Coming from Australia, where food was expensive and not exactly haute cuisine, Southeast Asia was a foodie’s paradise. First, food is cheap by world standards and simple meal usually cost under $5. Second, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand have a “street food” tradition and numerous hawkers offer local delicacies on the go. Finally, the blend of flavours was simply amazing, from Thai curry to Penang’s Nasi Lemak.
South-East Asian cuisine seems to be strongly influenced by the two giant countries around—China and India. Meals also tend to revolve around “面” and “.米饭” in Singapore, and “mee” and “nasi” in Malaysia, aka noodles or rice. The Indian influence brings some bread into the mix, such as naan, roti or prahta.
In Singapore, we mostly had Chinese food, especially Northern specialties such as 水饺 (boiled dumplings served with soya sauce and vinegar) and 包子(steamed buns with meat and cabbage filling). 拉面 (thick handmade noodles) were also very popular, either in a soup either stir-fried. I was surprised to see that Singapore had some great bakeries—but again, you can find just about anything in S’pore.
Malaysia was a different challenge because I was totally new to the food. However, it turned out to be an enjoyable challenge: I loved everything I ate! It started at the border when we stopped for a bite: I enjoy a fresh roti canai, a very thin pancake (more like a crêpe, really) with onion and eggs. We had a lot of Indian food in Penang, mostly because we were right in the heart of Little Indian in Georgetown. I’m usually a noodle person but I absolutely loved the way rice was cooked here: nasi lemak (rice soaked in coconut cream) quickly became one of my favourite meals.
In Thailand, meals mostly revolved around curry (red, green or yellow) served with rice. Pad thai, stir-fried rice noodles with eggs, fish sauce, tamarind juice, red chilli peppers, chicken, or tofu, garnished with crushed peanuts, was also extremely popular. In Ko Phi Phi, we found a tiny restaurant (literally a hole in the wall, there were four tables!) that supposedly served the best pad thai, backed up by hundreds of handwritten testimonies.
I loved the drinks too. South-East Asia has an astonishing number of 7/11 convenience stores and it’s common to see two stores in front of each other. There were dozens of drinks available, either in cans or in bottles. I loved Milo chocolate milk, and Nescafé latte, both in tall metallic cans.