1. Brunei Darussalam: Ambuyat
Brunei, a small and tranquil nation with a rich cultural and historical heritage, is just a short flight away, yet how many of us have been there? If you prefer your vacation destinations to be tourist-free, you’ll feel like you have the whole country to yourself. Replete with lush nature and eco-tourism opportunities, Brunei has a lot to see and do. And while you’re there, you must try the local delicacies. Heard of Ambuyat? It looks as exotic as it sounds. Brunei’s national dish is prepared from sago of the rumbia palm. This very thick porridge is super healthy and tasty to boot. Usually eaten with a double-pronged bamboo stick called chandas, Ambuyat is served in a sauce called Cacah Binjai, made of binjai fruit, which is like a sour mango. Ambuyat tends to come with side dishes like Pais (meat barbecued in banana leaves) and Tahai (dried fish soup).
2. Cambodia: Fish Amok
This tiny country is packed with millennia of history, and is easily accessible from Singapore. Home to meandering rivers, sleepy colonial-era towns and hilltop retreats, Cambodia has lots to explore, and is an ideal destination for a long-weekend getaway. Away from the picture-perfect temples, the country remains refreshingly untouristed. No trip to Cambodia would be complete without a taste of their national dish, Fish Amok. This complex delicacy has textures and tastes that vary across regions but key ingredients remain the same: marinated fish, curry paste and aromatic spices. There are many street vendors that use pestle and mortar to pound the herbs for a more authentic punch to the dish, and the resulting mixture goes into a pot with some shrimp paste, coconut milk and catfish. Portions of the final paste are then placed into bamboo leaf squares, topped with thick coconut cream, and garnished with slices of kaffir lime leaves. This iconic dish best goes with – you guessed it – rice!
Fish Amok is like a Cambodian savoury souffle. Photo credit: Mawanusa
3. Indonesia: Nasi Rawon
With its countless islands and multifarious cities, this emerald and sapphire archipelago is one of Asia’s premier tourist destinations. With its stellar diving and pristine beaches, Indonesia is amazing all year round. Its food is also fantastic, but it is almost impossible to recommend just a few dishes to eat in Indonesia. With more than 500 languages spoken by about 250 million people, with fascinating customs and lifestyles, you just can’t narrow it down – but if you have to try one dish, go for Nasi Rawon. Rawon is a meal consisting of a special spicy beef soup containing keluak, or Indonesian black nut. It is a very popular dish in both Central and East Java. Commonly, beef is cut into bite-sized pieces and cooked with a very special mixture of Indonesian spices, and then cooked in some oil until aromatic. This spice is then put into boiled stock along with the beef until it is fork-tender. The dark colour of Rawon comes from the keluak. It is served with rice, and completed with sambal, the spicy condiment of choice for the locals.
4. Laos: Laap
Like its neighbours, Laos has a rich history stretching back at least 10,000 years, and is relatively undiscovered among the tourist throngs. They are missing out, because there is a lot to explore, feel and learn here, with a flight that’s under 3 hours. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, vibrant Luang Prabang is best known for its cascading waterfalls, Mekong River, and its status as the cultural capital of Laos. One dish that might be familiar to you is called Laap, or meat salad, a cool, refreshing treat that’s perfect for those really hot tropical days. There are many types of Laap in Laos, and you can find a version featuring all the major (and some minor) meats: beef, pork, chicken, duck, or fish. The meat is mixed with chilli, mint, carrot, onion, lettuce and some herbs, nicely seasoned with special spices of lemon juice and fish sauce. This dish is usually served with sticky rice and raw vegetables like cabbage and is eaten when families get together.
5. Malaysia: Roti Canai
Perhaps the easiest getaway from Singapore’s daily grind is across the causeway. Our neighbours to the north have a lot to offer day-trippers and trekkers alike, from trackless jungles filled with exotic beasties to hip, cultured metropoles like KL and Kuching. The beaches rock, the diving rules, and the food is world-class. While it’s hard to choose just one dish as a representative, we think the humble Roti Canai is a good place to start. Known down here as Roti Prata, this flatbread served with curry and other add-ons like onions and eggs is a marvellously spicy way to start the day, though many will agree it’s just as tasty for lunch or a late night snack.
