EDITOR’S NOTE: Traveleater Kirke Mannik, a writer from Tallinn, shares with us twelve traditional dishes to try on your next visit to Estonia.
Are you familiar with Estonian food? Some travelers may have heard of verivorst or küpsetatud õunad but most people probably have little to no experience with the cuisine of this Baltic country.
Estonia is one of the least crowded countries in Europe. This former Soviet state in Northern Europe boasts beautifully preserved medieval castles, lush forests, and misty bogs and mires. It looks like a fairy tale come to life and offers plenty of sightseeing opportunities for first-time visitors.
But if you’re a Traveleater, then getting acquainted with Estonian cuisine is an absolute must. In this guide you’ll find twelve traditional Estonian foods to look for on your next visit to this beautiful country.
ESTONIA FOOD QUICK LINKS
If you’re visiting Estonia and want to really dive into the cuisine, then you may be interested in going on a food tour.
Food Tours: Food and Wine/Drinking Tours in Estonia
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Photo by norm13
WHAT IS TRADITIONAL ESTONIAN FOOD?
Estonian food has a long history. It’s founded on ancient cooking traditions and the freshest local produce, but it’s also been influenced by the cuisines of neighboring countries like Finland, Sweden, Russia, Germany, and Latvia.
Estonia is bordered by the Baltic Sea to the north and west so fish features prominently in coastal and lakeside areas. Rye bread, potatoes, dairy products, and pork are staple ingredients in traditional Estonian cooking. If you’re curious about game meat like wild boar, then Estonia is a good place to try it.
The eating habits of Estonian people have been historically related to the seasons. Estonia experiences long, dark, and snowy winters. As a result, food in the colder months tends to be heavier and more substantial as it’s meant to warm you up and get you through the winter.
In the summer, locals feed off of the sun and favor dishes that are lighter and fresher. Many summertime dishes are made with the freshest produce and vegetables, most of which are grown locally in home gardens.
MUST-TRY ESTONIAN DISHES
Traveleaters with a taste for traditional local cuisine have these twelve dishes to look forward to in Estonia.
1. Eesti Kartulisalat
Eesti kartulisalat literally means “Estonian potato salad”. It’s one of the most popular traditional Estonian foods and is always served at parties, birthdays, and celebrations. It’s made primarily with vegetables that can be found in nearly every Estonian home’s garden – peas, carrots, potatoes, and cucumbers. Sausage, mayonnaise, and slices of hard-boiled egg can also added to the salad.
This delicious Estonian salad is easy to make which helps explain why it’s such a popular dish in Estonian cuisine. It’s rich, filling, and for most Estonians, associated with many delightful memories.
No party in this Baltic country can ever be held without this beloved Estonian dish!
Photo by lenyvavsha
Rosolje is a traditional Estonian food whose popularity dates back many decades, hitting its peak sometime between the 1930s and 1960s. Back then, no party could ever be complete without rosolje. Gradually, eesti kartulisalat supplanted rosolje in popularity because it was easier to make.
Commonly served as a side dish, rosolje is a purple salad made with boiled potatoes, beetroot, herring, and pickle. The salad often includes slices of hard-boiled eggs, meat, or apples. The various components are coated in sour cream, mayonnaise, and a mustard dressing that helps make rosolje the delicious purple Estonian dish that it is.
Photo by fanfon
Estonians love barley and cabbage. Mulgikapsad is a mixture of sour cabbage and barley groats, with the occasional addition of chopped pork. The cabbage is stewed with other ingredients and only gets better the longer it stays in the pan.
Mulgikapsad is a centuries-old Estonian dish. As its name indicates, Mulgikapsad is from Mulgimaa, in the southern part of Estonia. It grew in popularity and eventually spread all across the country. By the end of the 19th century, it had become well-known in many other parts of Estonia.
Today, mulgikapsad can be found in almost every grocery store or supermarket. It’s more common for Estonians to buy it from stores than make it at home because it’s a time-consuming dish to prepare.
Photo by lenyvavsha
This traditional Estonian porridge has a long history. It was traditionally made with barley, mashed potatoes, and meat, but modern versions of Mulgipuder can be made in different ways depending on the family and the region. Often, milk is added to make the porridge creamier.
Mugipuder is highly popular among Estonians. Large pots are used to make the porridge and it’s no secret that this beloved dish only gets better with time!
Like mulgikapsad, mugipuder is originally from Mulgimaa. Decades ago, animals were extremely important to the people of Mulgimaa. It’s said that Mulgipuder was given to animals first and anything left over was then passed on to the family.
Commonly enjoyed as a side dish with bacon, sauteed onions, sour cream, and rye bread, mulgipuder is known for being a cheap, comforting, and nourishing Estonian food.
