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The Best Food in Asia – 41 Dishes That Will Rock Your World

The best food in Asia is some of the best food in the world. Discover 41 must-eat Asian dishes that you can’t miss when you travel to Asia for business and/or pleasure for the first time. Warning – one or more dishes will likely rock your world.

Sambol in Sri Lanka

While neither of us grew up in Asia and we didn’t visit the continent until we were well past our youth, we’ve shared a passion for Asian cuisine dating back years before we met in 2006.

Not surprisingly, Chinese food was our introduction to the wonderful world of Asian food. Not only did we both grow up eating Chinese feasts on Christmas Eve most years, but Daryl’s mom took things to the next level by regularly whipping up dinner with a wok all those years ago.

Eating Soup in Asia
Slurping soup in Asia always makes us smile.

Fast forward to the present and we’re proud to have traveled fairly extensively in pockets of Asia both separately and together.

While most of our time thus far has been focused in Southeast Asia, we’ve also visited various countries in East Asia and South Asia. While Mindi solo traveled to Asia twice before we met, our first couples trip to Asia involved us traversing China for a month in 2009 during the H1N1 epidemic. As if traveling to China wasn’t enough of a challenge!

Much of our infatuation with Asia is rooted in the continent’s fascinating history and vibrant cultural traditions. Let’s face it – seeing sites like the Great Wall of China, Sri Lanka’s Sigiriya and the Taj Mahal are bucket list items for many including us. But, at the end of the day, they’re not the main reasons we keep returning to Asia.

Our Infatuation with the Food in Asia

Okinawa Soba Selfie at Ganso Daito Soba in Naha Japan
Eating Asian noodles also makes us smile.

We adore Asia food favorites to the point of obsession. We love eating Asian food at the source, in cities around the world and in our own kitchen.

Cooking Asian food at home is a relatively new development. We now eat dishes like green curry, Hunan chicken and fried rice at home all the time. As it turns out, we’re able to source a myriad of Asian ingredients at multiple markets near our Lisbon home, which isn’t the same as eating them in Asia, but it’s still pretty good.

Chili Crisp Jar
Chili Crisp was a gateway food in our Asian food journey. It awoke our taste buds and inspired us to create an Asian pantry.

As many people wallowed in despair during 2020 and others learned new languages, Daryl put his heart and soul into mastering the art of Asian cooking. Not only did he assemble a pantry filled with a melange of sauces and spices, but he also purchased three different woks until he found the right one.

Mindi was happy to be his muse during a learning curve that’s continuing to evolve over time.

Our Favorite Asian Dishes

Cha Ca at Cha Ca Phan in Hanoi
Asian meals are often feasts. We enjoyed this particular feast in Hanoi.

When we’re not eating Asian food, we’re often thinking about our favorite dishes and how and where we can eat them next. Much of our time is focused on the following countries where we’ve visited at least once and in some cases numerous times:

Read on to discover our 41 favorite dishes in these 12 Asian countries. They’re the dishes that we dream about, seek out both near and far, attempt to cook at home and recommend that you try in either Asia or in your home town.

1. Amok (Cambodia)

Fish Amok at the Sugar Palm in Siem Reap
We enjoyed this version of Amok at Sugar Palm in Siem Reap so much that we returned to the restaurant and ate it again a few days later.

Amok is one those dishes that’s both richly luxurious and comforting at the same time. It’s also a dish with a history that traces back to the Khmer Empire both in Siem Reap and in the rest of Cambodia.

To prepare Amok, Cambodians cook proteins casserole-style with broth and coconut milk in a molded banana leaf bowl. A light, creamy, almost pudding-like texture develops as the liquids evaporate and solidify. In restaurants like Siem Reap’s Sugar Palm, chefs add proteins like fresh water fish (think catfish), prawns and tofu. 

Read about our Cambodian adventure in Siem Reap.

2. Banh Mi (Vietnam)

Banh Mi at Chi Lanh in Da Nang Vietnam
We hit the Banh Mi motherlode when we ate this loaded baguette in Da Nang.

Unlike Pho which hails from northern Vietnam, the Banh Mi sandwich originates from the southern part of the country, allegedly in Saigon. Though they’re available all over the country, we’ve found the best Banh Mi sandwiches in central Vietnam cities like Da Nang and Hoi An.

Most Banh Mi vendors sell the popular snack from mobile metal food carts, though more established vendors have permanent stores. Regardless of the cart or store, all Vietnamese Banh Mi vendors sell baguettes filled with a range of meats, paté, cucumbers and other savory ingredients like char siu and chicken.

