I have always been a big fan of food. I admit it. But not just any type of food, I like exotic cuisine. Common burgers and pizza were never my thing. As far back as I can remember, I have always been into things that are out of the norm in terms of food and enjoyed experimenting. Maybe that is the reason why I love to do food travels. That is, traveling to different countries in order to have a taste of their unique cuisine. I even keep something like a diary in which I put the records of all my food-related impressions.
The best destination in terms of exotic cuisine so far, in my opinion, has been Southeast Asia. Countries like Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand offered me amazing treats that managed to please my palate like no other meals before. Following is a brief description of my food travel to these distant and marvelous countries whose meals had the biggest culinary impact on me.
The Cambodian cuisine, also known as Khmer cuisine, is one of the world’s oldest. Cambodians are known for their passion for rice. As a matter of fact, they are the nation that consumes the most rice.
A distinctive ingredient in many Khmer dishes is prahok, which many Westerners might find a bit pungent, probably due to its nature, which is actually a type of fermented fish paste. As unusual as it may sound, it is an almost integral part of the Cambodian meals. It took me a while to get used to its taste but put in the proper meal, it is quite good.
As for the meals themselves, my favorite one proved to be Amok trey, which is the most well-known amongst visitors. A freshwater fish fillet is prepared with a variety of aromatic spices (pounded lemongrass, shallots, garlic, etc.), egg, coconut milk and roasted peanuts. All of this is wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. The dish is not spicy at all but is very fragrant and zesty.
Indonesian cuisine is rather diverse, mainly because of the fact that Indonesia is composed of about six thousand islands. However, just like Cambodia (and all other Asian countries), rice is an inseparable part of their meals. I noticed that Indonesians serve it both as a savoury and a sweet food. Other staple foods they prefer include sweet potato, yam and breadfruit.
What impressed me a lot was the wide application of peanuts in many signature dishes – whole, ground or in the form of peanut sauce. My favourite Indonesian meal turned out to be the satay. Although it is also known in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, it originated in Indonesia. It consists of seasoned and grilled skewered meat served with sauce. The meat can be pork, chicken, goat, mutton, fish, etc. A variation made of tofu is also served. The sauce is usually soy-based.
Thai cooking is known to blend elements of several Southeast traditions. What I put in my ‘cuisine diary’ was that I noticed that most Thai dishes emphasize food prepared with strong aromatic components. Also, I learned (the hard way) of the famous spiciness of the local cuisine. The dishes in Thailand are famous for their balance of three or four fundamental food taste senses: bitter, sour, sweet and salty. Probably, I need not even mention the importance of rice in Thai cuisine. Its usage is as wide as in every other Asian country.
As for my favourite Thai food… this is a bit tough to decide. I really enjoyed Kaeng hang-le, Bami haeng pet, but the one that appealed to me the most is Kai yang. It is basically a halved and pounded flat marinated grilled chicken. I believe that what gives Kai yang its special flavour is the special marinade, which includes garlic, fish sauce, coriander root, turmeric and white pepper and the fact that it is prepared for a long time over a charcoal flame.
I wish I could have included more meals in my report, but to be honest, I failed to remember the names of some of them (being in the locals’ language). After all, I tried so many dishes that in order to memorize all of them and their ingredients I would have needed to write a whole book. Bottom line, whichever country of Southeast Asia you might decide to visit, you are bound to be amazed by their cuisine. A true paradise for every foodie like myself.
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