With all this staying at home and wondering when one will be able to jump on a plane again, I often find my mind straying. To the destinations yes, but moreso to the food. Here’s eight meals from eight countries I’d be making a beeline for.
Burma: Aung Thukha
Yangon has to be one of the best walking cities in Southeast Asia—do watch out for traps though. On an early visit I spent much of my time in the Chinatown area. Congested, dense and built up, it also hosts loads to eat and drink, both on the street and in small restaurants.
Pack an appetite for Aung Thukha. Photo: Stuart McDonald.
Burmese food has a bit of a bad wrap for it being oily, but to my palate, that is a plus not a minus. The curries are so rich, yet mostly not nearly as fiery as those in Thailand. While in Yangon, my friend Austin Bush pointed me to Aung Thukha, a little out of the centre of town perhaps, but what a tip it was. Curry after curry, with salads and soups on the side, all washed down with a Myanmar Beer or three. Whenever I get back to Burma, it will be straight from the airport to here.
While Thailand and Vietnam are more famous for it, Cambodia is no slouch when it comes to market and street food. I’ve written before of doing a street food walk in Phnom Penh, but in the middle of a blisteringly hot dry season day, stepping into Kravanh ticks just about all the boxes.
Grazing at Kravanh. Photo: Stuart McDonald.
The menu may be as long as the service is slow, but when paired with the chilled air–con there’s no shortage of reasons to linger. The fare is authentic and not outrageously priced. If the weather were cooler or I wasn’t feeling so flush, I’d cross the road to Sophath instead for a bowl of nom banh chok.
Indonesia: Fish and rice
I often joke that when in eastern Indonesia, my meal options are either rice and fish or fish and rice—either with a small soup on the side. I know there is far more on offer, but this staple, done well, is just about all I want.
Eat this three times a day and you’ll grow to love it too. Photo: Stuart McDonald.
It says something about the brilliance of Indonesian food that even a dish as simple as a grilled fish on rice can be so sensational. I’ve had this across much of the archipelago, though one of the most memorable was in Baranusa on Pantar—perhaps it was because it was the only thing the sole warung I could find sold.
Laos: Duck laap
Sitting on our floating bungalow on the river between Don Dhet and Don Khon in far southern Laos, life was slow. Feet dangling the river, watching cyclists ride by on the far bank, reading, snoozing. Dawn would slide into sunset, much like the river, without interruption.
Our view while waiting for a duck to be murdered. Photo: Stuart McDonald.
The owner, an affable Savannakhet native had made an attempt on an authentic Lao/Thai menu, but there was no laap. One day I asked, would it be possible for him to whip up a laap? He paused, then said it was possible, though it would take a while. We had loads of time—more in fact than the poor riverside duck that was promptly dispatched. Memorable.
Malaysia: Kedai Kopi Yee Fung
I’m pretty leery of proclaiming anything as being the “best ever”, but the Sabah–style laksa at Kedai Kopi Yee Fung is pretty special. Mild but rich thanks to the oodles of coconut milk that go into it, this hole in the wall joint is almost as good for people watching as it is for scoffing.
That lime… Photo: Stuart McDonald.
The only down side? A meal here means one less meal at Kota Kinabalu’s night market.
Singapore: BK Eating House
A few years ago, thanks to some visa complications, I had a forced stay in Singapore for far longer than planned. While I spent an inordinate amount of time at the Chinatown Complex, there was one place I found myself at more than anywhere else. BK Eating House by the corner of Southbridge and Circular Roads in Boat Quay.
Hit me. At BK Eating House. Photo: Stuart McDonald.
It is a hole in the wall hawker centre where the tables spill out onto the pavement and the beers are as affordable as they are icy. A simple bowl of fish ball noodles here—wet or dry depending on my mood, kept me going in Southeast Asia’s most wallet haemorrhaging city.
Thailand: Khua Kling Plaa
Beware the moment when you ask the waiter what is good, and they tell you a dish you’ve not heard of, then add “it is too spicy for you”, but you order it anyway.
You will need the rice. Take my word for it. Photo: Stuart McDonald.
In, of all places, an off beach restaurant named Krua Ta Sert at Ao Chao Phao on Thailand’s Ko Pha Ngan, khua kling is a fiery dry curry with its roots in southern Thailand. To say it almost killed me is not an understatement. Did I go back for more punishment the next day? Absolutely.
Vietnam: A bowl worth remembering
If there is one country on the planet where you could say “a bowl a day keeps the doctor away” but have a different bowl every day, it is Vietnam. I’ve had so many fantastic bowls, phở, bún bò Huế, hủ tiếu, bún cá and on and on, it is hard to pick the best one.
Oh how I wish they delivered to Bali. Photo: Stuart McDonald.
A favourite though, perhaps in part because I had never had it before, was a serving of súp cua bách thảo at open–air Mai in Sa Dec.
The dish is ostensibly a glutinous soup with crab but there is a lot more to it. There is also shrimp, three types of egg and a delicious absolute melt in the mouth chunk of pig brain. Mai also does ice cream—the perfect chaser.
Have you had a memorable meal in Southeast Asia? What would be the first dish you’d be aiming for when you return? Let me know in the comments.
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