Eating is half the fun of travelling. Food is one of the defining aspects of every culture, and when you taste local flavours, you enrich your perspective and bond with residents of the places you’re visiting. Indochina has some dishes to tantalize your palate.
Many dishes in the region feature a rice or noodle base, and fish is a common part of meals. Fresh seasonal vegetables, cooked in sauces, add crunch and texture. One of the best ways to explore Indochina cuisine is by meandering through night markets where vendors try to tempt your taste buds with their concoctions.
Whether you’re craving authentic pad thai or you want to try something different, Indochina has a diverse culinary offering.
Here are some dishes you definitely shouldn’t pass up when visiting the region:
Until recently, Myanmar was something of a mystery to the world, but now people from across the globe are free to visit the country and experience Burmese hospitality. Various ethnic groups have their own traditional dishes. Rice dishes with meat and fish are common, and most flavours lean toward being savoury and salty.
Curries in Myanmar are generally on the dry side, and they often come with various side dishes, which might include rice, a salad, fried vegetables, and dips for your vegetables.
Some other popular dishes in Myanmar include the following:
- Mohinga. The chef cooks rice noodles in a fish- and shallot-based broth. On top is the pith from a banana tree. Other toppings might include a hard-boiled egg or deep-fried vegetables. This common breakfast meal also makes a great snack anytime.
- Burmese biryani (danpauk). This rice dish blends yogurt, turmeric powder, ghee, a choice of meat, and a few other ingredients.
- Pe byouk. You’ll be able to buy this snack of flat bread and boiled beans or peas from various street vendors.
- Deep-fried stuffed tofu. Deep-fried foods are common in Myanmar, and you can easily buy stuffed tofu on the street. This dish might have vegetables, peanuts, shrimp, garlic pieces, or other flavours inside.
Want to turn up the heat in your mouth? Foods from Thailand are usually hot and spicy, but if you prefer milder flavours, many tourist restaurants will accommodate you. Explore fresh ingredients like lemon grass and coriander. Rice goes with most meals and will help you cleanse your palate after some spicy bites. For a fruity treat, try papaya, jackfruit, mangosteens, rambutans, or pomelos. If you’re adventurous, taste a durian, a smelly fruit that you will either love or have nightmares about.
Some popular Thai dishes include the following:
- Tom yum goong. This spicy and sour soup with shrimp is a pleasant treat for adventurous eaters.
- Pad thai. Pad thai, a basic noodle dish flavoured with fish sauce, tamarind, and other spices, is in Thai restaurants across North America, although these versions often fall short of the authentic dish prepared in Thailand.
- Kuay Tiew. This soup has a long list of ingredients, including soy sauce, coriander, sugar, and galangal. Keep in mind that animal blood is usually added to the soup base, so this soup may not be for everyone.
- Gai med ma muang. This stir-fry dish is heavy on vegetables and includes cashews and meat.
- Pad see ew. Another famous Thai dish, pad see ew includes egg noodles and Chinese broccoli pan fried with pork and soy sauce.
Cambodia‘s culinary offerings include a mix of Thai and Chinese flavours, but Cambodians tend to go lighter on the spiciness. Try Cambodia’s national dish, fish curry, containing a thick coconut curry sauce wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. Pair your meals with fresh, hydrating coconut juice.
Some other popular Cambodian fare include the following:
- Fish amok. This fish delight is one of the country’s signature dishes. It may come wrapped in a banana leaf or in a soupier form.
- Khmer red curry. Like Thai curries, this dish has a coconut milk base and various vegetables. Cambodians often enjoy Khmer red curry at special occasions, such as weddings.
- Lap Khmer. This salad blends barely-cooked thin slices of beef with lemon grass, shallots, garlic, basil, mint, fish sauce, and other ingredients.
Vietnam has a wealth of food options, and what you’ll eat may depend on which part of the country you visit. In the north, expect a lot of Chinese-influenced flavours. You’ll also find some French traditions and regional specialties in the offerings.
Pho is the most famous Vietnamese dish. This soup melds very hot broth with noodles and meat, and you can add bean sprouts and plum sauce. Make sure you try the spring rolls. For your caffeine fix, try some thick, strong Vietnamese coffee from the Central Highlands.
Other popular Vietnamese dishes include the following specialties:
- Bún riêu. This noodle soup uses crab stock and tomatoes in its broth. You’ll find tofu, crab paste, and other ingredients inside. Be aware that bún riêu has pig’s blood in it.
- Fried chicken head. The name sounds strange, but consider how one chef describes fried chicken head: “The sweet soy glaze makes the skin taste like candy. The neck meat is tender and pulls gently from the nuggets of bone. The beak, eyes, coxcomb and tongue all crumble in your mouth into a texture that can only be described as chicken-flavoured popcorn.”
Laos welcomes spice addicts with open arms. Many of the country’s dishes include chilies and lots of seasoning. Expect to see traces of Thai, Vietnamese, and Chinese food in Laotian cuisine.
Laap is the Laos national dish. This salad includes minced meat, fish, and vegetables. Lime juice, garlic, onions, powdered rice, and chilies add a delicious mix of flavours.
When you’re in Laos, also try some of the following dishes:
- Khao Jee. These are French baguettes with a savoury filling. Pork liver pâté is a popular choice.
- Tam mak hoong. This green papaya salad combines sweetness and sourness with saltiness and spice to create a memorable culinary experience.
Hungry for adventure, or has this article made you hungry? Either way, Indochina has all kinds of foods you’ll want to experience. Travel to Indochina to feast on the region’s sites – and its foods, too. Taste the spices of Thailand, the soups of Vietnam, and the irresistible fried selections of Myanmar. You’ll come home satisfied and inspired to try cooking some of these Indochina dishes on your own.
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