Aside from the usual suspects like Thailand’s Bangkok, Vietnam’s Hanoi and Taiwan’s Taipei, where are some new places to explore for good food in Asia Pacific?
Here’s our list of comparatively underrated gourmet destinations, so you can plan your year-end holiday!
The sunny and friendly city has been named one of Lonely Planet’s best places to travel in 2023 specifically for its food options. Fukuoka is widely considered the ramen capital of Japan, and it is the birthplace of tonkotsu ramen, also known as Hakata ramen. The dish got its name from the former port city and merchant quarter of Hakata, which was merged with the castle town of Fukuoka in 1889 into the city we know today.
Obviously then, partaking in a piping hot bowl of the al dente noodles bathed in creamy pork bone broth is a must. The Fukuoka-born Ichiran chain offers an interesting experience – there’s a 15-second kitchen-to-table rule and diners eat in individual cubicles for a no-distraction element.
Another Fukuoka specialty is the spicy salted cod roe, known as Karashi Mentaiko. It can be served as a side dish, as a sake accompaniment or atop chazuke (rice in hot tea or broth).
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Filipino cuisine has been receiving lots of international attention of late. While adobo (a meat dish braised with vinegar, soy sauce and garlic) is the unofficial representative of Filipino food globally, there’s certainly many more other must-try dishes in the Philippines. Hit up Ugbo Street, famous for its numerous kiosks that serve inexpensive snacks and street food until the wee hours of the day. There, try isaw (grilled skewered chicken or pork intestines), grilled balut (duck embryo) and lechon (roasted suckling pig).
After a late night out, or just for breakfast, try the options at Rodic’s Diner – the first meal of the day in the Philippines tends to be savoury and hearty. Go for the tapsilog, a combination of tapa (cured beef), sinangag (fried garlic rice), and itlog (fried egg).
Halo-halo – shaved ice, and sweet evaporated milk topped generously with a plethora of ingredients such as leche flan, coconut or sago is another must-try. A popular place to get it is the Milky Way Cafe.
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While Taipei and its internationally famous street food markets have been on the radar of foodies worldwide, locals consider the ancient city Tainan to be the country’s food capital. At the heart of its food scene are family-owned food establishments that stay true to tradition while making the best of innovation.
Shangfu Snack Bar (No. 142, Section 1, Datong Road, 701 East District, Tainan City) has been making its unctuous pork rib rice for over 50 years, Fu Sheng Hao’s (No. 11, Section 3, Minzu Road, West Central District, Tainan City) wanguo (steamed rice gruel with sliced pork, dried shrimp and crunchy radish) has been around since 1947, and Ching Hua Milkfish (No. 523, Section 1, Jinhua Road, South District, Tainan City) has been satisfying morning appetites with the Tainan signature milkfish porridge for over 40 years.
For street food galore, head to Tainan Flower Night Market, located north of the Tainan city centre in the North district. With some 400 stalls, it is the largest night market in the area.
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Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
Located on the northern tip of East Malaysia, Sabah is a popular destination for adventurers – from mountain climbing (Mount Kinabalu is Southeast Asia’s highest peak) to scuba diving, it is a paradise for nature lovers. The food scene in its capital, Kota Kinabalu, isn’t shabby either.
While Chinese noodles such as the ngiu chap (beef noodles) and sang nyuk mee (pork noodles) are famous in the state and can be had at various places in the city, Kota Kinabalu is one of the best places to try indigenous food. Head to My Native Sabah in Penampang in the greater Kota Kinabalu area, where you can try a variety of Kadazan Dusun (an indigenous ethnic group) cuisine, including ambuyat (starch derived from the sago palm), pinasakan (braised fish with tangy broth) and hinava (traditional Kadazan Dusun fresh raw fish salad).
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Siem Reap, Cambodia
Though obviously well known for Angkor Wat and the other temples in the Angkor UNESCO World Heritage Centre, Siem Reap’s foodie options are not to be dismissed either. Compared to neighbouring countries like Thailand, Khmer cuisine is generally more subtle in heat and spice but no less flavourful. A signature dish of the area is fish amok, a smooth souffle of mashed snakehead fish, prahok (fermented fish paste) and coconut cream, frequently steamed in a palm leaf, and Bai Sach Chrouk, which is pork with broken rice. Find them, and more, at the family-run Khmer Kitchen. For a special and refined night out, head to Cuisine Wat Damnak. Set in a traditional wooden house, it is the first Cambodian restaurant to grace the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Chef Joannes Riviere serves two tasting menus, with dishes such as sour pork sausage salad with guava, lotus stems, cashews and crispy belly, which combine local heritage with French technique.
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