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You love Asian food? So do we. This is our guide to the best foods in Asia!

Taste is always subjective. One man’s spicy is another man’s uncontrollable, red faced pain. One woman’s sweet is another woman’s diabetic nightmare. As foodie travellers there is one thing we can promise – We’ve eaten a lot. In doing so, we’ve drawn a bunch of comparisons in order to compile this list.

One year in Asia. Its been one hell of a journey, one which still continues. We’ve eaten fantastically well and we’ve discovered foods we’d never even dreamed of.

There are a lot of great dishes that did not make the list. So, in no particular order, these are the best of the best foods in Asia and I’m going to tell you why.

Xiaolongbao, Shanghai

Xiaolongbao, Shanghai, China

Burning. Explosion. Flavour. Searing. Amazing. That about sums up the consumption timeline of these bite size mouth volcanoes of infinite yum.

If you can stand to wait – most can’t – then give them a few minutes to cool down first. We’ve had these in many places across China and other Asian countries. Shanghai is still the best.

The Xiaolongbao, or soup dumpling, was featured on an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations”. Unlike the ones he tried, in a fancy restaurant, we ate at a regular hole in the wall sort of place. They were cheap, filling and perfect. Also unlike the giant ones he ate, first supping the juice with a straw, these are of a regular down-in-one size.

They may not be the most famous in the Shanghai food scene, but you will not be disappointed.

Tip: Go for the original pork filling – anything else just isn’t as good.

  • Price: About 12 yuan ($2) for a serve of 12 small dumplings
  • Location: JiaJiaTangBao Restaurant, Huanghe Lu, Near Nanjing Xilu, Shanghai. Food Map

Can’t make it to Shanghai? Have a crack at making your own dumplings with these awesome Chinese recipes. Easy Chinese Recipes: Family Favorites From Dim Sum to Kung Pao


Pork Belly Korean BBQ. Itaewon, Seoul

Best Foods In Asia: Korean Pork Belly BBQ

Best Foods In Asia: Korean Pork Belly BBQ

South Korea is the most expensive country we visited for food over the last year. Although it is possible to get a meal for under $5 you’ll be stuck with some pretty basic chow.

If you want a real taste of Korea then you can’t skip the BBQ. Fortunately, of all the places we tried, one of the best was also one of the best value at 10,000 won ($8.50) for the pork belly set meal.

There menu is minimalistic. You either choose the pork belly or the ribs. Although other choices exist, I’m telling you, and so is every other customer in this always busy restaurant, those are the two choices. As with most Korean meals, this one choice is not all you are served. An incredible array of side dishes and condiments will arrive to envelop your table.

There are a variety of styles of Korean BBQ. From a basic charcoal grill to a fancy gas hotplate, this place used one of the more modern looking techniques. You get an individual griddle hotplate for your table. It’s on a slant so that the fat runs away from the meat. This style may not be unique in Korea but there was a twist…

A selection of shredded veg is placed at the drainage end of the grill. Every delicious drip of pork fat runs through and cooks the veg. Wow. The delicious and crispy pork belly is grilled and then eaten as a lettuce wrap with a mix and match of condiments and sides. Add some of the pork, fatted veg along with salt and the ubiquitous “red sauce” and you are looking at one of the best taste parcels in Korea.

Wash it down with a glass of Soju for the authentic experience.

Want to enjoy Seoul on a budget? Check out our guide for Seoul on $50 per day for two people.

  • Price: 10,000 Won ($8.50) per person, plus 3,000 won for a small bottle of soju.
  • Location: Its down a side street near directly south behind the Itaewon metro stop. There are loads of restaurants down that street, this one has a pig with its thumb up. Check the food map for precise location.

Cook up your own Korean BBQ at home: The Korean Table: From Barbecue to Bibimbap 100 Easy-To-Prepare Recipes

 

Want more info about Seoul? Click Here to check out our Podcast “The Dish” and listen to our full episode about the history of Kimchee and What to Eat in Seoul


Ginger/tomato Salad, Burma

Best Foods In Asia: Ginger Salad

Best Foods In Asia: Burmese Ginger Salad

When referring to Burmese salads, the word “salad” seems like a misnomer. What we are talking about here is a selection of nuts and vegetables covered in oil. It tastes way better than it sounds but you will not be losing any weight.

Like any salad, the two main factors are fresh ingredients and an excellent dressing. The recipe for the dressing seemed to be relatively consistent in the many places we tried the various salads – a national Burmese secret perhaps. In any traditional local restaurant, even if not on the menu, just ask for one of the salads and normally they’ll throw one together.

The ginger salad is literally chunks of ginger with nuts, crispy fried soya beans and maybe some tomato.
The tomato salad is largely tomato and cabbage but also with plenty of nuts etc. too.

