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Best cities in Asia to visit for chowing?

Lina Aug 23, 2009 11:51 AM

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?

  1. k
    klyeoh Aug 24, 2009 12:01 AM

    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
      Lina Aug 24, 2009 03:08 PM

      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
        p
        prasantrin Aug 24, 2009 05:18 PM

        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. M_Gomez Aug 24, 2009 02:15 AM

      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. p
        prasantrin Aug 24, 2009 08:24 AM

        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
          lulubelle Oct 24, 2009 02:49 AM

          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
            p
            Peter Cherches Dec 18, 2009 10:09 AM

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

            1. re: Peter Cherches
              lulubelle Dec 18, 2009 10:19 AM

              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: lulubelle
                p
                Peter Cherches Dec 18, 2009 11:20 AM

                That was quick! Thanks.

                1. re: Peter Cherches
                  p
                  Peter Cherches Jan 15, 2010 07:45 AM

                  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. pilinut Aug 24, 2009 10:08 PM

          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
            M_Gomez Aug 24, 2009 11:15 PM

            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
              h
              huaqiao Oct 18, 2009 12:17 AM

              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. PBSF Aug 24, 2009 10:24 PM

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

            1. FourSeasons Aug 25, 2009 08:59 PM

              Sorry, too difficult to answer your question since there are so many cities to be included. I am not familiar with Thailand/Vietnam/Loas/Cambodia but all the other places are great for foodies.

              How can you skip Japan? Even the French have agreed that Tokyo is the best city for foodies, earning more Michelin stars than Paris or any other European city. Hong Kong...just right at the epicenter of Cantonese and Chiu Chow cuisine. China: Shanghai is the place to go for Shanghai, JiangSu and Zhejiang cuisine; go to Beijing for Beijing/DongBei/Si chuan/Hunan/Guizhoou/Shandong cuisine. Korea, go to the above search function and read the the past thread written by schung. Indonesia...focus on Jakarta as it is the melting pot of Indonesia cuisine.

              15 Replies
              1. re: FourSeasons
                M_Gomez Aug 25, 2009 11:06 PM

                Fourseasons, ha-ha -I think you missed what Lina said in her initial post ... she did say she's starting with Japan, which is her only definite destination at the moment.

                1. re: FourSeasons
                  FourSeasons Aug 28, 2009 05:58 AM

                  Forgot to mention Macau...a hidden gem for foodies, from street food all the way to haute cuisine.

                  1. re: FourSeasons
                    steve h. Aug 29, 2009 06:18 PM

                    macau as a food destination?
                    i know the street food. what are the hidden gems?
                    not too interested in the hotel/casino stuff.

                    1. re: steve h.
                      M_Gomez Aug 31, 2009 07:12 AM

                      Oh, how I wish former CH sher.eats were still here: she once suggested a 30-places-in-one-day food chowdown in Macau! She'd know about the hidden gems than I ever could.

                      1. re: M_Gomez
                        steve h. Aug 31, 2009 08:56 AM

                        i'll be back to hong kong in december. maybe you can coax her out of retirement :-)

                        1. re: steve h.
                          p
                          Peter Cherches Dec 18, 2009 10:02 AM

                          In the 90s I had great meals at some of Macau's famous restaurants, like Henri's Galley and another whose name I can't remember, but two dishes not to be missed are chili tiger prawns and African chicken.

                          1. re: Peter Cherches
                            k
                            klyeoh Dec 19, 2009 03:30 PM

                            Tiger prawns & African chicken? It could be Fat Siu Lau, Macau's oldest restaurant (Est. 1903). Or you could have gone to Fernando's.

                            I liked Restaurante Litoral (great African chicken!) and A Lorcha, but don't think they particularly excel in seafood dishes.

                            1. re: klyeoh
                              p
                              Peter Cherches Dec 21, 2009 10:37 AM

                              I remember Fat Siu Lau and Henri's Galley and I think Fernando's too. I was in Macau on two occasions in the '90s. Henri's is famous for the prawns--Gourmet magazine published the recipe.

                      2. re: steve h.
                        FourSeasons Sep 2, 2009 07:47 AM

                        Hi steve H:

                        This is off topic here. Go to China Board, type "Macau" on search function there and sher.eats and I have written quite a lot on past threads about Macau scene for last 1-2 years. And I actually have many new places that I have not updated yet on Chowhound.

                        Don't even doubt Macau as a food destination. Few people knew about this gem, even in Chowhound. The more I go, the more I am surprised by the enormous varieties there, the types of noodles that are not matched anywhere else. And don't underestimate the "hotel/casino stuff"; some of the best stuffs are there too. Like I wrote before...from street food to haute cuisine. Nothing less.

