Must try food and drink in Asia. If you find yourself in this part of the world these are the traditional things to try.
China’s national drink is Baijiu. Often called Shaojiu, it is a very strong clear alcohol distilled from fermented sorghum.
While in Hong Kong my travelling companion Tatsuya said we had to try it. As an alcohol fan I was up for it but I insisted he tried it first. I’m glad I did as shown in the video below…
It seemed Baijiu was available everywhere. Just ask at a restaurant or bar where alcohol is served. We did get some funny looks when we ordered it. Perhaps it’s not every westerner’s taste.
Fish Balls in Cheung Chau Island
While in Hong Kong we took a break from Kowloon and took a ferry over from Central to Cheung Chau Island. It’s a chilled out fishing island with amazing seafood. We travelled over on the regular ferry, it took close to an hour but we got some great photos of Hong Kong Island from the water. On the way back we rode the fast ferry which took 20 minutes.
Cheung Chau Island is famous for its fish balls.
They had three types – plain, spicy and curry.
I got the crab for lunch, any seafood fans should check out this island.
3D Cat Coffee
Having seen this pop up on Instagram I knew I had to find this. Cats and coffee are my two favourite things.
Allegretto Viva Espresso Hong Kong in Tsim Sha Tsui makes them. It was only 50HKD, which I didn’t think was bad for the awesomeness of this coffee. They informed me it would take 30 minutes to make so I took a comfortable seat and waited. And waited. After 40 minutes the buzzer rang and I went and collected my coffee. I was not disappointed.
Any cat or coffee lover must try this. It’s a work of art and almost too good to drink.
Sweet Potato Ice cream and Oreo
This unusual combination (only available in Hong Kong) plus the fact it’s purple meant it was a must try!
Over 60 McDonald’s in Hong Kong now have a separate kiosk to buy this odd combination of ice cream.
There are 4 options:
Sweet Potato & Vanilla Cone
Sweet Potato & Vanilla Sundae
Sweet Potato & Vanilla Double Sundae
Sweet Potato & Vanilla McFlurry® with Meringue Buds
What’s more, these variations come with Oreo. The line to buy one of these was very long as they are so popular. I went for the Sweet Potato & Vanilla McFlurry with Oreo. It was the standard McFlurry with big chunks of Oreo mixed in.
My first reaction was – this tastes really really of sweet potato. You have to be a sweet potato lover to enjoy this dessert.
I’m glad I tried it. I like sweet potato but I prefer standard vanilla McFlurry.
Hong Kong has its own style of French toast.
This yummy food had layers of peanut butter between sliced of bread and then deep-fried. A large knob of butter melted over the top layer. Anyone who loves peanut butter needs to give this a try. It’ll change how you make French toast.
It’s served at most Cha Chaan Teng (Hong Kong style café). We also ordered some chicken feet to nibble on.
While in Tokyo we went down Takeshita Street. This lively street is located by Harajuku JR Station and is home to lots of small independent stores selling cool fashion items. It’s the place to go if you’re looking to experience Japan’s J-pop and kawaii spirit.
It’s also home to many crêpe shops and these make a great snack to have while people-watching. These crêpe shops sell predominantly sweet crêpes and have a wide selection on offer.
In Osaka we went to Kushikatsu at Ganso Kushikatsu Daruma Janjanten. Kushikatsu is deep-fried skewered meat and vegetables, with a dipping sauce on the side.
It’s also very important you know how to eat it – you have to follow the One Dip Rule.
You can only dip the skewer into the dip one time and not go back to re-dip. This is mainly for hygiene reasons as the dip is shared with other people. The dipping sauce was in a large metal container and cabbage leaves were provided in case you wished to scoop up some more sauce and put it on your skewer without re-dipping.
I didn’t find anything that out of the ordinary about this food but the One Dip Rule made it more fun as I had to keep remembering it.
Takoyaki (Octopus Balls)
Also in Osaka, while in the Doutonbori area, we went for Takoyaki or more simply octopus balls. Osaka and Takoyaki go hand-in-hand.
Takoyaki is ball shaped and made of batter with a minced meat or fish inside. These had diced octopus (tako). A popular place to find these is along Doutonbori river. You can’t miss the huge octopus sign.
Just like kushikatsu this tasted a lot like the batter it was cooked in. As I had just had eaten kushikatsu I was pretty full so I didn’t get any sauce on the octopus balls, but I could have had mayo or BBQ sauce.
Cream soda is a favourite drink among children in Japan and for good reason. It’s an ice cream float made of melon soda and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
When I saw people drinking this florescent green drink I was intrigued and had to try it. The melon soda had just the right amount of fizz but didn’t really taste of melon; I think that’s just the name. It was delicious and made me feel like a child again. There is nothing healthy in this drink but it doesn’t matter as it tastes so good.
Kakigōri is a dessert similar to a snow cone. It’s made of fluffy shaved ice and flavoured with syrup and condensed milk. It comes in lots of different flavours, including – cherry, melon, strawberry, green tea and blue Hawaii.
In the summer it’s a great treat for cooling down. I went for green tea flavour topped with red bean paste.
It tasted very very sweet and a little sickly but it was much needed in the heat of Kyoto in August.
While in Tokyo I suggest you go to Tsukishima Moniya Street and try some Monjayaki.
Monjayaki is a type of Japanese pancake that you grill yourself. It consists of a batter mixture with added vegetables, meats and seafood of your choice.
All the extra ingredients were chopped finely in front of us. We spread out the raw monja (the batter) on the grill, moving it around gently with a small spatula. The monja cooked and became crispy.
Also on the grill we fried the chopped vegetables, prawns, egg and pork. We then mixed the monja and other ingredients into a circular formation and watch it bubble as it cooked, before eating it using the small spatulas and chop sticks.
