One might start off the day exploring the ruins of ancient Buddhist temples and end the night with a dinner cruise along the Mekong River. Or you might go snorkeling in Bali’s crystal clear waters, and then enjoy a rave on sandy white beaches. Maybe you want to fly high in balloons over Bagan, and then indulge in a creamy chilled coconut smoothie. Many Southeast Asian nations including Thailand, Indonesia and Myanmar are tourist hotspots.
When it comes to traveling, trying local foods is always a must. Southeast Asian cuisine is a blend of a plethora of flavors. Dishes may be infused with fresh herbs and spices, coconut cream bases, tangy sauces, and often complemented with a steaming bowl of rice. The food, needless to say, is delicious and also relatively cheap. In honor of becoming the ultimate Southeast Asian food whiz, here are some tips and tricks that ensure that your tastebuds are properly prepared for this culinary adventure.
1. Make a food bucket list with translations
One of the fundamentals of being a globetrotter is also trying all of the world’s diverse foods. It’s helpful to do a little bit of research and find out which dishes are popular for certain regions. For instance, you shouldn’t leave Vietnam without having an authentic bowl of pho or fresh spring rolls. Thailand wouldn’t be the same without their spicy papaya salads and incredibly fluffy pork mince omelets. Writing down how to pronounce dish names in the local language serves as a handy tool when ordering in local restaurants.
2. No English menu? No problem!
There’s a certain comfort in knowing exactly what you’re ordering. But many (very) local restaurants may not have an English menu. If there is a menu with pictures, you’re in luck. But if not, the key is to point at dishes others nearby have ordered and ask for the same thing. While I can’t guarantee that you’ll be 100% satisfied, be daring and order as if you’re a local.
3. It’s better tried once than never
What’s the craziest thing you’ve eaten? For me, it’s having a deep-fried spider. If you’re wondering, our creepy-crawly friends have a bitter-crunchy taste. Southeast Asia is home to a vast array of jaw-dropping food from notoriously smelly durian to sautéed frog legs. Life is about creating stories. It’s more exciting to venture outside of your comfort zone and try foods that you may not ever come across again. Even if you don’t end up enjoying the experience, at least you can add to your list of things you’ve eaten before.
4. Food crawls are better than pub crawls
In your Southeast Asian city, there may be some streets famous for being lined with infinite food stalls. For instance, night bazars, besides selling traditional handicrafts, offer copious amounts of foods. Rather than having a traditional sit-down meal, walking and eating nearly everything in sight is one heck of an adventure. It’s never too late to get onto the see-food diet.
5. Conquer the Southeast Asian beer challenge
For all you beer lovers, you might be grateful not to see an abundance of Bud Light flooding the shelves of Southeast Asian stores. To fight the blazing heat of Southeast Asia, pairing your meal with a chilled beer can be a treat. Most of the time, one drink costs the same amount as a bottle of water. Not a fan of alcohol? You can’t go wrong with sipping on an iced fruit smoothie.
6. MSG may not be your best friend
Monosodium glutamate, otherwise known as MSG, is a flavor enhancer that is rumored to be used in a lot of Asian cooking. Whether or not MSG is entirely harmful is still debated, but it’s safer to avoid it. Upon request, many restaurants will happily ask the chef to omit this ingredient from your order. Noodle soups may be the exception as the soup broth in many places is often pre-made in large batches.
7. The worst-case scenario: food poisoning
Your stomach may or may not be accustomed to the food sold in street vendors. Although, many foods will do you no harm, no one can fully be safeguarded from the possibility of getting food poisoning. If you think your stomach is not on its A game, it’s best to avoid meat and dairy products sold from street vendors.
8. Enjoy your travels one bite at a time
There is no right or wrong way to go about consuming all of Southeast Asia’s delicacies. The key to being the ultimate foodie is to simply be bold, stay hydrated, and eat to your heart’s content.