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The Best Dish: Southeast Asia

WORLDWIDE | Monday, 7 May 2012 | Views [1983]

Food plays a big part in any travellers adventure. The different smells and textures, the new spices, the levels of heat - so much of it is tied intrinsically into our memories of a place.

South East Asia in particular is recognized by travellers as one of the world's top cuisines...and a wonderful place to take your taste buds on a tour!

So, we have asked some of our friends: What is the best meal you've ever had in South East Asia?

Pulut Panggang, Malaysia

Hungry and on one of the wettest drives of my life, I pulled over to a line of street food stalls at the side of the road in northern Malaysia. Every stall enticed, from the sizzle and hiss of liquid batter turning solid to form a parcel for roti canai to the sweet round treats dusted with sesame and assembled in various plastic tubs.

My favourite by far, however, was Pulut Panggang: gelatinous rice with a surprise filling served wrapped within a charred banana leaf. Some contained shredded coconut, others held finely spiced meat but all arrived piping hot from the back of a car, despite it being such a cool and rain-soaked day.

The banana leaves curled taut and tight against the rice, a kind of cross between a stick of salami and a coloured, lemon-lime icicle pop.

Peeling back the leaves, I could almost feel the flavours of Malaysia soaking into my skin and I rejoiced at my luck in finding the place.

 - Abigail King, Inside the Travel Lab

Eight Types of Mushrooms, Vietnam

I believe that interactive food creates a total experience and always results in a story that you can share with friends. Considering my love for engaging food opportunities, my favourite meal was at Highway 4 in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, Vietnam.

We ordered a variety of dishes to share, from green mango and papaya salad to steam boats, rice noodle rolls and eight types of mushroom in Highway 4's own secret sauce. The unique and fresh ingredients build on the memorable dining experience.

 - Marissa Toohey, The Bubble Buster Project

Squid & Noodle Soup, Cambodia

The dish with no official name, not being on any menu – merely a concoction thrown together by some generous women hosts at a small roadside cafe near the Ream naval base. They looked at us quizzically when we asked for some food. The request was fine … but what kind of food did we want? Hmmm… good question – anything really. I was hungry after a two hour walk in the Ream national park to the top of Meditation Mountain…but I just don’t have the Khmer words on the tip of my tongue for “I don’t mind, whatever you’ve got”.

A little girl comes over ‘Vous parlez Francais?’. ‘Un peu’ I say, indicating madly to Sam that he should come over and trot out his superior schoolboy French skills to put in an order. Grandpa obviously holds the best foreign language skills with Colonial French and rises up from a hammock to give us a toothless grin. ‘Calamare?’ he suggests as cook reaches into an icebox and pulls out a cold fresh squid. Yes, yes! Somehow we also find words for soup and noodles. I’m not sure we meant to ask for all three things in a combo – it was just a suggestion for the kinds of food that we’d like.

These utterances are spurred on by a bubbling pot of broth a top a little cauldron of coals in the kitchen. Smells fantastic!

So all three ingredients are combined into a huge plate of food that arrives covered in the usual green finery, with lime wedges and chili on the side.

Save for the slurping from Sam and I and mutterings of laughter (at us) from the table of navy officers, there’s not much background noise. How far away from Phnom Penh this feels!

Today’s quest out of town has turned out marvelously…in so many ways.

- Christy McCarthy, WorldNomads.com

The cafe in Ream, just South of Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Green Papaya Salad, Thailand

I've eaten at some incredible restaurants in France, Switzerland and Australia, but the best meal I ever had was on a plastic plate on a street in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Two nights before, I had plopped down at a street cart around the corner from my guesthouse and simply smiled and made “I’m hungry” motions.

Sitting on her motorbike seat, the lady asked me “spicy or no spicy” and then started throwing together the ingredients for papaya salad. Perfect, I thought – made with shredded green papaya, it’s one of my fresh and fiery Thai favorites. As I ate my salad, the cook sat down with me and we had a conversation the only way you can when you don’t speak a common language: a lot of smiles, gestures and genuine appreciation for each other’s company. “Next time, you make,” she told me as I left – and I decided to take her up on that, even after a full day of Thai cooking and eating.

Her face lit up as I walked to the cart – isn’t it a wonderful feeling to be recognised? She immediately got off her motorbike, gave me a hug and then waved me onto the seat. So I made myself comfortable and looked in awe at the makeshift kitchen: everything she needed was within reach and strapped onto the side of her motorbike, the ultimate example of efficiency.

We laughed as I slowly grated the green papaya, smashed the garlic and tomatoes with her mortar and pestle and mixed in some chili. Locals and foreigners alike stared as they passed: what was the farung doing making her own dinner? The papaya salad was delicious -even more so because it had been made possible with friendship.

 - Christine Amorose, C'est Christine

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Tags: cambodia, connect local, food, laos, malaysia, noodles, soup, thailand, travel, vietnam

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