Food for thought – 8 Asian dishes you’ve probably never heard of

sri lankan food string hoppers

The thing that sets Asian food apart for me is how much emphasis each country puts on the importance of cooking. Often presented in a kaleidoscopic palette of colors, the preparation of much of Asia’s offerings can be time-consuming, and the subtle and imaginative flavors, therefore, are to be savored, appreciated, and enjoyed.  Food is not just celebrated, but is an essential part of celebrations. Religion, spirituality, and myth play a larger role in Asian food than in Western cooking, and uncovering the beliefs that make each dish unique made for a fascinating gastronomical journey.

As I traveled I pushed myself to learn about eating etiquette, perfected the art of chopsticks and learnt to eat with my hands. I found that talking about food is an excellent icebreaker with locals and discovered it is also a wonderful way to find out more about the culture and history of each place. With every mouthful I felt connected to the countries I visited. And that’s the great thing about food – it connects us all.

So here is the list of my favorite food from a year of traveling. I’m pretty sure that you won’t have heard of all of these before, but if you have do let me know in the comments box! Or simply tell me which one is your favorite and why – I love to talk about food!

1.오징어 순대오징어 순대 (Squid Sundae) – South Korea

squid sundae south korean food

Squid sundae is basically fried squid stuffed with baked squid, and is a specialty of Gangwon-do province in South Korea.  I visited Gangwon-do to go to Sockho (one of Korea’s best seaside cities) just a few weeks before I left the country. It was freezing cold and my friends and I packed into a tiny cafe where we sat down cross-legged on the heated floor and gripped onto our metal chopsticks with frosty fingers. From every corner of the room dazed fish stared out of green tanks, and plumes of steam rose in steady waves from the kitchen. A kind Korean waitress came over and recommended that we start our meal with squid sundae. My only regret on taking her up on this offer was that I was utterly miserable to have discovered such an amazing dish just before I left Korea.

 

2.Cendol – Malaysia

cendol malaysian food

Strolling along a canal in Melaka’s Chinatown one sunny afternoon, a Chinese woman pulled me into her shop and insisted that I try Cendol. “It taste best” was her only description of it. I pulled up a chair on the balcony which backed out over the water and enjoyed the cool breeze as I waited for her to prepare my food. When it arrived I thought that there were actual worms in my meal. “What is the green stuff?” I asked in horror. “It good, try” she said. As she watched, I brought the large Chinese soup spoon to my lips and took a rather nervous first bite. I was relieved to discover that the green bits were actually made of gelatin, and the creamy brown bit was sweet chunks of shaved ice mixed with brown sugar and coconut milk. I was hooked from the first bite.

 

3.String Hoppers Kottu – Sri Lanka

sri lankan food

String Hoppers Kottu is not a typical Sri Lankan dish. Normally it would be two different dishes – string hoppers, or kottu. But some entrepreneurial person in Colombo decided to combine these two national favorites and he came up with this hybrid dish. The creation itself is a blend of rice flour noodles, chili, vegetables, and meat, all cut up, cooked, and mixed together on a large metal hot plate. I found this delicious dish at a roadside shack on the way back from a night out in Sri Lanka’s capital. At 2am I think it probably tasted a little better than it would have at any other time, but sadly I was never able to find it again to put this theory to the test.

 

4.Rice and curry with elephant leaves – Sri Lanka

sri lankan food

Whilst camping (some would say glamping) in Yala National Park, I was amazed to find that the quality of food cooked up in the bush was among some of the best I’d had during my time in Sri Lanka. This delicious rice and curry was beautifully complemented by the tart pickles, tangy beetroot, and fried “elephant leaves” – a leaf only found in this part of Sri Lanka that is as popular with the elephants as it is with the guests to the park. The leaves were crisp, salty, and wonderfully flavorsome. They were like nothing I’d ever tried before (or since).

 

5.Crab Curry – Sri Lanka

crab curry sri lankan food

This meal was every bit as delicious as it looks! One night in Colombo a few friends and I decided to treat ourselves to dinner in one of the capital’s most talked about restaurants, Ministry Of Crab. Famed for sourcing its cooking techniques from Japan, and its crabs freshly from Lankan seas, dining at the restaurant was a rather over-the-top affair with crab aprons to be worn, a range of crab flesh-plucking utensils to choose from, and a slightly pretentious atmosphere to chew on – although that all added to the experience. Half way through eating, the owner of the restaurant came to join us, bringing a few bottles of top quality wine with him. The evening is a blur from then on, but I remember that the crab was juicy, spicy, and just wonderful. Thoroughly worth the $30 or so I forked out for it.

 

6.Milkrice, mung beans, and coconut sambol – Sri Lanka

sri lankan breakfast

You can’t get many breakfasts better than this. Milkrice is a sweet blend of coconut milk and rice that is often served during special occasions such as new year, birthdays and weddings in Sri Lanka. Mung beans – a type of  green bean mixed with grated coconut – are typically served for breakfast in the home, but are extremely hard to find in cafes and restaurants. And finally the meal is rounded off by my favorite thing of all time, coconut sambol, which is crushed onions, red chili, and grated coconut.

