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Best cities in Asia to visit for chowing?

I know, it's insanely broad question! I'm going backpacking for 6-12 months around Asia starting in October and I have no itinerary as of yet.

I would love to take cooking classes in as many countries as I can. I'm also very interested in street food.

The countries I'm thinking of visiting are: Japan, China, Hong Kong, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia. This is very flexible, though. The only one that is definite is Japan because that is where I will start.

So what cities would you recommend? If you're a local, any chance you'd be willing to go out to lunch with me?

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  1. Lucky you! I wish I can do the same.You're right - your question's too broad. I've been to all the countries on your list except Laos & Cambodia so can't comment on those.

    Based on the rest, my personal top 3 fave cities to chowhound are:
    1) Penang, Malaysia - the choices are insane!!
    2) Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
    3) Bangkok - good eateries at almost every street!

    Perhaps you can tell us what kind of food you like in particular.

    2 Replies
    1. re: klyeoh

      I know my question is too broad, but I don't know where to start planning and I only have 6 weeks before I leave! I love all Asian food that I've tried so far, and I'm planning on taking cooking classes in as many countries as I can. I'm very interested in street food as well, and because I will be travelling alone street food is probably going to be one of my main sources of nutrition. Thanks for all the suggestions so far.

      prasantrin, why didn't you like Cambodian food? I've never tried it.

      1. re: Lina

        Cambodian food is very similar to Thai food, but without the complexity of flavours or the punch. I grew up with Thai food (I'm half Thai), so eating Cambodian food often seemed like eating not-very-good Thai food to me. People without those emotional connections to Thai food, may appreciate Cambodian food more than I did.

        But it could also just be that because of Cambodia's history, the food just developed the way it did. It's a very poor country, and people have/had a lot more to be concerned about than how to make their food taste good.

        And it could also be that home-cooked Cambodian food is different from restaurant food. Like Moroccan food, maybe you just can't get a good Cambodian meal in a restaurant.

        I do know people who enjoyed the food in Cambodia, but most of them have very different taste buds than I, and very different backgrounds.

    2. You must visit
      - Malacca (or Melaka), Malaysia - good street food like satay celop, chicken rice balls, chendol, Nonya curry laksa, Portuguese-Malaccan food like curry debal, beef semur and ikan chuen-chuan
      - Macau for truly great pork chop in a bun, Macanese egg tarts, African chicken, feijoada, pork rissoles, minchi.
      - Hong Kong for its Cantonese roast duck/chicken/pork/goose/pigeon etc etc
      - Penang and Kuala Lumpur for stupendous hawker food (forget Bangkok!)

      1. In terms of food, Cambodia can be taken off the list.

        But in terms of historical and cultural significance, Angkor Wat and the other temples should not be missed. I'd do a few days to do the temples, then spend time in Laos for better food (I've not been to Laos, but have heard good things).

        5 Replies
        1. re: prasantrin

          Siem Reap is in the top five of places I have been anywhere, it's truly spectacular, but as a chow destination, mmeh, it's pretty lame. We basically ate French food or at the FCC the entire time we were there. Oh, and some of the best gelato I've had anywhere in the world.

          1. re: lulubelle

            I'm heading to Cambodia soon. Where do I find that great gelato in Siem Reap?

            1. re: Peter Cherches

              The place is called The Blue Pumpkin. It's got pastries and other goodies, which are ok, but nothing special, the gelato, however, is out of this world. The downtown area of Siem Reap is not big, you should be able to find it with no problem, and your driver will know if for sure.

              Enjoy!

                1. re: Peter Cherches

                  By the way, I had some great Khmer (and French) food in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh...I wrote an extensive post on a new thread someone just started about those 2 towns.

        2. Top of my list is Singapore. I don't even know where to begin. . .Laksa (Singaporean style, of course), popiah, banana leaf curry, roti canai, nasi padang, curry puffs. . . check out Makansutra. Take a look at Bourdain's No Reservations episode. Singapore has to be one of the best dining towns in the world.

          Other advantages: very good standards of hygiene, even for street food; high safety level for single travelers; and almost everyone speaks English.

          One can dine fabulously in Manila, but it costs more than in other places in Asia and one needs to be clued in.

          You may want to take a look at Simon Majumdar's book, "Eat My Globe." He very amusingly covers some of the places you are thinking of.

          2 Replies
          1. re: pilinut

            pilinut, I'm so flattered that you chose Singapore as top of your list. Altho I'm true-blue Singaporean (by way of Melaka), I do feel that you can get better hawker food in Malaysia - except that Singapore (due to tiny geographical size) is more convenient & reachable.

            Anyway, for the items that you listed - here are my suggestions/alternative places for getting a better version:

            a) Singapore laksa - oh well, it has to be Singapore. And my favourites are 328 Katong Laksa and 49 Katong Laksa. Both have their distinct flavours.
            b) Popiah. I get better ones in Malaysia :- Melaka (Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock) or Penang (Padang Brown) or Ipoh Old Town.
            c) Banana leaf curry - Apollo, Race Course Road Singapore is good. But you should also check out Malaysian spots like Johore Bharu, Melaka, KL (Brickfields), Klang Little India (Selangor) and Penang.
            d) Roti canai - we call it roti prata in Singapore. Best is Jalan Kayu. Better ones in Brickfields and Medan Pasar (Kuala Lumpur), Penang's Little India and any town in Malaysia. You should also try the sweet roti canai (stuffed with bananas) in Kelantan, Malaysia.
            e) Nasi padang - Malaysia has better ones, ANYWHERE. My favourite in Singapore is River Valley Nasi Padang.
            f) Curry puffs - oh, definitely in Malaysia!!

            1. re: M_Gomez

              I went to both Singapore and KL a few years back specifically for food. While KL might have better renditions of specific dishes compared to Singapore, it's an absolute nightmare to navigate. Reading some KL blogs, I went there with a list of places that I wanted to try. Once I got there I found out they were all way far away from the city center(like 30-45 min).

              Convenience is huge when you travel to eat. The best bah kut teh in the world doesn't matter when it's 35 miles away at a small highway rest stop.

              The hawker center setup in Singapore is genius. Even the hawker centers off the beaten path are only a short cab ride away.

              I'm sure if you had family or friends to drive you around, KL is an amazing for food. But for a tourist who's not intimately familiar with the city, it's really frustrating. I would definitely make return trips to Singapore in the future for food, but I would probably skip KL in favor of more convenient food cities.

          2. For me, has to be Singapore, Hong Kong then either Kuala Lumpur or Penang in Malaysia.