Banh Mi is a tasty, cheap sandwich to eat on the go. It’s no wonder that it’s become popular all over the world in recent years.

Discover more of the world’s best sandwiches.

3. Banh Xeo (Vietnam)

Banh Xeo
Spending five months in Da Nang gave us ample opportunity to eat Banh Xeo meals like this one.

Inspired by French crepes and invented in Central Vietnam, Banh Xeo are sizzling yellow pancakes filled with a mix of ingredients including pork, shrimp and vegetables. Far from a fine dining experience, Vietnamese diners often sit on little chairs in casual settings where they wrap Banh Xeo in rice paper and dip them in a special pork liver and peanut sauce before crunching into the crispy treats.

Like most of the best Vietnamese food, you should be able to find Banh Xeo in any large city in Vietnam. Just go to dinner hungry when you try them in the center of the country where they were invented. Eating Banh Xeo is a full dining experience.

Discover more Vietnamese food favorites.

4. Bibimbap (South Korea)

Where to Eat in Seoul - Bibimbap
Bibimbap is the first dish we plan to eat when we make it to Seoul beyond the airport.

Bibimbap may be the most memorable dish on this list. Not only is the Korean rice dish both colorful and tasty, but it also has the most whimsical name.

More than just a fun word to say, Bibimbap is a centuries-old dish that has become South Korea’s most iconic food. The word bibimbap literally translates to mixed rice; however, rice is just one of many of the hearty dish’s ingredient. Other typical ingredients include sautéed vegetables, gochujang, soy sauce, meat, kimchi (see below) and a fried egg.

5. Bubble Tea (Taiwan)

Bubble Tea in Taipei
This Boba was more bubble than trouble when we sipped it with a large straw in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

Invented in Taiwan but loved around the world, Bubble Tea is a global phenomenon that’s also a hyper-local beverage affectionately called Boba in Taipei. Taiwanese vendors typically serve the milky drink with a jumbo straw to accommodate the inevitable cluster of tapioca balls that swim at the bottom of each Bubble Tea cup.

Sucking up the soft tapioca spheres is half the fun of drinking Bubble Tea. You could hypothetically order Bubble Tea without the starchy balls but then you wouldn’t actually be drinking bubble tea. You’d just be drinking sweet tea.

6. Bun Bo Hue (Vietnam)

Bun Bo Hue
We temporarily abandoned our Pho obsession when we slurped this bowl of Bun Bo Hue in its home city.

Ironically, Bun Bo Hue translates to Beef Noodle Soup from Hue even though Bun Bo broths often include pork as well as ingredients like lemongrass, shrimp paste, and lime juice ramp up the flavor. Adventurous eaters add cubed pig’s blood for additional flavor.

Although Bun Bo Hue is easily available throughout Vietnam, the best place to slurp the spicy Vietnamese soup is in Hue where it was invented. Although Hue offers visitors many reasons to visit starting with its imperial fortress and an assortment of gorgeous pagodas dotted along the Perfume River, eating Bun Bo Hue for breakfast should be at the top of any Hue list for food travelers.

7. Bun Cha (Vietnam)

Bun Cha at Hanoi Restaurant
Eating Bun Cha in Vietnam is fun. We at this typical Bun Cha meal in Hanoi.

Always a local Vietnam food favorite, Bun Cha hit the international radar when President Barack Obama and Anthony Bourdain rolled up their sleeves to dip rice vermicelli noodles (bún) into little bowls filled with a grilled combination of ground and whole pork drenched in Nuoc Cham (nước chấm), a light, sweet and savory sauce made with ingredients like fish sauce, sugar and vinegar. They both loved the experience and who can blame them – eating Bun Cha is fun.

When you eat Bun Cha, be sure to add greens like lettuce, purple and green Vietnamese shiso, cilantro, bean sprouts and banana blossoms to your dipping bowl. If you’re extra hungry, you can get a side of Nem to add to the mix. These crispy spring rolls are the perfect Bun Cha accompaniment and are generally value priced.

Discover more great food to eat in Hanoi.

8. Char Siu (China)

Char Siu Pork Stock Photo
We never tire of eating Char Siu in China as well as in Chinese restaurants around the world.

Char Siu is simply the Cantonese cuisine version of barbecued pork but the end result is so much more. To make Char Siu, Chinese chefs marinate pork in a flavorful barbecue sauce made with ingredients like red miso, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, ginger and maltose (for extra shine) and then roast the meat to crispy, charred-edge doneness.

The Chinese aren’t alone. Other Asian countries like Japan and the Philippines have added Char Siu to their food sets.