                        1. re: FourSeasons
                          steve h. Sep 2, 2009 12:43 PM

                          thank you FourSeasons.

                          1. re: FourSeasons
                            t
                            tt1688 Dec 10, 2009 01:46 PM

                            Before reading your posts I was still in the dark about Macau, even that I did have a great bowl of noodles in the Venetian. I wasn't think much then, attributing it only to random luck. Next time I will definitely explore the place in details.

                            1. re: tt1688
                              k
                              klyeoh Dec 17, 2009 06:08 PM

                              Do you remember where in the Venetian you got your noodles. Chi Kee at the food hall?

                              1. re: klyeoh
                                t
                                tt1688 Dec 18, 2009 09:56 AM

                                Honestly I forgot (or I could have not even paid any attention). But it was in a food hall/court like area (open) and there was a more expensive restaurant sharing the space. I was just pleasantly surprised that I could get quality noodle even in a casino food court.

                                1. re: tt1688
                                  k
                                  klyeoh Dec 19, 2009 03:41 PM

                                  You were probably at Cafe Deco's noodle outlet, it's got a few other restaurants around: Bambu, Old Neptune (fantastic place!!), Blue Frog Bar & Grill, and McSorley's Ale House.

                                  Red Dragon Noodles on the casino floor, as well as Imperial House Dim Sum, are stand-alone outlets. Chi Kee (which I mentioned) is located at the main Festivita Food Court on Level 2, but don't think there are any expensive restaurants in the vicinity there.

                                  1. re: klyeoh
                                    t
                                    tt1688 Dec 21, 2009 02:18 PM

                                    You are right! I went to openrice and found out (since they have pictures) that's exactly where I went. This was some time ago. If it's Chi Kee it would make sense to have that quality. But this was a noodle outlet from a western style restaurant. I was certainly impressed.

                    2. el jefe Aug 26, 2009 07:34 AM

                      Thai, Lao and Indonesian food are my favorites. I agree with the comments about Cambodian food and Angkor Wat.

                      There are several cooking schools in Hanoi, at least two in Luang Prabang, and more than I can count in Chiang Mai. I'm sure there are cooking schools somewhere in Indonesia, but I'm not familiar with them. What I've done in Indonesia occassionally is find a tiny restaurant I like. When I go back a second time I ask if I can go into the kitchen and watch them cook. I've never been turned down.

                      I live 6-8 months a year in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I'd be happy to go out to lunch with you.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: el jefe
                        koknia Aug 27, 2009 10:19 AM

                        I spent 6 yrs in Cambodia (1994-2000). There are a few good dishes, but their neighbours are much better cooks IMO. My favorite meals in Cambodia were always simply prepared fresh seafood. Little beach shacks cooking up soft shelled crab in Kampot peppercorns. ($1/kg!)
                        Almost any Asian city has great food, the only two I've been to where I wasn't completely blown away are Yangon and Manila.
                        Bangkok and Saigon are two of the best, especially for value.

                        1. re: el jefe
                          f
                          frank21864 Dec 21, 2009 05:00 AM

                          Hi El Jefe,

                          I live in Manhattan and Los Angeles.

                          I am going to Chiang Mai for 3 nights in February with my partner David. Would you mind giving me some insight on your favorite dining spots, both casual and fancy. Also what is your favorite hotel in CM? We are flexible and could do 4 seasons, or something totally casual and eco friendly. Any cooking school you mention would be awesome too.

                          Thanks!!

                          Frank

                          1. re: frank21864
                            el jefe Dec 22, 2009 07:14 AM

                            Hi Frank,

                            Sorry. I'm the wrong guy to ask about upscale restaurants and, especially, hotels. You should do a search here for Chiang Mai restaurants. There are hundreds of posts. Here's one I posted to recently -- http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/648118

                            As for hotels, I certainly can't top the Four Seasons. My usual budget for hotels in SE Asia is $3-20 a night. $30 is a real splurge. The monthly rent on my 4 bedroom house is less than one night in the Four Seasons. The one thing you should know about the 4 Seasons is that it's about 12 miles outside the city in Mae Rim. And just so the moderators don't get upset at my discussion of hotels and prices, my theory is that dinner (without wine) should cost more than the hotel. You can't do that if you stay at the 4 Seasons.

                            As for cooking schools in CM, I haven't taken a class in about 8 years so it would be unfair for me to comment on the current status.

                        2. m
                          mikey8811 Aug 28, 2009 03:08 AM

                          Penang definitely for Malaysia - hands down best hawker food anywhere.

