Our 10 Favorite Meals In Southeast Asia / by Shane Henderson

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Although we ate a ton of good food throughout Southeast Asia, we didn’t eat a lot of GREAT food. The cheap noodles and curries that we ate daily were all tasty, but there were only a handful of meals that were truly memorable. Unfortunately, we don’t have many photos of those meals. Although we love food and we love photography, we aren’t so big on food photography. Usually we are too busy stuffing our faces to remember to snap a pic. Oh well! In no particular order, here are our 10 favorite meals from our 10 weeks travelling through Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

Yang Garden (Koh Lanta, Thailand)
We spent a week on Koh Lanta and ate at at least 12 different restaurants, but I almost couldn’t tell you about a single one. Like on many of the islands in Thailand, the restaurants all seem to have the exact same menu of bland tourist favorites. The one exception was the delicious meal we had at Yang Garden. The restaurant, hidden away in an adorable little garden courtyard, serves up a menu of tasty fusion dishes like Tamarind Glazed Pork Ribs and Burmese Cabbage Salad. At $10 for a main, it is more expensive than the other island spots, but it is still a total bargain for the quality of food being served.

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Zabb-E-Lee (Chiang Mai, Thailand)
We aren’t sure if this meal should qualify because we cooked it ourselves, but we are going to count it because it was freaking delicious! Zabb-E-Lee is a popular cooking school in Chaing Mai that offers half day cooking classes for $30 per person. Each person can choose 5 different dishes to make as well as a dessert. Even with our mediocre cooking skills, their helpful instruction ensured that all of the dishes turned out great. And there was so much food we were even able to bring home leftovers!

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Chivit Thamma Da (Chiang Rai, Thailand)
We still can’t get over this unbelievably beautiful riverside restaurant hidden in Chiang Rai. If it was located in the more popular Chiang Mai, there would be a line out the door all day, every day. Every single dish and beverage on the menu looked delicious, from the Duck Eggs Benedict to the Blue Mussels with Thai Basil and Chili.

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Secret Pizza (Luang Prabang, Laos)
Although there were a bunch of cute restaurants in Luang Prabang that we enjoyed, this not-so-secret pizza spot is our favorite hands down. On the outskirts of town, you head down a residential backstreet and just when you think it must be the wrong road you come upon a large walled compound with a Secret Pizza sign. Inside is a large, beautiful house with a open-air restaurant in the yard. Supposedly, the Italian ex-pat owner used to host pizza parties in his backyard and they got so popular he decided to open them to the public. The pizzas are some of the best we have had on our trip, Italy included, and don’t miss the profiteroles for dessert!

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Pho Bo Ga 32 Bat Dan (Hanoi, Vietnam)
On our first night in Hanoi, we ventured out into the chaotic old quarter searching for one of the cities most popular pho restaurants. The first thing we saw when we finally found it was a long line stretching out the door. Too hungry to wait, we instead headed to a random place just down the street with pho written in big letters on the awning. Like many Hanoi restaurants, the tiny plastic tables were spread across the sidewalk and into the street. We sat down in our kindergartener-sized chairs and ordered our Pho. Within moments two huge steaming bowls of noodle soup were in front of us. The broth was flavorful, the meat was tender, and the noodles were perfectly cooked. It instantly set our standards on pho for the rest of the trip.

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Banh Mi Ngo Huyen (Hanoi, Vietnam)
We ate a bunch of delicious banh mi in Vietnam but this tiny street stall might be our favorite of the lot. Nothing really stands out about the place. Like most of the others, it is just a one-woman cart operating on a random street corner in Hanoi. But, the warm fresh baguette, the perfect amount of filling (pate, vegetables, egg, and a little cheese), and a tangy-spicy sauce all combined to make a banh mi a big step above the rest. 

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Blu Mart Greek Souvlaki & Bakery (Hoi An, Vietnam)
We were spending the day at the beach in Hoi An, and just couldn’t bring ourselves to order another bland and overpriced stir-fry from one of the beachfront restaurants. Fortunately, just as we began biking back to town, we came across a cute and sunny Greek restaurant. Now, we will admit that we don’t eat Greek very often, but the Souvlaki we ordered was easily the best we have ever had. Huge and filling with warm soft pita bread and lamb fresh off the grill, I am getting hungry just thinking about it.

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Pho Quynh (Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)
Another contender for our favorite bowl of pho in Vietnam was at this popular spot in HCMC. Its located on a busy corner in the backpacker quarter and is always jam-packed with tourists and locals alike. They had a lot more varieties of pho than at some of the other places we tried. We especially like the Beef Tendon Pho.

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Baba's Kitchen (Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)
We spent most of our time in Southeast Asia seeking truly spicy foods. Most of the time, even when we specified that we wanted “Thai Spicy”, our curries and stir-fry’s would only be mild. So when I tasted the Lamb Rogan Josh at Baba's, I was pretty excited to find that it wasn’t just spicy, it was mouth-numbingly hot. I could barely make it through a few bites without sweating. I’ll admit, by the end of the dish it was too much for me to handle. Still, it was great to finally eat something truly spicy after weeks of bland Pad Thai. Oh, and for those not looking to cry while eating, the rest of the dishes we tried were significantly less spicy, but no less tasty.

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Rotanak (Phnom Penh, Cambodia)
While in Phnom Penh, we were incredibly fortunate to be invited by a friend of a friend to a supper club held by his wife, a talented local chef. At their gorgeous traditional stilt home outside of the city, we were treated to a 5-course meal composed of fine-dining takes on Khmer classics and cocktail pairings crafted with local ingredients, all while listening to a live performance by some talented Khmer musicians.  It was a really wonderful evening and for anyone looking for an outstanding dining experience while in Cambodia, we would highly suggest checking it out.