This week I am thrilled to have Eric Carrell from True North Athletics, guest blogging for us. I hope you will enjoy his article on the best street foods to be found in Southeast Asia as much as I have.
Best Street Foods in Southeast Asia
A region known for its mouth-watering explosion of flavours, Southeast Asia offers a huge variety of street food based on traditional recipes. Truly authentic and representative of the multi-cultural heritage of the area, the tantalizing array of delicious snacks, meals and drinks entice travelers from all around the world.
From French-inspired sandwiches filled with lemongrass-infused meats, to grilled brochettes of chicken or fish served with spicy peanut sauce, the culture of street eating is as old as the hills; and so many choices make mealtime a snap. Cheap and delicious street food is part of the experience when visiting SE Asia.
Cups of steaming noodle soups and delicate, crispy spring rolls compete with curries, roti and BBQ offerings. Each country and city has its own unique street food style and flavours, and the aromas wafting from the curbside grills and back-alley stalls quickly entice the passersby to sample the offerings.
Known for a dazzling number of outdoor dining options, the ‘City of Angels’ is the vibrant capital of Thailand, where you can explore by river taxi, tuk tuk, taxi or bus. Bangkok is famous for its pad thai, a dish of rice noodles, fried egg, tofu, prawns, and green onions topped with peanuts.
Tasty mainstays are stir fried noodles and chicken, chicken satay with coconut rice and thick, spicy peanut sauce, and spicy green mango or green papaya salad. You will never go hungry in this bustling city, where charred woks are constantly cooking up steaming delicacies that defy you to walk past. Follow your nose down any street and suddenly you find yourself feasting on fresh-off-the-grill local seafood, shrimp and rice or grilled pork skewers. Chinatown, known locally as Yaowarat, is popular for BBQ food and dim sum. Here, lemongrass and seafood soup and succulent, tangy grilled chicken with garlic sauce are local favourites.
Renowned for its excellent street food, referred to as hawker food, Singapore has a unique heritage of Chinese, Malaysian, Indian and Indonesian influences.
Popular dishes in Singapore include chicken rice, which is roast chicken with buttery rice served with chili, soy and chili crab – spicy crab cooked with fragrant tomato sauce and served with toasted Chinese buns.
Banh mi is a baguette-style sandwich, filled with all sorts of grilled seafood, chicken or pork and stuffed with pickled carrots, cucumber, lettuce and chili sauce. Dosa pancakes are much-loved street snacks, served with curries, pots of broth and chutneys.
Chinatown is an area where endless rows of charcoal grills reel in the crowds in search of grilled shellfish, chicken and meat. Other treats are samosas and turmeric broth, spicy noodles with hot chili and peanuts, and mohinga, a lemongrass-infused noodle soup with endless variations, and considered the national Burmese breakfast dish. Vegetarians will appreciate the choice of ingredients like tofu, chickpeas and fresh vegetables and can customize their mohinga at most stalls.
A popular salad, laphet thoke or tea leaf salad, combines dried peas and peanuts with fermented tea leaves, ginger and garlic.
Grazing and tasting as you walk around the tropical island is the thing to do, and the street cuisine does not disappoint.
Stir-fried rice noodles heaped with eggs, seafood or chicken are cooked over hot charcoal, sealing in the flavour and juices. Grilled prawns and satay is served with generous selections of chutneys, sauces and flavoured broth. Laksa, a Malaysian soup, is a sweet and savory mix of flavours such as prawn paste and fish flakes cooked with noodles and many other optional ingredients.
Hokkien Mee, a soup with pork and prawn broth and vermicelli or egg noodles and topped with hard-boiled egg, crispy fried shallots and chili sauce is the classic make-it-yourself dish where you can choose from fresh vegetables, meat and seafood.
Wash it down with a glass of nutmeg juice, a local beverage of nutmeg fruit, sour plums and sugar.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam:
A way of life in Vietnam, choosing what to eat is as easy as walking down the street. Stacks of fresh seafood waiting to be cooked to order tempt hungry diners, and cauldrons of steaming soups promise to take the edge off while you wait.
The scent of ginger and scallion-flavored grilled shellfish perfumes the air, and buttered corn, duck eggs and fried breadfruit are some of the unique delicacies here.
Stalls offering green papaya salad and spring rolls are always available when something quick is needed. Banh xeo is a thin, savory rice crepe stuffed with bean sprouts, pork or shrimp, diced mushrooms and mung beans.
For dessert, fresh fruit chunks and whipped cream are served in hollowed-out coconuts, and steamed bananas with coconut sauce are options. Homemade ice cream with locally produced fresh fruit is an ideal treat after touring and eating your way around the streets of Saigon.
Wrapping It All Up
Throughout Southeast Asia, the culture of eating in the street and watching your food prepared before your eyes is part of the allure of exploring the region. Nowhere else is the marriage of fresh local ingredients, herbs and spices put to better use than in the heart and soul of these fascinating and colorful cities, where night and day the vendors grill, fry and stir up some of the best food available anywhere. Street eating is a great way to meet locals and get a first-hand look at culture and customs.
Budget-minded travelers appreciate the inexpensive meals, and fresh, organic ingredients are abundant. So inspiring and mouth-watering are these locally prepare dishes, that international restaurants are now recreating many of the tastes and textures found in Southeast Asian street food.. Always available no matter the time of day or night, the delicious meals on the go ranging from steamed pork buns to curried prawns and noodle soup nourish millions every single day.
Simple and fresh, taste-bud-tingling and satisfying, the brightness and flavor of Southeast Asia street food is cheap and cheerful at its best.
Bio: I’m Eric, and I’m the Editor in Chief of True North Athletics. I’m also an avid adventurer, digital nomad and traveller. I enjoy all types of sports, a relaxing yoga class and spontaneous weekend trips. I currently live in Brazil where I can be found frequently hiking the rain forest around my city!