Foodie Bucket List: 10 Must-Visit Culinary Destinations in Asia
Foodie Bucket List: 10 Must-Visit Culinary Destinations in Asia - Street Food Haven: Bangkok, Thailand
Bangkok’s street food scene is legendary, offering an incredible diversity of flavors at bargain prices. For foodies, it’s a slice of culinary heaven. The city’s sidewalks and roadside stalls are teeming with sizzling woks, smoking grills, and steaming pots, each dish more tantalizing than the last. Locals, expats, and tourists alike flock to these bustling streets to sample iconic Thai street eats like pad thai, som tam (spicy papaya salad), and coconut ice cream.
One of the best places to dive into Bangkok’s dynamic street food culture is Yaowarat Road in Chinatown. As the sun goes down, this sensory overload of a street comes alive. Wander past gold shops by day and they magically transform into food stalls at night, with plastic chairs and tables spilling out onto the sidewalks. Must-try dishes here include kuaitiao ruea (boat noodles), khao kha moo (braised pork leg with rice), and oozing curries.
Another street food hot spot is Soi 38 off Sukhumvit Road, a narrow alley densely packed with food carts and plastic chairs. Visitors rave about the khao man gai (Hainanese chicken rice) and there's always a line for Jay Fai's famed crab omelettes. Prices are higher than other street food haunts but still a steal compared to Western prices.
For the quintessential Thai street food experience, head to a night market. Rot Fai Market in Ratchada is a favorite among locals and tourists. Meander past stalls sizzling up classic pad Thai noodles, crispy pork skewers, fresh spring rolls, and mango sticky rice. There's also live music and a festive atmosphere that's family-friendly.
Bangkok's street food vendors offer a mind-boggling array of flavors for just 30-60 baht (less than $2 USD) a plate. It's an affordable way to sample the diversity of Thai cuisine without ever setting foot in a restaurant. You can try a new dish at each stall, from Issan sausages to rich Muslim curries. Street food also offers a fascinating glimpse into Thailand's various ethnic cultures and cooking traditions that have blended together in Bangkok.
For the bold eater, there are even more exotic street eats like fried insects and bugs. Vendors along Khao San Road serve crickets, grasshoppers, larvae, and scorpions! While not for everyone, trying insects is something every visitor should experience at least once. It offers an authentic taste of local flavors.
What else is in this post?
- Foodie Bucket List: 10 Must-Visit Culinary Destinations in Asia - Street Food Haven: Bangkok, Thailand
- Foodie Bucket List: 10 Must-Visit Culinary Destinations in Asia - Spice Up Your Life: Penang, Malaysia
- Foodie Bucket List: 10 Must-Visit Culinary Destinations in Asia - Savor Singaporean Flavors
- Foodie Bucket List: 10 Must-Visit Culinary Destinations in Asia - Dim Sum and Dumplings in Hong Kong
- Foodie Bucket List: 10 Must-Visit Culinary Destinations in Asia - Sushi Spectacular in Tokyo
- Foodie Bucket List: 10 Must-Visit Culinary Destinations in Asia - Seoul Food: Korean BBQ and Beyond
- Foodie Bucket List: 10 Must-Visit Culinary Destinations in Asia - Indian Feast in Delhi
- Foodie Bucket List: 10 Must-Visit Culinary Destinations in Asia - Breakfast Bliss: Bali
Foodie Bucket List: 10 Must-Visit Culinary Destinations in Asia - Spice Up Your Life: Penang, Malaysia
Located on the northwest coast of Malaysia, the island of Penang is a multicultural melting pot renowned for its incredibly diverse and flavorsome street food. Often named the top food destination in Asia, Penang has a lively street food culture influenced by Malay, Chinese, Indian, Peranakan, Thai and British cuisines. The sheer variety is mind-blowing – there are over 7,000 street food vendors crammed into this small island! Unlike much of Malaysia, Penang has preserved its historic colonial architecture, providing a picturesque backdrop while you explore the dynamic food stalls and cafes.
The heart of Penang's street food scene is concentrated in the capital George Town, an atmospheric UNESCO World Heritage Site dotted with pastel-hued shop houses, Chinese clan houses, mosques, Hindu temples, and colonial mansions. Start your food odyssey at the vibrant Kimberley Street night market, which comes alive after dark when locals flock here for dinner. Weave your way past stalls serving Penang laksa (a signature sour and spicy noodle soup), char kway teow (sizzling flat rice noodles), rojak (fruit and veggie salad with a prawn paste dressing), and ais kacang (a delightful dessert of shaved ice, jelly, red beans and corn).