                          Wasn't too taken by Vietnamese food in either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh - it's good value but overall I find Vietnamese bland and prefer Thai for which Bangkok is great. Cambodian I found even more bland than Vietnamese. Taipei doesn't seem to be on your list but is good value for Japanese food. HK very good if expensive - there's lots on HK in the North Asia section although our pal Sher.eats has left the room. Just my 2 cents.

                          Am heading for Chiang Mai myself and at a loss as to where to eat... el jefe some help please? (at my post not here - just mentioning because I read here that you spend a lot of time there)

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: mikey8811
                            p
                            prasantrin Aug 28, 2009 04:58 AM

                            You'd go to Taipei for Japanese food? :-0

                            1. re: prasantrin
                              scoopG Sep 2, 2009 02:24 AM

                              Why not? The Japanese occupied Taiwan from 1895 until 1945, many older Taiwanese speak Japanese and there is a large Japanese presence in Taipei today.

                              1. re: scoopG
                                p
                                prasantrin Sep 4, 2009 03:37 AM

                                Because she's starting out in Japan. If she's going to be eating Japanese food in Japan, then anything she has in Taiwan will pale in comparison.

                                If I were going to Taiwan for a short period, I'd much rather focus on local specialties than eat a lesser version of something I've already tried.

                            2. re: mikey8811
                              p
                              penang_rojak Aug 28, 2009 04:18 PM

                              My top choices:
                              1. Penang (where else?!)
                              2. Bangkok
                              3. Ho Chi Minh City

                              In Japan, I preferred Osaka/Kobe/Kyoto and of course Hokkaido cuisine over Tokyo's.

                              1. re: mikey8811
                                p
                                Peter Cherches Dec 18, 2009 10:03 AM

                                The best food I had in Chiang Mai was at the night markets.

                              2. felice Aug 28, 2009 10:40 PM

                                With that amount of time I am guessing you'll be able to visit all those places. I am finishing up a month in Laos, Manila, Malaysia, and Hanoi and the best street food this trip was in Hanoi. I used the savourasia.com streetfood maps/info and hit as many places as I could in the 4 days I was there. I would rank Vietnam high on my list of favorite food countries in addition to Japan and Thailand. Can't comment on China, HK, or Taiwan however.

                                In terms of cooking classes, I took a great cooking class at Tamarind in Luang Prabang. The class is well organized, you learn several new techniques, and instructor speaks fluent English.
                                http://www.tamarindlaos.com/pun-pa.html#cook

                                The other cooking class I thought was excellent was in Penang. Again, I learned a few new techniques, and used a flat mortar/pestle for the first time to make the paste for chicken rendang. The tour of the spice garden was also educational.
                                http://www.pickles-and-spices.com/coo...

                                I think my only other piece of advice is to avoid food from other countries in whichever country you are staying. For example, Japanese food in Vietnam, Malaysian food in the Philippines, etc. I was always disappointed.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: felice
                                  y
                                  yummyrice Aug 29, 2009 04:17 AM

                                  I've also heard good things about Tamarind in Luang Prabang, Laos. That city is also known for it's fried Laotian riverweed snack called Kaipen (similar to Nori) that is dipped in a spicy and sweet chili sauce called Jaew Bong. Tamarind supposedly serves delicious steamed fish wrapped in banana leaves called Mok Pa. They also serve a traditional Lao-style dinner called "Pun Pa", which is a communal dining experience that requires you to use your hands to form your own lettuce wraps topped with chunks of grilled fish, fresh herbs, and a delicious dipping sauce.

                                2. f
                                  foodfirst Sep 2, 2009 02:02 AM

                                  My preference is street food/hawker food, and after 13 years street eating in Asia I'd have to say: Penang, Saigon, Taipei. You really should consider Taipei. An absolutely phenomenal food scene.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: foodfirst
                                    Lina Mar 21, 2010 03:02 AM

                                    Penang was too good to be true--I did nothing but eat all day long. Saigon was also fantastic, I liked it better than any of the other cities in Vietnam that I visited. Based on these recs (and the cooler weather), I really looking forward to Taipei.

                                  2. t
                                    trvlcrzy Sep 2, 2009 05:51 PM

                                    Hong Kong, Bangkok, Singapore, Kyoto.

                                    1. Sam Fujisaka Oct 7, 2009 11:19 AM

                                      Following your listing of countries: Osaka, Kyoto, Beijing, Hainan Island, Hong Kong, Seoul, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Saigon, Canh Thu, Hanoi, Vientiane, Savannakhet, and the length of Java.

                                      9 Replies
                                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                        steve h. Oct 7, 2009 01:16 PM

                                        java?
                                        hokey smokes, bullwinkle!
                                        what an insanely interesting call. some details would be appreciated.

