The traveling foodie: How to plan your trip around iconic restaurants and local flavors

Craft the ultimate foodie itinerary with our insider tips and plan your travels around the most iconic restaurants offering authentic local flavors in Southeast Asia

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TableCheck

Feb 26, 2024 - 9 min read

The traveling foodie: How to plan your trip around iconic restaurants and local flavors

Southeast Asia is more than just a destination; it's a sensory feast waiting to be savored, offering a culinary scene that mirrors the richness of its culture and the warmth and hospitality of its people. Embarking on a foodie expedition through Southeast Asia promises an odyssey of flavors, with each dish telling a story steeped in culture and history. 

What makes it an exciting destination is the unexpected discoveries that await. It's a region where hidden gems and local favorites hold as much significance as renowned Michelin-starred establishments. 

Renowned for its vibrant flavors, rich spices, and diverse culinary traditions, Southeast Asia is a dream come true for any food enthusiast who wants to create an unforgettable gourmet travel itinerary.

Mapping out the foodie's travel plan

Crafting the itinerary can turn into an exhilarating adventure, where the excitement unfolds in skillfully navigating the region's vibrant markets, embarking on street food safaris, and unraveling the compelling stories behind each dish. 

One needs to consider the following when planning their gourmet itinerary:

  • Choose the food destination: This involves identifying food hotspots including cities and neighborhoods that offer unique culinary experiences.

  • Be ready to explore local cuisine: Every foodie needs to be ready to delve deep into the local cuisines of each food destination. From Thailand's national dish, the Pad Thai, to Singapore's Laksa soup, these flavors should be on every foodie's must-eat list.

  • Visit renowned local eateries: A great food itinerary will include a visit to local restaurants that serve local and authentic dishes.

  • Plan the trip around culinary events and festivals: Travelers should check out the calendar for culinary events during their visit to ensure they don't miss out on indulging in local specialties and other festivals.

  • Join foodie tours: There are many guided foodie tours available around Southeast Asia that cater to different tastes:

  • Seek out Michelin-starred restaurants: For travelers that want to have luxury dining experiences, eating in Michelin-starred restaurants, Bib Gourmands, or restaurants that offer Chef's table experiences or high-end tasting menus can transform dining into a gourmet travel itinerary.

Bangkok, Thailand
Bangkok, Thailand

Southeast Asia’s top destination: The foodie travel guide

Southeast Asia's premier foodie destinations welcome travelers on an epicurean journey. These places are not only renowned for their breathtaking landscapes but also for the rich gastronomic experiences they offer. The diverse and vibrant tastes of Southeast Asia's culinary treasures encourage travelers to indulge their senses. Some of the top food cities to visit are:

1. Thailand: Bangkok’s symphony of flavors and iconic restaurants

With its diverse and flavorful cuisine that is sure to delight your taste buds, Thailand’s unique blend of sweet, sour, salty, and spicy flavors, combined with fresh ingredients and aromatic herbs, makes it a must-visit destination. 

The capital city of Bangkok, with its rich culinary history that dates back centuries, is a melting pot of different cultures and cuisines, including Chinese, Indian, and Malay. It is home to some of the world's best street food, with bustling markets and food stalls serving up delicious and affordable dishes around the clock. Moreover, Bangkok is also home to many award-winning restaurants. In 2024, more than 447 food establishments were selected for the 2024 Michelin Guide Thailand, most of which are in based in Bangkok.

Iconic dishes to try:

Pad Thai (ผัดไทย): Stir-fried rice noodles with eggs, tofu, shrimp, and tamarind sauce, topped with peanuts and lime
Tom Yum Goong (ต้มยำกุ้ง): Spicy and sour shrimp soup flavored with lemongrass, lime leaves, galangal, and chili
Green Curry (แกงเขียวหวาน) (Kaeng Khiao Wan): A fragrant and spicy Thai curry made with green chili paste, coconut milk, and a variety of vegetables and meats
Mango Sticky Rice (ข้าวเหนียวมะม่วง): A popular Thai dessert consisting of sweet sticky rice topped with ripe mango slices and drizzled with coconut milk.
Som Tam (ส้มตำ): Green papaya salad with a tangy dressing made from lime juice, fish sauce, chili, and palm sugar

Where to eat: Bangkok's local star attractions for authentic Thai cuisine

Sorn Fine Southern Cuisine: Chef Supaksorn “Ice” Jongsiri culinary creations in a 22-course meal

A team of chefs creates a marvelous tasting menu that exemplifies detailed and refined Southern Thai cuisine. The restaurant helmed by Chef Supaksorn "Ice" Jongsiri is a recipient of many accolades and awards: It has two Michelin stars and is ranked no 9 on Asia's Best Restaurant in 2023. The Michelin Guide describes their cooking as “Thai classics are elevated to another level through near-faultless execution and meticulously sourced, top-notch local produce.” 

