Drawing on centuries worth of outsider influences from sea-faring traders to neighbouring China and India, Southeast Asian cuisine is deliciously diverse. Underpinned by a perfect harmony of spicy, sweet, sour and salty, the region’s dishes deliver the ultimate umami hit. When visiting this magical part of the world, whisk your taste buds on a whirlwind culinary journey with these Southeast Asian dishes.
Nasi lemak, Malaysia
Malaysia’s most beloved dish, nasi lemak is eaten for breakfast, lunch and, well, almost any time of day. Featuring a creamy dome of coconut milk-infused rice, it’s served as a platter alongside an array of tasty titbits like egg, chili paste, lamb curry, sliced cucumber and peanuts. Conceived as a filling, energy-supplying dish for farmers, nasi lemak has humble origins but is very nutritionally balanced.
Try it on: Colonial Singapore and Malaysia
In Cambodia, you’ll find amok everywhere; from hole-in-the-wall vendors to upscale eateries. A slightly sweet curry, steamed and served in banana leaves, amok radiates the perfume of lemongrass, lime leaves and turmeric. Most commonly packed with tender pieces of fish, chicken or beef, amok will be enjoyed with a rice accompaniment.
Try it on: Secrets of Cambodia
For an authentic taste of Laos, get yourself some larb. It’s unique in that almost all of its components are ground – from the rice to the meat. Made from minced pork or chicken, the dish is served up with aromatic mint and shallots, lime juice and chili, all neatly cocooned in a lettuce leaf. Ground sticky rice accompanies it. Super healthy and fresh, larb has the perfect sweet-salty equilibrium.
Try it on: Secrets of Cambodia with Laos
Widely considered Vietnam’s signature dish, phở (that’s ‘fuh’, not ‘fo’) is a delicate, aromatic soup loaded with vermicelli, finely sliced chicken or beef and generously sprinkled with holy basil, mint, coriander, bean sprouts and a lime wedge to finish. A real labour of love, the transparent broth gently simmers for many hours, flavoured with star anise, fennel and ginger. You’ll find phở on almost every street corner in Vietnam, so make sure you try a steaming bowlful.
Try it on: Highlights of Vietnam
Tom kha kai, Thailand
Hot, sweet, spicy and sour, this Thai soup packs one mighty flavour punch. Made with a coconut milk base, tom kha kai is brought to life with a Holy Trinity of galangal, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. Spiked with red chili, tender chicken pieces and shitake mushrooms, tom kha kai is one soup you must seek out when visiting Southeast Asia.
Try it on: Treasures of Thailand
Fermented tea salad? It may sound like an acquired taste but there’s a reason laphet is Myanmar’s national delicacy. Bittersweet, fermented tea leaves are served alongside dried prawns, peanut, garlic and tomatoes, but separately as series of individual components so you can pick n mix them together to achieve umami perfection. A dish with a long heritage, in ancient times laphet was served as a peace offering between warring kingdoms.
Try it on: Spiritual Burma
If these sensational dishes have whetted your appetite for Southeast Asian flavours, click here to discover an enchanting Trafalgar trip.
Image Credits: main image © iStock/Rez-art. Amok © iStock/hwaleuk. Laphet © Wikicommons/Wagaung. Larb © iStock/Porntep-Kawjun. Nasi Lemak © iStock/bonchan. Thom kha © iStock/TheLionRoar.