Wonton Noodle Soup at Philadelphia Restaurant
We ate this Wonton Noodle Soup with Char Siu at one of our go-to Chinese restaurants in Philadelphia.

After eating Char Siu in Philadelphia‘s Chinatown both in heaping bowls of wonton noodle soup and atop plates of rice, we were keen to eat the roasted pork dish in its homeland. This dream became a reality during our month-long trip to China.

We quickly became kids in a candy shop when we saw a medley of meats hanging in a Hong Kong restaurant. Hong Kong is an epicenter for Cantonese food favorites and the city’s roasted meat game did not disappoint these two Char Siu fans.

9. Chilli Crab (Singapore + Sri Lanka)

Chili Crab at Ministry of Crab in Colombo
We fulfilled our Chili Crab dreams at Ministry of Crab in Colombia, Sri Lanka with this jumbo Garlic Chili Crab.

Chili Crab is so popular in Singapore that it’s considered to be one of the food-focused nation’s national dishes. To make Chili Crab, Singaporean chefs stir fry jumbo crabs and smother them with a sauce made with ingredients like tomato paste, sambal and vinegar. They then vie for the honor of best Chili Crab on the island.

Ironically, the jumbo crabs used in the dish aren’t indigenous to Singapore. They’re from Sri Lanka, more than 1,700 miles away. And, in an even more ironic turn of events, Sri Lanka is now home to the most celebrated Chili Crab restaurant.

Considered to be one of the 50 best restaurants in Asia, Ministry of Crab locally sources crabs in sizes ranging from jumbo (1/2 kilogram / over a pound) to ‘crabzila” (2 kilograms / 4.4 pounds) and prepares them with local spices and ingredients. The combination of ultra fresh crabs and spices is nothing short of spectacular.

10. Dim Sum (China)

Dim Sum at Lin Heing Tea House in Hong Kong
You’d be a dum dum is you skip Dim Sum at spots like Lin Heung Tea House in Hong Kong where we devoured these tasty treats.

If you just have time for one meal and you’re wondering where to eat in Hong Kong, go for dim sum. Don’t argue or debate with us. This is a non-negotiable recommendation. The only question is where to go for your dim sum breakfast.

Regardless of your restaurant choice, eating dim sum in Hong Kong is a unique experience. Carts wheel around the dining room as diners scramble from their chairs to grab treat-filled, round bamboo steamers with reckless abandon. Savvy dim sum diners know to wait for the good stuff.

We’re partial to Har Gow (shrimp dumplings) and Char Siu Bao (buns filled with flavorful pork) but it’s all good. If you’re adventurous, go for it and try Fung Zao (chicken feet) too.

Discover more fun Hong Kong food experiences.

11. Egg Coffee (Vietnam)

Egg Coffee in Da Nang
Tasting is believing when it comes to Egg Coffee. We enjoyed this particular cup of nirvana in Da Nang.

Hanoi’s Egg Coffee is more of a dessert (think Creme Brulee) than a beverage. Made with egg yolks, sugar and condensed milk, Egg Coffee is the best drink you will eat in Vietnam.

Discover 100 more of the best desserts around the world.

We first tasted Egg Coffee in Hanoi at Cafe Giang, the bustling, back alley, two-story cafe where the dessert drink was invented. When you visit the iconic cafe, you can order your egg coffee hot or iced. You can even order variations with chocolate, green beans, rum and beer.

Not only did we later drank Egg Coffee in other Vietnamese cities like Da Nang and Saigon, but we also sampled Salt Coffee, a twist on Egg Coffee that tastes surprisingly good, in Hue. While we could drink Egg Coffee directly from the cup, we typically use a spoon instead. It’s that rich and decadent.

12. Fried Chicken (South Korea + Philippines)

Fried Chicken at Incheon Airport in Seoul
Move over Memphis! Asian chefs fry some might fine chicken too. We ate this generous serving at the Incheon International Airport near Seoul.

With a history that includes settlers from Scotland, slaves from West Africa and a Kentucky businessman who called himself a colonel, the American south can rightfully stake a claim in the the Fried Chicken market. But, despite this past, cities like Memphis and Nashville don’t own righto to the American food favorite. The dish is just as popular around the world, perhaps nowhere more so than South Korea, the Philippines and Japan.

In South Korean cities like Seoul and Busan, fried chicken is a crispy dish involving relatively smaller chickens, spicy seasonings and beer. Not just limited to its homeland, South Korea’s fried chicken has made its way to America and Europe.

Fried chicken at Sincerity in Manila
We sincerely enjoyed eating this fried chicken at Sincerity Cafe and Restaurant in Manila.

