You can eat Thai food almost anywhere in the world, but it’s nothing like having the real deal. My experiences in Southeast Asia really blew me away in terms of what kind of cuisine I fell in love with. Some of my favorite eats of the year were dishes I wouldn’t have tried back home. I was introduced to new ingredients, new flavors and new addictions. It was my first time eating mangosteens and drinking egg coffee. My favorite Southeast Asian meals are cheap, delicious and popular enough that you can order them most places in their specified country.
Pork noodle soup– This Chinese noodle dish was the first I loved on my 2010 trip to Thailand. I heard it pronounced like kway teow, but it didn’t resemble the char kway teow dish I’ve seen elsewhere in Asia. This involved a broth of MSG, pork slices, cabbage and rice vermicelli. I enjoyed it at a small shack in the middle of nowhere near the border between Burma and Thailand. I had a similar dish on my most recent trip, although not quite as good and substituting pork for chicken. I could eat this soup for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Khao Soi– My favorite Thai dish this time around was khao soi, a uniquely northern dish that has tender fall-off-the-bone chicken, noodles and a spicy broth. It comes with condiments like pickled vegetables and crunchy noodles on top. You can find this dish all over Chiang Mai and the north, but I had it at a restaurant near the northern side of the gate.
Red Curry– This dish was my go-to before ever going to Thailand and remained such for the entire time in the country, despite briefly choosing the green variety. I had it all over the country, and I suspect it was what gave me food poisoning in Koh Tao, but this one back in Chiang Mai was fantastic. The spice wasn’t unbearable, with just enough coconut milk, and the portion was right, despite the fact that rice always comes separate.
Mango sticky rice– At first, I doubted this combination because it sounded too weird, an item like rice as a dessert, but after a full day of eating and drinking for my friend Flo’s hen night in Bangkok, I gave it a go. Somehow the sweetness of the condensed milk offset the slight saltiness of rice and tartness of mango.
Banh mi– It’s almost the national dish of Vietnam and you can get almost anything between a loaf of crusty French bread. I had many of these sandwiches in my month in the country, including a random place in Hanoi that overcharged us and another in Hoi An that Anthony Bourdain recommended, but this one, near the Hanoi market, was my favorite. It was small, filled with pork floss, crispy onions and cucumber.
Cao lau– I wish I’d ordered this dish sooner, as it’s unique to Hoi An. It’s made up of square noodles, pork and a salad. It was everything I was looking for, carbs and vegetables. You can’t find it anywhere but near Hoi An, which is why you should give it a try when you can. The noodles can only be made here, as they use waters from the town.
Bun cha– Another dish that’s my absolute favorite. I was excited to find it here in the United States at a restaurant in San Francisco! It’s made up of pork belly and grilled pieces in a combination of fish sauce and mango juice. You make your own dish with rice noodles and vegetables. It’s sweet and salty and delicious.
Khmer Style BBQ– Most of my meals in my two weeks in Cambodia were far from memorable. A few good curries kept me full, but mostly I was underwhelmed. I was, however, happy with the Khmer barbecue restaurant in Siem Reap that we visited twice for its low cost and delicious taste. It was a simple dish of barbecue grilled chicken with sides and beer. I didn’t take my own photos because I was so afraid of getting my camera or phone stolen. Find out for yourself by going on a Cambodian cook-out with locals!
Laksa– The national dish of Malaysia, I had this dish a few times during my trip, but the last one was the best, at a small restaurant in Kuching. I loved watching the ladies make it, carefully ladling broth onto noodles and topping them with chopped up chicken, omelettes and plump shrimp. Add optional lime juice and chili paste with a tea to wash it down.
Hainanese chicken rice– During my eight hour layover at Singapore’s Changi Airport, I dined on the traditional dish of chicken rice. The chicken has its skin on and a sauce to cover it and the rice. I didn’t find the flavors to be too strong, but that was a good thing as I was feeling anxious about the day and didn’t want anything heavy.