This was my favourite savoury Japanese food. I enjoyed cooking it and liked the large selection of ingredients on offer. As it comes off the grill immediately in front of you it doesn’t have a chance to get cold and you can have it as crispy as you like.
Okonomiyaki can usually be found where monjayaki is served. Not as much water is added to the monjayaki batter mix making okonomiyaki less runny. Cooking it yourself on the grill was exactly the same. This is some okonomiyaki I got in London.
Another delicious savoury dish is yakisoba, which translates to fried buckwheat. It’s basically stir-fried noodles. For lunch we got okonomiyaki and yakisoba set with a fried egg. I had my yakisoba with pork, cabbage and oyster sauce. It’s great when you’re hungry.
In the picture the one on the right is a variation of okonomiyaki called negiyaki which is filled with more scallions and thinner.
Japan is big into their whisky.
Here’s my blog post on my trip to the Suntory Yamazaki Distillery
In Japan it’s typical to drink whisky with water or even soda water to make a high ball. Tatsuya and I bought a bottle of Hibiki. It was more oaky than the Irish whiskeys I’m used to. I enjoyed the very slight honey tastes it had.
After numerous jokes about eating dogs in Korea (as adventurous as I am doggies are off limits) we decided to head out in Hongdae, Seoul where we were staying. This is a great area to stay in, there’s lots going on and transport to get around the city is convenient.
Our first stop was for Soju – “Korea’s most popular alcoholic beverage”. You can’t go to South Korea and not try some. It comes in many flavours. We tried the unflavoured Soju and it’s like a mild vodka, very drinkable. I also tried blueberry Soju which was my favourite.
Be careful with this as it’s so smooth, especially the flavoured options, you can find yourself getting drunk easily.
After drinks the next stop was dinner.
Korean Organ Meat BBQ
Gopchang Gui and Daechang Gui – grilled intestines.
We sat down at one of the many BBQ restaurants in Hongdae and asked for a traditional Koran BBQ of organ meat (as well as we could as there was a language barrier). The table had its own grill and the waiter brought over raw beef intestines, heart and liver and a few side dishes of greens.
He started the grill and left us to barbecued the meat. It was a fun! He then came back over and added a tonne of garlic to the barbecue.
I struggled with the intestines as I didn’t like the soft texture but I was able to eat the heart because it was firmer.
Boiled silk worms
While strolling around Dongdaemun Market we saw women stirring big pots out on the street and I immediately thought – yummy roasted chestnuts. As I went over I saw they were not chestnuts but boiled silk worms. This seems to be a thing in Korea.
When biting into one, the soft insides spurt into you mouth which isn’t very pleasant.
Tatsuya tucking into some. After tasting one I wasn’t so brave.
Makgeolli is a Korean rice liqueur. It has a low alcohol content of 6-8 % ABV and is made from rice or wheat mixed with nuruk (a Korean fermentation starter). It used to be known as a “farmer’s drink” but has become more popular in the cities recently.
It had a milky colour and we drank it out of bowls. The taste was quite sweet but it had a sharp aftertaste.
We found it difficult to track down and try on its own without ordering a meal. So I recommend you try it when you’re in a restaurant as it wasn’t readily available in bars.
A trip to South Korea wouldn’t be complete without trying some pastries. Bakeries are extremely popular and “Asian-French” bakery chains, such as Paris Baguette are all over South Korea. It plays on the French theme with an Eiffel Tower logo, but they serve much more than the typical French pastries.
The first thing you’ll notice in your hotel is NO DURIAN signs – everywhere!
What is Durian? Durian is a large fruit with a thorn covered husk native to South East Asia. It has a very strong odour that many find offensive. Some say the smell is similar to raw sewage. Thailand takes its” no durians on the premises” seriously and signs can be seen in almost every hotel and train station.
Given the reaction people have to this fruit we knew we had to try it.
It was more difficult than expected to find. Given its hard shell we decided it was better to try it mixed in with something, instead of buying a raw durian and breaking it open. Luckily we found it in mochi balls. Mochi balls are a Japanese rice cake often filled with a fruit or ice cream.
The taste wasn’t that unpleasant. It was fruity but then had an after taste of egg. The smell was subtle but I understand how in large quantities this would be offensive. I’m glad I tried it and I’m also happy I didn’t have to eat a whole durian.
Scorpions and other insects
While in Bangkok we stayed in Chinatown. Even though this area was a bit off the beaten track it definitely had its own vibe and felt less touristy.
In search of insects to try we went down Yaowarat in Chinatown one night and found plenty in the street food markets, including crickets and cockroaches.
I even tried a scorpion; it tasted mainly of the soy sauce it was cooked in. I wasn’t a fan of the texture because it was very difficult to bite into, hard and chewy which hurt my teeth.
While we found lots of insects to try, we didn’t find any tarantulas which was disappointing. I think they might be more of a Cambodian thing.
Oh! And I saw this cute dog.
While in Thailand I tried lots of iced tea. My favourite was the green tea frappe available in almost every coffee shop followed by blueberry and pomegranate. I got this outside the Grand Palace in Bangkok. Delicious!
Thai pineapple fried rice
If you find yourself island hoping in Thailand then make sure you take a break to grab some thai pineapple fried rice on one of the islands. We stopped on Koh Phi Phi at the Pirate House for a cheeky gin and tonic and food.
After a day on the beach this definitely warms the stomach. We also had watermelon with feta cheese.
Bangkok can get hot and humid so grabbing a refreshing coconut is a good way to stay hydrated. I got this coconut from a stall by the boat from Wat Pho to Wat Arun temples but they’re available from street vendors everywhere and cost 50 THB.