Next, wander through Little India for a taste of Malaysia's Indian community. On the edge of Lebuh Pasar, you’ll find Indian Muslim stalls churning out biriyani, tandoori chicken, naan breads, and teh tarik (pulled tea). For breakfast, join locals queuing at Hameediyah Restaurant for delicious murtabak – a type of stuffed pancake filled with minced meat, egg, onions and spices.
No visit to Penang is complete without sampling Nyonya cuisine, also known as Peranakan cooking. This mix of Chinese ingredients and Malay spices evolved from intermarriage between early Chinese settlers and Malays. Experience homecooked Nyonya dishes at Ee Beng Vegetarian Food in central George Town. Their must-try specialty is otak otak – a fragrant fish custard steamed in a banana leaf pouch. You can also take a cooking class to learn traditional Nyonya recipes.
Penang is a true hawker paradise – these open-air food courts are basically covered markets housing a delicious diversity of food stalls and pushcarts. Head to New Lane Hawker Centre for Penang's famous char kway teow, lor bak (deep fried pork rolls), and nutty wan tan mee noodles. The crowds at Gurney Drive Hawker Centre can't be beat, where vendors dish up local satay, rojak, pasembur (a veggie salad), and cendol (shaved ice dessert).
Foodie Bucket List: 10 Must-Visit Culinary Destinations in Asia - Savor Singaporean Flavors
Singapore is a true culinary melting pot, seamlessly blending Chinese, Malay, Indian, Peranakan, and Western influences into something uniquely Singaporean. This cosmopolitan city-state boasts a buzzing hawker culture, with stalls dishing up flavorful local specialties evolved from its diverse immigrant origins. Singapore's vibrant food scene is an edible journey across cultures.
For an immersive street food experience, join locals at Maxwell Road Hawker Centre near Chinatown. Since the 1950s, its chaotic, steamy aisles have been filled with hungry locals slurping and chewing their way through Singapore’s beloved hawker fare. Dig into comforting Hainanese chicken rice, considered the national dish. Poached chicken and rice cooked in chicken stock are served with a zesty chili garlic sauce that provides a burst of heat. Those craving noodles will find an array of options like prawn mee, yellow noodles topped with succulent shrimp, pork ribs, hard-boiled egg, and fried shallots.
Satisfy your seafood cravings at East Coast Lagoon Food Village with signatures like chilli crab, fried oyster omelette, and Katong laksa - an aromatic coconut curry noodle soup bursting with flavors of lemongrass, coconut milk, and dried shrimp. Enjoy the laidback seaside ambience as you taste these local specialties.
For late night street food exploring, venture down Somerset’s Glutton’s Bay. Overlooking Marina Bay, it brings together diverse cuisines like Peranakan, Indian, Thai, Western, and more. Nibble on fish ball noodles, mee siam (sweet and sour rice noodles), and barbecued stingray while taking in the dazzling views of the Singapore skyline.
With its Peranakan history, Katong is the place to savor this unique Straits-Chinese cuisine. Indulge in rich, flavorful dishes like ayam buah keluak, a chicken stew cooked with Indonesian black nuts that adds an earthy, nutty depth. Other signatures like babi pongteh stew and itek tim curry will excite your taste buds with complex layers of spice. Katong also boasts casual coffee shops serving up classics like nasi lemak at wallet-friendly prices.
For an authentic way to experience Singapore's incredible hawker culture, join a guided food walking tour. Local guides will bring you to their favorite stalls, explain customs, and recommend must-try specialties. It's the perfect introduction the diverse flavors of Singaporean street food. You’ll get a memorable taste of this city while learning about its multicultural history through its food.
Foodie Bucket List: 10 Must-Visit Culinary Destinations in Asia - Dim Sum and Dumplings in Hong Kong
Dumplings and dim sum are a way of life in Hong Kong. This bustling metropolis has one of the world’s greatest and most vibrant dim sum cultures, with countless teahouses and restaurants dishing up these petite parcels of deliciousness for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Exploring Hong Kong’s dim sum scene offers a tantalizing taste of local culture and cuisine.
Yum cha, meaning “drink tea”, is the beloved tradition of gathering for dim sum. Friends and family while away hours sipping tea, nibbling dim sum, and catching up on the latest gossip. From har gow shrimp dumplings to cha siu bao barbecue pork buns, each bamboo steamer unveiled at the table brings a new delicacy to delight the palate. The dishes are often wheeled around on carts, so part of the fun is spotting your favorites rolling by.
While you can find dim sum houses everywhere from hole-in-the-wall joints to upscale venues, one institution that can’t be missed is Lin Heung Tea House. This beloved heritage teahouse first opened in 1926 and preserves a vintage Hong Kong ambiance. Diners sit elbow-to-elbow at round marble tables as uniformed staff push trolleys laden with bamboo steamers of siu mai dumplings, crispy spring rolls, and lotus leaf-wrapped rice. Enjoy the bustle and clatter amid atmospheric wooden booths and ceiling fans as locals “yum cha” like they have for generations.