                                        1. re: steve h.
                                          Sam Fujisaka Oct 7, 2009 02:33 PM

                                          The food changes dramatically as one goes from one end of the island of Java to the other. Although by that logic, one should first traverse the length of Vietnam and make a great circle within China.

                                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                            steve h. Oct 7, 2009 02:37 PM

                                            logic is seriously overrated.

                                        2. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                          Lina Mar 21, 2010 03:03 AM

                                          I'm going to be back in Japan next month and am stopping in Kyoto. When I was there in October I thought it was the weakest food city in Japan for me (Fukuoka was the strongest). What should I be looking for in Kyoto?

                                          1. re: Lina
                                            f
                                            fpatrick Mar 21, 2010 04:28 AM

                                            Saba sushi - the local mackerel.
                                            http://kyotofoodie.com/hanaore-sabazu...

                                            1. re: Lina
                                              Sam Fujisaka Mar 21, 2010 07:03 AM

                                              You're probably right. I look for the traditional foods (generally not sushi or sashimi, although those are really good) I grew up with.

                                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                                FoodieJaponica Mar 30, 2010 09:04 AM

                                                Kyoto, the weakest food city in Japan? Hope you're kidding! I'm sorry to hear that though, you must have been very unlucky. We Japanese pretty much uniformly agree that Kyoto is *the* place for (esp. Japanese) food. Even their vegetables ("kyo yasai") have much more robust flavors and colors.
                                                Since you said you really liked the food in Fukuoka, maybe you enjoy stronger flavors? That could have been the reason you were underwhelmed in Kyoto, since their cuisine tends to have more delicate seasoning that enhances the ingredients' original flavors. (Don't get me wrong, I love Fukuoka food also! Just different types of food.)
                                                Anyway, since you're willing to give Kyoto another try, go check out some Kyo-kaiseki places (there are way too many good places, so best to ask at your inn/hotel/host when you're there for their recommendations). Go for one of the prix fixe courses. You'll get great meals if you pay $100 or more, but there are some kyo-kaiseki places that offer more reasonable prix fixes.

                                                1. re: FoodieJaponica
                                                  k
                                                  klyeoh Mar 30, 2010 06:02 PM

                                                  I guess I'm one of those underwhelmed by Kyoto's milder-tasting cuisine. Its soysauce & miso are also paler & less salty than Tokyo's. But when it comes to traditional Japanese cuisine (especially vegetarian), Kyoto does lead the way.

                                                  1. re: klyeoh
                                                    Lina Jun 13, 2010 06:30 PM

                                                    After another trip to Kyoto I can appreciate the food there. That said, I agree that the subtlety is perhaps lost on me. More than that, though, most of the meals I had in Kyoto were very small and interesting and incredibly expensive. I just wasn't impressed as I was with the food I had in Tokyo and Fukuoka.

                                          2. m
                                            mediakzar Oct 7, 2009 02:26 PM

                                            We're just back from a trip to Laos and Bangkok. Had a very nice dinner at Tamarind in Luang Prabang (mentioned earlier in the thread) and friends we were traveing with couldn't stop raving about the cooking class they took from them. Have just posted in another thread about several really good meals in Vientiane. But the food in Bangkok was consistently terrific; both the street food and restaurants. Haven't worked up a report on BKK yet but will post something soon.

                                            A couple years ago we took a very nice cooking class at a school affiliated with the Red Bridge Restaurant in Hoi An, Vietnam that was a well spent day.

                                            1. anthonyrza Oct 18, 2009 03:03 AM

                                              1) Penang, Malaysia. Malay+Chinese+Indian to die for.
                                              2) Ho Chi Minh City. Insane variety if you know what to look for. Seafood aplenty
                                              3) Ubud (or all of Bali). Babi guling. Sate ayam. Pepes. Amazing as well.

                                              globaleats.blogspot.com

                                              5 Replies
                                              1. re: anthonyrza
                                                Sam Fujisaka Oct 18, 2009 04:23 AM

                                                Even Kuta Beach in Bali? I have to admit that coming and going from long work trips to East Timor, I would have burgers and cold Fosters at one of the Oz bars in Kuta Beach. The Babi and the artwork (some oils if you look really hard and carefully) are worth the (rented motorycycle) trip out to Ubud, however.

                                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                                  anthonyrza Oct 18, 2009 09:33 AM

                                                  I didn't spend much time in Kuta, more like Mexico spring break for Aussies- not that I wouldn't have enjoyed that 5 years ago sans GF. I didn't rate Ho Chi Minh City by what kind of pizza or dosa it can produce so when I say all of Bali I'm speaking of all the Balinese/Indo food throughout the isle - not enchiladas on Poppies II. Ubud is worth the trip for sure, still dreaming about some of those flavors..

