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5 Unforgettable Dishes You Have to Try


Whether they're served in a bar, a humble street restaurant or a Michelin-worthy gastronomic temple, some specialties are worth seeking out no matter where in the world they may be.

Published on Feb 8, 2017

 

1. PHO
SMALLS, BANGKOK

When I moved to Bangkok from Saigon, I didn't expect to be missing pho bo; surely someone would have brought this hearty, cure-all beef noodle soup over the border. But after so many Goldilocks-like pho fails (this one's noodles were too thin, that one's beef was tough or sparse, no one's broth was quite right), I gave up, resigned to living a pho-free life and set about finding another spicy, soothing hangover remedy. And then Phuong Tran brought her perfect pho to Smalls, already one of the best hangouts in Bangkok. The Saigon native simmers her broth for 12 hours, making it full-bodied and flavorful. The rice noodles are al dente, the bean sprouts are crisp, and you get a mound of scallions and greens, plus Sriracha and hoisin sauces and chopped red chilies and limes on the side, just like tradition dictates. There's a chicken version (pho ga) but for me it's beef or bust. Phuong plunks generous helpings of the right two cuts—shank and rare sukiyaki-style slices that cook in the bowl—into every steaming brew she sends out of her kitchen. These are in high demand since she only hosts this authentic Vietnamese slurp-fest the last Thursday of every month. Get there early: Phuong's pho always sells out and you don't want to be left with empty chopsticks. fb.com/smallsbkk; pho Bt200. —JENINNE LEE-ST. JOHN.

Pho
Pho. Inset: Jeninne Lee-St. John.

 

2. TEA-LEAF SALAD
HOUSE OF MEMORIES, RANGOON

The first time I went to Burma, there was only one thing on my checklist: lahpet thoke, or fermented tea-leaf salad. I wasn't just curious to try this world-famous national delicacy that has garnered much love from San Francisco to Shanghai; I was yearning for it. More than a year had passed since I tried the savory snack in Shanghai, where I singlehandedly finished two shared plates of it. Its sweet-sour lightness pleased my Thai palate, while the deep-fried nuts kept me voraciously chomping. It was a delightful teaser, but the trip to Burma promised a more authentic introduction, and the House of Memories in Rangoon didn't disappoint. Here, soft whole tea leaves (as opposed to chopped cabbage in Shanghai) soaked up the zingy dressing and married beautifully with sweet fried shallots. Each bite was a juicy feast. An assortment of crispy broad beans, peanuts and split peas provided an addictive crunch and soon my plate was empty. But it is salad after all, so I had no qualms ordering up another plate, just for myself. houseofmemoriesmyanmar.com; lahpet thoke K2,500. — MONSICHA HOONSUWAN

Tea-leaf salad
Tea-leaf salad at House of Memories. Inset: Monsicha Hoonsuwan.

 

3. DUMPLINGS
DE FA CHANG, XI'AN

Travelers may head to Xi'an to gawk at the scowling terra-cotta warriors, but it's the food that often causes them to stay. Most find themselves drawn to the Muslim Quarter, where vendors hawk cumin-dusted lamb skewers, sticky-sweet persimmon fritters, and rou jia mo, a wonderfully messy flatbread laden with braised beef or lamb. Justly famous as these street delicacies are, when visiting politicians are in town, they head for a more refined, although no less unique, kind of eatery. De Fa Chang Restaurant takes the humble dumpling and elevates it to an art form. Yes, the usual pork-stuffed jiaozi are here, but they're accompanied by more whimsical variations often resembling their filling. Miniature ducks bulge with kaoya, while wrinkly walnuts are stuffed with a sweet-savory spiced nut mixture. Some of the offerings—Lilliputian frogs that stare up at diners with their beady yellow eyes—are so detailed that you have to marvel at the patience of the army of chefs in the back. For the full experience, order the tasting menu, which comes with more than a dozen varieties. Kitsch has never tasted so good. 3 West St., Lianhu; +86 29 8721 4060; dumpling menu RMB120.—DIANA HUBBELL

Dumplings
Dumplings. Like to Travel and Get New Experience/GettyImages.

 

4. BEEF SANDWICH
HAFUU, KYOTO

Ordering at Hafuu is simple: once past the Japanese noren at the entrance, just ask for the beef-cutlet sandwich. Yes, there are set menus. Yes, there's a pricier ¥5,000 Wagyu beef sandwich. But all you really need as you sit down at the 16-seat wooden counter, aside from your appetite, is that four-piece beef-cutlet sandwich. From this perch you can see all that's going on in the elongated kitchen, a scene that will whet your appetite for what's coming. Pressed with coleslaw, encased in toast, the thick-cut beef is seared on the outside and sliced in half to reveal a beautiful blood-red inside. But it's the simple taste and melting texture of the cutlet that will leave you moaning for more. Each bite is a reminder of what beef should taste like. Thick but tender, this is a sandwich that demands you eat it slowly, its flavorful juices squirting in directions that might embarrass but shouldn't. The owner's credentials couldn't be more stellar, thanks to his century-old meat shop. There's a second Hafuu, but opt for the original. Order one sandwich, don't overdo it: it's a delicious thought to realize you must return for more, and soon. hafuu.com; beef sandwich from ¥1,900.— CHRISTOPHET KUCWAY

Beef Sandwich
Juices squirting beef sandwich at Hafuu. Christopher Kucway.

 

5. HALO-HALO
THE PENINSULA, MANILA

Literally translating to "Mix-Mix" the ubiquitous Filipino dessert of halo-halo is exactly that —a delightful mishmash of garishly colored sweets. It can definitely elicit some raised eyebrows from the uninitiated but once you get past its over-the-top festive looks you're in for a serious treat, and there's no better place to indulge than in the lobby of The Peninsula Manila where a few years ago, during an anniversary promotion, a crowd of 4,000 lined up past the main avenues just to have that singular experience. Settle yourself into one of the prized couches and leave decorum behind as you cradle your halo-halo close to your chest, shamelessly digging your way into deliciousness. Time is on your side with this dessert as each layer melts and melds into the other in an evolving medley of flavors: a little bit of purple yam jam and ice cream, a pop from a sweet red bean, slippery coconut slivers and crunchy toasted rice held together by a silky homemade custard and that refreshing shaved ice. Allow your eyes to roll back into your head as you welcome that inevitable sugar high, slowly climbing into a choreographed crescendo with the lobby's string quartet. peninsula.com/manila; halo-halo P792.— STEPHEN ZUBIRI

Halo-Halo
Halo-Halo. Peter C. Marquez.

 

 

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Inset: Jeninne Lee-St. John.
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