Once upon a time I had a food blog, and it was great fun during the two and a half years I wrote in it. Sadly, it came to an end last year for various reasons, none of which had to do with my love of trying new foods. That love still remains and will probably never go away (in case you were wondering). So, as you can imagine, I was more than a little excited to travel to Southeast and East Asia – specifically Singapore, Phuket, Ko Phi Phi, and Hong Kong – and indulge in some tasty new dishes.
Since I like to think of myself as some sort of foodie, I was heavily anticipating and preparing for my trip by conducting my usual food research. For this occasion, I went on TripAdvisor and Chowhound, read guide books, requested information from the Hong Kong Tourism Board (true story, they were great btw), and re-watched episodes of Anthony Bourdain’s The Layover, all to give me some insight into what’s to come.
Starting off the food festivities was Singapore, a fascinating city-state with a rising amount of tourist attractions that feel culturally ambiguous but still entertaining. What interested me the most were the local spots, primarily the hawker centers. Declared a must for anyone who loves to eat, I heard about hawker centers after watching The Layover and doing some research online. These open-air food markets feature countless vendors selling a mix of different Asian cuisines at really cheap prices. It’s pretty great. My hawker center highlights include:
Fried carrot cake: Also known as chai tao kway, neither carrots nor cake are in this dish. Rather, it’s radish “cake” stir fried in egg and a sweet sauce and topped with scallions. I ate it two days in a row. Worth it.
Roti prata: In my very trustworthy opinion, one can never go wrong with roti, and this dish just proved my point. The roti was slightly greasy but not overly so, and the curry was extremely flavorful. I wish I had gotten seconds.
Laksa: A popular noodle dish in Singapore, I found the coconut-based curry soup to be full of just the right amount of spice with noodles that were chewy but not too soft. I also think there might have been cockles at the bottom, but I’m not positive. There was definitely some sort of mystery protein in there.
Outside of the hawker centers, I had a few other great food experiences in Singapore:
- Crepes at Entre-Nous Creperie: Yes, I went to a French spot, and it was delicious. Taken here by a friend who grew up in Singapore, I indulged in the recommended “entre-nous,” the homemade salted butter caramel crepe. Salty, buttery, caramel-y…and so, so good.
- Thai at Jim Thompson: Beautiful space, solid food, and the best coconut water I have ever had. In fact, I used to hate coconut water and now I find myself buying it all the time in an attempt to find coconut water as good as what I had at Jim Thompson. I’ve yet to succeed.
- Kaya toast: Not a restaurant, this is actually a popular snack and breakfast item, and I can see why. The toast is spread with kaya, which is a type of coconut jam, and butter. This is something I could easily eat every day but would try my very hardest not to and then would likely succumb more often than not.
Next stop: Thailand, a country that’s been on my travel bucket list for quite some time. I also happen to LOVE Thai food, so I went into that country like a food warrior ready to do battle. I have to say, though, that because of the areas I was in (Ko Phi Phi and Kata Beach in Phuket), I did not feel like I got the true Thai cuisine experience. Many of the restaurants I visited were extremely touristy and pretty much devoid of locals, which is a shame. The good news is that the food was still good so I can only imagine how the food tastes at places that locals frequent. It’s on my to-do list for my next trip to Thailand. Regardless, some highlights include:
Pad Thai at Phi Phi Corner Seafood: Literal name with really great seafood pad thai and coconut juice. I only ventured here because of my follow-the-crowd rule and, at the time, it had enough patrons in it to justify stopping by. My rule did not fail me.
Thai pancake: So I have absolutely no idea what the name of the place is where I bought my banana and honey thai pancake, but it was a nice pick-me-up on a very rainy, muddy day in Ko Phi Phi.
Green Curry at The Palmery Resort and Spa: Staying here was an early birthday gift to myself that I enjoyed to the fullest. Part of enjoying it to the fullest was ordering room service in the form of green curry with chicken. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much but this green curry was one of the spiciest, most delicious dishes I had during my whole trip. Two big thumbs up from me.
I’m already looking forward to the day when I will be back in Thailand, chowing down on dishes beyond the usual suspects. Sort of like what I already do in Queens at SriPraPhai but taking it to the next level (as a food warrior should).
Last on my trip to Asia was Hong Kong. Oh, my beloved Hong Kong. I love this city, despite only being there for a little more than two days. The energy was electric and the food did not disappoint. My favorites include:
Noodles at Man Fai: Firstly, it should be noted that, similar to Phi Phi Corner Seafood, I had to do some digging on Google to find out the name of this place. Thank goodness for Google. Also similar to Phi Phi Corner Seafood, I ventured here due to my follow-the-crowd rule, which once again did not let me down. Had I known the popular dish here is cuttlefish balls, I probably would have tried it. However, it was 11pm on a Wednesday night, I had just come from the airport and I was starving. I wandered down Jardine’s Bazaar in the Causeway Bay area of Hong Kong and this was the first restaurant that was packed with people but still had enough space for me. I settled on some shrimp wonton noodles, slurped that thing down and then happily went on my way.
Dim Sum at Tim Ho Wan: I fully admit that, for two of my meals in Hong Kong, I completely followed Anthony Bourdain. I did some vetting online beforehand but it was half-hearted, as I already knew I was going anyway. In the case of Tim Ho Wan, which might be the cheapest Michelin star restaurant in the world, it was a no-brainer. I tried the glutinous rice with Chinese sausage and chicken wrapped in a lotus leaf and the baked barbecue pork buns. Both were two of the most intriguing dishes I’ve ever had, the former because I wasn’t quite sure what I was eating at the time and had to Google it later (Google FTW) and the latter because, unlike other pork buns, this had a sweet exterior that contrasted well with the savory pork interior.
Barbecue Pork Rice at Joy Hing Roasted Meat: Followed Tony B. and came here for the char siu rice, aka barbecue pork rice. It was pretty good, though not the best! But still, pretty darn good.
Yakitori at Yardbird: While not the same Yardbird in Miami that’s getting all those accolades, this Yardbird is also pretty well known. A trendy Japanese spot in the Sheung Wan neighborhood, visiting this venue felt like walking into numerous Manhattan restaurants. Super chic clientele and a hip vibe greeted me, not to mention some delicious cocktails and great food. My favorites were the chicken wings with sea salt and shichimi, the chicken meatball with tare and egg yolk, and the KFC (Korean Fried Cauliflower). If nothing else, order a full serving of the cauliflower. One of the best life decisions one can ever make.
Overall, I had a wonderful time traveling around Asia and trying different foods. There are a few dishes I wish I had tried, but all the more reason to make sure I get back there soon.