From the arid deserts of the Middle East to the lush rainforests of Southeast Asia and the tallest mountains on the planet in between, Asia’s landscapes are incredibly diverse. There are myriad cultural and historic sites to inspire, glorious beaches and abundant activities to suit all. And, let’s not forget the food. The Asian food scene offers so much variety; whether you can’t get enough of spicy cuisine, are a lover of rice, noodles or falafel, seek out Halal fare or love tropical fruits, Asia promises not to leave you hungry.
Asia also has its fair share of food attractions too, from cooking schools and tourist-centered farms to statues of food and food-focused museums. And, the street food scene in many countries is legendary!
1. Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Georgetown is the historical heart of Malaysia’s Penang. Awash with fascinating street art, colonial architecture and religious buildings, Penang is also one of the top global destinations for lovers of delicious street food.
The three main ethnic groups of Malaysia (Malay, Chinese and Indian) all contribute to the abundance of varied dishes in Georgetown. Influences can also be found from nearby Thailand, as well as culinary legacies left from the times of colonial rule and elements from Peranakan gastronomy. Plenty of fusion foods add further to the tempting array of choices.
Visit the many hawker centers and stroll along roads like Chulia Street and feast on the many tempting snacks and dishes. Try popiah, biryani, roti, fish head curry, laksa, rojak, carrot cake, Hokkien noodles and much, much more.
2. Malacca, Malaysia
The charming city of Malacca is a treat for both the eyes and stomach. The red Christ Church and other buildings around the riverside area of Stadhuys offer one of the most well-known views of the city. The remains of A Famosa Fort and St. Paul’s Church are other highlights and there is plenty of street art to admire.
As is common around Malaysia, the local dining scene offers a great mix of Chinese, Malay and Indian cuisine. Banana leaf curries, roti, chicken rice balls, pineapple tarts, claypot chicken, fried noodles, laksa and Hokkien cheese pie are just a few delights to hunt down in Malacca. Durian-flavored products are also widely available.
3. Bangkok, Thailand
The Thai capital is another top choice for food-loving travelers. Street food can be found pretty much everywhere around the city, with a few small streets (sois) especially known for their abundant goodies. Chinatown, Sukhumvit, Victory Monument and SIlom Road are just a few areas where you can sample an array of yummy dishes prepared in front of you on the streets. Of course, the numerous thronging markets have plenty of food options too.
Many people make a beeline for pad Thai vendors, but why not try something different? An abundance of meats of sticks sizzle on grills, along with fish balls and squid. Vendors bash unripe papaya to create the spicy somtam salad. Fried rice, diverse noodle dishes like pad see ew and pad kee mao, omelet, soups, grilled fish, crepes and mango sticky rice are among the treats waiting to tempt you.
Of course, when you’re sated and satisfied, don’t miss the city’s major attractions too! The Grand Palace, Wat Pho, the Golden Mount, Wat Arun and the many museums are popular.
4. Singapore Food Trail, Singapore
Singapore is yet another Asian haven for foodies, with influences from the kitchens of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and Peranakan peoples, as well as from nearby Indonesia and lands farther away. From gourmet restaurants to hawker centers, Singapore isn’t lacking when it comes to tempting dishes.
Fish head curry is unique to Singapore, with a blend of Indian and Chinese culinary traditions. Other top dishes to try include chilli crab and pepper crab, popiah, the shaved ice goodness of cendol, and the numerous rice and noodle dishes.
For a nostalgic dining experience, head to the Singapore Food Trail. Hawker stalls transport you back to times gone by, providing tastes of Singapore of the past. Many of the dishes can be difficult to find in other parts of the island, and most are prepared according to recipes that have been handed down through the generations. Atmospheric and with a great selection of dishes, Singapore Food Trail is a top place to eat.
5. Chongqing, China
One of the main cities in southern China, the UNESCO-listed Chongqing is often visited by people before they take a cruise along the mighty Yangtze River. Foreigner Street is a popular destination, with its church, Upside Down House and shops. The Three Gorges Museum tells about the construction of the famous dam, and other local attractions include the Great Hall of the People, Red Rock Village and Song Qing Ling’s Residence.
Known as one the Three Furnaces, Chongqing is a great place for foodies to sink their teeth into an authentic fiery hotpot. Be warned, though: it’s hot, hot hot!
