Navigating Food in South-East Asia

Navigating Food in South-East Asia

We know it can be difficult to navigate ... but the food is the BEST in South-East Asia (SEA)!

Jimmy and I were a little naive when we touched down in SEA in 2017 (let’s just say we could have really used a Chao Travel Journal). We started our trip in Thailand and of course, like after any other travel day, we arrived absolutely starving (read: hangry). Not only were we in a completely foreign country, but we had no idea what to eat. Pad Thai was the only real Thai food we were familiar with and so we set out to find some …

And that was the start of our 2-month food journey in SEA where we learned (and ate) a heck of a lot—and now we share with you so that you can be better prepared and, more importantly, so that you don’t miss out on any delicious food!

Take a cooking class early on

We did a cooking class weeks into our trip, and honestly we regretted not doing it sooner. Not only did we learn so much about the local culture, but we also familiarized ourselves with the common dishes and were much more confident and adventurous ordering food afterwards. Do I regret eating Pad Thai for 2 weeks, not really? But man, I wish I knew what Gaeng Panang (sweet red curry) and Tom Yum Goong (sweet & spicy prawn soup) was earlier on.

Eat where the locals eat

We learned this the hard way (by getting food poisoning from a Westernized restaurant). If the locals are eating there, it’s good. If it’s busy, it’s good. Just because it has sharp branding and a familiar Western-feel doesn’t mean it’s good. We should have known when we were the only patrons inside. High turnover = high chances it’s good
(and fresh!).

Don’t be scared of fish sauce

Fish sauce is an indispensable staple throughout South East Asia, much like salt is in Western cooking. It’s a liquid condiment made from salted and fermented fish (but you don’t taste the fish, trust me!). It’s similar to soy sauce, adding umami and salt-like flavour. If you say no to fish sauce you will be missing out on the best food.

Make sure you know how to use chopsticks

Not only out of respect, but also because some restaurants don’t have other options (like forks). However, there are times and ways to use them. Chopsticks are mostly used for stand-alone noodle dishes; and not rice-based dishesso do not ask for a pair of chopsticks if they are not provided. Also, note that it’s disrespectful (and bad luck!) to leave your chopsticks standing up in your bowl.


Be adventurous

Trying different foods and expanding your palette is all a part of travelling! Ask the locals for their recommendations and venture outside of your comfort zone. Who knows, it might be a new dish that you seek out at home or master in the kitchen … taking you down memory lane.

Do your research

Make a list of things to try in your Chao Travel Journal—including some local hot-spots!

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