Filipinos give South Koreans a run for their money when it comes to GBD poultry. Filipinos love crispy, spicy fried chicken so much that Jollibee generates a crowd whenever it opens in cities like New York and Rome. That’s how much Filipino expats and their friends love the chain’s ‘crispylicious’ and ‘juicylicious’ Chickenjoy version of fried chicken.

In Japan, KFC has become THE food to eat on Christmas. You can add this to the ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ category.

13. Hainan Chicken and Rice (Various)

Hainanese Chicken Rice Platter at Flock _ Fowl in Las Vegas
We ate this version of Hainan Chicken Rice in Las Vegas, an American city with a thriving Asian population.

Originally invented in Hainan, China and hugely popular in Singapore where it’s considered a national dish, this simple dish pairs poached chicken with rice cooked in a rich chicken broth. We almost always order chicken and rice when we see it on a menu whether we’re in Chiang Mai, Da Nang, Las Vegas, Portland or Shanghai.

Thailand’s version, known as Khao Man Gai, is a Bangkok street food staple. Most vendors serve the dish with sides of chicken soup and chili dipping sauce. The dish is called Nasi Ayam in Malaysia, a country we are yet to visit, though we know what to order when we do.

14. Hot Pot (China)

Hot Pot at Chongqing Hotpot at Lisbon Restaurants
How hot your like you Hot Pot is up to you. We like ours extra hot whether we eat it in Chengdu or elsewhere. We ate this Hot Pot cauldron in Lisbon.

Eating Hot Pot in Chinese cities like Chengdu and Chongqing is nothing short of an adventure.

The dining experience involves cooking raw food in a simmering cauldron filled with either spicy or really spicy soup. The fun starts with the selection of raw ingredients that run the gamut from mushrooms and other vegetables to almost every imaginable protein.

Arguably, cooking the food at the table is the most fun aspect of Hot Pot. However, we appreciate those who consider eating the food to be even more fun.

15. Jalebi (India)

Jalebi on Blue Plate
This Jalebi was one of many highlights during Mindi’s Old Delhi food tour.

Research reveals that India’s Jalebi may have Persian roots. However, it’s difficult to imagine the classic Indian pastry tasting better anywhere than at Old Famous Jalebi Wala, a Jalebi stand notable both for its formidable age (dating back to 1884) and extreme popularity with both Old Delhi locals and tourists.

Cooks prepare Jalebi by deep frying batter and forming it into a spiral shape. They then saturate the fried dough with a sugary syrup that tastes both familiar and exotic.

Discover more Old Delhi food favorites.

16. Japchae (South Korea)

Homemade Japchae
Eating homemade Japchae is the next best thing to eating Japchae in South Korea. We cooked up this batch in our Lisbon kitchen.

Originally a noodle-free dish eaten by royalty centuries ago, Japchae became popular with the masses in the 20th century after dangmyeon noodles made with sweet potato flour were added to the recipe. Cellophane or glass-like in appearance, these noodles are as chewy as they are translucent.

Other Japchae ingredients include vegetables like carrots, onions, mushrooms, scallions and spinach as well as proteins like beef and pork. A sauce made with sesame oil, soy sauce, mirin and sugar provides the dish’s distinctive Korean flavor.

17. Khao Soi (Thailand)

Khao Soi Lunch at Nimman Nam Prik Ong in Chiang Mai
Khao Soi is both a curry and a soup. It’s also delicious.

Dating back to the days of the Lanna Kingdom, Khao Soi can best be described as Thai comfort food in a bowl. The Northern Thai dish with Islamic Burmese roots is especially popular in the northern cities of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.

Thai cooks simmer Khao Soi low and slow for hours before serving the spicy Thai noodle soup. As we learned during a Chiang Mai cooking class, ingredients include fresh and fried egg noodles as well as a special red curry and coconut milk.

Discover other great food to eat in Chiang Mai.

18. Kimchi (South Korea)

Kimchi in White Prep Bowl

Kimchi, a fermented vegetable dish, is an integral part of Korean cuisine.

Some over-achieving Korean cooks create their own Kimchi by fermenting vegetables like cabbage, carrots and radishes along with Korean spices like gochugaru to make kimchi in their home kitchens. Others buy the Korean food staple at food markets or online.

→ Make our fusion Latke recipe featuring Kimchi.

19 Ma Po Tofu (China)

Mapo Tofu at Chengdu Taste in Los Angeles
Mapo Tofu is popular around the world. We ate this version at Chengdu Taste in Los Angeles.

