Best Asia food trips for 2018
Looking for places to visit in Asia? From Vespa tours of Saigon, to fine dining in Shanghai and cookery courses in Chiang Mai, read our guide to the top five trips we took in 2017
Looking for places to visit in Asia? Check out our top places to visit in Asia, filling up on iced coffee and Vietnamese pancakes in Saigon to tracking down the best sticky rice and mango in Chiang Mai.
Saigon food trip by Vespa
If you want to explore Saigon’s food scene, the best way to do it is by hopping on a vintage Vespa. Join one of several local tours (we went with Saigon After Dark) and stop off at Quan Oc Phat, an open-air seaside café serving a speciality of barbecued mussels with peanuts and spring onions. Along the way you’ll try Vietnamese pancakes filled with pork and beansprouts as well as velvety iced coffee.
In Thailand’s mountainous north sits Chiang Mai, a city that showcases the region’s distinctive cooking style. Head to Dhara Dhevi cookery school and cook up a bowl of sweet and spicy tom kha khai (coconut soup with chicken and galangal). For dinner, head to the pool and relax by the water's edge enjoying juicy slices of mango served with creamy coconut ice cream and sweet, sticky rice. Be sure to visit Warorot market hall for a bowl of khao soi – a rich curry and coconut broth with egg noodles and chicken.
Shanghai may be the largest city in China but, 2000 years ago, it was a small fishing village; the Chinese characters that form its name mean ‘on the sea’. Its location at the end of the Yangtze river delta, by the East China sea, was crucial to its growth. Being one of the first Chinese ports to open up to the West was another significant factor in its transformation into the international metropolis we recognise today.
Shanghai is now one of the major food capitals of China. Although it’s easy to be mesmerised by the 100-storey buildings, some of the city’s most impressive food is found in the small shops and stalls that line the side streets; this is where you’ll find the best noodles, pot stickers, wontons, pan-fried buns, and xiao long bao (steamed buns filled with pork).
These shops are favourite breakfast spots for locals, while lunch and dinner normally means traditional local dishes such as braised red meatballs, yellow croaker fish with spring onions, shrimps and goji berries or braised river eel.
For a unique dining experience, however, Chinese fine dining is a must. Some of the city’s 19th- and early 20th-century houses have been converted into exclusive restaurants and now serve meticulously prepared Chinese dishes in historic surroundings.
To experience a different take on traditional Chinese food-culture, it’s also worth taking a train out to Suzhou. Half an hour from Shanghai, this city is home to spectacular UNESCO- designated gardens, a canal-filled Old Town and restaurants known for their traditional Jiangsu- style dishes: expect slow-cooked meat, lots of fish and an adherence to seasonality.
Words by Kei Lum Chan
A verdant South Asian paradise, Sri Lanka is dominated by two distinct groups: the majority Sinhalese concentrated in the south, central and west of the island, and the Tamils, based mostly in the north and east. These two cultures have separate languages, traditions and religions, a mosaic of diversity that has also led to distinct Sinhalese and Tamil styles of cooking. Many Sinhalese follow the principles of Ayurveda – “food is medicine, medicine is food” – while Tamils say there are six tastes – sweet, sour, bitter, spicy, salty and astringent – and that every meal should be a harmonious balance of all.
Yet there is plenty of common ground: the humble coconut is used universally, as is rice, the staple carbohydrate, and lentils. Curry leaves are a vital part of many Sinhalese and Tamil dishes, too. Vegetables grow so well in the warm, rainy climate that no day passes without a meal that includes juicy tomatoes, fragrant pineapples, jackfruit, aubergines, beans or gourds. And the warm waters of the Indian Ocean provide the island with copious fish and shellfish.
Sri Lankans tend to tuck into hearty breakfasts of string hoppers with Sri Lankan curry and sambol relish, generous lunches and smaller, uncomplicated dinners in the evening. ‘Short eats’ are small takeaway snacks taken at any time of the day, and sold by shouting vendors in railway carriages and on lively beachfronts; they include fish patties, crunchy lentil vadai and mince rolls.
Words by Prakash Sivanathan and Niranjala Ellawala (July 2017)
If you’re in Bangkok, get to know the street food with a tour of the city. Start by trying butter toast – a popular breakfast snack. Little pillows of thick white bread are fried in butter and sweetened with sugar. If you want something savoury, spicy soup noddles are rich and creamy. The ones we tried used ground peanuts for depth, vinegar for acidity and ramen noodles for a slurp-able savoury punch. Don’t miss out on pork satay skewers, grilled and served with punchy peanut dipping sauce.