Southeast Asian cuisine is righty famous for its incredible mix of ingredients and flavours. Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia are all well known as foodies' destinations and the choice of dishes on offer in each country is so vast that you could never hope to try everything on the local menu on a single culinary visit.
There are, however, certain ubiquitous dishes that are widely available; their popularity extends across regions and even crosses borders, with slight variations depending on local taste and the ingredients available to the cooks in a particular area.
A fun and very tasty way to focus down your Asian food experience is to become a connoisseur of one or two dishes that you particularly enjoy. Seeking out your favourite flavours wherever you go sets you on a journey to find the best, which in many ways is exactly what the locals do. In any town in Thailand
, for example, one restaurant will often become well known for just one dish, and people flock to its tables to savour the flavours top of the food chain.
If your tastes are chilli friendly, you could easily spend a couple of weeks in Thailand enjoying nothing but the kingdom's ubiquitous and flavoursome curries. The green, red and yellow varieties, although similar, each have their own distinctive nuances. All are made from a paste that includes ingredients such as garlic, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, shallots and shrimp paste, but different flavours are then added to create a particular signature taste. The sweet, complex flavours in a green curry, for example, are courtesy of a whole host of herbs and spices, including sweet basil, coriander, while in the yellow curry, cumin and turmeric provide a distinctly Indian aroma.
For western palates, Thailand's creamy Massaman and rich Penang curries are a delicacy that's hard to resist. A rich and complex blend of ingredients in the Massaman curry includes coconut milk, peanuts or cashews, galangal, cardamom pods, cinnamon, star anise, palm sugar, chillies and tamarind sauce. The dish is believed to have been introduced to Thailand by a Persian traders as long ago as the 16th century, and the fact that it remains a favourite today is testament to its rich and flavoursome appeal.
For those with a sense of adventure, there are also a good number of regional varieties in Thai curries that will earn you the status of culinary explorer and give you the edge when it comes to dinner party conversations back home. Geng Som is a spicy, sour fish curry with vegetables popular in central and southern Thailand. An acquired, bitter taste is achieved with the liberal use of tamarind, with palm sugar added to sweeten the experience. At the the other end of the country around Chiang Mai, Khao Soi is a Burmes influenced curry with a similar flavour to Massaman, but with the rich curry sauce poured over egg noodles and garnished with pickled cabbage, shallots, lime and ground chillies. Then there's Geng Pa, or jungle curry, which is distinctive for its lack of coconut milk and utilises the "fruits of the forest" with a selection of vegetables and traditionally also wild boar.
For visitors to Bali
, the dish that's most easily found and enjoyed is Satay (or Sate on local menus). Succulent pieces of flame grilled meat are served on skewers with a range of sauces and fresh sides. The dish can also be found in other countries in the region and beyond, but is believed to have originated on the island of Java with a whole range of different varieties now prepared and served across the Indonesian archipelago, making it one of the country's national dishes.
Although chicken, beef, mutton and pork are the most common meats used for satay, fish and seafood varieties are also popular and you can even find rare delicacies such as venison or even snake meat variations in some areas. Indonesian Satay often come with a rich, peanut sauce along with sliced onion or cucumber, and with so many varieties on offer, you could happily spend several months working your way through the taste list.
Each different satay in Indonesia is named after the town or region form which it originates. Sate Ponorogo, for example, comes from a town in East Java and is perhaps the most popular form of the dish, made from sliced, marinated chicken and served with a spicy peanut sauce. Sate Madura is also a famous variety, usually made from chicken or mutton and served with a signature black, sweet soy sauce. Another popular choice is Sate Padang, made from offal and boiled in a spicy broth before being grilled and served with a creamy yellow sauce made from rice flour mixed with turmeric, ginger, garlic, coriander, galangal root, cumin, curry powder and salt. Bali's own satay is called Lilit and differs from the usual chunks of meat, instead using minced chicken, beef, fish or pork mixed with grated coconut, lemon juice and shallots. The mixture is wound around bamboo, sugar cane or lemon grass sticks then grilled over charcoal.
The above dishes are but the tip of the culinary iceberg when it comes to the diversity of tastes on offer in Southeast Asian cuisine. By setting yourself a taste mission and exploring a particular speciality you can enjoy a shoe host of the region's most fabulous flavours, while also learning a little about the ingredients and influences that make these exotic and intricate dishes some of the most exquisite on the planet.
by LVH Marketing