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Yes, we know, it’s quite literally impossible to showcase the diversity, color, texture, and flavor of all Asian foods in one roundup. However, we’re going to do our best to at least give you a mouthwatering snapshot of the culinary wonders this vast and incredible continent has to offer.
Asian food has found a home all around the globe, and there are so many reasons why people from all walks of life fall in love with Asian cuisine. Asian cooking is humble and made with so much love and passion. The dishes are made from the simplest of ingredients that are combined and cooked in ways that maximize flavor and comfort.
You could spend a lifetime trying and exploring Asian food and not even scratch the surface. However, guided by Sharleen, a food expert and Asian writer, we’ve curated a list of 23 iconic dishes that represent countries across the continent.
1 – China – Peking Duck
Few dishes from China come with the history, status, and grand association with Chinese cuisine quite like Beijing’s iconic Peking duck.
A favorite that dates back to the Imperial era, to this day, ducks are bred specifically for this dish, traditionally roasted in either a closed or hung oven, skin-on.
That crispy, thin, golden-brown skin is what makes Peking duck so recognizable; in fact, traditionally, the Peking duck was all about the skin, served with very little meat and cooked and sliced in front of diners.
It is commonly served with pancakes filled with Tianmian (sweet bean) sauce, spring onion, and cucumber. While variations, such as the British crispy aromatic duck, can be found outside of China, for true, you simply have to try authentic Peking duck in Beijing in restaurants renowned for this dish, such as Quanjude, which has been serving it since 1864.
2 – Japan – Okonomiyaki
This wonderfully named dish, meaning “grilled” (yaki) and “how/what you like” (okonomi), is an apt name for this Japanese favorite, considering how many variations exist across the country.
At its core, okonomiyaki is a dish of savory pancakes made from a batter of wheat flour and many other ingredients, cooked with an array of meats, vegetables, and toppings.
The pancakes are cooked using a teppan (flat griddle) and traditionally included cabbage. However, as the dish spread beyond its roots in Hiroshima and Kansai, variations of all flavors and textures began to come to the foray, including versions that use meats and seafood.
Topped with its classic okonomiyaki sauce, a mixture of Worcestershire sauce, Japanese mayo, pickled ginger, and dried seaweed and bonito flakes, you could spend a lifetime trying all the different types of okonomiyaki in Japan and still not try them all!
Read more: 21 Japanese Foods You Need to Try
3 – Taiwan – Red Braised Beef Noodle Soup
One of the most recognizable Taiwanese dishes is the red braised beef noodle soup. This dish is believed to have originated from the Chinese province of Sichuan and is usually eaten as a whole meal by itself.
The term “red braised” refers to the process of braising beef in soy sauce and Sichuan native spices like chilies, star anise, and bean paste, which give the beef that gloriously deep red color.
The noodles are then boiled in the stock used to braise the beef and are finally topped off with Chinese pickled vegetables.
Read more: 15 Popular Dishes to Try in Taiwan
4 – Tibet – Chebureki
Originating from Crimean Tatar cuisine, chebureki is a traditional deep-fried moon-shaped turnover that is filled with ground meat and onions.
The dough is made from unleavened bread, and the meat-onion filling is seasoned only with pepper. The dish is deep fried in high heat and meant to be eaten hot and without cutlery, by hand.
This dish is not only eaten in Tibet but also across the Caucus Region of Central Asia, as well as in countries with large Crimean Tatar communities. Each country has its own variation of this dish.
5 – Mongolia – Buuz
One of the most well-loved dishes in Mongolia is buuz, a dish of wholesome steamed dumplings. Buuz is often eaten with traditional Mongolian tea during Lunar New Year.
The filling for Buuz can differ, depending on preference, but typically contains a combination of ground beef or mutton, onion, and mashed potato. The mixture is then wrapped in a thin dough and steamed.
A similar variation of Buuz also exists in Mongolia and is known as Khuushuur, which is fried rather than steamed.
6 – South Korea – Bulgogi
Bulgogi has become a popular South Korean dish in recent years. It is a dish that involves marinating meat in a sweet soy sauce and grilling it in a pan. The protein used is usually beef, but pork and chicken can also be used.
Bulgogi can be eaten alone but can also be added in soups, with a side of rice, or in a wrap made of perilla leaves and stuffed with accompanying banchans (side dishes). Recently, many restaurants have even been serving bulgogi burgers as well.
