You may enjoy chowing down on some staple Southeast Asian dishes here in the U.S., but the likelihood that the local restaurants you’re dining at are completely authentic is slim. When you want the best version of a specific dish, you have to go to the source.
While a trip to any of the nations in Southeast Asia may prove difficult and costly, you can visit them in spirit by trying to whip up these four famous dishes. Go for common and more famous recipes, and you’re more likely to find the ingredients you need to bring a little bit of Southeast Asia home.
Travel to Bali and you’ll find yourself faced with a challenge of gluttonous proportions, a pork feast that happens to be a staple of the Southeast Asian province of Bali. Guling is better known as a pork feast, made from a full roasted pig that’s slowly cooked with garlic, ginger, and turmeric. Sometimes, lemongrass, black pepper, and coriander seeds are added to enhance the flavor even further.
Babi guling’s literal translation is “turning pig,” which describes how the pig is cooked, hand-turned on a spit over an open fire. The slow roast allows the skin to crisp without charring and creates juicy, tender meat underneath that’s easy to pull apart.
Babi guling isn’t for sensitive taste buds. There is a kick that often leaves many watery-eyed and sniffling, but it’s a delicacy that is hard to pass up once the signature aromas waft toward you.
The thing with Pad Thai is that you can definitely get it in the United States. Unfortunately, many of the options available are a more Americanized version of the classic Southeast Asian dish. It’s a simple concoction of stir-fried rice noodles combined with vegetables, egg, and tofu, so making a good pad thai isn’t impossible. Making the kind of pad thai you would expect to find on the streets of Thailand, however, is more of a challenge.
A base of fish sauce creates the unmistakable taste of pad thai, creating a flavorful broth that soaks into the noodles. Served from street vendors that have been perfecting their recipe for decades, authentic pad thai does not skimp on portions, with shrimp, crab, squid, and chicken often adding some heft to the noodle dish. Pad thai has some kick, so be wary when you dive headfirst into a bowl of this delightful street food.
Pho is another dish that’s not impossible to find in the states, but much like Pad Thai, its best version is a plane ride away across the Pacific. This Vietnamese soup starts with a base of broth, to which rice noodles, spices and either beef or chicken are added. It’s not an overly complex dish, but the Vietnamese street vendors who have been peddling it for years are able to pull an abundance of flavors from the few ingredients used in it.
How pho came to be is a matter of discussion, though it’s expected the Vietnamese delight evolved from a dish that existed long before the formation of French Indochina in the late 19th-century. Wherever it came from, there is no denying that pho is a timeless classic.
Pho shops have been popping up across the United States over the past decade, but it’s in Vietnam that you’ll find the best version of this brothy Southeast Asian favorite.
With the word “drunken” in the title, you would expect this Thailand noodle dish to have a distinct flavor of some form of Southeast Asian alcohol. It’s surprising, though, that despite the belief that the original dish involved the use of rice wine, there is no authentic version of drunken noodles that is made with any form of libation.
Drunken noodles is a conglomerate of flavors, with oyster sauce, soy sauce, and additional fish sauce making up the liquidy base. To that, garlic, broad rice noodles, black pepper pods, holy basil, and chili are added for spice. Beef, chicken, or seafood are then tossed together with the ingredients until coated and well-incorporated into the noodles.
While the origins of drunken noodles are a mystery, it’s suggested that it was a concoction of a drunkard looking for a sizeable dish to pair with an evening of drinking.