The food culture throughout Asia is hard to top. Great food experiences here are accessible to all who seek them. The diverse dining experiences spanning the continent include high-end haute cuisine as well as distinctive street vendors and on-the-go eats. There are many ways to enjoy the medley of flavors Asian cuisine boasts in nearly every corner of the best food cities in Asia. Each exemplifies its region’s and nation’s food heritage, as well as its future.
For some of the best street food in Asia, head to Taipei, Taiwan, a foodie’s Asian paradise! Street vendors serve freshly made delights at a bargain including pork sandwiches, fried chicken cutlets, braised-beef noodles, grilled fish, dumplings, and more. Taipei’s street food is influenced by Chinese cuisine yet has distinctly Taiwanese characteristics. The city is filled with plenty of great small eateries, food courts, fine dining restaurants, and teahouses that offer blended flavors.
Taipei offers a fusion of original and imported flavors in every course for perfectly balanced meals of crisp vegetables, satisfying starches, and flavorful meats. Instead of formal desserts, fruit and other sweets are often available throughout the meal. Although you might think a traditional Taiwanese dining experience is difficult to pin down, the food in Taipei makes a statement about Taiwan’s unique culture.
Popular options for each meal include pancakes, stuffed buns, and savory sandwiches at breakfast. Lunches are often bowls mixed with chopped cabbage and sautéed meats like pork or chicken. For dinners, multi-course meals include hotpot, fried dumplings, and sticky tofu covered in a sweet sauce.
Japan’s capital, Tokyo, is one of the best food cities in Asia, offering everything from fast foods to high-end gourmet plates. The bustling metropolis offers incredible Japanese cuisine and unique culinary experiences, whether you’re at an alley stand, the world-famous food markets, a conveyor belt sushi spot, or a reservation-only restaurant. Some of Tokyo’s popular dishes include ramen, yakitori grilled chicken skewers, and seafood plates.
In Tokyo, a distinct food market culture thrives and its beating heart is Tsukiji Market. Recently moved to Koto Ward, in Toyosu, Tokyo, Tsukiji Market remains popular, even if the experience has changed. Following initial backlash from local residents for upending tradition, the market now sits upon a beautiful (and convenient) island in Tokyo Bay. The market still attracts throngs of Tokyoites, so tourists will still have the same experience of walking through tight corridors to witness interesting ingredients and surprising food preparations.
Despite some changes, Tsukiji’s signature sushi is eternally on offer at many of its 39 restaurants. Each morning, fresh fish is brought to the market via the region’s bustling fishing ports. For a simple and authentic Tokyo food experience try eel, tuna, and Japanese sea bass freshly cut and wrapped in nori, an edible paper made of cured seaweed.
The birthplace of many classic Northern Vietnamese dishes such as pho and bun cha, Hanoi is known for its impressive street food scene. Some of the best local food in Asia is found on the curbsides of Hanoi, with handheld dishes infused with ingredients like fish sauce, lemongrass, and chilies. There are an endless number of options to choose from on the bustling streets filled with food carts and legacy markets.
Vietnam is an example of a naturally occurring fusion food culture that developed due to the nation’s colonial history and its geographic position within Asia. Original Vietnamese fare contains French influences for a Hanoi food experience that’s truly unique. Banh mi is the most prominent example and is enjoyed worldwide for its combination of Western and Eastern flavors. But truly authentic versions of Banh mi can be had at lunch counters across Hanoi. Enjoy new and traditional versions of these salty sandwiches with meats like gio thu (head cheese), xiu mai (pork meatball), and ca moi (sardine paste), all served with pickled vegetables and mayo-based sauce slathered on a crusty baguette roll.
Penang’s food scene is exceptional both on and off the streets. Chinese, Indian, Malay, and European descendants call Penang home. Together, citizens from these regions created the first fusion food scene in Asia. Each sphere of culinary influence has contributed to the city’s food culture, making it truly one-of-a-kind. You’ll find halal meats drowned in spicy and fragrant curries and Chinese-inspired fried noodles infused with Indian spices, all by ethnically diverse hawker centers and street vendors.
Penang is something of a culinary capital of Asia, with high-end dining options to match the nation’s blended pedigree. Chefs here are creating dishes that are revelations even within the rich and diverse Asian food scene. Sought-after reservations include newly-opened restaurants with menus that combine local Malaysian ingredients with European haute cuisine techniques. The end result is a proverbial banquet of savory soups, slow cooked meats, and delectable sauces, all in the bright and hearty signature Malaysian style.
Singapore is a haven for food enthusiasts, with a variety of ethnic cuisines, including Chinese, Thai, Malay, and Indian, on offer. This multicultural hub is known for its Hainanese chicken rice, chili crab, and char kway teow stir-fried rice noodles. You’ll find vast numbers of street food peddlers, food markets, hawker centers, and food stalls throughout the city. Plus, travelers are now able to add Michelin-starred restaurants to that list. Chefs here are trained in a range of contemporary techniques that have attracted some of the world’s most revered food critics and institutions.
Reservations for some of these establishments may be tricky to land, and you may have to book well in advance of your Asian food trip to get one. But if you miss out, savvy food travelers can find equally memorable food experiences in the modest diners lining Singapore’s streets. The city’s rapid economic growth over the last few decades brought immense change. But for those who are willing to look past the glimmering lights and towering facades of this cosmopolitan city, the best traditional foods can still be enjoyed in old-world restaurants serving classic Singaporean dishes.
Jakarta’s lively street food scene is a reflection of the city’s diversity, with a vast array of cultural classics and modern creations. You’ll find many dishes descended from ancient indigenous cultures like the Javanese, Balinese, and Minangkabau, and foreign influences like the Chinese and Dutch. This large Indonesian city is also filled with lavish restaurants and sophisticated food halls that can satisfy almost any food craving—even the ones you didn’t know you had!
Jakarta’s food culture is full of your new favorites—some recognizable and some totally new and different! Curbside peddlers are known to offer versions of the simple and satisfying satay, a versatile dish made from chicken, lamb, fish, or even turtle meat! Congee, or Asian porridge, is a smooth and creamy rice dish served day and night in Jakarta’s restaurants. This endlessly adjustable dish combines rich and intense flavors like miso paste and century eggs for a quintessentially Asian food experience.
Thailand is known for its incredible cuisine bursting with complex flavors influenced by Portuguese and Chinese food traditions. Bangkok is the center of it all and is Thailand’s formal seat of government as well as its unofficial food capital. With thousands of street food vendors and restaurant options, ranging from budget-friendly to luxury dining, it’s easy to see why. You’ll find everything from fried noodles and pad thai to creamy coconut and tropical desserts in this foodie heaven.
One of the more interesting aspects of Bangkok’s food culture, with its predominately light and aromatic tastes, is its adoption of international favorites that seem to contrast Thailand’s food heritage. Expats, tourists, and food-focused Thailanders satisfy their food cravings in a variety of surprising ways. Thailand’s oven-baked pizzas merge diverse flavors with a bevy of veggies and seafood toppings for a taste that’s both unique and familiar, with crisp crusts and savory Italian cheeses. Can you even call yourself a foodie if you haven’t had Italian-inspired fettuccine alfredo in Thailand? Book an Asian culinary tour today and find out!