The flavors of Southeast Asian cuisines are winning hearts around the world

Southeast Asian cuisine is one of the most delicious and sought-after cuisines in the world. Influenced by the Indian subcontinent and China and fresh produce from land and sea, Southeast Asian countries have developed beautiful cuisines with distinct taste profiles, textures and complex flavors. Vietnam and Thailand offer world-class cuisines. Many of the world’s top restaurants seek inspiration and base their menu on the region’s finest ingredients and cooking methods. As a melting pot of cultures, cities like Bangkok and Singapore take pride of place on the world map for their delicious street food hubs and high-end restaurants.

Thailand

Thai is undoubtedly the most famous cuisine in Southeast Asia. In India, the love for creamy and spicy Thai curries has grown exponentially over the past two decades, taking more prominence on the menu cards of multi-cuisine restaurants.

Thai curries like red curry, green curry, yellow curry, Massaman curry, etc. are among the favorite curries in Thai cuisine. Chilli-enriched coconut milk and prawn pastes, with the distinct flavor of lemongrass, galangal and spices, give curries a special status in the hearts of cooking enthusiasts.

Palm sugar is often used in Thai cooking to provide a balanced flavor. Fish sauce, oyster sauce, soy and various homemade dips like peanut sauce (with satays) and the famous “Naam Play Prik”, a sweet chili sauce, have opposite flavor profiles, giving many starters or fried dishes with a spicy side.

‘Som Tam Salad’ is a fine example of complex flavors coming together to create a delicious preparation. Slices of raw green papaya, chillies, peanuts, garlic, palm sugar, lime juice, fish sauce and even dried shrimp are gently pounded with a pestle and mortar. This delicious Thai salad is not only a hot sale on the streets, but also a star addition to the menu of any Thai cuisine restaurant. Similarly, in ‘Pad Thai’, a stir-fried flat rice noodle preparation, ingredients such as peanuts, bean sprouts, shrimp, eggs, garlic, chili peppers and tofu and side dishes such as fried garlic, peanuts and red pepper flakes are added as per taste.

The streets of Thailand are known for their delicious dishes such as satays, crab cakes and grilled meats offered with different Thai dips. Palm sugar, fish sauce, lemongrass and garlic make a basic marinade for grilling, giving delicious flavor to meats and vegetables.

Fruits such as pineapples, rambutan, bananas, dragon fruit, mango, durian, mangosteen, lychees and oranges are common fruits available from any fruit vendor in Thailand. Many of them will be happy to cut the fresh fruit for you into slices or cubes to enjoy.

Desserts in Thailand are not always considered an after-meal indulgence, but are enjoyed fondly at any time of the day. Pancakes are sold on street carts stuffed with fruit and sauces of your choice.

Sticky rice accompanies curries and is an excellent base for desserts, cooked or served with coconut milk or fruits such as mango; Coconut is invariably a staple culinary ingredient used in many Thai dishes.

One of the best examples of the fantastic dishes of Thai cuisine appreciated all over the world. Those who like coconut milk can try a delicious “Tom Kha” soup of the same pedigree as “Tom Yum”.

Vietnam

Vietnamese cuisine is gaining popularity in India, with new specialty restaurants following the Vietnamese culinary philosophy of using fresh ingredients, vegetables and herbs to produce light and flavorful dishes.

‘Pho’, a noodle soup from Vietnam, has gained popularity around the world. Although it is a simple soup preparation, there are various complex flavors that it contains in itself.

Cooking a clear and flavorful broth with aromatic spices like coriander seeds, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, fennel, etc., is a culinary art to possess. Pho’s deep flavors come from garlic, ginger, onion and palm sugar. Preparing excellent Pho involves a long and careful cooking process. Fresh ingredients spanning all five taste senses make this a soul food worth enjoying.

Rice paper rolls made with fresh vegetables are another example of the country’s fresh and light cuisine. ‘Banh Mi’ is an exciting sandwich prepared in a baguette, with various ingredients like meat, vegetables, herbs like cilantro, pickled carrots and daikons, pâté, chili peppers, etc.

Malaysia

Malaysian cuisine mixes many cultures with unmistakable Thai, Indonesian, Chinese and Indian influences. Dishes like “Murtabak” and “Biryani” are famous dishes in Malaysia that have their roots in Indian cuisine.

‘Nasi Lemak’, Malaysia’s unofficial national dish, is creamy rice cooked with coconut milk and pandan leaves giving it a distinct flavor. It is traditionally served wrapped in a banana leaf with a spicy ‘Sambal’ sauce, fried anchovies, crunchy peanuts and boiled eggs. There are many versions of ‘Nasi Lemak’, each having a different meat, curry or side dish,

Singapore

Singapore, a former part of Malaysia, has many dishes in common and variations on either side of the border. ‘Laksa’ contains different types of noodles and protein like chicken, shrimp or fish, served in a savory coconut soup or tamarind flavored sour broth or ‘Gelugur’. It is a Peranakan dish (a community of emigrated Chinese in Malaysia, Singapore and parts of Indonesia). One of the most popular dishes in Singapore is Hainanese Chicken Rice. Every Kopitiam or food court will have this tasty rice dish, served with steamed chicken or duck, with chili sauce and cucumber slices as the perfect accompaniments. As the name suggests, Hainanese chicken rice was introduced by early Chinese immigrants who based this dish on Wenchang chicken, a specific breed of chicken indigenous to the Hainan region. After Singapore and Malaysia split, the two countries controversially claim to have invented the dish, sparking a gastronationalist debate.

Indonesia

Indonesian sambhal is of great importance to Southeast Asian cuisine because this chilli paste or sauce, flavored with shrimp paste, garlic, ginger, shallots, green onions, sugar palm oil and lime juice, forms a culinary base for many essential dishes. There are hundreds of varieties of Sambal in Indonesia, with many versions originating from the Javanese region, where sambal is said to have originated.

Savor Sambhal with Indonesia’s national dish, ‘Nasi Goreng’, a fried rice dish served with various sides, such as a chosen protein, fried egg and shrimp crackers. One exciting dish I tried on my trip was called ‘Otak Otak’, which are small thin fish cakes wrapped in leaves cooked over an open fire. Cooking food wrapped in leaves is another strong point of Southeast Asian dishes.

Burma (Myanmar)

Discuss the culinary highlights of Southeast Asia; we must mention the famous ‘Khow Suey’ of Burma, today known as Myanmar. Noodle soup cooked in curried coconut milk can be enjoyed with chicken or shrimp as protein supplements; even fresh vegetables can add delicious flavor to a “Khao Suey”. Many interesting side dishes are served alongside a ‘Khow Suey’, such as boiled eggs, shallots, fried garlic, peanuts, chili peppers, fish sauce, fried noodles, etc. Another dish worth trying from Myanmar is fermented tea leaf salad, which is a brilliant dish using leaves that we use more often to prepare a drink than an edible and delicious food.

Southeast Asian cuisines offer the world many delicious dishes to cook and enjoy. It is worth cooking simple and tasty dishes like curries, salads, noodle soups, satays, rice preparations, etc., at home. Prepare unique Southeast Asian dishes and share them with us at Slurrp.

Sidharth Bhan Gupta is a hotel/restaurant consultant traveling across India to explore regional cuisines

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