Flavours of Southeast Asian Cuisines Winnings Hearts Worldwide
Image Credit: Thai food

South East Asian cuisine is one of the world's most delectable and sought-after cuisines. Influenced by the Indian Subcontinent and China and fresh produce from both land and sea, the southeast Asian countries have developed a beautiful cuisine with distinct taste profiles, textures, and complex flavours. Vietnam and Thailand offer cuisines of worldwide reputation. Many top restaurants in the world seek inspiration and base their menu on the region’s best ingredients and methods of cooking.  Being the melting pot of cultures, cities like Bangkok and Singapore rate high on the world map for their delicious street food hubs and high-end restaurants.  


Thai is undoubtedly the most famous cuisine from South East Asia. In India, the love for creamy and spicy Thai curries has grown exponentially in the last two decades, taking a larger space on the menu cards of multi-cuisine restaurants. 

Thai curries like Red Curry, Green Curry, Yellow Curry, Massaman curry etc., are some of the favoured curries of Thai cuisine. Coconut milk spiked with Chili, and shrimp Pastes, with the distinct flavour of Lemon Grass, Galangal, and Spices, give the curries a special status in the heart of culinary enthusiasts. 

Palm Sugar is often used in Thai cuisine to provide a balanced flavour. Fish sauce, oyster sauce, soy, and various homegrown dips like peanut sauce (With Satays) and the famous ‘Naam Play Prik’, a sweet chilli sauce, carry opposite flavour profiles, giving many starters or fried dishes a zingy edge. 

‘Som Tam Salad’ is a fine example of complex flavours coming together to bring a delicious preparation. Slices of Green Raw Papaya, Chillies, Peanuts, Garlic, Palm Sugar, Lime Juice, Fish Sauce, and even dried prawns are pounded together gently with a pestle and mortar. This delicious Thai salad is not just a hot seller on the streets but also a star addition to the menu of any Thai cuisine restaurant. Similarly, in ‘Pad Thai’, stir-fried flat rice-noodle preparation, ingredients like peanuts, beansprouts, shrimps, eggs, garlic, red chilli peppers, and tofu and accompaniments like fried garlic, peanuts, and red chilli flakes are added as per taste. 

Streets of Thailand are known for delicious items such as Satays, Crab Cakes, and grilled meats offered with different Thai dips. Palm Sugar, fish sauce, lemongrass and garlic make a basic marinade for grills, giving a delicious flavour to the meats and vegetables. 

Fruits such as Pineapples, Rambutan, Bananas, Dragon Fruit, Mango, Durian, Mangosteen, Litchis and oranges are common fruits available at any fruit vendor across Thailand. Many of them are happy to cut the fresh fruit for you into slices or cubes to enjoy. 

Desserts in Thailand are not always considered an after-meal indulgence but are fondly eaten at any time of the day. Pancakes are sold on streetside carts stuffed with fruits and sauces of your choice. 

Sticky rice accompanies curries and makes for an excellent base for desserts, cooked or served with coconut milk or fruits like mango; Coconut invariably is a staple culinary ingredient used in many Thai dishes.  

‘Tom Yum Soup’, a flavourful stock-based soup with complex flavours of Lemongrass, Galangal, Kafir lime leaves, lemon juice, and seafood stock, is one of the finest examples of the fantastic Thai cuisine dishes loved worldwide. Those who love coconut milk can try a delicious ‘Tom Kha’ soup of equal pedigree as ‘Tom Yum’. 


Vietnamese cuisine is gaining popularity in India, with newer speciality restaurants following Vietnam's culinary philosophy of using fresh ingredients, vegetables and herbs to produce light and flavourful dishes. 

‘Pho’, a noodle soup from Vietnam, has gained worldwide popularity. Although a simple soup preparation, there are various complex flavours it packs in itself.  

