From spicy chili sauces to fresh seafood on the coast, Asia is overflowing with delicious and unique foods. Each city and every region have their own distinctive flavors and delicacies you can’t find anywhere else! With so many options, all the variety can even become a bit overwhelming. Noodles or soup? Barbecue or hot pot? The choices are endless! To help a bit in your next trip to Asia, here’s a list of some of the signature foods you can’t miss in Asia’s top tourist cities.
1. Laksa in Singapore
Singapore is hailed as a food heaven, with a diverse blend of Chinese, Indian, and Malay flavors. One dish that stands out among the others is Singapore’s version of Laksa, a curry-style soup with coconut milk, shrimp, and rice noodles. While versions of Laksa can also be found in Malaysia, Singapore’s take on the dish is unique and often favored by travelers. Just make sure you have a glass of water on hand because this soup packs a spicy punch!
2. Sushi in Tokyo
You probably already had this one figured out for yourself, but it never hurts to emphasize the importance of trying Japan’s most famous dish! Sushi (and really good sushi) can be found everywhere in Tokyo, ranging from Michelin star restaurants to cheap local eateries. No matter what your travel budget is, you can indulge in this delicious and fresh dish, and while you can have it anywhere in the world, nobody does it better than the Japanese. Have sushi for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in Tokyo, as often as you want to during your tour to Japan.
3. Mango Sticky Rice in Bangkok
Thailand is famous for its sticky rice, which is used to accompany numerous main dishes. Perhaps the most mouth-watering variety is the sweet, mango sticky rice dessert made with fresh coconut milk, rice, and mango cooked together to create perhaps the perfect tropical sweet treat! You can find mango sticky rice all over the city, both in restaurants and in street carts and stalls, all for reasonable prices. If you’re in Thailand from March to July, you’re in luck; this is mango season, and the mangoes will be particularly fresh and delicious!
4. Jiaozi (Chinese Dumplings) in Beijing
Beijing has endless dumpling varieties and dining options; they’re so popular that, at some restaurants, dumplings are the exclusive menu item! Chinese steamed dumplings are made from a thin dough stuffed with some combination of meat, eggs, and veggies, then served with soy sauce and a chili dip. Try to find the smaller, family-run shops instead of the restaurants more frequented by tourists to guarantee an authentic experience. You know the dumplings are fresh since you can often watch the dough being rolled and filled while you’re eating!
5. BBQ Beef in Seoul
No other place is quite on par with the BBQ in Korea! Probably the most popular food of the country, you can find BBQ at fancy, high-end restaurants or small mom-and-pop style eateries – but all with that characteristic smoky flavor that makes the dish so famous. Some restaurants will also have helpful cards describing the various cuts of meat for those who don’t quite know what to expect. You can then watch as the pieces are seasoned and grilled over hot charcoal fire for the signature and delicious Korean flavor!
6. Tom Yum in Phuket
The perfect blend of sour, spicy, and creamy, it’s no wonder that tom yum has become the national dish of Thailand. This traditional soup is prepared using fresh chilis, lemongrass, galangal, and other herbs to season the broth, then usually served with jumbo shrimp, mushrooms, and rice. Almost every restaurant offers tom yum on the menu, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to try it out. And, of course, the fresh seafood in Thailand is unbeatable – the shrimp in your soup probably came in on the catch of that day!
7. Bahn Mi in Ho Chi Minh City
The delicious Vietnamese version of a jumbo sandwich, Bahn Mi can be found everywhere in Saigon and is the quintessential food of the country. Start with a large, crispy baguette split open and stuffed with a variety of meat filling, like fish (cha ca), sausages (cha lua), roasted pork belly (heo quay), or pork loin (thit nuang). Add fried egg, chilies, soy sauce, varieties of pickled vegetables, Vietnamese coriander, butter, pate, and cucumbers, and you have the ultimate sandwich creation. It’s hard to walk a block down the street without coming across two or three stalls selling Bahn Mi at any time of day, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to try out all sorts of topping combinations during your time in Saigon!
8. Biryani in Delhi
The aromas of Indian spices in Delhi cuisine are overwhelming and mouth-watering. Traditional Biryani is one of the signature dishes of the country, and definitely something you’ll want to try when you’re in Delhi. The long-grain rice is cooked with meat, usually mutton or poultry, in large earthenware pots, allowing the spices to be fully absorbed, creating a delicious and flavorful dish. Biryani is found everywhere – from roadside vendors to fancy restaurants, depending on what dining experience you desire.
9. Dim Sum in Hong Kong
One of the most classic and unique dishes in Chinese cuisine, dim sum literally translates to “touch the heart” and is always accompanied by tea. Order your tea first, then choose from a variety of small plate options, which are usually served in bamboo steamer baskets. Some Hong Kong chefs will literally spend years perfecting the creation of their dim sum recipes, which include a variety of steamed and fried buns, noodle rolls, sweet sesame desserts, and small wrapped dumplings. Dim sum is meant to be enjoyed slowly, so pace yourself to take in the restaurant atmosphere and a variety of small plate options!
10. Nasi Lemak in Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia’s national dish, nasi lemak, is served breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and usually for just a few ringgit! The most basic variety is coconut rice served with sambal (a spicy shrimp paste), along with peanuts, hard-boiled egg, and fried anchovies. For a heartier meal, fried rendang chicken is served on the side. It’s a perfect combination of spicy from the sambal sauce, sweet from the coconut rice, and just plain delicious from the blend of it all! Many restaurants and vendors will sell nasi lemak wrapped in small banana leaf packets, which also serve as a plate once you pop it open. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can try eating with your fingers like you see the locals doing!
11. Roast Duck in Shanghai
While it’s still called Peking Duck, Shanghai produces its own special version of traditional Chinese roasted duck for a mouth-watering experience. The birds are prepared with a combination of spices, sometimes totaling more than 20 different carefully selected ingredients, then slow-roasted over an open fire to achieve the perfect juicy meat and crispy skin. Roasted duck is usually served with delicious steamed pancakes and a garlic dipping sauce to perfectly complicated the tender meat.
Wherever your tour of Asia takes you, plentiful, delicious food is bound to factor in. Food and meal sharing are integral parts of many Asian cultures, and people take pride in cooking flavorful meals. With so many different things to try, your biggest problem will probably be deciding whether to opt for something new or go back to one of your favorites! With this list, you can make sure you try the signature dishes of each of the places you visit on your trip. Happy eating!