Aug 24

White Rice - an integral part of Asian CuisineAfter losing some pounds following the tips in this article – it’s now time to put some of them back – NOT!

Asia is such a vast area with many different influences, flavors and cultures, that it’s hard to pick out typical Asian dishes. Fortunately there are Asian dishes that are popular in more than one country in Asia and among Westerners alike.

Some are even so popular, that there are wars among ‘foodies’, who invented what dish and which country can claim credit of its origin.

Let’s have a look at the most popular ones and why they are so delicious:

10. Fish Balls

Fish Balls are probably for Asians what Hot Dogs are for Americans. They are not the testicles of fish, as one could suspect, but pulverized or pressed fish meat, eaten on a stick or as soup, mainly available at Asian hawker stalls or street vendors everywhere in the region. They are served cooked, fried or steamed and are considered as small, cheap snacks for in between or in some countries even as a ‘poor-man’s-dish’.

Fish Balls on a stickAlthough there are restaurants for instance in Hong Kong, which specialize in Fish Balls, which can be then quite expensive as well – I’ve yet to see a Westerner who considers Fish Balls a delicacy.

Nevertheless, Fish Balls are very popular in Asia. Mainly they are eaten on their own, marinated, dipped in a sauce or when coming in a bowl – mixed with ‘kway teow’ noodles, tofu or even rice.

Fragrance and taste is added in the form of vinegar, garlic, sweet soy sauce or spring onions.

9. Laksa

Laksa is a spicy noodle soup, which is claimed to be invented by Singaporeans, although it’s more likely to be derived from Chinese/Malay culture. The origin of the name Laksa is unknown, but it’s now widely popular not only in Malaysia and Singapore, but as far as Australia and beyond.

Bowl of LaksaIf you tried Laksa, you would know why, as it as mainly an explosion for your taste senses, mixing sweet (coconut) tastes with sour (lemon grass or citrus) influences with more standard fare (thick noodles, egg, tofu). Sometimes Laksa is done more watery like a soup, while some prefer it as thick as possible, with as few liquids as possible. I’m sure Singaporeans can write whole essays about the right essences of Laksa and I hope for plenty of comments describing the proper and one-and-only ingredients.

Most Laksa lovers agree on the following main ingredients: thick noodles, coconut-based curry sauce/soup, tofu, fish sticks, shrimp and bean sprouts. Sometimes the seafood elements are substituted with chicken or hard-boiled eggs are added, although all ingredients can wildly vary. There are Laksa wars out there, where people discuss what are the right ingredients and what not. Singaporeans are famous for driving for 20 Dollar from one end of their country to the other to try out the best 3 Dollar Laksa over there. Just logic among food lovers, isn’t it? ;-)

8. Hainanese Chicken Rice

Hainanese Chicken RiceThis is a simple, plain and straight-forward dish, mainly eaten in Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and China.

It’s boiled, plain-white chicken served with white rice and condiments like cucumber, eggs or lettuce. Hainanese Chicken Rice is one of the lesser spicy Asian dishes, but nevertheless its creation is a science on its own.

It can come with a clear chicken soup or broth as accompanying soup and is one of the signature dishes claimed by more than one country. The chicken is mainly boiled in its own broth or stock – complete with bones and everything – which is used over and over again to gain the desired taste. Sometimes dips consisting of chopped chili, sweet soya or ginger are used to add taste.

7. Spring Rolls

Westerners would associate Spring Rolls as mainly Chinese dishes, but ask any serious chef in Asia and they would probably rate Vietnamese Spring Rolls as the best. That doesn’t change the fact that Spring Rolls are popular in most Asian countries, with China, Vietnam Philippines, Taiwan, Indonesia topping the list.

Spring Rolls with ShrimpsSpring Rolls are mainly fried rolled pastries that are filled with all kinds of raw or cooked meats or vegetables. There are versions which are not fried as well, mainly eaten in Taiwan.

Depending on the country your are in, the ingredients for Spring Rolls can be raw, boiled or blanched.

The most popular ingredients are minced pork, carrot, bean sprouts, fresh garlic chives, vermicelli noodles, shitake mushrooms. Soy sauce, peanut powder or fish sauce are sometimes added to better tickle your taste buds.

6. Dim Sum

Chinese dishes are very popular in most Asian countries. After all, the Chinese as avid travelers and migrants since ancient times form substantial parts of every population in Asian countries.