 

7.Thali – India

thali indian food

Thalis are one of the best ways to sample the unique flavors of Indian cuisine if you are on a tight budget! For around $2-$3 you get a plethora of different dishes, all rich in taste and wonderfully spiced. It is also common to get a pile of rice or bread, popadoms, sambols, salad and sometimes even a desert. Thalis are best eaten with the hands, and you can use the bread to scoop up the last bits of curry once you are done. Usually a waiter will even refill your dishes as soon as they empty for no extra cost.

 

8.Goan curry – India

goan curry india

Everyone raved about Goan curries whilst I was there, but for the most part I found them bland and westernized  That was until I visited the spice garden in the South of Goa where I was served up one of the most fiery curries I have ever eaten, and I loved it! The rice was scented with jasmine and herbs, the pickled cabbage and large portion of lime pickle was sharp and sour, and the curries were creamy and thick.

 

Have you ever and would you ever try any of these foods? Which ones look the most appealing to you? Leave a comment and let me know – I love hearing from my readers :)

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24 Responses to Food for thought – 8 Asian dishes you’ve probably never heard of

  1. Hanna says:

    I also love 오징어순대. The coconut sambal sounds amazing; I’ll have to try it!

    • girlandtheworld says:

      hey Hanna,

      Yes the coconut sambol is so good!! I think you can only get it in Sri Lanka though. What was your favorite Korean dish?

      • Hanna says:

        I guess that means I’ll have to go to Sri Lanka to sample the sambol! My favorite Korean dish is probably 청국장. It’s like a stronger 된장찌개 since the soybean paste is fermented. Stinky and delicious! I’m also a big fan of 빈대떡/녹두전, those mung bean fritter things. So common here, but that means they’re not very good at most places, so you gotta do some searching. :)

        • girlandtheworld says:

          Oh I’m not a big fan of 청국장. I prefer the more meaty or fishy soups than the soybean ones. But I’m not sure I’ve heard of 빈대떡. Is it like 파전?

  2. denise says:

    I would try MANY of these foods!
    On a different note…are you getting lots of spam? I can see that you’re now double protected with CAPTCHA and the copy and paste password thing!

    • girlandtheworld says:

      Oh really? I’ll try to sort that out. But yeah, I STILL get loads of spam. About 5 a day! I don’t know how to stop it!!

  3. denise says:

    I had the same problem at the beginning but now it usually automatically goes into the spam folder. Other than that, I check every comment before it gets published, and it’s easy since I don’t get that many comments :)

  4. daniel says:

    Hi,

    Whats about the japanese food? :(

  5. Monica says:

    Mmm, this food all looks delicious. I love trying new food that I’ve never heard of before, especially while I’m travelling. I get a bit set in my ways with food in the UK and stick to my favourite dishes but I’ll eat anything and everything when I’m on the road.

    • girlandtheworld says:

      Thanks for your comment Monica,

      What’s your favourite on-the-road meal been so far? And how was the food in South Africa? I saw an article on South African food quite recently and it looked delicious!

  6. Jessica Wray says:

    I haven’t had any of these! :’( I plan to change that soon though. I’ll at least be able to get 2, 7, 8 and hopefully 5!!

    • girlandtheworld says:

      Have you never tried squid sundae? Oh my goodness, you must try it before you leave Korea!! It was the best thing I ever ate! And yeah, 2,7,5, and 8 are all good choices. You’ll definitely have plenty of 7 in India. There’s thalis everywhere! You can’t avoid them!

  7. John says:

    I can’t get enough of India food, so7 and 8 look delicious to me. Number 1 looks like it would taste awesome. I hate seafood, except for squid, which I love.

    • girlandtheworld says:

      Thanks for your comment John! Have you been traveling to India before or are you planning a trip for the future? Oh and No1 is probably my fave of all of them. It was insanely good!

      • John says:

        No I havent been to India yet. I am headed to South East Asia this year sometime, so am thinking of stopping in India on the way.

        • girlandtheworld says:

          Sounds like a good plan! I hope you have an amazing time in South East Asia – so much stunning scenery there. I love it!

  8. Angela says:

    I would eat everything! I’m gonna remember the cendol for when I go to Malaysia, it looks so good!

    • girlandtheworld says:

      Yes, Cendol is amazing! Also look out for pineapple tarts – they were brilliant, but I think they only sell them in the Chinatown areas. Oh, and on the coast they have all these wonderful spicy shellfish dishes. Don’t worry Angela, there’s lots of good food in Malaysia!

  9. Chris says:

    man I’m so hungry now!
    guess I’ll have to put sri lanka on the to do list for food alone!

  10. Agness says:

    I spent a lot of time in Sri Lanka so none of those dishes are new to me. Had them all :) :), but my favourite was definitely a plate of string hoppers kottu. It was nice to have something different than rice and curry and curry and rice :)

    • girlandtheworld says:

      Hey,

      yeah string hoppers kottu is definitely a good choice! String hoppers are actually my favourite dish of all time. Had them every morning for breakfast in Sri Lanka. Yum!

  11. kim says:

    THALI! <3
    I miss the thali from India! They are amazing, almost always vega and so many choises :)

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