South East Asia: home to utopian white sands, majestic natural beauty, limitlessly friendly locals, and of course – some of the tastiest food on the planet.
If you’ve recently booked a cruise to South East Asia, boy are you in for a treat. The region’s gastronomic offering is nothing short of staggering; each country sports its own menu of unique culinary treats – from Vietnam’s Bahn Cuon to Malaysia’s Nasi goreng – making it the ideal destination for the discerning foodie.
To torment those taste buds and leave you longing for a trip to the Far East, here are twenty foods you must sample during a cruise trip to South East Asia.
Favoured by US President Barack Obama, Bakso is a savoury meatball soup sold from makeshift push-karts across Indonesia. The dish is made using chicken, beef or pork, and is often served with boiled egg, fried shallots and wontons.
Roughly translated, Gado-Gado means “mix-mix” in Indonesian, which is apt, given Gado-gado contains a medley of contrasting ingredients – including spinach, potato, egg and bean sprouts. To give the dish its unique Asian flavour, Indonesians like to add a dollop of the country’s famous peanut sauce.
For a cheap, quick meal on the move, opt for Nasi Uduk – a savoury dish containing a variety of meats and vegetables, and often served with rice. The dish is popular with native Betawi, who often add a sprinkling of melingo nut crackers for extra spice and crunch.
Served with al dente noodles, Mie Ayam is a fresh, wholesome dish whose spiciness varies from vendor to vendor. To prepare the dish, chefs add gravy-braised chicken to boiled bakmie, before tossing in sambal sauce and chives for extra flavour.
Should you get stuck in rush hour traffic in Jarkarta, it’s worth purchasing a portion of Bakpao from one of the many traders likely to approach your vehicle. These savoury stuffed bread buns contain various meats, and are delicious eaten as they are. For a sweet alternative – look for Bakpaos with a coloured dot on top.
For a breakfast with a difference, try Roti Canai. This stretchy, pastry based dish is made from a dough of egg, flour and ghee, and despite its elasticity, has a flaky exterior. Eat straight off the griddle for a tasty breakfast or wholesome afternoon snack.
Blending the fragrant spice of lemongrass, chilli and ginger with the rich taste of coconut, Curry Laksa is a popular restaurant dish, and one that works extra well with shrimp, cucumber and eggs.
Heavily seasoned with turmeric, ginger and chilli, Rendang is a dry, spicy curry whose richness lends itself well to beef (though chicken, vegetable and seafood rending is also available). Served with rice, this traditional Malaysian dish is as delicious as it is hearty.
Is it a soup? Or is it a noodle dish? Whatever it is, Hokkien Mee is a must-eat during your visit to Malaysia. The dish is made using a rich shrimp stock, prawns, noodles and bean sprouts – all of which are submerged in a broth and simmered before being served to the public. Delicious.
Sambal is a Malaysian sauce prepared using chillies, fish sauce, ginger, lime juice and rice vinegar. It’s also the main ingredient in Sambal Udang – a spicy dish predominantly served with shrimp and noodles. Despite its simplicity, Sambal Udang is one of the tastiest dishes on offer in Malaysia.
Developed by a Chinese-Thai chef in the 1930s, Phat Thai has become a much-loved dish throughout Thailand. The dish is often served with rice noodles, shrimp, boiled egg and tofu, and is seasoned with tamarind, vinegar, fish sauce and chilli. Wherever you travel in Thailand, you’ll have no problems finding Phat Thai on the menu.
Eat a portion of Laap with sticky Jasmine Rice, and you’ll be in seventh culinary heaven. This fragrant dish, which originates from Thailand’s northeast, contains minced meat, lime juice, fish sauce and fresh herbs, and is available from both restaurants and market stalls.
In essence, Kai yang is a Thai-style, grilled chicken dish best served with sticky Jasmine rice and crunchy papaya salad. Considered one of Thailand’s most popular eats, Kai yang is unique, fragrant and an absolute must for meat lovers.
Phat kaphrao has become a street food favourite across Thailand, so day-tripping tourists will have no problem sampling the stuff. Made from flash-fried meat, chilli and garlic, Phat kaphrao is spicy, fragrant and perfect when topped with a fried egg.
For vegetarians visiting Thailand, Som tam should be at the top of your must-eat hit list. Served with crushed papaya, tomato, beans, chilli, fish sauce and lime, Sam tam is equal parts fruity and spicy, and best served with sticky Jasmine rice.
No – it’s not just a sandwich. This is Banh Mi, Vietnam’s take on the breaded baguette. After the French introduced baguettes to Vietnam, the locals have adopted the bread as their own – cramming slices full of pork belly, meatballs, pickled carrots and fish cakes.
In short, Goi is a Vietnamese salad, often served as an accompanying side dish with a main meal. The reason Goi has made this list of must-eats is simple: it’s delicious. Prepared with papaya or mango and dressed with crushed peanuts, cilantro and cham sauce, Goi is sure to be a bit hit with vegetarian cruise-goers.
Synonymous with port towns along the Vietnamese coast, Cao Lau is a traditional noodle dish served with thin slices of pork, bean sprouts, fried dough and herbs. The dish is commonly served from street vendors, but is becoming a mainstay in some restaurants too.
Travel to Vietnam during the lunar new year celebration of Tet, and you’ll no doubt stumble upon Banh Chung – a banana leaf-wrapped parcel containing rice, pork and mung bean. Why the Vietnamese reserve Banh Chung for this special holiday remains a mystery, but the dish is well worth tracking down if you have the chance.
Translated as “Broken Rice” in Vietnamese, Com Tam is a dish whose origins stem from rice farmers, who had trouble selling their broken grain at markets. Considered a “cheap” alternative to normal rice dishes, Com Tam is growing increasingly popular thanks to its soft, fluffy texture.
Feeling hungry? Us too! For your chance to sample any of the fodder above, visit the Cruise1st Australia website, where you’ll find a complete range of upcoming cruise holidays in South East Asia. Alternatively, call 1300 857 345 to speak to a member of the Cruise1st Australia team about your holiday plans.
Images sourced via Flickr Creative Commons. Credit: femme run, closari, Alpha, Lucas Richarz, wENDy