They brought plenty of their favorites from back home and amalgamated them with local dishes. One of those favorites is Dim Sum, wish are light, but hard-to-describe delicacies, popular in all Asian countries from the Philippines, to Vietnam, Laos or Malaysia and Indonesia. Oh yeah, of course in Singapore with its 60% Chinese population as well.

Dim Sum breakfast in Hong KongDim Sum derived from a Cantonese phrase meaning ‘a little token’ and describes little treasures of food, hidden away in small steamer baskets, various types of filled, steamed buns or plenty of little dishes served on small plates.

Dim Sum are mainly served with tea and can have a hearty, sweet or plain taste. The servings are of small portions but with plenty of varieties.

It seems one of the goals is to try as many different tastes as possible in a very short time. Dim Sum usually can be ordered from a menu, chosen from a buffet or is wheeled around on trolleys by servers.

You take what you like and pay only what you eat. Included are mainly rolls, paus, dumplings, meat balls, sweet desserts, cakes, tarts and puddings – in short an explosion of different forms, tastes and kinds of food.

5. Fried Rice (nasi goreng)

Rice is the staple diet in every Asian country. Mainly it’s cooked plain white, with coconut sauce or saffron added and eaten fresh or right away with whatever meat or veggies come along. So what do you do with the rice leftovers a few days later? You guessed it right!

Nasi Goreng - the Paella of AsiaSimply throw everything into a Wok, fry it nicely with vegetable oil, add some soya-sauce, garlic, shallots or other spicy food to cover the plain taste and serve it as a separate dish. Hah!

While that is certainly done to not let any food come to waste, fried rice is also a delicacy on its own. It’s a cheap and tasty dish in all Asian countries and comes with veggies, meat or different sambals. Add eggs, satay, rice or prawn crackers (krupuk) and you can have a full meal on its own which fills you up nicely and brings you through the day.

Some would say that Nasi Goreng is the Paella of Asia, but I’m sure the Spanish would protest that. ;-)

In the western world, the name ‘nasi goreng’ is nowadays connected with any Asian style of fried rice. I remember that my first encounter with it was a canned version in Germany, many years back. Simply heat in up and fill your stomach. Oh man!

4. Tom Yum

Tom Yum SoupOriginated in Thailand, this watery something in a bowl, is now very popular all over Asia, but especially in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. It can come as an appetizer, thin soup or main dish, eaten with or without rice, but has almost always a more spicy-sour taste with heavy use of smashed lemon grass, tamarind and lime.

Add different meats of seafoods to it, the most popular like prawns, squid or fish pieces or nowadays even mixed with chicken (who came up with that?) or vegetables, like oyster mushrooms or coriander leaves.

If you a Westerner wanting to boast with your home-cooking skills, but aren’t able to produce that typical hot-spicy-sour taste at home, you can simply buy Tom Yam paste in most Asia Shops back at home and produce a close-to-the-real-thing experience. ;-)

3. Chicken Curry

Chicken Curry is an universal dish you can find on almost every menu in Asia. After all the original spice islands some Portuguese sailor named Magellan was looking for in the name of the Spanish crown, are located strategically between the Philippines, Indonesia and Borneo Malaysia.

Rich tasty Chicken CurryCurry powder in all kinds of variations, tastes and colors are readily available all over Asia – and heavily used to create those heavenly curry dishes. Though what you will have on your plate later in the name of curry can look and taste surprisingly different, depending on the country you are in.

Everyone knows the heavy masaman (some call it mama-san curry, ahem!) or chicken curries of Thailand, made of heavy masala curries which are used by Indians as well.

Added are usually coconut, saffron and ginger for most distinctive tastes. Indonesians love their ‘Kari Ayam’ thinner, with more watery sauces, while Malaysian don’t seem to be too decisive about their curry thickness, depending if they live closer to Thailand or more to the south of the Malaysian peninsula.

And yes, curry dishes are not only restricted to chicken, but those seem to be the most popular.

2. Sushi

Sushi doesn’t need any introduction. It’s popular world-wide and there is no exception to that in Asia. Here it’s considered a higher-class delicacy and mainly eaten in posh restaurants, although you can buy ready-made Sushi in regional supermarkets like Carrefour in Singapore, Indonesia or Tesco in Thailand.

Delicious Sushi - hmmmmm!More and more Sushi franchises (Best Denki, Sakae Sushi, Go Sushi) are mushrooming all over Asia as well, bringing Sushi to the masses as well.