What to try: Guests should not miss Sorn's Grilled River Prawn with Salted Fish Sauce, Southern Yellow Curry with Crab Meat, and Stir-Fried Rice Noodles with Crab Meat and Salted Fish.

Address: 1052-1054 Charoen Krung 26, Maha Pruttaram, Bang Rak, Bangkok, Thailand
Reservations: TableCheck

80/20: The art of storytelling in an innovative tasting menu

80/20, a Michelin-starred restaurant, took its name from the ratio of its use of Thai ingredients to imported ones. The restaurant offers an innovative, colorful, and contemporary interpretation of classic Thai cuisine with its dynamic seasonal tasting menu. 

What to try: Grilled Beef, Dill & Lemon Basil Curry, Coconut dessert are the must-haves in the 80/20 menu.

Address: 1052-1054 Charoen Krung 26, Maha Pruttaram, Bang Rak, Bangkok, Thailand
Website: 80/20
Reservations: TableCheck

2. Vietnam: From North to South

Without a doubt, food is at the heart of Vietnamese culture. Its exotic flavors, unique cooking styles and abundant fresh ingredients all combine to make it a foodie paradise. Each region paints a vibrant tableau of culinary delights characterized by distinct regional flavors. 

In the North, Hanoi stands as a culinary haven with its iconic pho, an aromatic and savory noodle soup that encapsulates the essence of Vietnamese comfort food. In Central Vietnam, the ancient town of Hoi An unveils a treasure trove of delicacies, from the savory cao lầu noodles to the delicate white rose dumplings. Down South, Ho Chi Minh City enchants with its bustling street markets offering tropical street food wonders, such as banh mi and fresh spring rolls. 

Embracing a market-to-table philosophy, Vietnam's emphasis on fresh, local ingredients contributes to the exceptional taste of its dishes. UNESCO-listed towns like Hoi An and Hue preserve Vietnam's culinary heritage, inviting visitors on a journey through time.

Iconic dishes to try: 

Phở: Fragrant noodle soup with either beef (phở bò) or chicken (phở gà), garnished with fresh herbs, bean sprouts, and lime
Bánh Mì: Crusty baguette sandwich filled with grilled pork, pâté, pickled vegetables, and herbs
Bún Chả: Grilled pork paired with rice vermicelli, fresh herbs, and a savory dipping sauce
Bún bò Huế: Beef noodle soup from Huế, dubbed by Anthony Bourdain as the “greatest soup in the world”
Gỏi cuốn (South) or Nem cuốn (North): Vietnamese spring/summer rolls, a refreshing medley of herbs, rice vermicelli, and shrimp, wrapped in rice paper

Where to eat: Vietnam's traditional culinary finds

Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

Bao Wow: Vietnamese baos at its best

Bao Wow offers a twist on the traditional Vietnamese banh bao with its fun dining fusion concept. The popular and reasonably priced baos are freshly assembled daily with locally sourced ingredients, together with a variety of seasonal small plates, creative sides, and fresh cocktails, with a solid selection of vegetarian and gluten-free options. 

What to eat: Diners can choose between six unique and savory types of bao: dirty bird (a fried chicken delight), Korean galbi (complete with kimchi), or the delectable skinny or falafel bao for those of a vegetarian bent.

Address: No.12 31A Đặng Thai Mai, Quảng An, Tây Hồ, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Reservations: TableCheck

Nén Light: One of the New York Times' picks for Vietnamese fine dining

Nén Light specializes in storytelling-style dishes, connecting its diners to the story of every ingredient, its origin, and the very land it was nurtured on. Chef Summer Le focuses on using hyper-local (fresh and foraged traditional ingredients grown in one place) for a profoundly authentic expression of Vietnamese cuisine. The Michelin Guide cites it as “one of the most unique dining experiences in Ho Chi Minh City.”

What to eat: Guests can enjoy 7-9 dishes on the tasting menu, including lobster choux, seaweed rolls, jackfruit-stewed beef tartlet, fresh black tiger shrimp soaked in garlic oil, cheese mousse with confetti salt, seafood dumplings, burnt cream, and laksa.

Address: 122/2 Tran Dinh Xu Street, Nguyen Cu Trinh Ward, District 1
Website: Nen Light
Reservations Nen Dang: TableCheck
Reservations Nen Light Saigon: TableCheck

3. Singapore: A fusion of cultures on every plate

Exploring the culinary scene in Singapore is more than just enjoying food, it’s also a journey through the colorful mix of its diverse cultures and traditions, making it a true foodie destination. 