What is Burmese cuisine? It’s not a nation that has had widespread international recognition. Read more about Burmese cuisine.

  • Price: 300-500 kyat (about 50 cents)
  • Location: All over Burma, especially in Shan State.

Explore creating Burmese food for yourself: Burma: Rivers of Flavor


Eggplant with minced pork, Hong Kong

I’ve never been the biggest fan of eggplant. Even in moussaka, which I enjoy, I have to eat it whilst thinking “this doesn’t have eggplant in”, even though I know it does.

In Hong Kong I was converted forever. It’s probably because, before the eggplant is added to the mix, it is deep fried. Then it is fried up with minced pork – vegetarian food is not really a thing in China – and a tomato based sauce.

It’s another one of those dishes that you just don’t seem to find in a typical Chinese restaurant outside of China/Hong Kong but many restaurants in the Cantonese parts of China have it. Just show them the following text and get ready for a taste bud treat.

  • Price: About 60 $HK (Around $8)
  • Location: Food Map. 5 Fung Cheung Road, Yuen Long. A selection of street restaurants in this area in the evening. On the corner.


Jawain Butter Parantha, Amritsar, India

There are only three times of day when Kesar restaurant is quiet, two of those are during the observed temple times, the other is when they are closed. Head in just before 7pm or just before 1pm to ensure you miss the rush.

I’ve always thought the French were the kings of bread. Nothing better than a fresh baguette or croissant. I was wrong. Here, in this unassuming dhaba restaurant on a tiny backstreet of Amritsar, we found the lord of baking.

For 40 rupees you get the crispiest, most buttery parantha (or “paratha”) bread in India, probably in the world. Just like pizza in Naples, a bread has changed my life and created a need to return to a city that has little else drawing me back.

You’ll want something to dip that bread in. We reckon the Palak Paneer (Cheese and spinach curry) is one of the best curries at this place. The “dal fry” is a local favourite though we were not so impressed with it.

You may come to Amritsar on a pilgrimage to the Golden temple, heartland of Sikkhism, but you’ll return again for the parantha.

  • Price: 40 rupees (80 cents) for the amazing bread. Curries to accompany start at around 30 rupees for a basic chana (chick pea) or Dal (lentils). We recommend the palak paneer for 100 rupees.
  • Location: Kesar da Dhaba, Amritsar, India.


Egg tarts, Hong Kong

what to do in hong kong

Hong Kong Style Egg Tart

Another simple, yet perfect dish – good for breakfast or as a snack.

It’s all about the pastry. Although egg tarts are popular throughout China and other parts of the far east, there is a difference. Most of them are made in the Portuguese style, with flaky puff pastry. In Hong kong they are made with sweet, rich and buttery short crust pastry.

Sorry Portugal, it’s not just because I’m English, seriously, the egg tarts aren’t as good in the UK either. The Hong kong interpretation of this classic is just better.

  • Price: 2 to 7 $HK each ($0.3 to $1 each)
  • Location: Any bakery, of which there are hundreds. From metro stations to down small residential streets.

Cilantro/enoki mushrooms wrapped in tofu/bacon (BBQ), China

Best Foods Asia: Enoki Mushrooms wrapped in Bacon

Enoki Mushrooms wrapped in Bacon

Chinese BBQ. The choices are endless. The availability is country-wide in China. For all the universal options, there was one, well two, BBQ items we just kept coming back to… Coriander (cilantro) leaves or enoki mushrooms wrapped in tofu (or sometimes bacon).

The fragrant flavour of the coriander works perfectly with the neutral tasting tofu. It’s one powerful bite of herbal enjoyment. As for the Enoki mushrooms… They are mushrooms. When wrapped in bacon, well… its bacon. Enough said.

Aside from the awesomeness of the BBQ items, the whole atmosphere of street BBQ in China keeps you coming back in itself. During summer months little plastic chairs everywhere are packed with people enjoying food, beer and a chat. It’s a massive social event.

  • Price: Prices vary but maybe 2 to 6 yuan per stick of 3 pieces (30 cents to $1)
  • Location: During summer, about 50% of the ever pervasive street side BBQ stalls sell this. Some suggested areas are on the Food map. The Harbin University district was a particular favourite – including 2 liter jugs of draught beer for about 12 yuan ($2) too.

 


Some of these International foods might not agree with your stomach – so please be careful and always have travel insurance in case you get sick. Read Our Guide Comparing Insurance Companies and get the right policy and price for you.


Chicken Rotisserie. Oslob, Philippines

As we swigged our San Miguel, we watched bus after loaded bus pull up at the small roadside rotisserie opposite. Bus drivers jumped out, holding up their passengers, grabbed a couple of whole roast chickens and then were on there way. The bus route ran the length of Cebu Island. But this was the place the drivers got their chicken.