Sushi is so much more than just raw fish and creating/forming Sushi rolls is considered a science by many. Although it actually just takes the right kind of rice, seaweed wrappers and soy sauce.

The other ingredients like sweet, pickled ginger and Wasabi (the green, tasty paste similar to horse radish) are sold almost everywhere. However you like your Sushi, self-made at home, delivered to your door step or eaten in a fancy restaurant – don’t forget to drink Ocha (green tea) with your Sushi.

1. Satay

Satay is the undisputed King or Queen of Asian Foods. Of course the spelling is different from country to county, be it sate, satay, satey, sati or whatever – it’s basically meat on a stick roasted over charcoal or open fire.

Available everywhere from Singapore to the Philippines, Vietnam to Papua!

While in Muslim countries Indonesia or Malaysia it’s mainly chicken or beef sticks, Delicious Chicken or Beef SatayThailand is very famous for it’s organ sate, being it liver, heart or stomach of pigs or chicken. You can also find frogs or even bug meat on a stick, fried in oil or ‘au naturel’, again especially in Thailand, Cambodia or Laos.

Satay usually comes with various dips, peanut sauce is the most popular and mainly you have sticky rice or lontong with it. Most of the time you will have chopped onions, cucumber or other veggies as well.

Seafood satay is popular as well, so yeah – fish, calamari, prawns or other sea creatures come nicely fried on a stick as well, a cheap and delicious way of filling your stomach on the go, or a small snack for in between.

You can’t go wrong with satay during your next trip around Asia. When it’s fried, barbecued or grilled over open fire, it’s generally delicious and safe to eat, so don’t let anyone spoil your appetite!

What is your favorite Asian dish? Is it among those 10 or something completely different?

If you want to vote for your favorite dish in this list, please use the Poll Form in the left sidebar!

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written by Chris

41 Responses to “Top 10 popular Foods of Asia explained”

  1. Michael MilesNo Gravatar HONG KONG Says:

    I love fish balls! Dim Sum, Chinese style chicken curry, Nasi goreng, sashimi and sushi. Great! Not so keen on the laksa though.

    But on the whole, Asisn food is great. Here in Hong Kong we’re spoiled for choice.

  2. AudreyNo Gravatar CZECH REPUBLIC Says:

    Oh, this post brings back good memories! Laksa and Hainanese Chicken Rice were unknown to me until a few months ago when we visited Malaysia and Singapore. They are now some of my favorite dishes. I couldn’t believe how delicious Hainanese Chicken Rice could be – it looked so bland on the plate.

    I’m also a fan of pad thai dishes – shrimp, the some fresh greens and then the perfect blend of salty and sour and sweet. I love how the pad thai street stands in Thailand have a complete condiment section so you can spruce up your noodles to your exact like. Wish I could transport myself back to Asia for dinner!

  3. Calvin Michel SidjajaNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    It’s very wrong to read this article since I just woke up from night sleep, now I’m hungry already. Of all these food mentioned, Nasi goreng is my most favorite asian food, I especially like Makassar red fried rice, it’s one of the tastiest fried rice in Indonesia.

    Also I’m surprised nasi goreng is called nasi goreng in english thought, I always thought they are more commonly called fried rice, but I guess they are different food from western viewpoint.

  4. CathyNo Gravatar SWITZERLAND Says:

    Hmmmm dimsum…I dream about this at night.

  5. JohannesNo Gravatar GERMANY Says:

    I love sushi, cuz I’ve some quite sentimental memories. I had my very first sushi in New York in October 2003. It was a take-away from restaurant at world finacial centre, sitting in front of the still half destroyed palm garden with a fantastic view on liberty island (sigh). That’s why I love sushi; it always brings back New York to me!

  6. wawanNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    BABI GULING BALI (pig burn) is my favourite =)) =))

  7. AntNo Gravatar AUSTRALIA Says:

    South Indian thali, or Indian samosas wahed down with chai… ohmigod, I think I’m going to faint from the pleasure bubbles in my head. Nasi Campur in Indonesia and Chinese barbeque’s… ok, I’m going to stop there before I start licking this post.