Loosely translated to ‘pockmarked grandma’s tofu’, Mapo Tofu packs a punch with bright flavors powered by a melange of spices including numbing Sichuan peppercorns and hot heaven-facing peppers. Despite its fanciful name, this dish is for real whether we eat it in Chengdu where it was invented or cook it at home in our wok.

Mapo Tofu isn’t a vegetarian dish. While tofu is indeed a key ingredient, the dish’s sauce has minced meat. You could probably make a meat-free version at home but it wouldn’t taste quite the same.

20. Mango Shaved Ice (Taiwan)

Mango Shaved Ice in Taipei
We ate this Mango Shaved Ice at Smoothie House, a popular spot around the corner from the original Din Tai Fung soup dumpling shop.

In the same manner shaved ice made its way from Japan to Hawaii, this icy dessert took a similar, yet shorter route to Taipei. However, this Taiwanese version of shaved ice is bigger and better that versions in other countries.

The fruity concoction is hugely popular among both Taiwanese locals and tourists. Validating the adoration, CNN raved about it, calling it one of the “Taiwanese foods we can’t live without.”

21. Moon Cakes (Various)

Mooncakes at Bui Cong Trung in Hanoi
We found these Mooncakes at Bui Cong Trung, a bakery in Hanoi during our mid-autumn visit. True Confession – They looked better than they tasted.

Baked to celebrate the annual Mid-Autumn Festival which falls on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, Mooncakes are a Chinese dessert enjoyed in China as well as in Japan and most Southeast Asia countries. Intricate in design, Mooncakes typically have fillings that can be either sweet or savory.

Often given as a gift and shared with friends and family, Mooncakes are a delicacy that cost more than typical Asian pastries and desserts. However, when it comes to celebrating the Moon Goddess of Immortality, Mooncakes are priceless.

22. Naan (India)

Naan at Lumbini at Lisbon Restaurants
We said ‘Yes’ to this garlic Naan at an Indian restaurant in Lisbon.

Naan often gets overlooked as a top food in India because it serves as more of platform for curry than a food on its own. Seriously, would Indian curries taste as good without Naan to sop up all the juicy bits?? But, after more than a century in existence, the classic bread has earned its place among Asian food favorites.

To prepare Naan, Indian cooks mix white flour, water, yeast and yogurt. They then then bake the dough in a cylindrical clay oven called a tandoor at a very high heat, often 500℉ or even higher. Charred and puffy, the resulting bread is the ideal conduit for Sag Paneer (see below) and other tasty Indian dishes.

23. Nasi Goreng (Indonesia)

Nasi Goreng Stock Photo
Topping Nasi Goreng with a fried egg is both typical and recommended.

Indonesia didn’t invent the concept of frying rice. That honor probably goes to China. However, Indonesians have made the dish their own and call it Nasi Goreng (i.e. fried rice) in cities like Bali and Jakarta.

One of six national Indonesian dishes, Nasi Goreng differentiates itself from other global fried rice dishes with the inclusion of kecap manis (sweet soy sauce) and terasi (shrimp paste). Adding proteins like shrimp, chicken and fried eggs turns the dish into a meal.

24. Takoyaki (Japan)

Okonomiyaki in Osaka Japan
We ate these Takayaki balls in Osaka mere seconds after they were fried on an open flame.

Without a doubt, Takoyaki belongs in the Japanese street food hall of fame.

Literally translating to ‘octopus balls’, Takoyaki are little treats filled with octopus meat that vendors have been frying in special pans for almost a century. Originally a street food in Osaka, Takoyaki are now available throughout Japan and in Asian cities like Hong Kong and Taipei. If you look hard enough, you can occasionally find Takoyaki in western cities too.

Part of the fun of eating Takoyaki is to enjoy them piping hot, just off the grill. Pop them in your mouth and see if you can handle the inevitable scalding burn. Don’t worry – the pain is worth it.

Discover more great food in Osaka.

25. Oyster Cake (Philipines)

Oyster Omelet in Manilia
This Oyster Cake at Simplicity Cafe and Restaurant in Manila was loaded with oysters and big enough to share.

Manila’s bustling Chinatown dating back to 1594 is a great spot to eat Filipino versions of Chinese food. With just a few hours in the Asian mega-city, that’s exactly what we did and we started with an Ou Luak, an oyster Omelette also known as an Oyster Cake.

This ramped up egg dish includes ingredients like chili, fish sauce and meaty oysters. It’s completely different from French and American omelettes and, needless to say, we love the dish.