6. Macau, China
A Special Administrative Region of China, the island of Macau is famous for its dazzling casinos. A stroll around the old streets reveals a blend of Portuguese architecture and traditional Chinese buildings. Highlights include Sao Paulo Cathedral, A-Ma Temple, Guia Lighthouse, Macau Museum and the old fort.
The local cuisine is interesting, with Chinese and Portuguese influences combining to create the unique local gastronomy. Macanese dishes include beef jerky, almond cookies, pork chop bun, Portuguese-style chicken and African-style chicken. The egg tarts are not to be missed.
7. Beijing, China
The Chinese capital city of Beijing is awash with terrific attractions. From the Forbidden City to the hutongs, and from seeing the Bird’s Nest to venturing to the Great Wall of China, there’s so much to see and do.
There’s one big draw to the city for food-loving travelers, Beijing duck. While available in many parts of the world, nothing can quite beat enjoying the succulent duck, tangy plum sauce, and fine crepe-like wraps in its home city.
A perfect way to spend an evening is at the Tang Dynasty Dinner Show. Watch captivating performances, including singing, music, dancing and ornate costumes and be transported to the times of the Tang dynasty. Fill up on tasty dumplings at a traditional dumpling banquet, and savor the array of delicious fillings.
8. Kampot, Cambodia
If you’re into spices, don’t miss Cambodia’s charming riverside town of Kampot. Known for its black pepper, you can venture into the surrounding countryside to see where the strong pepper is grown. Food has a peppery kick.
You can also see the large durian, a statue that celebrates the “King of Fruits”. If you haven’t tried durian, give it a go. But be warned: it’s definitely an acquired taste!
9. Shinyokohama Ramen Museum, Yokohama, Japan
Japan is a great place for lovers of fish, seafood and noodles. Yokohama has a further fabulous attraction for foodies, though: Shinyokohama Ramen Museum. Dedicated to the humble cup noodle, it shows how much the Japanese love their convenience food!
More than just a museum, it’s an entire theme park in honor of food. Indeed, it was the first food-themed amusement park in the world. There are nine eateries where you can get your ramen fix and try out different dishes from all around Japan. You can also load up on goodies at the gift shop.
10. Beirut, Lebanon
Many people visit the Lebanese capital for the easy access it offers to the country’s fascinating historical and cultural sites. Because Lebanon is a small country, Beirut is a great base from which to explore.
Previously known as the Paris of the Middle East, local attractions include the National Museum of Beirut, Pigeon Rocks, Jeita Grotto, Place de l’Etoile and Beirut Art Center. A stylish, cosmopolitan city, Beirut is also known for its fashion scene and nightlife.
There are many terrific places to eat as well. While you’ll find a great deal of international restaurants around the city, there are still plenty of places where you can enjoy traditional Lebanese cuisine made with fresh and locally sourced ingredients.
Lebanese food is known all around the world. Top dishes to try include the staple of shish taouk, chicken kebabs that have been marinated in various spices, falafel and the Lebanese-style pizza, manakeesh. Kibbe nayeh is made from raw meat (beef or lamb) with onion, grains and spices. If you’re craving a fresh salad, try fattoush or tabbouleh. Kofta meatballs and shawarma are also well-known favorites you’ll find when in Beirut.
11. At.mosphere, Dubai, UAE
If the surroundings and ambiance are as appealing to you as the actual food on your plate, few places can beat At.mosphere in Dubai. It’s the tallest restaurant in the world!
Located within the iconic Burj Khalifa, dine on the 122nd level and feast your eyes on the Arabian Gulf and dazzling skyscrapers.
The restaurant offers a luxury dining experience. Starters include caviar, oysters, foie gras and venison. Halibut with truffles, foie gras and chestnuts, asparagus with a hollandaise sauce and egg and tenderloin beef with vegetables are a few examples of the main courses. There’s an excellent selection of drinks and desserts too, and you could really satisfy your inner gourmand with the seven-course experience.
12. Colombo, Sri Lanka
The former capital of Sri Lanka (the current capital is now located in one of the city’s suburbs), Colombo has a great selection of museums and galleries to keep you busy. Explore the city by trishaw and don’t miss the many street food vendors.
Save money with a filling lunch packet, available from many stalls around the city. Hearty and cheap, a lunch packet normally has rice and vegetables.
The local cuisine combines flavorful spices, creamy curries and unique tastes and textures. Pancake-like string hoppers, rotis, samosas, pani pol (sweet coconut pancakes), egg hoppers and woodapple are amog the things to add to your must-eat list. Isso vadei are spicy lentil cakes with prawn, leaf-wrapped saravita and kottu are even more local specialties.