Modern dim sum chains like Tim Ho Wan also draw hordes of locals and tourists with their melt-in-the-mouth dumplings. Lauded as the “world’s cheapest Michelin-star restaurant”, its humble spots churn out flawless dim sum classics for just a few dollars a plate. Their renowned baked barbecue pork buns with a crispy top and juicy center are worth the wait.
While restaurants have mastered the classics, Hong Kong’s streets are filled with humble dumpling peddlers who have perfected their single specialty. For a real local experience, join the queue at a mom-and-pop shop like Tung Po Cooked Food or Mak’s Noodle making just one thing - like shrimp and chive dumplings or wonton noodles - but doing it exceptionally well.
Dumplings also reflect Hong Kong’s regional diversity. In Kowloon’s working-class Sham Shui Po, explore vibrant Fukien and Chiu Chow eateries showcasing dumplings with influences from these regions of southeast China. Beyond pork and shrimp, fillings run the gamut from scallops to bitter melon to eggs custards. There’s always a new dumpling to try depending on the season, time of day, and regional style.
Foodie Bucket List: 10 Must-Visit Culinary Destinations in Asia - Sushi Spectacular in Tokyo
Tokyo is arguably the epicenter of the sushi universe. This sprawling metropolis boasts more Michelin-starred sushi restaurants than anywhere else on the planet. Beyond the temples of high-end sushi, you’ll also find affordable local joints serving up sublime seafood nigiri, rolls, and handrolls. Sushi connoisseurs make pilgrimages to Tokyo to revel in both the traditional edomae-style sushi crafted with artisanal precision and the creative modern fusions elevating the humble seaweed roll into an artform. This is a sushi wonderland.
Dining at Sukiyabashi Jiro should be on any sushi lover’s bucket list. Tucked away in a basement near Ginza, this shrine to edomae sushi has earned three coveted Michelin stars. Book months in advance to experience Chef Jiro Ono’s omakase masterpieces, like glistening scallop nigiri crowned with sea urchin roe. His meticulous attention to subtle details, like the perfect temperature for the rice and optimal angle for slicing tuna, have perfected the art of sushi over decades. At over 90 years old, Jiro still molds each piece of nigiri with his bare hands.
For those seeking sushi enlightenment without the price tag, head to the outer market at Tsukiji Fish Market. Though the inner auction has moved, the outer market still teems with sushi shops showcasing the freshest seafood. Legendary Sushi Dai marinates their fish for just 10 minutes before serving, intensifying natural flavors. Arrive before 5 am to join the lengthy queue for their melt-in-your-mouth omakase . Neighboring stalls like Daiwa Sushi draw similar crowds of devotees.
Creative sushi connoisseurs should visit innovators like Sushi Take, pioneering new styles like truffle and caviar sushi. Their Osaka-style pressed sushi, shaped via wooden molds, showcases uni and ikura toppings not found in traditional edomae versions. Ginza Kyubey and Sushi Zo also blend tradition with imagination in modern mini-kaiseki multi-course omakase experiences.
Foodie Bucket List: 10 Must-Visit Culinary Destinations in Asia - Seoul Food: Korean BBQ and Beyond
Seoul offers a Korean food extravaganza, dishing up classics like bibimbap alongside cutting-edge cuisine from creative chefs. While Korean barbecue joints beckon with smoky meat feasts, there’s far more to Seoul’s dynamic food scene.
Sam Kim, a frequent visitor to Seoul, raves that “Korean barbecue is a quintessential Seoul experience. The tabletop grill and banchan side dishes transport you into Korean dining culture." At iconic spots like Maple Tree House, slices of marbled short rib sizzle alongside thick cuts of pork belly known as samgyeopsal. The sweet and savory glazed ribs called galbi are also essential grilling. “I love the interactive aspect of cooking tableside while the sides like kimchi, spicy tofu stew, and cold noodles balance the meaty feast,” Sam says.
Beyond the BBQ, Seoul offers culinary variety. Susan Lee recommends trying bibimbap, a signature dish of rice, veggies, beef, and a fried egg served in a hot stone bowl. She says, “Mixing everything together lets you appreciate how the flavors marry. Crispy rice crust on the bottom is the best part!” Seoul's street food excels with snacks like spicy rice cakes tteokbokki and eggy pajeon pancakes.
Seoul's contemporary dining scene blends tradition with innovation. John Park was wowed by avant garde Masque's Michelin-starred tasting menus. “Chef Cho melds unique local ingredients into stunningly artistic plates, yet flavors feel comfortably Korean.” Neo-Korean fare at modern spots like Mingles also excites local palates and travelers seeking new twists.