Photo by fanfon
Kiluvõileib is a type of sprat sandwich. It’s a common Estonian snack that was popularized in the 20th century. It’s traditionally made with Estonian black bread (rye bread) coated with butter or munavõi (egg butter) and topped with slices of hard-boiled egg, onions, fresh greens, and of course – a sprat fillet fished from the Baltic Sea.
Kiluvõileib is often served at parties and festive occasions and can also be found in many restaurants all over Estonia. In 2014, the longest sprat sandwich was made in the old town of Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.
That open-faced rye bread sandwich ended up being 20 meters (65 ft) long. It was set up on ten tables and was made by cooks from twenty central Tallinn restaurants and cafés.
Photo by fanfon
Frikadellisupp literally means “meatball soup”. Like leivasupp (Estonian rye bread soup), it’s a homey dish and one of the most popular soups in schools as it’s a favorite among children.
Frikadellisupp is made from vegetables and meatballs, its simplicity being a part of what makes it the beloved dish that it is. Vegetables and root crops like carrots, potatoes, peas, and onions are often used in the recipe. It’s the best served warm on cold rainy days, and trust me, in Estonia, rain occurs more often than not.
Photo by fanfon
Verivorst is a traditional Estonian Christmas food. It is made from pig’s blood, barley, pork, and spices. The sausage was brought to Estonia by Swedes and Latvians at the beginning of the 19th century. Back then, people would make verivorst at home but these days, it’s more common to serve store-bought versions.
Verivorst is typically cooked in an oven or fried on a pan and is mainly eaten with cranberry jam, marinated pumpkin, sour cabbage, and sour cream. This combination is always present on Christmas tables in Estonia.
Photo by lenyvavsha
Pirukas is a type of Estonian pastry made with a minced and spiced filling. When pirukas became popular among Eastern European countries in the 19th century, it didn’t quite catch on in Estonia. When it did finally become popular, the pastry was most commonly made from rye flour.
At first, the most popular pirukas were made from cabbage and salted fish. The fish was placed into the pastry in one piece and different types of fish were used in different parts of the country.
Nowadays, the fillings for pirukas vary greatly. Carrots (pictured below), turnips, and onions are often used. One of the most popular types is made with a mix of cheese and ham. The most common sweet pirukas is made from apples and cinnamon or rhubarb.
Photo by Afoto45
Kringel can be found at many parties and celebrations, often accompanying or replacing cake. This popular Scandinavian pastry is made from braided bread that’s shaped into a circle or a figure eight. Kringel can be either sweet or savory, making it either a main dish or a dessert.
Sweet kringel is classically filled with raisins and almonds and is topped with chocolate. However, many variations can be found.
Savory kringel is often cheesy and filled with ham, though more and more plant-based alternatives are being introduced into the market each year.
Photo by z-vica
10. Kirju Koer
Kirju koer, means “colorful dog” or “spotted dog” and is a guilty pleasure among kids and adults. It’s a nostalgic Estonian dessert that’s near and dear to the hearts of many locals. It’s been known to steal the hearts of foreigners as well!
Kirju koer is made from classic vanilla-flavored biscuits, marmalade cubes, cocoa powder, butter, and condensed milk. The cookies are ground before being mixed with melted butter and the remaining ingredients. The dough is then rolled up into a big sausage or block and placed in the refrigerator to set overnight.
The following morning, children are excited to wake up early and taste this delicious Estonian treat. Many families have developed their own recipe, perhaps adding raisins, chocolate, or even rum.
Photo by FotoHelin
11. Küpsetatud Õunad
Apples are the most popular fruits in Estonia. In autumn, during the apple season, many Estonian dishes are made from apples like apple jam, apple juice, and apple cakes. Küpsetatud õunad literally means “baked apples” and is a delicious and healthy addition to the list.
To prepare, apples are washed and hollowed out. They’re then filled with a mixture consisting of sugar or honey, raisins, cinnamon, and hazelnuts before being baked in the oven until hot.
A delicious Estonian dessert, küpsetatud õunad is just as popular on cold winter nights as it is on bright summer days.
Photo by duskbabe
Vastlakukkel is a type of sweet bun filled with whipped cream and jam and coated with powdered sugar. Who wouldn’t enjoy that? Also known as semla, it’s also popular in the cuisines of other Scandinavian countries like Norway, Finland, Denmark, and Iceland.
Vastlapäev is a Christian holiday celebrated at the start of a 7-week long fast before Easter. Although most Estonians don’t fast on this occasion, Vastlapäev is viewed as a fun day full of winter activities and good Estonian food.
After hours of sledding and skiing, vastlakukkel is something many Estonians look forward to. Cardamom, marzipan, and jam are often added to the bun.
