Because normally humans eat at least three times a day (and we often eat more than that), we ended up trying a lot of different foods. We’re not Andrew Zimmern, but I’d argue we’re much more adventurous than your average twenty something North American “white girl.” We’re no experts, but we are hungry girls with a food blogger mother (see her blogs Yates Yummies and Oranges and Almonds) and lots of appetite.
Sadly, there aren’t many things that bring us as much happiness as a satisfying meal, and Southeast Asia had a lot of hits and misses for us. Towering highs and plummeting lows. Look at our 7 best meals of Southeast Asia, and please, do yourself a favor and visit the restaurants we ate them at. Don’t succumb to the pressures of a gag-inducing pho with a side of dripping spring rolls in a corner cafe in Hanoi. You’ll never forget the stain of red grease on your fingertips.
In case you’re dying to know, although we have a love affair with sticky rice with mango, it’s not included on this list because that’s technically a dessert. TBD, To be debated…
1 – Pad Thai
Establishment: Thip Samai
Location: Bangkok, Thailand
Why: Just go ahead and ignore the haters on trip advisor who call this establishment “overrated.” You’ve clearly never had to spend years getting the closest thing to Pad Thai you could at Noodles and Co. Paired excellently with fresh orange juice and lots of hot sauce. Fresh off the plane, we inhaled the pad thai and slept like babies afterward.
Establishment: Bun Dau Mo
Location: Hanoi, Vietnam
Why: Hot, fresh and delicious, this chicken hotpot made for a lengthy and relaxing lunch. The garlic, lemongrass, chilies and fish sauce all made for an incredibly flavorful experience.
3- Fresh and Fried Spring Rolls
Establishment: Góc Hà Nôi
Location: Hanoi, Vietnam
Why: This bright and cheery cafe in Hanoi had friendly staff and excellent service. The fried spring rolls were accompanied by a spicy dill dipping sauce and the fresh spring rolls had colorful rice paper. Although we didn’t order a huge quantity of food, we were quickly full.
4- Everything at Sister Srey
Establishment: Sister Srey
Location: Siem Reap, Cambodia
Why: Even though I discuss the ethical complications of being a patron at a training restaurant in this post, their food was some of the best I’ve ever eaten. Because we visited the restaurant so many times, we tried many dishes. Their “bowl of goodness,” filled with hummus, falafel and tabouli, mango chicken burger, and the detox salads were exceptionally delicious. Being there was also a pleasant experience. The staff was funny, friendly and inviting.
5- Chicken Shawarma
Establishment: Taste of the Middle East
Location: Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Why: I sadly didn’t get a picture of this dish, but you may remember this experience in this post about encountering refugees while being a privileged traveler. The welcoming Iraqi family invited us into their home and served us, with kindness, some of the best shawarma. It was exactly what we needed in that moment…when rice and noodles are just too much.
6- Laotian sampler plate
Location: Luang Prabang, Laos
Why: Unlike avoiding Cambodian food in Cambodia, it was often difficult to find anything authentically Laos in the tourist areas of Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng. Tamarind, a restaurant owned by an Australian-Laotian couple, prides itself on giving tourists education on Laotian cuisine and authentic food experience. We sampled fried, grilled, and fresh goodies pictured above. We ate sausage, stews, and lots of vegetables. It was spicy and satisfying.
7- Seafood and Entire Garlic Cloves
Establishment: Red Snapper
Location: Koh Lanta, Thailand
Why: Similar to the non-compliance of eating food native to place we were visiting we previously experienced in Cambodia, we suffered two bouts of food poisoning in Thailand and wanted something familiar. It took me a while to be able to eat red curry again. At Red Snapper, we sat next to the owner’s parents, two talkative and humorous Dutch folk. We ate giant shrimp, chorizo, and other tapa-style European favorites. Unfortunately, we didn’t take any photos of the excellent food. The food here was on the more expensive end, but well worth its price.
Noteworthy Bad Experiences
Because even though it’s important to focus on the positive, you’ve got to learn from your mistakes. Read: learn from our “mistakes.”
1- Love Strawberry Pai
In Pai, Thailand, we visited this strawberry-themed restaurant. I ate strawberry fried rice, which was good but I expected something more than just fried rice with dried strawberries sprinkled on top. I defied all odds and ordered it against our waiters insistence on having every order the pad thai. On a side note, my sister got food poisoning from there. And guess who didn’t…(but still got it somewhere else…).
2- Dried Octopus
In Ho Chi Minh, we were peer pressured into eating dried octopus dipped in chili sauce. Watch us discuss it in the video below. You just chew and chew and chew and chew… sounds like the time my friend Kourtney ate kangaroo.
3- The Pineapple Incident
After a meal in Hue, Vietnam, described as dismal at best, we went a little “wild” you could say and sprung for a flaming pineapple. After watching them struggle to make the pineapple flame up (all employees were rushing in and out of the kitchen for 10 minutes. We were the only ones in the restaurant), a thick slice of limp, gooey pineapple was delivered to our table. It was not worth $5. The pushy owner of our hostel had pushed (yeah, pushy people push) us into eating there. The depressing weather, cold and the restaurant’s proximity to our hostel made it an easy (but regretful) decision.
What were the best meals you ate in Southeast Asia?
Featured Photo: Khao Soi in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Another great dish but didn’t make the cut. Photo credit: Jennifer Yates