                                                  1. re: anthonyrza
                                                    Sam Fujisaka Oct 18, 2009 11:30 AM

                                                    I've worked on Bali quite a bit and eaten "normal" food. I admit to Kuta Beach like Hounds admit to eating at McDonalds. But after month long trips a few years back to East Timor, one can crave spring break food.

                                                    I only eat on the street and in small places my colleages take me in Saigon - save the State banquet now and then..

                                                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                                      anthonyrza Oct 18, 2009 06:19 PM

                                                      For sure..I had myself a burrito in Kuta. I'll admit I enjoyed that carefully crafted explosion of cheese and salsa. Yeah, u know what ur doin in Saigon..the best food is almost never found in air-con restaurants.

                                                      1. re: anthonyrza
                                                        Sam Fujisaka Oct 18, 2009 06:29 PM

                                                        I've worked in Vietnam since shortly after the war when there was no air con in the country. But great food everywhere - albeit not that many restaurants. Lot's of eating in remote, rural villages in rice- and, later, cassava growing areas.

                                              2. guanubian Oct 19, 2009 09:43 PM

                                                I guess this may be too late, but I've been to Phnom Penh, Vientiane, Saigon, Chiang Mai and Bangkok, with a similar food focus. Of those, for fantastic food, especially street food, you must go to Saigon and Bangkok, in that order of preference -- by which I was surprised, as authentic Vietnamese food is not as well represented in the eastern US as Thai (which is to say the former isn't at all, whereas the latter can be found if you are in the right place, such as Queens, NY, and know what you're looking for).

                                                Let me reiterate: Saigon is freaking incredible for food tourism. One of the best meals of my life was Cua Rang Me (tamarind-stewed crab), dried squid and curried snails with gallons of cheap beer at a plastic-chair sidewalk affair among many in a congested area. That kind of experience is ubiquitous.

                                                Bangkok is great too, but it's a pain in the ass for lone Western tourists in a way that Saigon, which has its annoyances, only approaches. With that said, go there and visit Soi Convent, and any of the major markets, such as Chatuchak and Aw Taw Kaw (aka Or Tor Kor).

                                                I haven't been to them, but I've heard very good things about Penang, KL, Singapore City and Taipei.

                                                Laos (Vientiane, in my experience) is wonderful and worth visiting, although it's a lot smaller and more sedate. The food is fantastic -- a spicier and fishier iteration of "Thai food", as Westerners know it, that is cognate with what Thais call "Esan" cuisine. I've also heard good things about Luang Prabang and Savannakhet.

                                                Cambodia is less worth visiting for the food. It is, however, exceptionally worth visiting from just about every other travel perspective. Between the gravitas of post-genocide Phnom Penh and the splendor of Angkor Wat, your perspective will expand in that once-in-a-lifetime way great travel affords you. The key dishes to try in Phnom Penh are amok, the Cambodian signature (although they do also make it in Thailand), which is a mild but flavorful fish-curry mousse served in a banana leaf, and prahok, an at-least-olfactorily ever-present superfermented fish paste you can eat with Cambodian crudites (try the mini-eggplants). I've heard that pepper crab in Kampot is exquisite.

                                                A note about Cambodian cuisine: like Filipino food, I'm pretty sure Cambodian dishes are meant to be eaten in aggregate, rather than a la carte, as with single Thai and Vietnamese dishes that run whole gamuts of flavor. Because foreigners order one or two dishes and just tuck in, the experience can seem underwhelming. Try to sample Cambodian food with a local or a knowledgeable tourist; having "the manual", if you will, should enhance the experience.

                                                The sad thing about Phnom Penh is, while it is beautiful and mostly safe, its squalidness is widespread and profound enough to limit the presentational aspect of most of the cuisine, as well as frankly to diminish your appetite. Visit one of the open-air wet markets a couple of hours after midday to see what I mean (Psar Chas is a good example). The smell of Phnom Penh is like nothing I've ever encountered -- a pure distillation of the Third World. You will marvel at Cambodian "country cuisine", however: large assortments of fried arthropods, snakes and tree birds on still but vibrant platters.

                                                1. Lina Dec 12, 2009 01:40 AM

                                                  I love this thread!

                                                  I'm in China now (Xi'an, heading to Chengdu tomorrow). Are there any specific dishes I need to try or cities that are renowned for their food that I should visit?

                                                  When I was in Korea I ended up in Gwangju solely for the food. The most amazing duck soup I have ever tried!