Read more: 16 Foods You Need to Try in South Korea
7 – Malaysia – Nasi Lemak
A national dish of both Malaysia and Singapore, Nasi lemak is often sold at hawker centers but is also eaten in other Southeast Asian countries like Brunei, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
Nasi lemak, in its simplest form, is rice covered in coconut milk and cooked in pandan. It is served with sambal, a spicy sauce.
There are many variations to this dish depending on where it is made. Malaysian nasi lemak, however, typically adds anchovies, peanuts, and boiled or fried eggs to the rice.
Read more: 18 Best Malaysian Dishes to Try
8 – Thailand – Pad Thai
Pad Thai is arguably the most recognizable dish of Thai cuisine. The dish consists of rice noodles, shrimp, peanuts, scrambled eggs, and bean sprouts. It is then flavored with fish sauce, giving the noodles a sweet yet savory taste.
Finally, the dish is then topped with peanuts and served with lime wedges on the side. Pad Thai is commonly sold as a street food, and no matter where you are in Thailand, you simply have to try it.
Read more: 20 Thai Foods You Need to Try
9 – Myanmar – Pickled Tea
Pickled tea, or laphet, is a dish that is commonly served to welcome guests to someone’s home as an act of hospitality and an integral part of Burmese culture.
Laphet is unique in that it is one of the only dishes in the world where tea is eaten, not drunk. Tea leaves are fermented through a continuous process of steaming and then removing water from the leaves. After the fermentation process, the pulp of the tea leaves is then seasoned with garlic, salt, and chilies.
10 – Laos – Khao Jee Pâté
Many Laotian dishes have French influence resulting from the French Indochina rule in the late 1800s. One example of this is the khao jee pâté. This dish is often likened to Vietnamese báhn mì.
This is a toasted sandwich baguette filled with Laotian sausage and fresh vegetables like carrots, cilantro, mint, and scallions. The dish commonly uses chili paste, mayonnaise, or jeow bong, a sweet and sour fish sauce, as dressing.
11 – Indonesia – Nasi Goreng
A staple throughout Malay communities but especially popular in Indonesia as one of its five national dishes, in many ways, nasi goreng epitomizes the purity and magic of Southeast Asian cooking.
While, in essence, nasi goreng is a fried rice dish with various meats and vegetables, there really isn’t a defined recipe for what it is. Nasi goreng varies from household to household, and for breakfast from a roadside vendor, to spreads at fancy dinner parties, this smoky fried rice favorite has been feeding Southeast Asians from all walks of life for generations.
Read more: 26 Best Indonesian Foods to Try
12 – Sri Lanka – Kothu Roti
Kothu roti (or kottu roti) is a popular Sri Lankan street food. Historically known as a dish eaten by the poorest in the country, today, Sri Lankans from all walks of life eat this favorite. Outside of Sri Lanka, it is also well known in countries with large Tamil, Sinhalese, and Malay communities.
The words kothu roti literally mean “chopped roti” in Tamil. Like its name, the dish primarily consists of chopped roti, mixed with scrambled eggs, meat, fresh onions and chilies, and curry, cooked on a griddle.
Read more: 18 Sri Lankan Dishes You Need to Try
13 – Nepal – Sel Roti
Festivals are a very important part of Nepalese culture. During the Hindu festival season, Nepalese prepare ring-shaped sweet bread as a celebration.
This pastry was originally made with simply water, ghee or cow butter, and rice flour. Over the years, integration from minority groups and other ethnicities has introduced additional sugar and spices to add more complex flavors and depth to sel roti.
Outside of Nepal, you will still be able to find this dish eaten in countries with a large Nepalese diaspora.
14 – India and Nepal – Dhal Bhat
Dhal Bhat is a popular dish eaten in Nepal, India, and other neighboring countries in South Asia. The dish is a wholesome and filly combination of dhal, a delicious lentil soup, served with bhat (rice), and can be accompanied by other sides like roti and vegetables. Dhal Bhat is eaten solely by hand, without cutlery.
Sides and recipes for dhal can differ depending on region and preference, but it is generally cooked with lentils and beans, along with ingredients like onions, garlic, and ginger, and herbs like coriander, turmeric, and cumin.
Read more: 30 Indian Foods You Need To Try
15 – Bhutan – Ema Datshi
Erma datshi, literally translating to “chili cheese,” is one of Bhutan’s most famous dishes.
Any type of chili pepper can be used for this dish, but the cheese is exclusively yak milk. The cheese is made by removing the fat content from yak milk, which allows the milk to curdle. The remaining excess is then used to make soup to accompany ema datshi.
Tomatoes, onions, and garlic can also be added to this dish, depending on personal preference.