There was no way we were going to miss trying this.

Succulent and juicy are two words that food marketers throw around to describe tasty chicken. These people have made a huge mistake. What they’ve gone and done is never eaten a roast chicken in Oslob. Until you have had this perfect chicken you have no way of really understanding what a succulent and juicy chicken is.

This tiny town has two draw cards, you can swim with whale sharks and you can eat the best goddamn roast chicken in the world. We went for the sharks, we’d go back for the chicken.

The little blue roadside stand “Delto’s Litson Manok” (also pronounced “Delto’s Lechon Manok”) is the place.

  • Price: 160 pesos ($4) for a whole chicken. 10 pesos for sticky rice. 20 pesos for chorizo on a stick – also a must try.
  • Location: The blue rotisserie stand on the main road through Oslob. Its a small town. Check the map for precise location.


Paneer Korma (and others). Jaipur, India.

Khandelwal Pavitra Bhojnalaya have been serving food for over 20 years. Its a very popular Dhaba restaurant.

3 weeks travelling across north India and this is it. The best curry, or curries. They all look the same but they all have there own individual flavour profile. What they have in common is the rich, vibrant and warm mouth feel that a perfect north Indian curry should have. Its not just about chilli, anyone can add chilli, its about the balance of spices that leave your taste buds desperate for more – you can’t stop eating.

The blend is so good that you can taste every single spice individually rolling around on your palate but the overall profile is so amazing that they all come together as one coherent, taste-bud popping food experience.

The korma was great – nothing like the yellow coconut style korma you’d get in England – the mushroom masala was also excellent but really, i don’t think you could go wrong with any of the major curries off the menu.

This restaurant is very close to the water temple, it’s a little out of town but well worth the trip. More so for the food than the temple visit.

  • Price: About 150 rupees ($3) for a curry.
  • Location: Khandelwal Pavitra Bhojnalaya Restaurant. Just south of the water temple on the main road. North of Jaipur.


Egg & Tomato. Dandong, China.

The Chinese dish that is available almost everywhere in China but you’ve never seen it outside China.

It’s mind blowingly simple. So simple, in fact, that our conspiracy theory is that no one would pay restaurant prices for such a cheap dish, so it is left out of international Chinese menus.

Admittedly we only found it as street food or in food courts. Never paying more than a dollar for a large portion.

We now make it ourselves as it’s so easy: Scrambled egg simmered with tomatoes, salt, sugar and water. If you want, and I do, add a dash of soy and some garlic too. Takes 5 minutes to make. Tastes delicious.

  • Price: About 6 yuan ($1 ish) for a full plate.
  • Location: This is available in food courts and budget restaurants all over China. Check out our food map for a couple of the locations we had this.

 

Garlic Chicken. Seoul

I hope you like garlic. This is not garlic chicken. I would better describe it as garlic infused with chicken, or at least that’s how it tastes. In fact there is plenty of chicken in this deep fried delight. South Koreans, you may not be aware, are crazy about fried/roast chicken. In fact, beer and chicken is one of the quintessential eating experiences in SK. As you walk the streets, it’s impossible to miss the beer/chicken restaurant logos.

We ate more than our fair share of chicken during our 6 weeks in SK. I guess a lot of Koreans will have a local favourite. We actually discovered our favourite in a chain style restaurant: KKAMDAG.

If you don’t love garlic, this will be overwhelming. For us it was a pleasure.

  • Price: 16,000 won ($14) for two people.
  • Location: KKAMDAG, Seoul. KKAMDAG restaurant. Like much of Korea, English words on restaurants are minimal. The approximate location is on the food map as it has been impossible to find the exact location using the English spelling. Ask for directions when you get to the area. Here is a photo of the front of the building:



Little potatoes on a stick, Burma

Potatoes on a stick, you say? How is this in a top Asian foods list? Forget your preconceptions. When someone goes to the effort to produce the best BBQ potatoes on this earth, they deserve a mention. Yes, I would rather eat these potatoes on a stick than Peking duck, than Pad Thai, than a whole load of other things that didn’t make it onto this list. They are that good.

The best thing is, you can get them at almost any BBQ stall or bar throughout all of the major destinations in Burma. Furthermore, at about 10 cents per stick (5 pieces on a stick) these tiny, sweet par-boiled potatoes, that are then grilled with a light, spicy marinade, are very affordable.

When it comes to Burmese BBQ, its not always grilled. Look out for the “deep fried BBQ” stations where everything on a stick is thrown straight into a vat of hot oil. Read more about Burmese Cuisine.