To cook a clear and flavourful stock using aromatic spices like coriander seeds, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, fennel, etc., is a culinary art worth possessing. Deep flavours of Pho come from garlic, ginger, onion and palm sugar. Preparing an excellent Pho involves a long and careful process of cooking. Fresh ingredients covering all five taste senses make it a soul food worth enjoying. 

Rice paper rolls using fresh vegetables are another example of the fresh and light cuisine of the country. ‘Banh Mi’ is an exciting sandwich prepared in a baguette, with various ingredients like meat, vegetables, herbs like coriander, pickled carrots and daikons, pate, chillies etc. 


Malaysian cuisine combines many cultures with unmissable Thai, Indonesian, Chinese, and Indian influences. Dishes like ‘Murtabak’ and ‘Biryani’ are famous dishes in Malaysia that find their roots in Indian cuisine. 

‘Nasi Lemak’, Malaysia’s unofficial national dish, is a creamy rice cooked with coconut milk and pandan leaves providing it with a distinct flavour. It is traditionally served wrapped in banana leaf with a spicy ‘Sambal’ sauce, fried Anchovies, crunchy peanuts and hard-boiled eggs. There are many versions of ‘Nasi Lemak’, with each having a different meat, a curry, or accompaniment,  


Singapore, an erstwhile part of Malaysia, has many dishes in common and variations on each side of the border. ‘Laksa’ contains different types of noodles, and proteins like chicken, shrimp or fish, served in a flavourful coconut soup or a sour broth flavoured with tamarind or ‘Gelugur’. It is a Peranakan dish (a community of Chinese migrated to Malaysia, Singapore and parts of Indonesia). One of the most popular dishes in Singapore is Hainanese chicken rice. Every Kopitiam or food court will have this flavourful rice preparation, served with steamed chicken or duck, with chilli sauce and sliced cucumbers as the perfect accompaniments. As the name suggests, Hainanese chicken rice was brought in by the early Chinese immigrants who based this dish on the Wenchang chicken, a specific breed of native chicken from the Hainan region. After the split of Singapore and Malaysia, both countries controversially claim to have invented this dish, raising a gastronationalistic debate.   


Indonesian Sambhal holds excellent importance to south-east Asian cuisine, as this chilli paste or sauce, flavoured with shrimp paste, garlic, ginger, shallots, scallions, palm sugar and lime juice, makes a culinary base for many vital dishes. There are hundreds of varieties of Sambal in Indonesia, with many versions coming from the Javanese region, where sambal is said to have originated. 

Enjoy Sambhal with Indonesia’s national dish, ’Nasi Goreng’, a fried rice dish with various accompaniments, such as a chosen protein, fried eggs, and shrimp crackers. An exciting dish I tried on my trip was called ‘Otak Otak’, which are small and slender fish cakes wrapped in leaves cooked on an open fire.  Cooking food wrapped in leaves is another highlight of dishes of south-east Asia. 

Burma (Myanmar)

Discuss culinary highlights of South East Asia; we must mention the famous ‘Khow Suey’ of Burma, now known as Myanmar. Noodle soup cooked in curried coconut milk can be enjoyed with chicken or prawns as protein additions; even fresh vegetables can add a delectable flavour to a ‘Khao Suey’. Many interesting accompaniments are served alongside a ‘Khow Suey’, like hard-boiled eggs, shallots, fried garlic, peanut, chillies, fish sauce, fried noodles etc. Another worthy dish to try from Myanmar is the fermented tea leaves salad, which is a brilliant dish using leaves which we more often use to prepare a beverage than an edible and delicious food item. 

Southeast Asian cuisines offer a lot of delicious dishes to the world to cook and enjoy. It is worthwhile to cook simple and flavourful dishes like curries, salads, noodle soups, satays, rice preparations etc., at home. Prepare some unique south-east Asian dishes, and share them with us at Slurrp. 

Sidharth Bhan Gupta is a Hospitality/F&B Consultant travelling across India exploring regional cuisines