Singapore offers multi-layered flavors and the unexpected richness of simple ingredients – a true culinary haven resulting from the creative blend of Chinese, Malaysian, and various Asian influences, promising a gastronomic experience that unfolds as a "fusion of cultures" on every plate.

The heartbeat of Singapore's culinary diversity reverberates in its collection of Michelin-starred restaurants that elevate the fine dining experience, and its numerous hawker centers that offer a diverse array of dishes at affordable prices, making them a must-visit for anyone eager to explore the essence of local cuisine.

Venture into cultural enclaves, each a microcosm of culinary delights. Little India, Chinatown, Kampong Glam are just among the vibrant neighborhoods, where you can savor the rich cultural tapestry of Singapore, each offering a unique and delightful culinary adventure.

Iconic dishes to try:

Hainanese Chicken Rice: Poached chicken served with fragrant rice cooked in chicken/coconut broth, accompanied by chili/ginger sauce and cucumber slices
Chili Crab: Mud crab stir-fried in a tangy, spicy tomato-based sauce, often enjoyed with mantou (fried buns) for dipping
Laksa: Spicy coconut milk-based rice noodle soup with a mix of shrimp, fish cakes, tofu, and bean sprouts, garnished with fresh herbs
Roti Prata: A flaky, crispy Indian-influenced flatbread served with curry for dipping
Char Kway Teow: Stir-fried flat rice noodles with soy sauce, shrimp, Chinese sausage, eggs, bean sprouts, and sometimes cockles

Where to eat: Singapore's multicultural cuisine and local favorites

Singapore
Singapore

Red House Seafood: A long heritage of seafood delights

Since 1976, Red House Seafood has stood as a culinary cornerstone, dishing up food that pays homage to Singapore's multicultural heritage. It continues to delight diners with its Nanyang-style seafood –featuring ingredients, flavors, and techniques indigenous to Southern Chinese (Canton, Fujian, and Hainan) cuisines, integrated with the essence of Malay, Indian and Peranakan influences. 

What to eat: The spicy seafood combination is highly recommended, the Red House chili crab, black pepper crabs, codfish with teriyaki sauce, and lobster in creamy custard sauce.

Address: The restaurant has three locations in Singapore, including one at Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel, Esplanade, and Clark Quay. 
Website: Red House Seafood
Reservations Red House Seafood at Esplanade: TableCheck
Reservations Red House Seafood at Grand Copthorne: TableCheck
Reservations Red House Seafood at Clark Quay: TableCheck

Ginger: A la carte buffet at PARKROYAL on Beach Road

Boasting five Halal-certified live food stations, Ginger is a tropical-style dining haven spanning 535 sqm inviting guests to indulge in an irresistible á la carte buffet showcasing the best of Singaporean flavors. 

What to eat: Chef Vincent Aw adds his flair and creativity to create a menu that encapsulates the essence of Singapore's vibrant culinary heritage, including favorites like black pepper lobster and salted egg crab for a delightful treat that’s a real bang for your buck.

Address: PARKROYAL on Beach Road, 7500 Beach Rd, Singapore 199591
Website: PARKROYAL on Beach Road
Reservations: TableCheck

4. Hong Kong: Beyond dim sum

Hong Kong stands out as a leading international foodie destination in Southeast Asia, known for its diverse culinary scene that blends Chinese and Western influences. Shaped by its colonial history under British rule, the city's cuisine reflects a unique fusion of flavors. From vibrant street food stalls to celebrated fine dining establishments, Hong Kong caters to a diverse range of tastes, offering more than just the iconic dim sum.

Its coastal location gave rise to a flourishing seafood tradition, showcasing local favorites like steamed fish and crab congee. The city's culinary landscape thrives on innovation, with chefs consistently pushing boundaries to craft distinctive gastronomic experiences. 

Hong Kong stands out as a top destination for food enthusiasts for its rich and diverse culinary scene that seamlessly blends Cantonese, British, and various international influences. What sets it apart is not just the fusion of flavors but also its innovative culinary spirit, making it a hotspot for those seeking an exciting yet delightful gastronomic experience

Iconic dishes to try:

Sweet and Sour Pork: A classic Cantonese dish that is made with pork, pineapple, peppers, and onions, and served with a sweet and sour sauce
Wontons: A popular snack that consists of small dumplings filled with shrimp or pork and served in a clear soup
Roast Goose: A traditional specialty of Cantonese cuisine that is made by roasting a whole goose with secret ingredients and served with plum sauce 
Pineapple Bun: A sweet bun that is topped with a crunchy layer of sugar and resembles a pineapple
Beef Brisket Noodles: A popular Cantonese dish that consists of tender beef brisket served with noodles in a rich broth

Where to eat: Must-try culinary experiences and dishes in Hong Kong's finest restaurants

Hong Kong
Hong Kong

One Harbour Road: Discover the best of Cantonese cuisine

Among Grand Hyatt Hong Kong's esteemed restaurant lineup, One Harbour Road stands out as a celebrated Cantonese fine dining venue. Revered by Hong Kong's well-heeled families according to Tatler Asia, it stands out as one of the city’s most popular establishments. 