13. Nuoc Mam Hung Thanh, Phu Quoc, Vietnam
Learn more about how the salty and pungent fish sauce is made at Nuoc Mam Hung Thanh, one of the biggest fish sauce factories on Vietnam’s Phu Quoc island. Huga vats are filled with the strong-smelling sauce. Much of the sauce produced here is used domestically, though a fair amount is also exported overseas. Having a local guide will help you to make the most of your experience. If you’re into cooking as well as eating, grab a few bottles to take home with you.
14. Kimchi Museum, Seoul, South Korea
The only food-themed museum in South Korea, see how deep the adoration runs for kimchi at the Kimchi Museum. It’s certainly a much-loved national dish. Learn how the pickled favorite is made and eaten, understand its history and find out why so many Koreans just can’t get enough of it.
If you want to delve deeper, sign up for one of the workshops. And, if you really want to learn more, head into the reference library where you’ll find a plethora of books and academic texts dedicated to the food.
15. Norjangin Fish Market, Seoul, South Korea
Another destination for food-lovers in Seoul, Noryangjin Fish Market is a place for the truly adventurous. As well as being able to peruse a wide array of fish and seafood, you can also try the traditional dish of sannakji. You need to be brave though; sannakji is a dish of raw octopus tentacles.
If that weren’t enough, the tentacles are so fresh that they are still moving! It’s a strange sensation to have your food writhing and wriggling inside your mouth as you attempt to chew. Be careful though; it is possible for the suctions to attach to your mouth and throat, causing difficulties swallowing and breathing.
16. Taipei, Taiwan
The Taiwanese capital of Taipei is another of Asia’s great cities for street food. As well as local Taiwanese foods you’ll find influences from mainland China and from Japan. In addition to the many diverse restaurants, the night markets are terrific for trying a variety of goodies and satisfying your hunger.
The city has numerous night markets, each with an exciting array of food stalls. The most famous market, and therefore the one that attracts the most tourists, is Shilin Night Market. Others include Ningxia, Raohe, Gongguan and Keelung Miaokou.
Adventurous eaters can slurp a bowl of intestine soup or tuck into pork blood sausage or stinky tofu. Oyster omelets are popular, as are the unusually named coffin bread, red bean buns, squid, fish balls, fried chicken and guabao. Taiwanese sausage, dumplings, hotpot and pepper buns may also tempt you.
There are numerous sweet treats too and don’t miss trying the bubble tea.
17. Ithaa Restaurant, Alif Dhaal Atoll, Maldives
Another awesome restaurant for fans of dining experiences, Ithaa Restaurant is part of the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island Resort. Head 16 feet below the water’s surface and enjoy fine European dining with the ocean all around you. Made completely from glass, an array of aquatic life entertains you while you savor your meals.
18. Ulan Baatar, Mongolia
While food in Mongolia is mainly seen as a thing of necessity rather than a pleasure, there are still some interesting food experiences to be found around the country. Heavily focused on meat, particularly mutton, the national cuisine is fairly bland. Dumplings add stodge. Take a sip of fermented yak’s milk though to give your taste buds a wake-up call!
One of the main draws for foodies to the Mongolian capital is to try an authentic Mongolian BBQ. Prepared on a fire outside a traditional ger, the mutton is flavored with salt and pepper. Eaten with the hands, imagine you’re a fearsome warrior about to march and invade nearby lands.
19. Mumbai, India
Mumbai’s attractions include the various colonial gems within the walls of Fort St. George, the diverse religious buildings and nearby beaches and national parks. It is also one of the best cities in all of India for delicious and varied street food.
Take a stroll through the markets and pick up an array of snacks and dishes to munch on. Favorites include kebab, samosa, bhaji, pav, puri, butter chicken, crab, roti, farsaan and much, much more. Curries, breads, chaat (small fried snacks) and sweets are all sure to entice you.
20. Destination Unknown!
There are so many awesome destinations across Asia, including ones that have a salivating choice of foods, that narrowing it down to just 20 places is a very demanding task.
Other top choices include Thailand’s Chiang Mai, Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City, Pokhara in Nepal, New Delhi in India, Seminyak in Indonesia, Tel Aviv in Israel, Yangon or Mandalay in Myanmar and the Japanese capital of Tokyo. Almost everywhere you end up in Asia will have a great selection of local foods to satisfy diverse taste buds.