Thursday, May 10, 2012

Street Food in Southeast Asia

Street food both scares and entices visitors to Southeast Asia, as worries about hygiene battle with the alluring sights and smells of the dishes on display. Put your fears aside and eat like the locals; you’ll experience the bestvalue food Southeast Asia has to offer.

Fresh and lighter than many cuisines in the region, Vietnamese cooking draws heavily on herbs, chili peppers, and lime. The street food of Vietnam is a frequent contender for favorite among travelers to the region, and rightly so.
Hoi An
Look beyond the Old Quarter’s stunning buildings and you’ll find excellent street food virtually everywhere. Keep an eye out for the moving vendors, such as the women who balance restaurants across their shoulders and the town’s steamed bun (banh bao) merchant, who blasts pop music from his cart. Head north out of the Old Quarter for fantastic banh mi.
Old Quarter, Hanoi
From the moment the sun rises, the Old Quarter in Hanoi comes alive, with each corner seemingly bringing a new street-dining experience – pull up a plastic chair, order some pho or banh cuon (rice-flour pancakes stuffed with pork and woodear mushroom), and dig in.
Bac Ha
An overnight train plus a 2-hour minibus ride from Hanoi, Bac Ha’s Sunday market is perhaps only for the dedicated traveler. But it’s worth the effort when you sit down to eat pork noodle soup among the local Flower Hmong tribe, surrounded by a carnival of color that will stay with you for life.
Fiery from red hot chili peppers and pungent with shrimp paste and nam pla (fish sauce), Thailand’s food is well known around the world, but its own streets still throw up lots of surprises, from fried cockroaches to sour orange curry and local sausages.
Chinatown, Bangkok
By day the main street of Bangkok’s Chinatown is the city’s busy gold-trading area, but by nightfall it is packed with street food vendors. Hungry visitors here snap up dishes such as pla pao (char-grilled fish), tom yum koong (the shrimp version of the sour and spicy soup), and goong pao (barbecued shrimp). For impressive displays of fresh seafood on ice, head to the T&K food stand on the corner of Thanon Phadung Dao and the Yaowarat Road.
Silom Road, Bangkok
This area is the business hub of the city and is home to many street stands at each end of the day. For a taste of real Bangkok – on many levels – get up early and go for the morning shift, when the road is filled to bursting point with hawkers plying their trade to the rat-race of workers. The delicious deep-fried pork and sticky rice is always a favorite.
Warorot Market, Chiang Mai
When the sun sets in Chiang Mai, the food vendors move into the roads around Tom Lamyai flower market near the river’s pedestrian bridge. Try the northern Thai sausages and, if you’re feeling adventurous, some of the deep-fried insects.
Malaysia is a wonderful meeting of cultures.
Large groups of indigenous Malay, Chinese, and Indians have influenced each other’s cuisines over the years, sharing techniques and ingredients to create unique dishes.
Gurney Drive Night Market, Penang
Persiaran Gurney (Gurney Drive), Georgetown Penang is famed among Malaysians for its food, and this night market is the largest in the city. It opens until late and is busy until the end, packed with locals and tourists alike. The famous fried chicken skin and asam laksa noodles are must-tries.
Jalan Alor
Golden Triangle, Kuala Lumpur In Kuala Lumpur’s Golden Triangle, someone thrusts a menu at you approximately every five steps. The food here is a fantastic introduction to the Chinese dishes of Malaysia, such as pan mee (see On the Menu, right). A roadside durian fruit makes a strongsmelling end to the meal that you’ll either love or hate. Little India Saturday Night Market Masjid Jamek LRT, Kuala Lumpur This bustling night market is the perfect place to try the Malay and Indian side of Malaysian street food.
Don’t miss satay and apam balik, thick pancakes with peanuts and corn.
SS2 Hawker Center
Petaling Jaya, Kuala Lumpur
