Food in South-East Asia

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Coming from Australia, where food was expensive and not exactly haute-cuisine, South-East Asia was a foodie’s paradise. First, food is cheap by world standard 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 in the mix, such as naan, roti or prahta.

In Singapore, we mostly had Chinese food, especially Northern specialties such as 水饺 (boiled dumpling served with soya sauce and vinegar) and 包子(steamed buns with a meat and cabbage filling). 拉面 (thick hand-made 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 meal.

In Thailand, meals mostly revolved around curry (red, green or yellow) served with rice. Pat thai, stir-fried rice noodles with eggs, fish sauce, tamarind juice, red chilli pepper, 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 pat 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 dozen of drinks available, either in cans or in bottles. I loved Milo chocolate milk, and Nescafé latte, both in tall metallic cans.

Thai Coke Can

Thai Beer

Indian Food in Georgetown

Indian Food in Georgetown

Making Pat Thai

Enjoying Pat Thai

I Got Addicted to Milo Cans in Malaysia!

Food Court in Singapore

Roti Canai in Malaysia

Making Roti Canai

Nasi Goreng in Malaysia

Indian Food in Penang

Food Fest in Malaysia

The Best Pat Thai Testimonies

The Note We Left


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. I miss Milo!
    It’s very, very popular in Malaysia!
    I started drinking it while I was in my mum’s womb, perhaps! Ha ha…

    Thai food is my favourite! I have been to quite a few countries but I have to say Thailand is still my favourite country. Very friendly people. 🙂

  2. You can order milo drinks at those indian food joints in malaysia too. 😉

    did you try local penangite chinese food? it’s mainly the noodles and flat rice noodles. 😀

  3. @Nigel – Did I make you drool on your keyboard again? Sorry 😆

    @London Caller – Milo is good, especially when it’s hot. Loved these cold “tin”.

    @Priyank – I wish I could give you an address but Ko Phi Phi doesn’t really have addresses. It’s more like “walk in the street and try to spot the place”!

    @Cynthia – You would like it, it’s a photographer’s paradise!

    @kyh – We did have local Chinese food. I can’t remember the name of most dishes but I loved everything!

  4. Hi,

    Hopped over from linguist-in-waiting’s blog. I’m happy that I visited, as your adventures are sure to captivate me once I read your other entries.

    Incidentally, my wife and I have Australia written down as one of the places we have to visit. 😉

  5. What a great local delicacies you had there! I love South-East Asia food, especially the Thai food. The Pai-Thai looks so yummy! it really makes me so hungry now~~

  6. Salut,
    I love that last note 🙂
    Zhu looks tan and happy! My God, so much has happened during these months!!
    I think that you have gotten a lot of peeps hungry during this post. i LOVE Chinese and know so little about Thai or Malay cooking. But, I think that I would eat most of these.
    I am suddenly hungry for noodles or really good dim sum…
    I could eat noodles day or night(remember, I am part-Asian).

    I have been busy but I have enjoyed what I saw. How I wish that I was busy traveling but, that will have to be for much later(sigh).

    Thanks for stopping by my website
    Bisous xo

  7. @Linguist-in-Waiting – I always miss street food in Canada. All there is here is hot dog trucks!

    @Sidney – It really depends on the places. In Singapore, it’s perfectly safe, the country is quite clean. In Malaysia, we did in smaller places but not in KL (too dirty and dusty!).

    @shionge – Yes I did! S’pore food is great.

    @Pauline – Ah yeah, sorry 😆 But I’m back in Ottawa now.

    @Prabster – Hi and welcome! Australia is a great place but it’s sooo expensive right now. We were shocked!

    @micki – Taiwan has great food too I’m sure!

    @barbara – Ah, so you are a noodle person! I’m too, I don’t mind rice but it’s always noodles (or pasta!) that I crave.

  8. All this food looks gorgeous! I like Asian food but usually prefer Chinese, Japanese, Viet Namese (yum! A Viet Namese friend taught me to cook a couple of dishes, it was delicious) and Thai, to Indian, but im open.

    So now I know your birth name 😉

  9. Ahhhhhhhh I’m so desperate to find great food! One year in the middle of nowhere is terrible when you crave exotic dishes…

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