  • Price: 100-200kyat per stick (10 to 20 cents)
  • Location: BBQ stations are all over Burma. Aside from the smaller street side stalls and local restaurants, many of the beer stations have an attached BBQ restaurant. Just look for the Myanmar Beer sign. A couple of suggestions are on the food map.


Glass noodle salad. Koh samui, Thailand

We had this in many places in Thailand, but the one in Koh samui was the best. Over to Megsy to tell you about glass noodle salad…

Looking for a tasty, healthier salad option? Then look no further than Thailand’s very own glass noodle salad, also known as Yum Woon Sen. This is not a dish for any soft foodies out there. Give this dish a chance and it will literally burn your face off, due to the insane amounts of fresh chilli. 5DT says – mmmm yum!

Many of Thai dishes we’ve encountered seem to be set to farang (foreigner) standard, which is usually quite lame in the hotness department for our standards. However there is no pussying around when it comes to this dish. Dig in and let your nose run free, cause with about 4-6 Thai chillies added, as a minimum, this dish is set to flush clear those sinuses.

But it’s not just about the chillies. There is also the addition of fresh vegetables, peanuts and cilantro (coriander) that give it that distinct and delicious Asian flavour. The dressing is made with Thai fish sauce, fresh lime juice and sugar so it’s not a vegetarian option. If you are vego and travelling through Thailand, keep an eye out for many dressings made this way….they love fish sauce!

If you’re looking for a delicious salad that is a great option for a humid Thailand day, then give Yum Woon Sen a try. But remember it does come with an advisory label… Warning: Dish May Contain Chilli Insanity!

  • Price: 40 baht and up. In Koh Samui we paid about 60 baht.
  • Location: Sea Breeze Bungalows, Lamai beach, Koh Samui. You can find this dish all over Thailand though. Ask for a less spicy version if you can’t take the heat.

Can’t wait to get to Thailand? Prepare your own Thai cuisine: Everyday Thai Cooking: Quick & Easy Family Style Recipes

Get More Info On Thailand Food And Travel With Our Other Articles.


Hong Kong Hot Pot

You’ve undoubtedly heard of hot pot. All around China there are a multitude of styles for this “Asian fondue”. The typical style is a circular dish, often split into two sides, with either a clear, mild flavour broth, an oily and spicy Szechuan broth, or both. You throw your selection of meat and veg in, then you wait.

But one style of hotpot we found stood out as very different. This was in the new territories, Hong Kong.

We were lucky to be staying with a friend who was a local. We walked past multiple fancy looking restaurants, down a grimy alley, along a canal to a hole in the wall place with some fold out tables outside ready for eager diners on a budget.

Drinks were “self-service” from the small convenience store next door. The hot pot itself, unlike its simpler cousins in most of China, was crammed full of chicken, bones, feet and all, vegetables and massive pieces of various spices such as ginger root and garlic. This was already a casserole before we added our optional choices: Squid, thin sliced beef, tofu rolls and, upon the insistence of our hosts, goose intestines.

Although the entrails of a wild foul were not my favourite addition, the overall flavour of the pot itself is what makes this dish better than any hot pot I’ve had before or since – and I’ve had a few! A traditional pot is simple in flavour so as not to overpower the taste of the added meats etc. This Hong Kong hot pot was the main even in itself and it was perfect.

  • Price: 150 HK$ (US$20) Serves 4 people. Each side plate of meats/veg is about HK$30.
  • Location: Food Map. 長來食坊 (Cheung Loi Restaurant). 11 Yu Wing Path,Yuen Long

 

BONUS: Tom n Toms Pretzel (Pepperoni), South Korea

If you’ve met me, you’ll know I like cheese. In fact, within a few minutes of making my acquaintance you’ll discover my deep rooted infatuation with all things fromage, even if you didn’t want to know.

One of the downsides of travelling in East Asia is the severe lack of cheese. This has been somewhat of a low point in my consumption of dairy products. So, for all the Asian foods on this list, it seemed fitting that we could include some cheese in a sea of non-cheese.

Tom n Toms is an American cafe chain in South Korea. As a non-American, it’s not somewhere I’d ever heard of. What they’ve gone and done is imported the cheesy pretzel awesomeness that you would normally only find in the US and brought it to Korea.

After months of eating processed burger cheese to get my fix, even on pizzas, Tom n Toms was a beacon in an Asian cheese abyss. Cheese oozed from the mouth scorching pretzel. Equilibrium in my life was once again restored.

  • Price: 4,200 won (about $3.75).
  • Location: Every major city in South Korea seems to have at least one store. Just search “Tom n Toms” on google maps for Korea.


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Some of these International foods might not agree with your stomach – so please be careful and always have travel insurance in case you get sick. Read Our Guide Comparing Insurance Companies and get the right policy and price for you.