21 must-try dishes from ASEAN countries

Rappler Social Media Team
21 must-try dishes from ASEAN countries
Each Southeast Asian country offers a remarkable food experience you should not miss

MANILA, Philippines – The Southeast Asian region offers a variety of cuisines that can awaken your palate. It’s known for its biodiversity and rich natural resources that give its people more than enough room to experiment with cooking. Over the past decades, food from this part of the world has been known for its distinct rich flavor. 

The countries of ASEAN – Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam – each offer dishes that are uniquely their own.

Several leaders and delegates from different parts of the world will fly to the Philippines starting this weekend for the 31st ASEAN Summit which has adopted the theme, “Partnering for Change, Engaging the World”. The gala night this Sunday will feature Filipino-Asian food to be prepared by Chef Jessie Sincioco, with the help of Sofitel Philippine Plaza.

Working towards better integration economically, countries in ASEAN also boast of their own dishes which have become quite popular with travelers. Here are some of them and see if you recognize them. (READ: Why you should care about ASEAN integration)


  • Pad Thai is a stir-fried rice noodle dish. It’s made with soaked dried rice noodles, stir-fried with eggs and chopped firm tofu. It may contain shrimp, crab, squid, chicken or other proteins, and is then flavored with tamarind pulp, fish sauce, and garlic or shallots. It’s usually served with vegetables like garlic chives, bean sprouts; and condiments like red chili pepper, palm sugar, lime wedges, and chopped roasted peanuts on the side. 

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  • Tom Yum Goong (spicy shrimp soup) is a spicy and sour fragrant herbal blend of lemongrass, chilli, galangal, lime leaves, shallots, lime juice, and fish sauce with prawns and straw mushrooms. 


  • Ambuyat is the national dish of Brunei. It’s a sticky flavorless starch, that is dipped in gravy or other (sweet or spicy) sauces to give it some flavor. It is usually served in a set with many side dishes.  

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  • Ayam Penyet is originally from Indonesia but is also famous in Brunei. This spicy fried chicken dish is smashed down with pestle and mortar to give it a softer texture. It is served with sambal (hot spicy sauce), and a salad with lettuce, cucumber, tomato, fried tofu, and tempeh. 




  • Bai Sach Chrouk (pork and rice) is a standard Cambodian breakfast. Thinly sliced pieces of grilled pork, sometimes marinated in garlic or coconut milk, is served over a portion of rice with pickled cucumbers and a bowl of chicken broth. 



  • Nom Banh Chok or Khmer noodles is a breakfast dish consisting of rice noodles and a fish-based green curry gravy made from lemongrass, turmeric root and kaffir lime. Fresh vegetables, herbs, flowers, and other greens are heaped on top of the the bowl like fresh mint leaves, bean sprouts, green beans, banana flower, cucumbers. A red curry version of this dish is usually reserved for ceremonial occasions and wedding festivities.

If you know, you know. If you don't then I feel sorry for you. #khmerfood #cambodianfood #nombanhchok

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  • Fish Amok is a fish mousse with fresh coconut milk and kroeung, a type of Khmer curry paste made from lemongrass, turmeric root, garlic, shallots, galangal and fingerroot. Sometimes, fish amok is steamed in banana leaves while others boil it, making it a more soupy fish curry than a mousse. You’ll be able to find similar meals of this famous Cambodian dish in neighboring countries but the addition of slok ngor, a local herb that imparts a subtly bitter flavor, separates the Cambodian version from the pack.

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  • Nasi Goreng (fried rice) is pre-cooked rice stir fried in a small amount of cooking oil or margarine, spiced with kecap manis (sweet soy sauce), shallot, garlic, ground shrimp paste, tamarind, and chili. It is served with other ingredients like egg, chicken, and prawns.

  • Rendang is a spicy meat dish. The meat is cooked with coconut milk and pemasak, a paste mixture of ground spices consisting of ginger, garlic, shallots, turmeric leaves, lemon grass, galangal, chilis and other spices. It goes with rice and can be accompanied by vegetable side dishes. Before it was considered a dish, rendang was a slow cooking technique to help preserve a large amount of meat for longer periods of time. 

