Trips of a lifetime: a gourmand’s tour of south-east Asia
It’s no secret east Asia is a foodie’s paradise – and this whirlwind tour packs everything in, from street eats to fine dining
Blessed with a bounty of spices and carefully preserved culinary traditions, southeast Asia is a foodie’s delight. That’s not to say the region is anchored in the past: these days, plastic kerbside stools sit alongside hipster cafés and glamorous dining rooms.
There’s something here for every palate and wallet, from flavour-packed street food to show-stopping Michelin-star feasts. Plan an extended break to meander through this fascinating landscape: our gourmet getaway plots a path packed with fiery salads, coconut-laced curries and expertly-grilled satays.
Street food and tasting menus in Bangkok
Start your culinary journey in Bangkok, a city famed for its glutton’s appetite and round-the-clock grazing. Some of the capital’s best meals can be found in its buzzing streets and food courts. Or Tor Kor Market peddles high-end produce, home-style lunches and spice pastes to take home: try crunchy papaya salads, cooling shaved ices and – if you’re feeling adventurous – a taste of pungent, custard-like durian.
At Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok, the Authors’ Lounge is a genteel spot to recover from sensorial overload: curl up in a wicker armchair, and nibble on delicate pandan cakes and lychee pavlovas while you plan after-dusk excursions.
For an immersive experience, head to Yaowarat Road in Chinatown, where stall owners rustle up stir-fried crab, plump dumplings and wok-tossed pad thai. Michelin starred-80/20 expertly pairs locally sourced produce with French techniques – expect smoked river fish, fermented duck sausage and more in its signature tasting menu.
Fusion fare in Kuala Lumpur
The railway from Bangkok to Malaysia may have its share of romantic appeal, but a short flight is still the most convenient way to Kuala Lumpur – leaving you time to sample the country’s eclectic cuisine, from earthy Malay rendangs to tangy, aromatic Peranakan dishes.
Effortlessly stylish Cho Cha Foodstore riffs on this heady fusion, with dishes like lemongrass-smoked chicken or banana-blossom tempura. Mandarin Oriental, Kuala Lumpur’s Lai Po Heen takes a more purist approach, with elevated Cantonese cuisine served in an opulent dining room.
At Dewakan, chef Darren Teoh gives a starring role to Malaysian produce; book ahead for elaborate, occasionally challenging tasting menus. For the best street-food experience, take a day trip to Melaka to make the most of Malaysia’s breezy highways. A two-hour drive away, the -protected heritage city has bags of charm and a thriving food scene to match. Don’t leave without a taste of its celebrated chicken rice balls – the only item on the menu at Kedai Kopi Chung Wah coffee shop.
Satay, sushi and stingray in Singapore
Fine-dining and roadside treats in Jakarta
If you’re catching an early-morning flight grab a breakfast of kaya (coconut jam) toast and soft-boiled eggs at Changi Airport. Just two hours away, vibrant, urbanite Jakarta brings together Indonesia’s diverse cultures and food scenes.
Get your bearings at Plataran Dharmawangsa, a traditional wooden Joglo house turned fine-dining destination. Try the signature pomelo salad, or dedeng batokok, a beef jerky inspired by tribal Sumatran recipes. For the best satay, make a beeline for Jalan Jaksa and Jalan Sabang, just south of Merdeka Square, where you’ll also find peanut-laced gado-gado salad, stuffed martabak pancakes and bakso meatball soup. Toast the end of your epicurean adventure at Lyon, Mandarin Oriental, Jakarta’s sophisticated French restaurant – something chilled and bubbly from the impressive wine cellar will do very well indeed.