The full flavours, bold aromatics, and rich colours make Southeast Asian cuisine not only visually appealing, but also famous across the globe for its mouthwatering taste.
The cuisine has a rich history and strong influence from many other regions including China, India, and Portugal. Rice or noodles is the staple to most dishes, and due to the lush landscape of the area, colorful vegetables and spices make the complex dishes have a distinguishable presentation.
Each country has its own flare and unique taste. For example, Thailand is known for its rich curries featuring coconut milk and Vietnam is crowned for its fresh flavours and fish sauce.
There are some themes throughout the cuisine that are consistent across the region:
Make it aromatic
Spice is where the heart and soul of Southeast Asian cuisine lives.
Most dishes start with a spice paste, also called bumbo or masala; created by blending a variety of spices together. Some of the more common spices include garlic, ginger, chili, lemongrass, shallots, turmeric, tamarind, and galangal.
These intense flavours and muddled down and then fried in usually a wok or boiled up in a pot for soup. This creates the foundation for most dishes. Vegetables and meat are then added into the spice mix.
Make it bright
Beautiful colour in a wide variety is another staple of Southeast Asian cuisine. Their aromatic flavours and complexity in texture and colour, land them as a famous photo opportunity for many.
Common vegetables include spinach, bean sprouts, carrots, onions, basil leaf and whatever else is in season and available at the morning market.
Dishes need to be flexible in ingredients, as most markets sell only locally sourced ingredients; when the season, economy or crops change, so do the ingredients.
Make it well rounded
It seems as though every dish has a touch of each food group and that includes protein.
Meat is served in small portions, cut up, fried, boiled or grilled. Common meats include fish, chicken, and beef, with pork being popular in only some regions. Soy protein options are also popular, including tofu and tempeh.
Rice or noodles are severed with most dishes, as are vegetables.
Make it for everyone
In Southeast Asia dishes are designed to be shared with friends, family and anyone passing by. That’s why they are typically created in the morning, in large portions, and served throughout the day.
Preparation is light. However, the aromatic flavour will travel for hours.
As if the intense, beautiful flavours were not enough to satisfy most taste buds – dishes are served with many sauce options on the side. Fish sauce and chili sauce/paste are among the more common options. Due to this separate way of serving, the fiery spice can somewhat be controlled by the consumer.
What region will you start with?
Your taste buds will never regret a trip to Southeast Asia. Cooking schools/tours are abundant all over the area. These classes will ensure that you can go home with the knowledge of creating your new favourite foods.
The enticing flavours of sweet, salty, spicy and creamy will leave you experiencing one recipe to the next with enthusiasm.
If you have any questions relating to culinary travel, please contact one of our experienced travel specialists here.