Food in South East Asia: The Year in Review

pho in saigon

Before traveling to South East Asia I wasn’t sure what the food options would be. I knew there would be plenty of amazing foods to try, but was still a little concerned about how my taste buds and stomach would react to the changes. Luckily I was pleasantly surprised you can get basically anything to eat 24 hours a day. No matter how picky you are, you will find amazing food in South East Asia to enjoy.

My travels have taken me through Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam so far. Due to COVID restrictions, my traveling has been put on hold and I’ve been enjoying an extended stay living on Funky Lane, Siem Reap, Cambodia. I’ve been on the road for approximately 1 1/2 years and have tasted truly amazing foods. Eating well is incredibly affordable if you find the right places. Local food and street food are the cheapest options but you’ll still eat an amazing meal. Western restaurants can range in prices but you can still find affordable western options if you want a great burger or pizza in South East Asia.

Breakfast in Asia

I rarely eat breakfast and when I do it’s normally noodle soup from a local vendor. If you are looking for eggs, bacon, or pancakes, you’ll have no problem finding great deals on full-English or American-style breakfasts at many cafés in South East Asia. Breakfast prices can vary greatly and I would recommend checking the menu before deciding to eat.

Coffee

I run on coffee. Luckily there are countless cafés in South East Asia. Walk down any street and you can easily find a coffee shop or café every few meters. Vietnam has the most interesting coffee culture I’ve seen on my travels. There are streets lined with hundreds of locals drinking coffee all day and night. Vietnamese drip coffee is a must-try for any avid coffee drinker. Thailand and Cambodia offer more traditional coffee shops and cafés but still offer a delicious variety of drinks. You’ll be able to find traditional coffee drinks in iced and hot varieties to enjoy. My current home is Siem Reap and Ur Cafe is my go-to morning coffee.

Soups

Soups are probably 90% of the meals I’ve eaten in South East Asia. They are affordable, filling, and delicious. You can find a soup stall or local vendor for nearly 24 hours a day in most areas. Most soups include veggies, protein (chicken, pork, beef, seafood, or vegan), and noodles or rice. You can enjoy an entire meal for $1.00 – $3.00 depending on the restaurant or street corner. I’m partial to pho and tom yum. I encourage you to try as many different soups as possible while traveling. I haven’t tried these 50 different soups in SE Asia, but I’m steadily making my way through them all.

Burgers

While traveling, your first idea of the best foods in South East Asia would probably not include burgers. You would be wrong. There are a surprising amount of gourmet burger joints in SE Asia. Most of the local restaurants offer beef, chicken, and vegan burgers for you to enjoy. You can find burgers for every size appetite as well. Burgers at specialty burger restaurants will run $3.00 – $15.00 depending on how hungry you are. You can find amazing local burgers for $2.00 – $4.00 as well. You’ll also be able to find chain restaurants in almost every town but they often cost as much as getting a burger at a gourmet burger joint. For example, in Siem Reap, a Whopper at Burger King costs $6.30. Big Boy Burger has a burger, fries, and Coke combo for $5. Jungle Burger in Siem Reap also has a diverse menu with burgers costing between $6.00 – $9.00. While in Saigon, I encourage you to try the Le Signature burger at Marcel Gourmet Burgers.

Do you have a favorite burger in South East Asia that I didn’t mention? Let us know about it!

Pizza

Living my entire life in New York, pizza has been the hardest thing to find that meets my standards. While I’ve found many different restaurants that can make a good pizza, they will never be able to fully recreate an NYC style pizza slice. If you’re looking for the best pizza in Saigon, I’d suggest Pizza 4P’s. In Phnom Penh, you can get an amazing pizza at Piccola Italia Da Luigi while hanging out in the hipster bar area near Bassac Lane. Recently da Stefano opened in Siem Reap and they make an amazing pie for $6.00 (It’s also about 200 meters from my apartment!). You also have chain options that include Pizza Hut, Dominoes, and Pizza Company if you want something that is similar to pizza.

Dinner in South East Asia

Dinner is normally my biggest meal of the day. There are countless options available in every city and village in South East Asia for dinner. Street food and local restaurants offer inexpensive meats, seafood, noodles, snacks, and meals. You can also find many restaurants that serve foods from around the world. Besides local Khmer food, the street I live on (Funky Lane in Siem Reap) has Italian, Mexican, Russian, Indian, Japanese, Thai, and English cuisine to choose from. No matter what your favorite food is, you should be able to find something that you will enjoy. Finding food in South East Asia will be no problem.

Street food in South East Asia

Street food is plentiful in South East Asia. On my travels, I’ve enjoyed countless meals and snacks while wandering the streets of Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. While all three countries have amazing street food, I have to crown Thailand as the king of street food. There are countless options to choose from. Grab meat on a stick or an entire lobster from street vendors! You’ll never go hungry in SE Asia with the number of street vendors serving food 24 hours a day.

Drinks

Southeast Asia is no stranger to a night out. There are countless places to enjoy cheap or fancy drinks in Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Local beers are decent and inexpensive. You can enjoy Leo, Chang, or Singha in Thailand. In Cambodia, you can grab Angkor, Anchor, or Cambodia cans for as little as 50cents! Cambodia beer cans also offer a chance to win a variety of prizes. You’ll win free beers every few cans. My biggest win was 20K riel! In Ho Chi Minh, I had access to amazing draft beers at almost every bar and PBR as well!! I’m not a big mixed drink guy, but you can definitely find cheap mixed drinks or high-end mixologists in most major cities in South East Asia.

Eating in South East Asia

I am blessed to be living in an area of the world that offers such a diverse menu of food. You can enjoy fine dining, local favorites, or fast and delicious street food while traveling in South East Asia. I’ve only been here for less than two years, so I’m still a novice when it comes to dining in South East Asia. My travels have been extremely limited due to Covid so this review only covers areas I’ve traveled to and spent at least one month.

Did I miss your favorite place or favorite dish? I’d love to hear about it. I’m “trapped” in Cambodia so if you have any favorites in Siem Reap or any other province in Cambodia, I’d love to hear about it.

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