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: Lina
                                                    t
                                                    tt1688 Dec 17, 2009 11:51 AM

                                                    Lina,
                                                    As Chinese will say to you - hope you can eat spicy (as you are in Chengdu now). The air of Chengdu smells like mix of chili and Hua jiao. Hope you are a fan of tripe too!
                                                    On Ching Tai road there are a bunch of hot pot restaurants, including Huang Cheng Lao Ma and Shi-Tze lo, both are excellent hot pot choices. My personal opinion is that food options are kind of limited in Sichuan (just spicy and spicier). I guess once you are addicted to the super spicy kind, it's not easy to tone it down ... You got to appreciate it in this weather though!

                                                  2. debbieann Dec 16, 2009 11:55 PM

                                                    We are in Singapore right now and it is my favorite city for hawker food, but we haven't yet been through Malaysia, and are about to leave tomorrow. We're going to travel slowly by bus to Melaka, KL and Penang. Not sure where else to go, but we have a couple of weeks to wander around.

                                                    11 Replies
                                                    1. re: debbieann
                                                      p
                                                      Peter Cherches Dec 18, 2009 10:01 AM

                                                      I've traveled extensively in Southeast Asia and nothing has come close to Penang for variety, except Singapore, but Penang has so much more character. KL can't compare to Penang, IMO.

                                                      http://petercherches.blogspot.com/200...

                                                      1. re: Peter Cherches
                                                        k
                                                        klyeoh Dec 19, 2009 03:23 PM

                                                        You're absolutely spot on there :-)

                                                        1. re: Peter Cherches
                                                          c
                                                          chilihead2006 Jan 13, 2010 07:25 PM

                                                          The best Malay food we've had in Malaysia is in KL at Restoran Sri Melayu. Looks touristy from the outside, but their dinner buffet is worthy of a royal banquet. BTW..my wife is Malay from Kedah with close family in Penang...we've eaten a ton of excellent food in Penang, but the spread they put on at Sri Melayu in KL topped it all. If you go there, go hungry.

                                                          1. re: chilihead2006
                                                            k
                                                            klyeoh Jan 13, 2010 11:26 PM

                                                            Penang's not really known for ethnic Malay food - it excels in Penang-Chinese street/hawker foods, Indian-Muslim food (mee rebus, pasembor, mee goreng, nasi kandar, murtabak, etc) and local Nyonya-infused fusion street foods like the Penang laksa, Penang rojak, etc.

                                                            For ethnic Malay food, you're right - it has to be in KL with its large Malay-Muslim population. Restoran Seri Melayu, its sister restaurant - Seri Angkasa and others of its ilk (Restoran Rebung in Bangsar, Enak in Starhill Gallery, Bijan in Ceylon Rd, etc) offer a wide variety of West Coast Malay food.

                                                            I've not been able to find good East Coast Malay food in KL or any other West Coast cities/towns. Thus, one needs to venture to Kelantan and Terengganu to try East Coast Malay food , which is absolutely incredible: nasi dagang, ayam percik, etc.

                                                            P.S. - the only well-known Malay restaurant in Penang is the 40-something year old Restoran Minah in Bukit Gelugor. It's a very casual eatery - large, spacious & still very popular after all these years.

                                                            1. re: klyeoh
                                                              h
                                                              huaqiao Jan 15, 2010 09:07 AM

                                                              Question for the experts, what's the transportation situation in Penang? I really enjoyed the food when I was in KL, but it was incredibly frustrating to navigate. A lot of the stuff I saw recommended on blogs and such were way out in the suburbs and the one time I took a 40 minute cab ride to get to one of them, I had a hard time getting a cab back to the city center.

                                                              How easy is it to access all the good food in Penang for a foreign visitor without access to a car?

                                                              1. re: huaqiao
                                                                p
                                                                Peter Cherches Jan 15, 2010 10:56 AM

                                                                No need to worry. The major hawker centers and restaurants are right in town, and much is walkable as long as you can handle the heat. Penang is much smaller than KL. Taxi drives will be reasonable (e.g. to Gurney Drive). In Penang, "all the good food" is everywhere!

                                                                1. re: huaqiao
                                                                  debbieann Jan 15, 2010 05:57 PM

                                                                  We even managed public buses in Penang. And there is a free bus that does a circle downtown which is useful. Stay at a city hotel in Georgetown. We stayed on New Lane, which made things very easy. the 101 stops near Gurney Dr.

                                                                  1. re: huaqiao
                                                                    p
                                                                    penang_rojak Jan 15, 2010 05:57 PM

                                                                    Penang is much smaller than KL, but its public transportation is much, MUCH worse!