Food tours like Seoul Eats showcase signature bites across neighborhoods alongside insider perspectives from local guides. Susan did a nighttime tour and highlights the street food stalls at Gwangjang Market, where vendors sling golden pancakes hotteok sizzling with cinnamon and brown sugar. She also discovered theCallbacks District’s late-night noodle scene. "Seeing Seoul residents flocking to these 24-hour noodle joints for post-partying sustenance was an eye-opener into youth culture."
John sums up the allure of Seoul's food scene, saying “Whether you stick to the classics like dolsot bibimbap or go off the beaten path to adventurous restaurants, there’s an incredible diversity of Korean flavors to savor. Seoul offers culinary experiences to suit any traveler’s tastes.”
Foodie Bucket List: 10 Must-Visit Culinary Destinations in Asia - Indian Feast in Delhi
Delhi dazzles visitors with its incredible diversity of mouthwatering Indian cuisine. This sprawling capital city provides a feast for all the senses as you bite into fluffy naan breads still smoky from the tandoor, breathe in fragrant spices like cardamom and cumin, and watch skilled chefs tend smoldering kebabs and rich curries. The cultural tapestry of Muslim, Hindu, and British influences makes Delhi a paradise for foodies craving authentic Indian flavors.
“I’ve traveled all over India, but Delhi remains my favorite food destination,” shares Priya, an avid food tourist. She raves about Old Delhi’s aromatic street food, especially the heavenly parathas layered with fillings at centuries-old Gali Paranthe Wali. This narrow “Parantha Alley” comes alive at dawn as cooks knead dough, roll out discs of flaky whole wheat bread, and deftly fry them to order before stuffing with spiced potatoes, chili paneer, or fenugreek greens. Priya’s favorite is the sweet Paneer aur Nariyal ki Parantha, coconuts and cottage cheese with a subtle kick of green chili: “It melts in your mouth!”
Nearby, Karim’s has served Mughal favorites since 1913, tempting crowds with creamy curries, succulent kebabs, and buttery naan hot from the tandoor. Priya suggests their Burra Kebab, ground lamb patties in a silky cashew-tomato sauce. For a refreshing contrast, try lassi yogurt drinks or kulfi milk-based ice cream in flavors like pistachio and rose.
While street food excels, Delhi also offers refined dining. At Indian Accent, Chef Manish Mehrotra elevates familiar fare into high art, blending global techniques with local ingredients. Dishes like blue cheese naan with fig chutney reinvent tradition. “The tasting menu took me on a journey across Indian flavors,” Priya says.
For an immersive food experience, Priya did a guided night tour of Old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk area. She highlights Sachdeva’s golgappas, crisp semolina shells filled with potatoes, chickpeas, and spiced water that “explode with flavor in your mouth.” Watching cooks fan the tandoor’s flames to make smoky kebabs was “the perfect finale to an incredible food walk.”
Foodie Bucket List: 10 Must-Visit Culinary Destinations in Asia - Breakfast Bliss: Bali
Wake up to breakfast bliss each morning in Bali. This lush Indonesian island is a haven for leisurely morning meals showcasing fresh tropical fruits, artful plates blending Balinese and Western flavors, and serene oceanfront settings. Refuel each day with a different breakfast adventure.
“I started every morning in Bali with a bike ride to hunt down the best breakfast spot,” shares Amanda, who spent a month exploring the island. She raves about Plant Cartel in Canggu, an airy cafe crafting açaí bowls heaped with dragonfruit, mango, and homemade granola. “Sipping their smoothie bowls on a sunny patio overlooking the rice fields was the most 'Bali' way to start my day.”
In artsy Ubud, indie cafes like Clear serve an inventive menu of ancient grain porridge, turmeric lattes, and avocado toast with locally-sourced greens. Amanda suggests grabbing a patio table to watch daily life unfold along Ubud's central Monkey Forest Road as you enjoy Balinese coffee spiked with cinnamon and cloves.
For oceanfront serenity, head to Shelter Cafe along Keramas Beach on the east coast. This rustic eatery's breezy balcony offers 180-degree ocean panoramas. Amanda says their menu of homemade yogurt, tropical fruit platters, and local Balinese black rice pudding with coconut milk was “pure bliss.”
If you have a more active morning planned, fuel up at Milk & Madu. This Australian-run spot in Canggu has an extensive breakfast menu from smashed avocado on rye to eggs Benedict with smoked salmon. “I always opted for their smoothie bowls packed with mango and pineapple before catching waves nearby,” Amanda shares.
In Seminyak, Corner House dishes up artful breakfast plates like coconut waffles with tropical fruit and whipped miso butter. Try Aussie-style brunch classics like eggs with smoked bacon or pull up a seat at the communal table for açai bowls and cold brew coffees.