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  • Khao Piak Sen (wet rice strands) is a rice noodle soup garnished with shredded chicken, sliced green onions, chopped cilantro, cabbage, fried garlic, fried shallots, lime, fried garlic chili and/or bean sprouts and fish sauce. The broth, usually made from chicken, is simmered with galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and garlic cooked in oil, for some. The noodles made of rice flour and tapioca starch are cooked directly in the broth, releasing starches that create a distinct consistency for the dish.  

  • Nam Khao, also known as Lao fried rice salad, is a salad made with deep-fried rice balls, chunks of fermented pork sausage called som moo, chopped peanuts, grated coconut, sliced scallions or shallots, mint, cilantro, lime juice, fish sauce, and other ingredients. Traditionally, the dish is served wrapped in individual leaves like lettuce, and topped with fresh herbs and dried chili peppers. Sometimes, it’s served as a crispy rice ball. 

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  • Nasi Lemak is the national dish of Malaysia. It is a fragrant rice dish cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaves and is served with sambal. It usually includes fresh cucumber slices, small fried anchovies, roasted peanuts, and hard-boiled or fried egg. Some serve it with protein such as ayam goreng (fried chicken), sambal sotong (squid cooked in chili paste), small fried fish, cockles or rendang daging (beef). 

  • Nasi Dagang is a dish consisting of rice steamed in coconut milk, fish curry and extra ingredients such as fried shaved coconut, hard-boiled egg, and pickled vegetables. 


  • Lahpet thoke or Burmese tea leaf salad is prepared by mixing fermented tea leaves with cabbage, tomatoes, fried garlic, peas, peanuts, sesame, dried shift, preserved shredded ginger, chili peppers, fish sauce, and lime. The dish can be coupled with rice or served on its own as an appetizer or snack. If you’re into caffeine, this dish is for you. 


  • Ngar Htamin is a fish rice dish combining rice that’s been cooked with turmeric, topped with flakes of freshwater fish and garlic oil. It can be a snack when served with leek roots, raw garlic, and deep-fried pork rinds. The recipe varies per region. Some exclude fish. 

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  • Adobo consists of pork or chicken or both, stewed or braised in cooking oil, garlic, bay leaf, peppercorns, vinegar, and soy sauce. There are many variations of adobo throughout the different islands of the Philippines (e.g. some add sugar, some cook it with pineapple, and some serve it dry).

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  • Sisig is a dish made from parts of pig’s head and liver, usually seasoned with calamansi or lemon, chili peppers, and is more famously served sizzling. Sisig also refers to a method of preparing fish and meat, especially pork, marinated in a sour liquid such as vinegar or calamansi juice, seasoned with salt, pepper, and other spices. Today, people have experimented with ingredients other than pork such as chicken, tuna, squid, tofu, green mussles, among others.

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  • Laksa is a spicy noodle soup consisting of rice noodles with chicken, prawn or fish. It could have as base spicy curry coconut milk, sour asam (tamarind or gelugur), or both. 

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  • Bak Kut Teh (meat bone tea) is a pork rib dish. Pork ribs are boiled with white pepper, garlic, and salt until it becomes tender and its broth flavorful. The dish is eaten with a bowl of rice, and sometimes, with other Chinese side dishes like braised tofu or preserved mustard greens. Although “tea” is in this dish’s name, there is no tea in the recipe. When you eat it, it’s recommended you wash it down with hot Chinese tea. The origin of this dish is said to be disputed – it’s either Malaysia or Singapore. 


  • Bánh Mhì (bread) is Vietnam’s take on France’s baguette. This Vietnamese sandwich is made with rice flour and wheat flour, and is thinner than its Western counterpart. The levels of preparation differ per region. Some stick to basic elements of carbohydrate, fat and protein such as bread, margarine and pata. Others include more than one meat or fish; a lot of pickled vegetables combined like cucumber, cilantro, carrots, and white radishes; and more condiments such as chili sauce, mayonnaise, and cheese.

  • Pho is a salty chicken or beef broth with rice noodles sprinkled with herbs.  

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Which dish from these ASEAN countries would you want to try next? That could be your next country destination. – Rappler.com

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