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12 Delectable National Dishes Worth Hunting Down in Asia

Just like their flags, each country has its own national dish – a dish that represents the country as a whole.

Let’s talk about food. Asia as a continent is a melting pot of gastronomic excursions, from mouthwatering viands to desserts that will make even the pickiest eaters ask for more. Thanks to the fusion of colonial influence and homegrown flavour, the dishes that you can try around Asia are truly worth noting.

Just like their flags, each country has its own national dish – a dish that represents the country as a whole. Some countries have numerous national dishes (because food) that come in numerous servings and styles, while others present a simple dish that truly represents their country. As we embark on a quick sojourn with an empty stomach, here are some of the national dishes around Asia.

Malaysia – Nasi Lemak

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A rice dish cooked with pandan leaf and coconut milk, Nasi Lemak is the most popular in Malaysia, but its savoury fame spreads to its neighbouring countries, such as Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, and even Brunei Darussalam and Southern Philippines. Served as a breakfast dish, it is served with fish, peanuts, chili paste, cucumber, and various side dishes, such as lamb curry. These combinations offer a truly diverse flavour in just one dish. It has been voted as one of the healthiest breakfast foods in TIME Magazine.

Singapore – Chicken Rice

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Yes, it doesn’t have some fancy nickname, yet it is widely known across Singapore and beyond. It was adapted from Chinese immigrants who came from Hainan Island, where it was locally called Wenchang Chicken. Unlike other dishes, the secret to mouthwatering Chicken Rice is not how the chicken is cooked, but how the rice and chili sauce are perfectly concocted. These are the most important factors that can make or break this simple but absolutely flavourful dish.

Hong Kong – Char Siu

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Char Siu is a dish that is hard to miss in Hong Kong. You can often see this hanging in establishments that sell smoked or roasted meat, such as chicken, duck, and pork. In a nutshell, Char Siu is a specially prepared pork barbecue, but it really has this distinct taste that will keep you coming back for more. Char Siu is consumed as an independent lunch or early dinner dish, mainly as a rice topping or rice box meal.

Philippines – Adobo

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Adobo is the unofficial Filipino national dish, but even so, it is perhaps the perennial favourite among locals and even foreigners. While there are numerous variations of Adobo, especially in the provinces, it all boils down to the basic ingredients of chicken or pork (or both), soy sauce, vinegar, some pepper, and a bay leaf. With its amazingly great taste, many people wonder what sorcery is behind it, but I think it is the love that is behind its preparation that makes it a truly special dish.

Indonesia – Tumpeng

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You’ll easily recognise Tumpeng because it literally looks like a mountain of delectable rice goodness surrounded by vegetable and meat side dishes. The rice can be steamed, cooked as yellow rice with turmeric, or as uduk rice with coconut milk. It was already considered a culinary icon even before it became the official national dish in 2014. The inspiration comes from the mountains and active volcanoes found all over the country, and it’s amazing how this dish binds the diversity of Indonesian culture and tradition.

Brunei Darussalam – Ambuyat

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Ambuyat is one of the most peculiar dishes in our list. The official Bruneian dish is made from a mixture of hot water and sago and appears like a very sticky semi-translucent paste. Ambuyat is eaten by scooping with a pair of bamboo sticks called “candas” or “chandas” and then dipping into a thick and spicy sauce called “cacah.” Just like most Asian dishes, it is often accompanied by side dishes composed of meat and fish.

Japan – Sushi

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Sushi is perhaps one of the most popular national dishes in Asia. It is often mistaken for a similar dish, sashimi, but they are actually two very different types of food. Sushi is prepared with white or sometimes brown rice and raw seafood. It is often served with soy sauce, wasabi, or pickled ginger. Daikon is also a popular garnish that comes with each serving.

Laos – Tum Mak Hoong

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Tum Mak Hoong is a traditional green papaya salad from Laos. It is one of the few dishes that combine all main tastes of the Laotian cuisine in a single dish – sweet, sour, salty, spicy, and savoury.  Tourists often mistake this dish for a dessert because of papaya being one of the main ingredients, but it is actually a very savoury dish with chili, fish sauce, and palm sugar. It is also often mixed with crab and pla ra, making it a truly distinct dish.

Mongolia – Buuz

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Buuz is a kind of steamed dumpling filled with meat. Traditionally, it is eaten during the New Year, but Buuz is also accessible in cafes and restaurants around the capital, Ulaanbataar. It is often consumed with fried bread, along with tea or in some cases, vodka.

Nepal – Dal Bhat

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Dal Bhat is a popular Nepalese meal that consists of cooked lentil soup and steamed rice. There are numerous variations of this dish in the country, especially in locations where rice doesn’t thrive well, where it is substituted with millet, maize, or barley. It is often served with seasoned vegetables, curry, and pickles.

Thailand – Pad Thai

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Also called Phat Thai, Pad Thai is a stir-fried rice noodle dish that is very visible in local eateries and is usually served as street food. It is flavoured with tamarind pulp, shrimp, garlic, and palm sugar, and the rice noodles are stir-fried with tofu and eggs. Pad Thai has several versions, including one that has pork chop slices. However, many eateries maintain the original version of the dish (more seafood and no pork).

South Korea – Galbi

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Galbi is a grilled dish made with beef or pork ribs marinated in Korean soy sauce. Like other dishes, it has many varieties, such as chicken galbi. In restaurants, it is one of those dishes cooked on tabletop grills, and it is served with leafy vegetables, such as lettuce, to wrap the meat before dipping it in a sauce called ssamjang.

Asia showcases a truly diverse and delectable gastronomic scene. It is amazing that through food, we can also learn more about the country’s culture and how their dishes are incorporated into their lives.

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