16 Southeast Asian Foods That Will Make Your Mouth Water

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Flight Network Foodie  

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You don’t have to be a foodie to find joy in trying new foods when traveling; it just comes naturally. A country’s food can tell visitors more about its culture, history and character than handfuls of tours and museum visits. And when it comes to dining abroad, Southeast Asia is one of the most praised regions of the world for everything from fine local flavors to the underrated snack “meat on a stick.”

#1. Amok — Cambodia

Traditional amok features fresh-caught catfish covered in a coconut-milk-based curry sauce and steamed in banana leaves. But since the dish has become a Cambodian favorite, you can find it made with a variety of ingredients including chicken, fish or even mixed seafood.

Photo credit: ElCapitan
Photo credit: ElCapitan

#2.  Vietnamese Pho — Vietnam

Although rice noodles, vegetables and a carefully prepared broth of meat and bones make up most of the famous Vietnamese pho dish, it’s the unique blend of cilantro, ginger, onion and cinnamon that sets it above other Southeast Asian soups.

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#3. Massaman Curry — Thailand

Coconut milk, cashews, bay leaves, potatoes, fish sauce, cardamom, star anise, palm sugar, chili and tamarind sauce create the spicy broth for this traditionally beef Thai dish. But you don’t have to love beef to try massaman, as it can be found with a variety of ingredients from chicken to fish, seafood and tofu.

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#4. Chicken Tikka Masala — Malaysia

Some of the best Indian food in the world is found in Malaysia, and it seems Malaysians have mastered chicken tikka masala. Tandoori chicken chunks are traditionally smothered in a spicy tomato and corriander sauce to complete this dish, but the sauce recipes vary greatly from chef to chef.

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#5. Nasi Goreng — Indonesia

You’ll find nasi goreng in the finest Indonesian eateries or served up hot on the streets on all of the country’s 19,000 islands. This national dish traditionally features a hearty portion of spiced fried rice with a fried egg on top.

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#6. Tom Yum Goong — Thailand

This hot and sour soup will blow your favorite Asian take-out restaurant’s out of the water. The refreshing galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime, chilli and fish sauce broth pairs perfectly with the giant, fresh prawns strewn throughout.

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#7. Bun Cha — Vietnam

Although the white rice noodles, grilled pork, herbs and chunks of spring rolls make up the majority of this Vietnamese favorite, it’s the sweet dipping sauce served on the side (ready to be dumped all over your meal) that makes the dish so desirable.

Photo credit: Brian Johnson & Dane Kantner
Photo credit: Brian Johnson & Dane Kantner

#8. Laap — Laos

This simple blend of chopped meat, toasted rice and fish sauce is so tasty it has become the national dish of Laos. And with ingredients ranging from chicken, beef and pork to fish and duck, you’ll have to try more than one dish to get the true taste of laap.

Photo credit: Alpha
Photo credit: Alpha

#9. Num Sang Khya L’peou — Cambodia

Local Cambodian pumpkins look more like a squash than a traditional North American pumpkin, but this sweet dish they’re a part of will make you forget about pumpkin pie altogether. The center of a pumpkin is scooped out and replaced with an egg yolk, coconut milk and palm sugar custard, then baked or steamed to perfection. The pumpkin is sliced and served with shaved ice and coconut milk on top.

Photo credit: Chinkerfly
Photo credit: Chinkerfly

#10. Pad Thai — Thailand

It may be served all around the world, but nobody makes pad thai as perfectly as they do in Thailand. And you certainly can’t beat the price. For less than $1, you’ll enjoy a heaping plate of rice noodles traditionally stir fried with egg, meat and spices, but recipes vary to include bean sprouts, peanuts, lime juice, tamarind paste, fish sauce and other sweet and spicy ingredients.

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#11. Curry Laksa — Malaysia

This coconut-based curry soup is a spicy combination of large noodles, coriander, laksa leaf and a heaping amount of chili paste. The dish is served everywhere from fine restaurants to street vendors and the inclusion of chicken, tofu or fish turns it into a hearty Malaysian meal.

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#12. Banh Mi — Vietnam

French colonialism brought baguettes to Vietnam, where they were filled with traditional Vietnamese ingredients and turned into the country’s favorite sandwich. Banh mi sandwiches are commonly served on fresh-baked baguettes with sliced pork, pork sausage, head cheese, liver pate and pickled vegetables.

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#13. Som Tam — Thailand

It may be called a salad (green papaya salad to be exact), but this Thai dish won’t leave you asking, “Where’s the main course?” The green papaya salad is served throughout Southeast Asia, but the spicy Thai version typically includes shredded green papaya, peanuts, green beans, crab, shrimp, fish sauce, lime, palm sugar and plenty of chilies.

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#14. Beef Lok Lak — Cambodia

One of the most basic and hearty dishes of Khmer cuisine (also known as Cambodian cuisine) is beef lok lak. Marinated beef chunks are commonly served with lettuce, tomatoes, rice and a sweet and hot lime pepper dressing on the side.

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#15. Fish Head Curry — Malaysia

When you’re well settled into your Malaysian (or Singaporean) vacation, it’s time to eat some fish heads. Fish head curry — usually served with a red snapper head in a Kerala-style curry with eggplant and other mixed vegetables — is a classic in Malaysian, Singaporean, Chinese, Indian and Nepalese cuisine that’s not nearly as scary as it seems.

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#16. Meat on a Stick — Thailand

Street food is a Southeast Asian staple, and it doesn’t get much cheaper or easier to eat than the classic “meat on a stick.” While the meat can be anything from chicken and pork to quail eggs, octopus and hot dogs, if you choose wisely, you’ll probably discover  your favorite Thai snack.

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About the Author: Courtney McCaffrey

Courtney McCaffrey is a travel writer and editor based in Wilmington, N.C. In addition to writing, she lives for travel - seeing new places, experiencing new cultures and surfing new waves.

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