16 – Iran – Fesenjān
Fesenjān is an Iranian stew originating from Northern Iran, primarily consisting of eggplant and chicken, though chicken can be substituted with other proteins, like ground beef.
To give the soup a more aromatic flavor, pomegranate paste, ground walnut, and spices like turmeric, cinnamon, and cardamom are added to the dish.
This soup is served with white or yellow rice and is prepared and eaten for special occasions, such as Yalda Night. Traditionally, fesenjān is seen as food eaten by wealthier individuals.
Read more: 21 Persian Foods You Need to Try
17 – Georgia – Khachapuri
Georgian cuisine is well known for a dish known as khachapuri, a street food cheese pastry where the cheese and an egg fill the center of the bread.
Khachapuri is eaten by tearing pieces of the bread off and dipping it into cheese. Each city has their own unique way of preparing this dish.
Because this dish is so well-loved across Georgia, the price of it is used to monitor inter-Georgian inflation between cities.
Khachapuri is not only popular in Georgia but also in the surrounding former USSR countries like Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Read more: 15 Georgian Foods You Need to Try
18 – Armenia – Pumpkin Stew or Ghapama
Armenian pumpkin stew is often eaten for auspicious events and celebrations, like New Year’s Day or Christmas Day, as well as on wedding days to celebrate a long and happy life for the newlywed couple.
This dish is created by filling pumpkin with rice, dried fruits, and flavoring it with cinnamon, honey, and butter, then roasting the dish on high heat until the entire pumpkin is soft.
Once the pumpkin stew is completely cooked through, it is served with milk and honey drizzled over top of the gourd.
Read more: 25 Foods You Simply Must Try in Armenia
19 – Turkey – Menemen
This breakfast dish hailing from Turkey consists of diced tomato, green peppers, and eggs, flavored with cumin, paprika, and thyme, and cooked over the stovetop. The dish is then, optionally, topped off with Turkish cheese and eaten with bread.
In the most basic form, Menemen is a vegetarian dish, but sausage and pastrami can be added to the dish to make it more filling. This breakfast dish can also be turned into an entrée by simply adding onions. It is very similar to the Middle Eastern dish, shakshuka.
Read more: 24 Turkish Foods You Simply Must Try
20 – Kyrgyzstan – Shashlik
Shashlik is skewered grilled meat, very similar to shish kebab. The skewers can be purely meat or alternate between vegetable and meat chunks. The meat used for shashlik can be beef or pork, but lamb was the protein that was traditionally used.
Shashlik is grilled outdoors over charcoal or sold by street vendors. Not only is this food popular within Kyrgyzstan, but it is also well-known and loved across Russia and the countries that were once part of the Soviet Republic.
21 – Kazakhstan – Beshbarmak
Traditionally, Kazakhstan has always had a large nomadic population. Beshbarmak is a communal cuisine that originated from one of these nomadic groups.
The name of this delicacy literally means “five fingers” because it was meant to be eaten with the hands. Beshbarmak is prepared by boiling horse meat or mutton and combining egg noodles and onion sauce.
Beshbarmak is deeply ingrained within Kazakh culture, and being invited to eat is considered an honor for many. Before eating beshbarmak, mutton is served to all the guests.
Read more: 20 Kazakh Foods You Need to Try
22 – Uzbekistan – Plov
Plov, better known as pilaf across the globe by many, is an Uzbek delicacy that is eaten in many central Asian countries.
The cooking process involves cooking rice, beef, onions, garlic, and carrots in a large pot. Plov is then served on a large plate, using the rice to form a pyramid or mountain shape.
It is commonly accompanied by black tea. Traditionally, this dish was only eaten by upper-class families, but now people from all walks of life eat and enjoy plov.
23 – Tajikistan – Bread Salad or Qurutob
Tajikistan is known for a delicacy called bread salad. It involves using cheese as a base, placing flatbread on top of the cheese, and covering both with different vegetables like onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, and occasionally meat.
It is a dish that is meant to be shared amongst family and friends and to be eaten as a part of a hearty main meal. You can also find people eating this dish in Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran.
Asian Foods Summary
That was a truly colorful, mouthwatering, and breathtaking journey through the vastness of Asian cuisine, I’m sure you can agree.
The dishes we have taken a closer look at barely scratch the tender, juicy surface of all that Asian cuisine has to offer, but they in the very interest will pique your interest and tantalize your palate so that you can go on and discover many more foods from that country, and other across Asia.
No matter where you go in Asia, make food an integral part of your trip. There is so much to try and experience, you will not regret it.
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Contributor: Sharleen Kwok is a copywriter with a wealth of knowledge about Asian cuisine and regional variations.