  8. kennethNo Gravatar PAKISTAN Says:

    Great post
    really good collection
    Asia is one of the best places to visit
    and the food out there is just mouth watering
    good work keep it up :)

  9. Nomadic MattNo Gravatar THAILAND Says:

    I love all those foods, especially sushi. I think I could eat that every meal. along with thai noodle soup……..mmmmmmmm

    ps- Sorry I have been MIA. Traveling didn’t give me enough time to check blogs!!!! I’m back now though!!!

  10. ChrisNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    Nomadic Matt – are you crazy??? No need for being sorry doing what we all love to do most, traveling! :D

    Ant – yeah I love Indian food! Here in Bali aren’t so many choices of good, afforable Indian food. Missing Singapore sometimes.

    wawan – yup, Babi Guling is a true delicacy!

    And thanks to all the others, kenneth, Johannes, Cathy, Calvin, Audrey and Michael for sharing/adding/confirming their favorites!

  11. AlisaNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    Yummy! I love dimsum and sushi! Can you tell me what are the top three popular dishes in your country? I came from the Philippines, and for me, my top three dishes would have to be Adobo(stewed pork/chicken in soy sauce and vinegar), “Sinigang” (tamarind base soup), and “Lechon”(roast pork).

  12. yoshkeNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    I love tom yum and nasi goreng. Haha. Actually, i love everything on your list except chicken curry and sushi.

    Filipino foods are great, too. But then again, I’m biased. Haha.

  13. PaulNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    wow.. great site.. and a good list of Asian food…

    I think that the Asian noodles should be listed too… oh.. I guess there’s too many varieties of cooking noodles in Asia.. ;-)

  14. EricaNo Gravatar SWEDEN Says:

    Mmm… Dim Sum is my favorite so far.

  15. EpicurienneNo Gravatar UNITED KINGDOM Says:

    Hey! I was travelling for a few weeks so just saw this – BRILLIANT! Can’t wait to get back into reading your blog and finding out what I missed. Meanwhile, I’m sure you feel great not to be in Europe/US right now. Redundancy and job loss central – and working in HR as I do, I’m seeing all too much of it.
    Big hugs to you and Little Miss Nomad!

  16. eve and christineNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    ,, =)) bkit walang adobo,?he.he Filipino is the best….

  17. Kolalo girlNo Gravatar CHINA Says:

    Among them, I love Sushi and Laksa (if its not very spicy) the most.

  18. RyanNo Gravatar UNITED STATES Says:

    I love everything on this list except Tom Yum. Of all the Asian cuisines, Thai Cuisine is the most overrated. Tom Yum is just well, lacks the sensitivities and classy character of the Vietnamese Pho. I am a big fan of Vietnamese, Indian, Malay and Chinese Cuisine (on the Asian cuisine front). Japanese follows closely as well. Korean is quite okay. But one common misconception is that Koreans think they invented Kimchi – they didn’t. Kimchi was first recorded in the annals of Chinese history. The use of chilli in Korean cuisine is a recent phenom, possibly in the 18th and 19th centuries when the first Portuguese ships sailed to its ports bringing chilli with them from the Americas and other parts of Asia. Filipino cuisine is very underrated- because presentation-wise it doesnt rank high up there, but there are a few surprises as well – with the cuisine having a heavy influence of Arab, Malay, Chinese, American, Spanish, Mexican and Pacific flavors.

  19. KiksNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    L-) I LIKE THE WAY YOU PRESENTED………. but i need a lot of foods in asia and i want the olest foods that thay eat here in asia =))

  20. JanetNo Gravatar UNITED STATES Says:

    I’m fortunate enough to have a husband who makes most of that stuff (or something very similar) at home! ;)

  21. mimiNo Gravatar UNITED STATES Says:

    I’m like janet, my husband makes me all kinds of asian foods (vegan though) becuase he’s from south korea. mostly we eat korean foods like kimchi (can’t belive its not on the list!), purple rice, gimbap (korean sushi), sour rice noodle soup, soba, and so much asian veggie dishes, but since his mother is japanese, we eat alot of that stuff too, lucky for me, buddhist cuisine is popular in both countries. ;-)

  22. mimiNo Gravatar UNITED STATES Says:

    veggies gimbap/sushi that is…

  23. harveyNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    :))I like all that,but i think pig roast is the no. 1


  24. RyanNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    Lechon – roast pig Filipino style. Even Time Magazine and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain says the Filipino Lechon ranks number 1 in the world. According to Bourdain on his blog –

    “This puts the standings in the Hierarchy of Pork as follows:

    #1. Philippines

    #2. Bali

    #3. Puerto Rico”

    =D> =D> =D>

    Lechon is one of my favorite Filipino dishes. But there are heaps of good stuff – Sinigang, Adobo, Tinola, Sisig and heaps of other dishes.

