With some delay, but as promised, part II of this blogpost is here! South East Asia was the last big section of our trip, and it merits a separate post because Asian cuisine is very colourful, varied and tasty. We had a great time eating streetfood and trying all kinds of weird and delicious stuff. It was by far the healthiest stretch of our trip, foodwise.
Although we only spent a couple of days in Malaysia we found some great places to eat, mostly on the street. Kuala Lumpur is not the most pedestrian-friendly city out there but some rewards await the traveller walking randomly through the busy intersections. We found some excellent Turkish kebab one night when we walked around hungrily. And to top it off, a gelato place that had just been opened and that just happened to serve my favorite ice cream flavours: salmon and wasabi.
Before that, in the Philippines we had to look a bit harder; the USA fast food chains we all know are working hard to impose commercial eating practices on otherwise perfectly fine natural-ingredient-eaters. We still found great fish, as you would expect in an island country, and quite a few vegetarian choices in the small restaurants (if you see a bunch of similar pots sitting on a table or a windowsill somewhere, you have found yourself a local restaurant!). When exploring some small islands by boat we ran into a Philippine family party, where a whole pig (see above) was roasted on a charcoal fire. They had filled it with lemongrass and tamarind leaves and it was very tasty. Eating whole animals is always somewhat daunting for ‘flexitarians’ like us but in many ways I find it fairer than eating fillets from the supermarket – shrink-wrapped, unrecognizable and ultimately more wasteful.
Visiting Indonesia brought back to me all those Indonesian dishes I enjoyed in the Netherlands back in the day. One of the least negative consequences (for us at least, not sure what the Indonesians got in return – milk?) of the fact that the Dutch colonized this beautiful country is the culinary exchange that ensued, which allowed us to spice up our pretty bland food culture in Holland. Most if not all Indonesian islands seem to have their own specialties, and we tried many warungs (family owned restaurants), some in a decent building and some makeshift tables on the street where people sit on a plaid to enjoy their food. Yes, everything is satay and nasi goreng, and bami goreng, but this is just the beginning. Try the weird stuff and you will not be disappointed. Having said this the dish that stands out in my memory was another classic: gado gado. It must have been the surroundings that made it taste so delicious.
Next up was Thailand, and this country’s food does not require any introduction. Except that this is the real thing, and costs a fraction of the prices your own local Thai charges. We stayed for 3 months, in and around Chiang Mai at first and in Bangkok and Koh Samui later, and we managed to eat some very different but equally great food. Also, I discovered a foodblog-treasure. If you like to eat Asian food, this is just the guide you need. In our little street in Chiang Mai near Wat Suan Dok temple we enjoyed many small dishes from the street vendors: edamame (steamed soy beans), fried fish, fresh fruit cooled with ice in the stalls, fried chicken and sticky rice. As for the spice: yes I had some “over the line!” experiences. Eat sticky rice. And drink warm tea if you can find it. Apparently the chili pepper is not even endemic to Thailand (the Portuguese introduced it) but they are certainly fervent supporters. For a next-level spice experience do try the tiny dark green ones they put in papaya salad…
Last but not least check out this noodle experience: This guy is located outside Bangkok Samui Hospital and caters to the hospital staff. He manages to squeeze out at least 10 different dishes with much precision and speed, for only 40-50 baht (1 euro). I had been studying some of these stalls for a while and what struck me with this one was its perfect organisation. The cooking station has three partitions, so the noodle guy can cook noodles, vegetables, and meat all at the same time. These ingredients and the flavouring (not the stuff you can add yourself at the end) all meet up at the same time in the plastic bag used for takeaway or the bowl for immediate slurping. Everything is within easy reach; the ladles for boiling the noodles can be clipped in place while boiling the stuff inside, elastic bands are right where they should be. have a look at the guy’s outfit, too. Ingredients are refilled from coolers on the side, so more meals can be whipped up during a morning / afternoon noodle session. And of course the whole thing is attached to small motorbike to make it transportable!
Concluding, the informal and very accessible way of eating we enjoyed in South East Asia is definitely the thing I miss the most now that we are back in Holland. But then we do have some streetfood here, too – and I started rediscovering Dutch cuisine by cooking a lot again, on which more later….