One of the best parts about visiting Asia is walking through the bustling street markets and trying all the unique food on offer. You’ll be sure to spot an abundance of unfamiliar food so, make the most of your cruise deal and immerse yourself in the culture by indulging in some Asian cuisine. Don’t panic if none of these delicacies tickles your taste buds, as you’ll also be able to find some familiar treats during your trip as well, however, if you’re feeling adventurous, this guide to our favourite Asian food is perfect for you.
Scallion pancakes, China
These savoury pancakes are a much-loved food that’s ideal for Chinese breakfast. Depending on where you travel in China the Scallion Pancakes differ slightly in the recipe. They are traditionally made as pan-fried bread folded with oil and chopped green onion. Unlike the pancakes you may be more familiar with, they don’t use batter and instead use a dough. Most commonly, the dough is fried so that it’s that’s crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside.
We asked Annick from The Common Traveler, a travel and adventure blog, to find out her food experiences when travelling Asia, she tells us: “While shopping on Nanjing Road in Shanghai, I saw so many people eating a crispy fried treat. Unable to communicate with the locals, I had to gesture for directions on where to find this tasty looking treat. After turning a few corners, I knew I’d found the place when I saw a long line.
“These treats were thinner and crispier than usual Scallion Pancakes. Native speakers chose different spice flavours to add to them, but I choose a plain one. Once placed in the deep fryer, the cook ensures maximum crispness by continually turning the bread. When it reaches a deep golden colour, the bread is fished out, placed in a wrapper, and handed to the waiting customer while still piping hot. The combination of scallions with the light, flaky, and not greasy bread makes this a delicious snack not to be missed while visiting China.”
This traditional Bengali dessert is created mainly with milk and sugar. Despite using few ingredients, this dessert is difficult to get right as it involves curdling the milk. We spoke to Vansh from Cross Road Adventure, a blog for travel tips and tricks, to reveal the favourite unusual food he has come across during his time in Asia: “I tried sandesh whilst in Kolkata two years back. It’s a Bengali dessert and at first, I thought I wouldn’t be able to swallow it, how can I eat this, what is this made of? But after I decided to try it, sandesh just tasted so lovely and delicious, I ended up eating six to seven pieces! I loved it and packed a full box to take home too.”
Kuih Keria, Malaysia
Another Asian dessert to add to your list of things to try is Kuih Keria, which can be found at most Malaysian street food markets. You may have noticed how popular sweet potato fries have become in the last few years, and now it’s time to try some sweet potato doughnuts. Kuih Keria is made using sweet potato, which provides a natural sweetness, mixed with wheat flour and then fried in oil before being glazed with sugar.
We spoke to Andrzej from the blog Wanderlust Storytellers, a family travel blog with tips to travel with children, to find out which interesting Asian food he enjoyed: “The surprisingly delicious food that we have tried in Asia has to be the Kuih Keria in Melaka, Malaysia. These are sweet potato doughnuts glazed with palm sugar. They are soft on the inside and super crunchy on the outside. Simple, sweet and delicious!”
Fried insects, Cambodia and China
It wouldn’t be a guide to the most unique food in Asia without mentioning the insects, worms, bugs and other unidentifiable creatures that are sold as street market snacks. If you’re feeling brave, a trip to Asia is the perfect opportunity to try tasting some of the creatures you’re more used to seeing crawling in the corners of attics.
Andrzej from Wanderlust Storytellers continues to tell us some of the more hair-raising foods he found in Cambodia, Asia: “The most interesting food that we have seen was definitely the fried spiders in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Was it yummy? I wouldn’t know. Although I was tempted to try, I simply could not bring myself to try it!”
Andzej is not the only one who has come across some peculiar delicacies in Asia, as Anne from Travel Foodie, a travel blog showcasing foods from across the world, shares her experience: “The Donghuamen Night Market in Beijing definitely doesn't sell ordinary food. The stallholders sell very exotic snacks like scorpions, snakes, starfish and even seahorses. I wasn’t brave enough to try any of those, but it’s a great experience to pass by them and amaze yourself.”
The popular Japanese cuisine consists of thinly sliced raw pieces of fish or meat, which are most commonly seasoned with soy sauce. Sashimi is also popular across the UK, however, expect the meat to be different to what you may be used to. Whilst travelling Asia, you’re likely to come across many different types of meat used for sashimi including sea urchin, horse and deer.
The founder of Always Wanderlust, Adonis, had an unexpected surprise when ordering the dish in Japan, he tells is: “During a holiday in Hakuba, my friends and I decided to try a Sumo themed restaurant that specialized in Chanko Nabe, which is a soup brimming with lots of vegetables and plenty of protein. This dish is eaten in vast quantity by Japanese Sumo wrestlers in training, however, we decided to order something a bit more local.
“We told the server to offer us the local delicacy and he mentioned sashimi and with its popularity in the west, it was already familiar to us. When the dish arrived, I asked the server what sort of sashimi it was. The server said it’s called Sakuraniku (cherry meat) which is horse meat. I felt pangs of guilt, but I went ahead and tried it anyway while my friends refused.
“I dipped a slice in a soy-based sauce mixed with ginger and wasabi. It was surprisingly good, with a slightly sweet flavour of the meat with the fragrant sauce. While I’m almost certain horse meat will never be a delicacy in the west, this surprisingly delicious dish should be the adventurous foodie's list. On top of that, it has more protein, less sodium, less cholesterol, and fewer calories than either beef or pork.”
Durian fruit, China
After witnessing all the insects, you may be thankful to spot a piece of fruit, however, as you approach you will notice something much worse as durian is notorious for its bad smell. Despite the fruit being covered by a shell of hard sharp spikes, the unpleasant odour is still noticeable even from metres away. If you’re hoping to buy one and try it later you may not get very far, as the smell is so bad durian has been banned on many types of public transports across Asia. Many taxi drivers will even refuse to take you and the overpowering scent likes to linger wherever it goes.
It may be hard to tolerate the smell, but durian is a superfruit with a vast amount of nutritional value including high amounts of iron, vitamin C and potassium. It has also been suggested by Style Craze to have health benefits that include lowering blood pressure, increasing energy levels and slowing down ageing.
Here’s a quick checklist of the foods you should try during your Asian travels:
- Scallion pancakes
- Kuih keria
- Fried insects
- Durian fruit
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