Roti Prata is more affectionately known as Roti Canai in Malaysia.
6. Myanmar: Mohinga
A relative newcomer to the tourist scene, recently opened Myanmar offers some world-class sightseeing. With the stupa-studded landscape of Bagan spreading out beneath your hot air balloon, you will forget all that was troubling you back home. As a crossroads of culture, Myanmar contains a host of tribes boasting traits of south, east and southeast Asia, and the food is a spicy melange of Chinese, Indian and Mon tastes. The cuisine is all about balance, with sweet notes enhancing the sour, and spice and salt melding in an intriguing way in your mouth. One must-try dish is Mohinga, a catfish dish served with fermented noodles and lots of sides, like the stalk from a banana tree, boiled vegetables and more. The unique blend of flavours and textures will leave you intrigued and craving more; superficially, none of these things seem like they’d work well together but they taste like a match made in heaven.
7. Philippines: Adobo
With so many islands, you know there are a million things to see and do in the Philippines. From eco-tourism to pampering spa sessions in world-class resorts, the Philippines is a great getaway, and a mere 3 hours from the Lion City. While you’re there, you’ll definitely want to sample the local cuisine. A great place to start is Adobo, a dish adapted from the Spanish original that’s a bit time-consuming to prepare but definitely worth the wait. The first step is to sear some evenly-cut chunks of meat (usually chicken or pork) in some fat along with some flavour (like vinegar or soy sauce), and then leave it to simmer until the flavours have saturated the meat. Usually eaten about 24 hours after cooking, this dish is the quintessential Filipino culinary experience.
Adobo is one of those dishes that taste better the day after.
8. Singapore: Chilli Crab
With so many homegrown food options here in the Lion City, your next staycation can be just as culinarily rewarding as a trip to anywhere else. Whether you are enjoying the shopping on Orchard Road or relaxing with your kakis on Sentosa, you will definitely want to take a makan break at some point to refuel for the rest of your weekend. If we had to choose one dish that epitomises Singaporean cuisine, we’d have to go with Chilli Crab. A surprisingly recent invention, the first Chilli Crab is credited to one Madame Cher Yam Tian, whose recipe was improved upon by successive generations of local chefs. For a very nice and humble plate of Chilli Crab, try Mellben in Ang Mo Kio, whose version can compete with the best of the rest of the island. With some nicely sweetened steamed buns to dip in the sauce, and a bib to clean up the mess, you’ll be in 7th heaven when you dig into this local dish.
Chilli Crab is the king of all dishes in Singapore.
9. Thailand: Tom Yum Goong
Thailand reigns as one of the region’s premier vacation destinations and it shows no signs of giving up its crown any time soon. Want to spend a week cavorting at a beach resort, or would you rather learn to kickbox? Whatever it is you’re looking for, Thailand’s got you covered. And while you’re here, you’ll eat like a king. For starters, you can’t pass up a chance to try an authentic bowl of Tom Yum Goong, the quintessential noodle bowl that fuels everyone from the richest tycoon to the humblest labourer. This shrimp stock soup, with its beautiful balance of spicy and sour, comes with a variety of options and extras that will leave you hooked. Whether you take it with creamy coconut milk or clear, you’ve got to try this bowl of authentic Thai taste.
10. Vietnam: Pho
Vietnam is a fascinating country full of bustling cities, lush wetlands, deep jungles and beautiful coastlines. From motorcycle rides through the mountains to days spent in a hammock under a coconut tree, Vietnam has countless attractions to excite and delight. The food is equally scrumptious, and the crown jewel in the collection has got to be Pho. Chances are you’ve been saying the name wrong: it rhymes with “duh” rather than “dough”, though mispronounced or not, it’s delicious. This hearty beef noodle soup, when combined with the tang of limes, the fire of chilli sauce, and the pungent goodness of the local fish paste, will make you break out in a sweat but send your taste buds reeling with its delicious flavours.
There’s nothing more iconic than Pho in Vietnam.
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Interested to find out more? Check out our other articles here:
- 10 underdog restaurants for chilli crabs
- Best street food cities in Asia
- Best late-night supper spots in Singapore
- 10 spicy foods of the world to try
- Visa requirements for Southeast Asia: know before you go!