You should be easily able to find Oyster Omelettes in other Asian countries like China, Taiwan and Thailand. But don’t miss the Filipino version. It’s a winner.

26. Pad Thai (Thailand)

Pad Thai at Chiang Mai Restaurant
Adding fresh lime juice made this Pad Thai sing when we ate it in Chiang Mai.

For many including us, Pad Thai is the gateway food to Thai cuisine. Not only is Thailand’s #1 food favorite served in practically every Thai restaurant in the world, but it’s also highly accessible thanks to familiar ingredients like stir fried rice noodles, fresh bean sprouts, eggs, firm tofu and peanuts.

Don’t count out Pad Thai despite its popularity and low cost. It’s a solid option to order at both street stalls and in restaurants throughout Thailand. As a bonus, protein options include chicken, shrimp and tofu, making the attractive to vegetarian travelers and their carnivore friends.

Discover more than 25 Thai food favorites.

29. Peking Duck (China)

Peking Duck at Min Jiang in London
Eating Peking Duck is a ritual that everybody should experience at least once. After eating Peking Duck in Beijing, we ate it again at Min Jiang in London.

The Chinese have been eating Peking Duck for millennia. The dish was invented in Beijing and is still available at sprawling restaurants around the city. As in the past, today’s Peking Duck is notable for its crispy skin and sweet bean dipping sauce.

After eating the dish for years in Philadelphia, experiencing the dish in its birthplace was a top priority during our first trip to China. We accomplished that goal with a dish adorned with cucumber slices, spring onions and pancakes. Bottles of Chinese lager completed the bucket list dining meal.

28. Pho (Vietnam)

Pho Bo
This bowl of Pho Bo in Hanoi was pure liquid gold.

Easily the most popular Vietnamese food in the world, Pho lives up to its vaunted reputation when eaten in its homeland. Named after the flat, fettuccine-like Pho noodles that fill the bowl, Pho in Vietnam is pure magic. Ironically, though, Vietnamese noodle soup is different depending on where you slurp it.

In Hanoi, where Pho was invented back in the early 20th century, the French-influenced broth has clear flavors developed during a simmering process that marries the protein to the liquid. Despite its apparent simplicity, Hanoi Pho is a complex, satisfying meal in a bowl.

Pho
We also like to slurp Pho Ga in Hanoi. The pure flavors shine through all the way to the bottom of the bowl.

Surprisingly different, Pho in Saigon typically has a richer taste and often comes with a range of hot and sweet condiments along as well as a variety of leafy green herbs. Pho in Saigon and the rest of the South most resembles the Pho served in North American restaurants.

The two main Vietnamese Pho varieties are chicken (Pho Ga) and beef (Pho Bo). The best Pho vendors typically serve one or the other, ladling the soup from large vats to queues of hungry Pho fans.

Discover more of the best soups in the world.

29. Ramen (Japan)

Ramen at Noraneko in Portland OR
Proving that Ramen has conquered the world, we ate this traditional bowl in Portland, Oregon.

The Japanese didn’t invent ramen. That credit goes to the Chinese who originally created wheat lamien noodles, ramen’s inspiration. The Japanese, however, get credit for developing Ramen into an international food favorite.

For the uninitiated, typical bowls of Ramen have savory broth, toothy wheat noodles, chāsū (pork), nori (seaweed), scallions and a softly boiled egg. Broth variations include miso, shoyo (soy sauce), shio (salt) and tonkotsu (pork bone). And this doesn’t contemplate regional variations like Hakata Ramen in Fukuoka or Hokaido Ramen in (you guessed it) Hokaido.

Don’t worry if your travel plans to extend beyond Tokyo and Osaka, You can find excellent Ramen variations in Japan’s largest cities as well as in its tiniest towns. There are few rules about the kind of ramen a cook can dream up. It’s Japan’s most exciting food to eat on the go.

Discover our favorite Ramen shops in Osaka.

30. Sag Paneer (India)

Saag Paneer at Caxemira in Lisbon
This Sag Paneer at Caxemira in Lisbon transports us to India every time we order the vegetarian curry dish.

Choosing one Indian curry would be a challenge if Mindi didn’t love Sag Paneer so much. To her, it’s the best Indian dish when paired with either Naan or basmati rice and it’s the curry she orders again and again and again.

Sag Paneer is made by cooking a green vegetable (usually spinach) into a thick paste and adding chunks of firm cottage cheese called paneer to the mix. Always vegetarian, this dish can be prepared from mild to spicy. Mindi chooses the latter and you should too if your taste buds can handle the heat.