                                                                    If you stay in Hotel Royal, Traders Hotel or City Bayview Hotel in downtown Georgetown, you probably can cover the Penang Road precinct by foot (Campbell St, Kimberley St, etc), all the way down to Beach St (old financial district) & Little India, where there are a lot of street eats & coffeeshops - be aware that it can be hot/humid though.

                                                                    But if you stay in the Batu Ferringhi beach/tourist belt, you'll need a 30-minute taxi ride to go downtown. Penang buses are cheap but infrequent. Taxi-drivers can sometimes be notorious for not wanting to use the meter & overcharge foreign visitors. But by & large, Penangites are very friendly people, and the city is much safer than KL.

                                                                    Where precisely are you staying? We can give you pointers to the good eats or must-not-miss places near your hotel.

                                                                    1. re: penang_rojak
                                                                      h
                                                                      huaqiao Jan 15, 2010 09:48 PM

                                                                      Oh, I don't have any immediate plans to go to Penang yet, though it is on my to-do list. I was just curious about what the transportation situation was like there. I don't mind taxis and they're just about the only way to get around in a lot of Asian cities. I just had a hard time getting around KL and was wondering what Penang was like.

                                                                      1. re: huaqiao
                                                                        p
                                                                        Peter Cherches Jan 16, 2010 11:32 AM

                                                                        I'd recommend staying in central Penang. Batu Ferringhi isn't a great beach (I went out once just to check it out), and as has been mentioned, not conducive to getting around the city. When I went about 15 years ago I stayed in an OK simple Chinese hotel for about $15 and treated myself to one night at the E&O--at the time you could get a room in the old wing for $60. I believe Raffles has taken it over, and I'm sure the price is now quadruple at least. I think when I was in Penang trishaws were still available, but I hear they've pretty much bitten the dust.

                                                                        1. re: huaqiao
                                                                          p
                                                                          penang_rojak May 7, 2010 06:08 AM

                                                                          Check out this new boutique hotel near the old part of Georgetown. It's very nice:
                                                                          http://www.straitscollection.com.my/

                                                            2. s
                                                              ssamjang Jan 3, 2010 01:24 AM

                                                              Hi Lina

                                                              Are you going to Seoul? Korean is one of the great cuisines of Asia and if you just know what to look for and where to find it you can sample a wonderful array of food. If you are spending time in Korea please let me know and I will write you a list of foods and restaurants to try!

                                                              If the answer is yes, let me know if you like spicy or not.

                                                              3 Replies
                                                              1. re: ssamjang
                                                                erica Jan 16, 2010 04:06 AM

                                                                Ssamjang: It would be great if you could post that list. In fact I wish I had had it on my visit to Seoul! But I may be making a trip later this year or next so if you have time, I know that I, and probably others here, would love to learn more. I found Seoul restaurant eating a bit difficult due to language barriers.

                                                                1. re: ssamjang
                                                                  Lina Jan 27, 2010 05:48 AM

                                                                  I actually went to Seoul in November and loved it! The food was amazing in Korea--I especially loved the Oritang that I tried in Gwangju.

                                                                  1. re: ssamjang
                                                                    a
                                                                    asteck Jun 8, 2010 01:15 PM

                                                                    I am going to Seoul next week, and would love to hear your restaurant suggestions too! Thanks!!

                                                                  2. Lina Jan 27, 2010 05:56 AM

                                                                    I just left Manila a few days ago. Had some good food there, but I'm not sure if I would call it the best...Maybe I wasn't going to the right places. I saw your post too late! I posted about some of the foods I tried on my blog here: http://www.mybigfatface.com/

                                                                    I'm just adding a few more updates from the Philippines now. :)

                                                                    1. micheniche Feb 6, 2010 04:04 AM

                                                                      I recommend Kuala Lumpur, if you prefer strong flavours. Alternatively, Hong Kong. Hong Kong is like a food mecca in comparison to Kuala Lumpur.

                                                                      I'm from Kuala Lumpur btw.

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: micheniche
                                                                        M_Gomez Feb 11, 2010 04:29 PM

                                                                        You are being too self-deprecating, my dear! I, for one, loves KL wantan noodles in a big way - anywhere, any place in the big city or PJ. It's so much more robust compared to the bland HK wantan noodles.

                                                                        HK trumps KL when it comes to fine dining and Cantonese food - but that's because HK is a 99% Cantonese city whereas KL's more multicultural and mainly Muslim/Malay (although Cantonese do form a sizeable minority in some parts of KL). It's impossible to find pork in Malaysian hotels' outlets these days, so no bacon or ham for breakfast.
                                                                        KL offers a good choice of Muslim food, e.g. Arabic, Indian-Muslim/Pakistani, etc.

                                                                      2. k
                                                                        kyeblue Mar 24, 2010 06:45 AM

                                                                        Hong Kong is definitely the culinary center of Southeast Asia.