  25. ChrisNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    Interesting link Ryan. I’m not the big pork eater – just sometimes – but certainly a fan of Anthony Bourdain. Had a few articles about him here also, this one is Bali-pork-related and this one more general about his passion for Asian foods. :D

    Asia is really full of great foods…aren’t we all lucky? ;-)

  26. RyanNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    Oh yeah, that article on Bali by Anthony Bourdain (Around 2007) was way before he got to the Philippines which was fairly recent (February 16, 2009). He he he. Bourdain thought the Bali pig was the best, until he came to the Philippines. He he he.

    But I defo agree, Asian cuisines are very varied:
    Anyway my favorite cuisines:

    1) Filipino
    2) Malaysian
    3) Indonesian
    4) Chinese
    5) Singaporean
    6) Indian
    7) Vietnamese
    4) Japanese


  27. iqbalNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    It has to be tp 11 on the list so in can add my mom recipe on that :-? ;;)

  28. ChrisNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    Which one would that be, iqbal, please explain! ;-)

  29. KhanaKhazanaNo Gravatar SINGAPORE Says:

    This recipe looks cool. Does not seem like lot of work, and the end product that is Samosa looks tempting. For me Samosas is one of the best Indian food.

  30. joeselNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    the reason commonly why filipino cuisine is not even getting in the top 10 most satisfying asian cuisine is because of it’s colors look at adobo it is the image of our country when it comes to food but it has a black soup which makes it unsatisfying because of it’s appearance but as what mr.Yan (one of the best chef’s in thw world said) FILIPINO CUISINE IS THE BEST IN THE WORLD AND SHOULD BE ENJOYED ALL OVER THE WORLD!?

  31. KiwiNomadNo Gravatar NEW ZEALAND Says:

    Have to agree with some contributors about Lechon Baboy and Adobo! (Sinigang doesn’t rate with me). But the others on the list …….yummmmm!
    The main reason I think that people shy away from Fiipino food is only the lack of presentation and that most of the meals in the Tapsilogans are fried in really bad oil.

  32. RyanNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    @ KiwiNomad , you haven’t tried my sinigang yet. HEHEHEHEHE. True enough, Filipinos are not after food presentation, when it is good, it is good. Filipino cuisine is more of a comfort food.

  33. NateNo Gravatar UNITED STATES Says:

    It all looks so good =D>

  34. HakimNo Gravatar MALAYSIA Says:

    Well 4 me, from these top 10, i love the fried rice. Because there lot of varieties of fried rice. The white color is my favorite especially the spicy one.

  35. Taste BudsNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    -Filipinos Lacks confidence on showing their skills in cooking because of the situation of the country and their lives :( . They always hide their talents to avoid shame :(( . But then again :-/ , Filipinos are great and talented people :) They are good in Culinary services and management :D . So they should be proud for themselves as a Filipino =D> .

    Aside from the irritating truth, x(

    These are the Best Foods I ever Tasted

    -Lechon (Philippines)
    -Chicken/Pork Adobo (Philippines)
    -Sinigang prawn/pork (Philippines)
    -Siomai (Chinese)
    -Sushi (Japan)
    -Afritada (Philippines)
    -Curry (India)

  36. VipinNo Gravatar INDIA Says:

    there is a lot of indian food that you might want to put up on that list… from kashimir to Kanyakumari and rajasthan to kolkota

  37. ashleeNo Gravatar AUSTRALIA Says:

    :D that food looks delish

  38. peter odemwingieNo Gravatar UNITED KINGDOM Says:

    Fish Balls…………..YUM!! :D

  39. rejoNo Gravatar UNITED KINGDOM Says:

    i am a great fan of asian food this looks great , normaly i cook few spicy indian recipes from some indian sites like

  40. Cutie Pie LazarNo Gravatar UNITED STATES Says:

    I love chicken curry. I am Indian and love spicy food. My mom prepares chicken curry almost all the time.

  41. Jazzy TanNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    Satay is really popular in Asian Countries, but try and Visit Philippines in particular Cebu you can find their a whole pig being roasted known as “Cebu Lechon”. It is a very delectable traditional cuisine I’m sure love it too! :)

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