31. Sambol (Sri Lanka)

Sambol at Ministry of Crab in Colombo
We couldn’t eat enough Sambol in Sri Lanka. Freshly ground at a Sri Lanka hotel, this version was our favorite.

More than a condiment but less than a meal, Sambol’s primary ingredient is freshly grated coconut. We typically despise Asian dishes that feature coconut and yet we loved every version of Sambol that we sampled in Sri Lanka.

Other typical Sambol ingredients include chili, lime juice, dried Maldive fish and shallots. Sri Lankans combine these ingredients and grind them with a granite rolling pin called a miris gala. Many Sri Lankans enjoy the dish in traditional style – with their hands. However, Sambol tastes just as good when eaten with utensils.

32. Scallion Pancakes (China and Taiwan)

Tianjin Pancake in Taipei
The humble Scallion Pancake is one of the cheapest and most popular foods in Taiwan. We bought this one at Tian Jin, a popular street food stand in central Taipei.

Scallion pancakes are a typical street food eaten during the day and night in both China and Taiwan. Considering its low price and portability, this crispy treat made with spring onions may be the most ideal street food when you’re craving a savory snack in either of these countries.

If you’re curious about the price, a plain scallion pancake cost us 25 TWD (under a dollar USD) when we visited Taipei in 2018. We devoured the tasty treat as soon as we bought it. Like most fried foods, these pillowy yet crunchy morsels taste best when they’re hot off the griddle.

33. Soba (Japan)

Okinawa Soba with Chopsticks at Ganso Daito Soba in Naha Japan
Slurping this classic bowl of Okinawa Soba was the culinary highlight of our visit to Naha.

Soba literally translates to buckwheat and that’s exactly the type of noodle used in this dish. Made with buckwheat flour as advertised, soba noodles are both longer and thinner than ramen and udon noodles.

Japanese restaurants serve soba noodles both hot and chilled, often with tsuyu dipping sauce. Simultaneously earthy and nutty, soba proves that ramen and udon aren’t the only noodles worth eating in Japan.

Bucking the buckwheat trend, Okinanawa Soba has wheat noodles instead of buckwheat noodles. With additional ingredients like pork belly, fish cakes, sliced scallions and pickled ginger, the regional soup is its own colorful, tasty thing.

Discover 36 more Japanese food favorites.

34. Sushi (Japan)

Sushi on Chopsticks at Maruyoshi in Osaka Japan
We like to eat sushi wherever we travel. We ate this simple yet beautiful sushi in Osaka.

Sushi is simply sliced raw fish served atop a mound of steamed rice that’s been seasoned with vinegar. It’s also proof that simple food is often the best food.

You don’t have to look hard to find sushi in Japan. You can find it at 7-11 convenience stores, markets and restaurants. On the low end, sushi is affordable and accessible to all. On the high end, as shown in the movie Jiro Dreams of Sushi, it’s a three-star, life-changing experience.

Adventurous food travelers will want to try conveyor belt sushi in Japan both for the quirky experience and the variety of raw fish. Popular options include ebi nigiri (shrimp) hamachi (yellowtail), ikura (salmon roe), maguro nigiri (tuna), sake nigiri (salmon), toro (tuna belly) and uni (sea urchin).

35. Tempura (Japan)

Tempura in Kyoto Japan
Proving that Tempura is more that bar food, we ate this elegantly plated Tempura during our kaiseki meal in Kyoto.

Leave your preconceptions about fried food behind when you order tempura in Japan as either a starter or main dish. Although tempura is deep fried, it doesn’t taste greasy and it’s not messy to eat.

Japanese chefs prepare tempura by precisely cutting ingredients like shrimp, shiitake mushrooms, lotus roots and shishito peppers before lightly coating them with batter and deep frying them in oil. Since locals dip the crispy, savory treats in ten-tsuyu dipping sauce, we recommend that you do the same. Another option is to sprinkle on salt before taking the first bite.

Fun Fact
The Japanese learned the art of tempura from Portuguese missionaries who traveled to Japan in the 16th century. The original Portuguese dish is called Peixinhos da Horta.

36. Thali (India)

Maharajas Express Thali
Mindi ate this vegetarian Thali during her journey through India on the Maharajas Express.

The word thali literally translates to plate but expect much more when you order Thali at an Indian restaurant. This particular dish involves a platter topped with selection of small metal bowls called katori, each filled with a tasty tidbit. Naan and/or rice completes the platter.

Most Indian restaurants offer Thali options both with and without meat. Expect a variety of sweet and savory curries and chutneys whichever option you choose. There’s no bad choice here.