The restaurant's ambiance exudes the charm of a 1930s mansion, featuring a two-story design with floor-to-ceiling glass windows that showcase one of the most spectacular views in the city. Mismatched tableware, wooden furnishings, and a centerpiece fountain with glass mosaics add to the elegant atmosphere.

What to try: Signature Australian Wagyu and foie gras fried rice with Yunnan termite mushroom sauce, crab claw, suckling pig, and sake-marinated abalone and eggplants

Address: Grand Hyatt Hong Kong, 1 Harbour Rd, Wan Chai, Hong Kong
Website: Grand Hyatt Hong Kong
Reservations: TableCheck

Congress Plus: a Hong Kong buffet dining experience for gourmets

Set against an unobstructed 270-degree view of Victoria Harbour, Congress Plus is a popular go-to buffet restaurant located at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC). The restaurant showcases an extensive array of international cuisines, prepared by award-winning chefs at "live cooking" stations, together with a creative selection of healthy and sustainable premium ingredients. 

With a seating capacity of about 300 guests, the restaurant provides private rooms and serves lunch and dinner buffets on various days and occasions, each featuring different themes and menus. 

What to try: Enjoy freshly shucked oysters, Canadian Boston lobster, and brown crab, etc. with other Chef’s specialties like the slow-roasted U.S. prime beef, teppanyaki king prawn with chili Yuzu sauce, and roasted lamb rack.

Address: Level 4, HKCEC, 1 Harbour Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong
Website: Congress Plus
Reservations: TableCheck

Culinary tourism: Epic destinations and iconic restaurants

Crafting an unforgettable gastronomic experience hinges on researching iconic destinations, identifying must-visit locales, and delving beyond the surface to reveal culinary gems that make each location unique. It's not solely about the food; the real foodie vacation planning includes uncovering the stories, traditions, and cultural nuances that transform a simple meal into a journey through the heart and soul of a place – these are what makes authentic food experiences.

Eating like a local means understanding how to connect with local communities through their cuisine involves the art of asking for recommendations, participating in cooking classes, and grasping the narratives behind each dish. This meticulous exploration sets the stage for an adventure where every bite becomes a narrative, and each destination tells its own story. More than a quest for delectable dishes, it's an invitation not just to savor the cuisine but also to immerse in the cultural mosaic accompanying every dish.

Leveraging tech for a seamless foodie dining adventure

In today’s digital era, navigating Southeast Asia's diverse culinary landscape becomes effortlessly enjoyable with the help of technology. 

Apps and online platforms can help traveling foodies can aid them in their world cuisine exploration. With online reservation systems, they can discover hidden gems, read authentic reviews, and effortlessly make reservations at top-rated restaurants across Southeast Asia.

Here are tips for foodies to get the very best of online platforms and reservation systems:

  • Plan and book early: Popular restaurants and Michelin-starred restaurants tend to get fully booked quickly, so diners need to make reservations in advance to get their preferred time slot and date.

  • Be flexible with time: Diners should be open to alternative dates and times to increase their chances of getting a reservation in their target restaurant.

  • Update profile in the reservation system: Guests should maintain an updated profile on their reservation system and include details like customer preferences, birthdays, and dietary requirements. This will ensure that restaurant staff have the right guest data to be able to provide better customer service once the diner steps into the restaurant.

  • Check ratings, Michelin Guide list, etc: Diners will be able to gauge the quality of the restaurant by checking the restaurant ratings in different reliable platforms. Fine dining restaurants that are top-rated will usually be listed in the Michelin Guide or World's 50 Best Restaurants and many others.

  • Find out the restaurant's payment methods and cancellation policies: Some restaurants will only accept certain credit cards and will also require prepayment before dining.

With TableCheck, securing the perfect table at a desired restaurant is a click away. It is the preferred reservation system by top restaurants and hotels in Southeast Asia. TableCheck also has a Waitlist Management Feature that helps restaurants manage their waitlists more effectively, guaranteeing guest satisfaction every single time.

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