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A Westerner’s Guide to Asian Street Food

Every type of traveler should at least try backpacking once. If you agree, maybe start with Asia because it is proven to be backpacker-friendly. Another reason is Asian countries have some of the best street food all over the world. So when you pack your bags for your Asian trip, make sure you have a list of food you want to try.

There are so many delicacies to die for in Asia. Every country prides itself in unique food you can only find there. To help you prepare that list, here are 5 street foods you should not miss.

1. Nasi Lemak in Malaysia

If there is a dish that represents every cuisine, Nasi Lemak will be the representative for Malaysia. This Malaysian national dish means “oily or fatty rice.”

The rice in question is not the typical rice you get in Malaysia. It is cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaves. You can have it as is most of the time and with some slices of cucumber, fried anchovies, and egg.

On other occasions, nasi lemak is served with fried chicken or rendang. It is typically served for breakfast. But you can enjoy it any time of the day from street stalls and local restaurants.

2. Jeon in South Korea

Jeon is the Korean word for “pancake.” However, it is not the kind of pancake most people know. It’s not the fluffy kind you put syrup on. Koreans like vegetables, meat, and seafood on their pancakes. If you are looking for food you will not get elsewhere, jeon is a must-try.

When scanning a menu in a Korean restaurant, all you must remember is that jeon means pancake. There is a lot of variations for this dish. They have kimchi pancakes, seafood pancakes, and vegetable pancakes.

The most popular one is haemul pajeon. In English, it’s seafood-and-green-onion pancake. Whichever you want to try, make sure to have it with makgeolli. Makgeolli is a Korean traditional rice wine you can quickly get from street booths.

3. Ihaw-Ihaw and Tusok-Tusok in the Philippines

Ihaw-ihaw comes from the root word ihaw, which means “to grill.” It refers to grilled street food. Tusok-tusok, on the other hand, comes from tusok, meaning “to poke or to skewer.” It generally refers to fried street food which you poke with a thin bamboo stick.

You should trykwek-kwekif you are not feeling that adventurous. It is basically quail eggs covered in soft orange dough and best dipped into some vinegar or sweet sauce. Usually next to the kwek-kwek stalls, you will find street barbecue. There are chicken heads, chicken intestines, hotdogs, pig’s blood, and many more.

Street food is very greasy. You can refresh yourself with a cup of coconut juice, sago’t gulaman, or a fruit juice like Del Monte pineapple juice unsweetened. Coconuts and pineapples are native products in the Philippines. You should not skip them when you visit.

4. Idli Sambhar in India

You can have this versatile South Indian dish in the streets of India or in fine dining restaurants. Idli sambar is a popular Indian dish among different age groups. Idli is a type of flavorful rice cake from Tamil Nadu and is a common breakfast item for South Indians.

Black lentils are fermented and then mixed with rice before being steamed. Its nutritious ingredients make the idli popular with those who love healthy meals. On the other hand, the sambar is a mix of different vegetables and tur dal cooked in a pressure cooker to make a stew. It has a tangy and spicy flavor because of the added peanut chutney. The sambar is best served hot to accompany the fluffiness of the idli.

5. Ma-Po Tofu in China

If you are looking for a dish to numb your tastebuds, this should be your top pick. This dish is made of soft tofu, minced pork or beef, chili, and peppercorns tossed in a sauce made of broad bean. The spicy flavor is best consumed when the dish is still hot. The flavor is just not the same when it gets warm or cold.

While the sauce is hot and spicy, the softness of the tofu brings a fresh flavor with every bite. The diced soft tofu is boiled until it is cooked before it is mixed with the special sauce. The minced pork or beef is stir-fried together with ginger, garlic, and fermented soy black beans. This dish is a common meal in every Chinese household. It has also gained popularity among visiting foreigners in the past years.

Street food best represents the daily life of people in a country. Take your time in trying all of them. Don’t be afraid to ask around and share stories with the locals. You will come home with an enriched soul from this adventure.