37. Tom Yum (Thailand)

Tom Yum Stock Photo
Tom Yum is the most popular soup in Thailand as well as in Thai restaurants around the world.

We don’t know Tom but we agree that his soup is yum. All jokes aside, while there is no Tom, there is plenty of yum in this dish. Tom actually refers to the boiling process used to make this dish.

Traditional Tom Yum soup contains typical Thai ingredients like kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, Thai chilies and galangal (i.e. Thai ginger). Adding prawns upgrades Tom Yum to Tom Yum Goong, a move that we’ve never regretted making in Thailand.

38. Udon (Japan)

Udon Noodles at Budapest Restaurant
We couldn’t resist ordering this authentic bowl of Udon when we saw it on a Budapest menu

Finding Udon in Japan is the opposite of a challenge. Introduced to Japan by China more than a millennium ago, Udon is served both hot and cold in preparations that range from soup to curry.

Udon is more challenging to find outside of Japan compared to Ramen, the country’s more prolific wheat noodle. Let’s face it, Ramen is practically everywhere. However, if you look hard enough you’ll find Udon at Japanese restaurants around the world.

39. Xiao Long Bao (China and Taiwan)

Soup Dumplings in Shanghai
This basket of Xiao Long Bao was one of many baskets we devoured in the Pearl of the Orient otherwise known as Shanghai.

Although Shanghai is known as the international headquarters for Xiao Long Bao (i.e. soup dumplings), Taiwan can justifiably stake a claim to soup dumpling fame with its Din Tai Fung. Open since 1972, the global restaurant chain started in Taipei and has been making some of the best soup dumplings in the world for over 40 years.

Eating Xiao Long Bao involves sucking broth out of doughy goblets before dousing them with vinegar and hot chili oil. You’ll want to order a basket of these bad boys whenever you see them on a menu in cities like Shanghai and Taipei.

40. Yakitori (Japan)

Yakitori Skewer at Le Rigmarole in Paris
Don’t feel left out if you can’t travel to Japan any time soon. Restaurants like Le Rigmarole in Paris serve Yakitori around the world.

Yakitori became part of Japanese cuisine in the 19th century when street stalls starting grilling skewered chicken pieces over charcoal. Fast forward to the present and yakitori is now a staple at restaurants throughout the country. And, thanks to Anthony’s Bourdain’s Tokyo No Reservations episode, the dish is now popular with western visitors who clamor to dine at yakitori restaurants like Toriki and Bird Land.

Not limited to thighs and breasts, Japanese chefs grill skewered chicken hearts and cartilage, among other parts, over white binchotan charcoal to various levels of doneness. They then serve the skewers on simple small plates.

41. Yangzhou Fried Rice (China)

Yangzhou Fried Rice with Chopsticks
This bowl of Yangzhou Fried Rice provided us with a taste of China at home.

Also known as 10-Ingredient Fried Rice, Yangzhou Fried Rice (Yángzhōu chǎofàn 扬州炒饭 in Mandarin) is named after the Chinese town of Yangzhou, near Nanjing in the Jiangsu province. Unlike simple egg fried rice, this dish contains an assortment of proteins like dried ham, sea cucumber, shrimp and chicken. Some people describe Yangzhou Fried Rice as shrimp fried rice but that would be a misnomer since shrimp is just a supporting player in the rice melange.

The rules are so rigid in China that the strict version has a variety of balanced elements and includes Jinhua ham (Chinese: 金華火腿), a special dried ham produced in the neighboring Zhejiang province. China’s ‘by the book’ Chao Fan recipe also calls for sea cucumber and crab meat. Since some argue that the dish is incomplete without these two elements, we’ll incorporate those ingredients into an ultra-fancy version one day when we’re feeling particularly adventurous.

Try our fool proof Yangzhou Fried Rice recipe for a taste of China at home.

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About the Authors

About the Authors

Daryl & Mindi Hirsch

Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.

Disclosure

We update our articles regularly. Some updates are major while others are minor link changes and spelling corrections. Let us know if you see anything that needs to be updated in this article.

Dhula

Sunday 15th of August 2021

So arabs aren't in asia any more!? And halal food isn't amongst the most popular foods in the world with cart lining the streets of every major city.

E

Monday 2nd of August 2021

Hey, just wanted to let you know that Koreans definitely don't eat mooncakes. I don't know what you may have had that you thought were mooncakes, but they were only something that I newly discovered when I traveled to Malaysia where there is a big Chinese population. But, no we don't eat mooncakes. Cheers

Daryl and Mindi Hirsch

Saturday 7th of August 2021

We've updated the article based on your comment. Thanks for your input!