Asia on a Plate
Over recent years, Vietnamese food has become pretty popular all over the world, with restaurants and takeaways springing up everywhere.
A great snack is the banh mi – a hollowed-out torpedo-shaped bread roll stuffed with pickled veg, meat and chilli. And you simply must try pho, this noodle soup is probably Vietnam’s most common street food and is slurped day or night. Noodles pop up in many forms and are on the menu every day, sometimes with every meal. And rice, vegetables, herbs and plenty of fresh chillies all help to make Vietnamese cuisine one of the healthiest there is.
Don’t expect us to share a Cambodian recipe with you here – its culinary secrets are rarely written down, but instead passed from generation to generation. So if you get the chance to dine with the locals, grab it!
Enjoy the full range of flavours in the Khmer dishes you try – sweet, sour, salt and bitter – and don’t be afraid of pastes made from cloves and cardamoms or pungent fermented fish. Plentiful thanks to the Tonle Sap Lake and the Mekong River, fish is actually the main source of protein for most Cambodians. A particular favourite is fish amok, a rich creamy curry made with lemongrass, turmeric, ginger and coconut milk, all served up in a banana leaf.
Indian cuisine is heavily influenced by religious and cultural traditions, and aromatic spices are among the key ingredients. Don’t worry if you’re vegetarian – you will be very well catered for, as most Hindus avoid eating meat. Cinnamon, cloves, pepper, turmeric, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, cumin – all these and more grow in abundance in India’s spice gardens. Each one has a distinct flavour, and many have tried and tested health benefits too.
The term ‘curry’ has become the catch-all name for spice-based dishes but they are certainly not all the same. A curry can be cooked with a diverse range of ingredients and in different ways – dry or with a sauce, mild, hot or very hot.
As with any destination in Asia, dining in China is an integral part of your travel experience. You’re sure to have enjoyed a Chinese meal here in the UK, but for an authentic taste of this exotic land you’ve got to head east.
There are many styles of cooking across this vast country, with eight regional culinary traditions recognised. Staple ingredients all over include rice and noodles, which are eaten every day, along with an assortment of vegetables, with leafy greens particularly prominent. No meat is off the menu, and no part of the animal is wasted. Why not start your discoveries with dumplings – round or crescent-shaped, filled with vegetables or meat – they have been around for centuries. And do give chopsticks a go, but check the rules of etiquette first, as there are quite a few!
Think Japanese food and you probably think rice first and then sushi. This exquisitely presented dish is certainly the country’s most famous, and is a real feast for the eyes. Popular varieties consist of sushi rice, dried seaweed, seafood and vegetables.
Try tofu too – curdled soy milk pressed into blocks in a process similar to cheese-making. And no visitor to Japan should go home without having tried the popular noodle soup, ramen. Another great recommendation is okonomiyaki, which is sometimes translated into English as ‘as-you-like-it-pancake’. This flexible dish consists of batter and cabbage cooked on a griddle and then topped with anything you fancy, from meat and seafood to wasabi and cheese.