                                                                        6 Replies
                                                                        1. re: kyeblue
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                                                                          prasantrin Mar 24, 2010 04:47 PM

                                                                          Interesting. I didn't realize HK was considered part of SE Asia. . .

                                                                          1. re: prasantrin
                                                                            Curt the Soi Hound Mar 24, 2010 07:09 PM

                                                                            That's what happens when you group it together.....

                                                                            1. re: prasantrin
                                                                              M_Gomez Mar 24, 2010 08:24 PM

                                                                              ROFL! Yes, very funny indeed. I was about to say: go Cantonese or continental (French, Italian, etc) whilst in Hong Kong but DON'T order South-East Asian food there. Malay, Indonesian, Thai, Filipino and other foods there are bad. And I do mean very bad. You just can't find decent SE-Asian food anywhere in HK which, of course, is NOT part of South-East Asia at all.

                                                                              1. re: prasantrin
                                                                                k
                                                                                kyeblue Mar 28, 2010 03:37 PM

                                                                                you may also find interesting that Cantonese regards everywhere in China beyond Guangdong and Fujian provinces northern and people there northerners, and 30 millions ethnical Chinese living in southeast Asia countries are originally from these two province.

                                                                                To M_Gomez, Bologna is often called food capital of Italy, but I doubt you will find the best Sicilian restaurant there.

                                                                                Needless to say, as bad as Filipino restaurants or Indonesian restaurants in Hong Kong maybe, or not "authentic", a large number of people from Philippine and Indonesian cooks for tens of thousands homes in Hong Kong everyday.

                                                                                1. re: kyeblue
                                                                                  M_Gomez Mar 28, 2010 06:27 PM

                                                                                  "a large number of people from Philippine and Indonesian cooks for tens of thousands homes in Hong Kong everyday" -

                                                                                  My dear, not many Hongkongers will be getting their domestic helpers to cook adobo or rendang for their family dinner.

                                                                                  1. re: M_Gomez
                                                                                    Sam Fujisaka Mar 29, 2010 01:26 PM

                                                                                    You're right! Filipina and Indonesian maids/cooks can and do learn to cook anything really well. But it is too bad that HKers don't often take advantage of being able to have good Filipino or Indonesian food at home.

                                                                            2. e
                                                                              EstherLin Mar 25, 2010 04:25 AM

                                                                              Actually if you are looking for alittle bit of everything, Singapore orHong Kong would be a good place to start.

                                                                              1. e
                                                                                EstherLin Mar 30, 2010 03:03 AM

                                                                                What is the best city to look for fantastically good seafood?

                                                                                3 Replies
                                                                                1. re: EstherLin
                                                                                  k
                                                                                  klyeoh Mar 30, 2010 06:03 PM

                                                                                  If you're talking about South-East Asia: I like the crabs in Jakarta. But overall, Phuket.

                                                                                  But most people from this part of the world would prefer to go to Sydney for its oysters, lobsters and Tasmanian king crabs: but that'd be on the Australia/New Zealand board.

                                                                                  1. re: klyeoh
                                                                                    t
                                                                                    theperfectcookie Apr 12, 2010 08:22 AM

                                                                                    Phuket is amazing. Jumping out of South-East Asia though, I found the seafoods at Zhuhai, Guangdong, near Hong Kong to be quite excellent. Taiwan seafood is also pretty good, loved their japanese dishes.

                                                                                    1. re: theperfectcookie
                                                                                      k
                                                                                      klyeoh Apr 13, 2010 08:42 PM

                                                                                      Especially an absolutely ravishing barbecued lobster dish I had at Kan Eang Seafood on the southern part of Phuket Island.

                                                                                2. l
                                                                                  lasvegas Jun 2, 2010 11:13 PM

                                                                                  We been all round Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Bali, Malaysia and got back last week.

                                                                                  Our vote is 100% Malaysia. Just cannot beat the place for darn good grub, though Thailand and Vietnam are cheapest.

                                                                                  1. l
                                                                                    lasvegas Jun 2, 2010 11:22 PM

                                                                                    Kinda late reply but cooking class to beat is Bayan Indah in Malaysia, no question. We run a restaurant for 20+ years and this lady showed us stuff which blew us away. CIA quality instruction, giveaway price.

                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                    1. re: lasvegas
                                                                                      b
                                                                                      babe_kl Jun 24, 2010 06:20 PM

                                                                                      I have to agree with lasvegas. Even though I'm a Malaysian, I'm still blown away with the cooking class I attended at Bayan Indah recently. I have blogged about it here
                                                                                      http://babeinthecitykl.blogspot.com/2...

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