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ASIA Food & Drink

The fact that an abundance of Asian inspired dishes have become a staple in western diets is a testament to quite how delicious the continent’s cuisine really is. Rich, fragrant and often sweat-inducingly spicy, Asian food is always prepared using the freshest ingredients and a meticulous blend of spices passed down through generations.

Food is an extremely important part of most Asian cultures, as it reflects the history of the region in question. You can taste the passion that goes into the creation of each and every dish, whether it be a scented curry in India, a bowl of warming noodle soup in Vietnam or intricately prepared sushi in Japan. Street food in Asia is the epitome of this tradition, as locals commit their lives to perfecting a single dish that is sure to make your tastebuds dance, put a smile on your face and have you coming back time and time again.

Whilst there are obvious parallels between some of Asia’s most iconic dishes - each nation has its own take on what makes the best curry - the endless variety of lesser known classics are often even more delicious and their authenticity adds an insight into the local culture from which it emerged. Let's reveal the secrets of Asia cuisine with us!

In Vietnam, nibbling on mooncakes and sipping tea with loved ones is an essential part of the Mid-autumn Festival, or Tết Trung Thu. As long as we can remember, it is tradition to serve bánh nướng and bánh dẻo — golden baked mooncakes and soft sticky rice mooncakes — on the night of the harvest moon. If you are in Vietnam during this festival, you can experience the fun of your own mooncake celebration. Here is all you need to know about Vietnam’s mooncake tradition.

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The core difference between Thai green papaya salad and Laos green papaya salad is the liquid component of the recipe along with the topping.

Thai papaya salad, referred to as Som Tam, uses mainly fish sauce as the flavoring condiment and is generally topped with crushed roasted peanut. 

Laos papaya salad, referred to as Tam Mak Hoong, uses fermented crab dip (nam pu) and padaek as flavoring condiments

The classic green papaya salad is loved throughout southeast Asia in various forms, but the two most popular are the Thai and Lao style papaya salad. 

Padaek, sometimes known as padek, or Lao fish sauce or pla-ra in Thailand, is a traditional Lao condiment made from pickled or fermented fish that has been cured. It is thicker and more seasoned than the fish sauce more commonly seen throughout Thailand and Vietnam, often containing chunks of fish. The fermentation takes a long time, giving padaek an aroma similar to cheeses like Époisses.

Unlike other versions of fish sauce in Southeast Asia, padaek is made from freshwater fish, owing to the landlocked nature of the former kingdom of Lan Xang. Padaek is used in many dishes, most notably tam maak hoong, a spicy Lao papaya salad.

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In Laos, food is the most important activity throughout the day. In the local language, it is quite common for people to greet each other by immediately asking, “Have you eaten food?” (“Kin khao laeo bor?”). Food is often the topic of many conversations, especially when eating and sharing dishes between friends and family. Additionally, Lao people take great passion in sharing traditional dishes with curious travelers.

Laotian dishes are very similar to Thailand and Vietnam in terms of flavor and ingredients, which often consist of fresh herb, spices, noodles, and rice. Khao niaw (sticky rice) is a staple food among the Laotians. Traditionally steamed in a cone-shaped bamboo basket, the rice is then placed in a covered basket, where it is eaten by hand alongside spicy soup, and meat-based dishes. Eating in Laos is also a communal activity, where dishes are shared by all at the table. 

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Laos street food is vibrant, colorful, packed with herbs and chilies, and the combinations of ingredients are guaranteed to thrill your taste-buds.

From Luang Prabang to Vientiane, you will not believe how complex, yet refreshing at the same time, the scene of Laos street food can be.

From scrumptious sweets to deliciously charred meat-on-a-stick, each afternoon around dust multitudes of food carts converge to Vientiane’s kerbsides peddling cheap and flavorful eats to the hungry masses.

The street food scene of Luang Prabang will attract you at the first sight once you step into the colorful night market. The smell, the taste, or the various dishes on offers all combine to make it something you cannot deny.

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Larb! Larb! Larb!

If you have already traveled to Laos, you will realize that it is one of the highlighted dishes of your trip.

Larb is basically a salad - made out of meat. (So, like, the best KIND of salad, right?). It’s a meat salad from Laos that has made its way into Thailand and other areas of Southeast Asia, as well as many countries in the world.

Like other dishes in Southeast Asian cooking, the dish combines savory flavors with fresh ones - fresh herbs like cilantro, scallions, and mint, and fresh lime juice. The addition of toasted ground rice also adds texture and nuttiness to the final dish.

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Sticky rice is the staple food of any Laotian meal. It is called “khao niew” and made from glutinous rice. It contains a higher sugar level than normal rice, which gives it its stickiness.

Despite the name (glutinous rice), Laotian sticky rice is gluten free and therefore great for people with celiac. Sticky rice is steamed and traditionally served in small cute bamboo baskets in Laos called “lao aep khao”.

Sticky rice is a traditional Lao and Thai base dish that is served and paired another delicious main meal. You typically do not eat sticky rice on its own unless it’s been transformed into a dessert that is doused in coconut milk or sugar (if you’ve had Lao food, what I’m referring to here is purple rice). 

Sticky rice is a transparent and opaque rice that requires soaking overnight for preparations. Once cooked, the rice “sticks” to each other, and you use your hands to eat the rice by forming delicious little balls of rice and putting it into your mouth!

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