The locals’ favorite group of food stands is out of town but well worth the taxi ride. The Hawker Center has around 80 stands serving classics such as grilled stingray and la la (clams). The center’s layout allows visitors to dine from as many stands as they wish and buy drinks from any of the many people that ply the aisles selling beverages.
While Laos cannot compete with its larger neighbors for variety on the food front, there is still plenty to titillate the taste buds. The country’s food takes influences from all its neighbors, and the setting can often be breathtaking.
Luang Prabang
The center of this city (a UNESCO World Heritage site) converts to a fabulous night market when evening falls. The air becomes thick with smoke, and banana leaves are piled high with delectable grilled meats. Try the nem kao (stuffed rice pancakes) or sticky rice with sai gok (local sausage).
Singapore is packed with street food, all of it inspected, regulated, and controlled for a degree of hygiene not seen elsewhere. Most of Singapore’s 40,000 food stands are located inside “hawker centers.”
Smith Street, Chinatown
Once a notorious red-light district, at night Smith Street is now home to many hawker stands. Look out for char kway teow (wok-fried noodles) and the sticky barbecued pork. Unusually for a food stand, China La Mian Steamed Buns makes a very delicious xiao long bao (juicy pork “small dragon” dumplings). For dessert, hunt out some mochi, little rice balls filled with crushed peanuts or sesame and served in pandan-leaf-flavored soup.
Little India, Rochor
Singapore’s ethnic makeup is similar to Malaysia’s trinity of cultures, and this area showcases the best of the Indian contingent’s crafts and cuisine. The food stands here feature skillfully made roti prata (sweet flatbread), huge dosai (rice pancakes), and meals served on banana leaves.
Chinatown Complex Food Center
Trengganu Street
This is Singapore’s largest hawker center, with more than 200 food stands. Favorites here include chicken rice, fried Hokkien prawn mee (fried noodles with shrimp), and claypot rice (chicken, Chinese sausage, and salted fish with crispy, lightly charred rice).
Banh cuon Steamed and rolled-up rice-flour pancakes filled with pork and mushrooms, topped with fried shallots, and eaten with a spicy dipping sauce.
Banh mi French-style baguettes filled with meat and finished with pickled vegetables, herbs, and fiery pepper sauce.
Goi cuon A kind of Vietnamese spring roll: the rice paper roll holds pork, shrimp, rice noodles, herbs, and seafood.
Joke Rice porridge, which is common throughout this part of the world; in Thailand it is eaten for breakfast with minced pork and a soft egg.
Pad thai Tamarind and palm sugar combine into the sweet-and-sour sauce of this well-known fried rice-noodle dish.
Som tam A salad of crunchy green papaya topped with fermented freshwater crab or jumbo shrimp, served with a lime and fish-sauce dressing.
Laksa The most famous of Nonya (Chinese Malay) dishes bathes rice noodles, meat, seafood, and vegetables in either stock (asam laksa; see pp204–5) or spiced coconut milk (curry laksa).
Pan mee Freshly rolled noodles served dry or in soup, topped with crisp fried anchovies and minced pork, and finished with a spoonful of chili pepper sauce.
Satay Tender meat kebabs that are marinated before grilling and served with a spice-rich dipping sauce.
Char kway teow Wide, flat, rice noodles (ho fun) stir-fried with meat, seafood, and egg. The chefs deftly toss the ingredients near the stove’s flame, imparting wok hei – the essence of the wok – to the dish.
Chili crab A delicious but messy, chili-pepper-sauce-covered crab.
Claypot rice A mix of marinated chicken, waxed Chinese sausages, and salted fish cooked in a clay pot with rice over charcoal, so the rice develops a crunchy base, similar to Persian chelo , and a smoky flavor.
Roti prata These flatbreads arrived with southern Indian immigrants. Soft dough is deftly swung around the chef’s head until it is paper-thin, then it is folded and fried into crisp layers. These are also sold all over Malaysia under the name roti canai.

Curries and toppings on sale at the evening market, Luang Prabang, Laos; bak chor mee (pork on egg noodles with chili peppers and vinegar) is served with a clear soup side-dish at Singapore’s hawker stands

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