Written by Jenny McWhirter on 09 / 09 / 2015
Gap Year Advice
Planning a gap year in Asia? If so, I’m very envious! There are so many wonderful countries and cultures to explore, plus a whole variety of delicious delicacies for all you foodies out there.
It’s no mean feat to select just a handful of culinary experiences in a continent so large, but I’ve managed to narrow it down to five (just). Discover my favourite Asian dishes, including where to find them and the best places to sample each one below.
Japan offers one of the world’s most unique culinary experiences, and Tokyo is at the heart of it all. There are more restaurants in this vast city than there are in any other city in the world and the quality of the food here is second-to-none; you’re rarely more than 500m from an extremely good restaurant.
Naturally, sushi is the most commonly consumed dish in Tokyo and you could probably spend an entire day dining at one of the conveyor belt sushi restaurants, where various appealing dishes wind around your seat. Whether you want to eat your sushi fresh from the source at Tsukiji Central Fish Market, at a counter restaurant in the trendy Ginza neighbourhood, or at a local haunt in a back alley, you’ll find what you’re after here.
In some places, you can even experience the traditional Japanese dining style of sitting on the floor- quite a novelty! If the numerous options are too much for you and you simply can’t decide where to go, have a read of Time Out Tokyo’s feature on the top ten sushi restaurants to help you make a decision.
In many parts of the world, street food is continuing to become more and more fashionable but in Kuala Lumpur, it's just the way things are and have been for many years. The city is a melting pot of cultures from around Asia, including Chinese, Indian and Middle Eastern, which is reflected in its cuisine.
The ultimate street food destination in the city has to be Jalan Alor, where modern shopping malls have been replaced by endless food stalls and, whereas there’s not much activity during the day, the street comes alive at night. Jalan Alor was once the city’s red light district but, after several face lifts, it has become a food haven. Many of the dishes you’ll try here will consist of a generous amount of spices and ingredients such as coconut milk, lemon grass, kaffir lime, tamarind, ginger and galangal- mmm…
Isan food, which significantly differs from the food in central Thailand, as it’s heavily influenced by Lao cuisine, can be found everywhere in Korat. Perhaps the best-known dish is som tam, aka papaya salad, which is made using unripe papayas, crab, lime, peanuts and chillies.
Other characteristic dishes include mam, a type of sausage that’s grilled and garnished with green onions and mint, sok lek, which is raw beef, and other salads that consist of cold meat, mint and lemon juice, known as larb.
One of the many famous places to eat in Korat is Lab Som Phit, an old school restaurant that provides a whole range of Isan dishes and is always buzzing with both travellers and locals. To experience these delicious dishes, why not take part in the Taste of Isan Food Tour, whereby you’ll get the chance to sample authentic Isan foods, discover how noodles are made and help cook your own dinner. A word of warning: Isan food is known for being fiery hot, even amongst Thais, so be prepared!
One of Taiwan’s signature dishes is beef noodle soup, which can be found at every turn in the country’s capital, Taipei. Despite the fact this is not a native dish, the city’s residents go crazy for it, so much so that they hold an annual festival devoted to the delicacy. Taipei International Beef Noodle Soup Festival sees the city’s most beloved beef noodle soup restaurants go head-to-head to vie for the title of world’s best beef noodle soup.
Few places have the history or credentials of Mu Ji, where the chefs employ a century-old tradition of noodle-making and spend ten hours preparing red-cooked beef noodle soup. At TW$160 a bowl, it may be pricey, but it is that traditional style of cooking that keeps people coming back time and time again.
Another popular place to eat is Lao Wang, though with no name on the shop or any signs, it’s not the easiest place to find. Still, it’s worth attempting to do so for it’s often cited as having the best beef noodles in Taipei.
Amok fish, the culinary delicacy of Cambodia, is a must-try when visiting Siem Reap - one of the main places you'll visit on our Cambodia gap year programs. Many of the fish used to make the dish are sourced locally in Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, and are typically light, neutral-fleshed fish, as these enable the flavours to stand out more.
The fish is then steamed in a savoury curry sauce made using coconut cream, fish sauce and kroeung, a traditional Khmer spice-herb paste, before being served with sticky rice. One of our very own chefs, Gordon Ramsay, made the trip to Taiwan to learn how to cook Cambodia’s most traditional food specialty and chose to visit The Sugar Palm, where the souffléd amok is said to be the best in town.
Another restaurant worth checking out is the aptly named Amok Restaurant, which has the widest range of amok dishes on offer and uses recipes from all the provinces throughout the kingdom. Fancy having a go and preparing it yourself? Head to Khmer Kitchen, where you can take part in daily cooking classes.
Have I missed out your favourite Asian dish? Or can you think of any restaurants I should add to the list? Let me know by posting in the comments box.
on 09 / 09 / 2015