Photo by BelarusianArt
ESTONIAN FOOD TOURS
Simply put, no one knows Estonian food better than a local, so what better way to experience the best of Estonian cuisine than by going on a guided food tour? A knowledgeable local will take you to the city’s best restaurants and markets and explain all the dishes to you in more detail. Check out Get Your Guide for a list of Estonian food tours in Tallinn and other cities throughout the country.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON TRADITIONAL ESTONIAN FOODS
Estonians like their food simple and comforting. Because the region experiences long and cold winters, the food in Estonia is meant to warm you up. Estonian cuisine is very much seasonal. In winter, dishes are heavier while in summer, locals enjoy dishes made with fruits and freshly grown vegetables.
Speaking of vegetables, most dishes in Estonian cuisine are made with vegetables that are grown locally in home gardens. Estonians like their food fresh and local. Cooks don’t mind spending hours in the kitchen creating nurturing dishes to feed the whole family.
Before you experience the food in Estonia, it wouldn’t be correct of me to wish you bon appetit because that isn’t a phrase used in Estonia. Instead, locals say jätku leiba, meaning “may your bread last”, which in this case would be a lot more accurate.
Some of the links in this Estonian food guide are affiliate links. If you make a booking, then we’ll make a small commission at no extra expense to you. As always, we only recommend products and services that we use ourselves and firmly believe in. We really appreciate your support as it helps us make more of these free travel and food guides. Thank you!
Cover photo by igorgolovniov. Stock images via Depositphotos.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was written by Traveleater Sep Simborio and verified by Paul Palop, the Venezuelan food blogger and photographer behind that Other Cooking Blog. Follow him on Instagram for authentic Venezuelan recipes.
South America is a perennial hotspot for travelers looking to immerse themselves in a country for its rich history, culture, and – more importantly – food. With hundreds of years of colonization by the French, Portuguese, and Spaniards, the people have picked up a thing or two in shaping the culinary identity they have today.
One such country that’s not only known for its beauty queens and vast oil reserves is Venezuela. The country has carved itself as a Latin American food destination with its unique culinary tradition perfect for any food-obsessed traveler.
Considering the current situation, travel to Venezuela may not be advisable right now but Traveleaters interested in Venezuelan food will have these fifteen mouthwatering dishes to look forward to. Chevere!
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Photo by etorres69
WHAT IS VENEZUELAN FOOD?
In a nutshell, Venezuelan food is vibrant and diverse. With all the European influences from Spain, Portugal, Italy, and France, combined with West African and Native American traditions, there is no doubt that foodies are going to be in for a magical palatal adventure.
Venezuelan food staples are focused on corn, rice, plantains, beans, and yams with an assortment of several meats. Traditionally, the most ubiquitous is corn or pancakes and bread made of flour, which are served with almost anything.
Venezuelan cuisine is also described as having a large selection of queso blanco, or white cheese, with names depending on the region it’s made.
THE BEST VENEZUELAN FOOD
When it’s safe to visit Venezuela again, a well-planned Traveleater should come with a list of the tastiest and most interesting Venezuelan foods. Here’s a handy guide to some of the best dishes Venezuelan cuisine has to offer.
There’s no better way to start this list than with arepa, one of the most iconic Venezuelan foods. It’s the country’s version of naan or pita bread that’s made with corn flour and filled with a wide variety of ingredients such as eggs, cheese, and pork. The fillings vary per region, the cook’s creativity, or perhaps what’s leftover in the fridge.
While arepas could also be found in the cuisines of Colombia and other neighboring countries, the Venezuelan version is typically smaller and thicker. Authentic arepas venezolanas use three main ingredients – corn flour, water, and a pinch of salt. They are cooked in a pan or griddle called a budare, and may be finished in a standard oven. Frying them is also common.
A popular arepa recipe is one that’s filled with chicken and mayo salad and avocado called the Reina Pepiada, named as a tribute to a Venezuelan Miss World, who won the crown in 1955. Other favorites are asado negro (dark beef roast), pernil de cochino (pork leg roast), and carne mechada (shredded beef).
Photo by eagg13
The biggest difference between Venezuelan and Colombian arepa is in how it’s served. Colombian arepas are typically served plain with some salt and butter or stuffed with cheese.
Plain arepas are also served in Venezuela, usually with lunch or dinner, but they’re often stuffed with different fillings like shredded beef, chicken, cheese, black beans, and plantains, much like you see below.
Photo by asimojet
When feeling snacky in Venezuela, a popular go-to dish is tequeños. These are cheesy breadsticks made by frying pieces of savory queso blanco wrapped in elastic puff pastry. The dough gets deliciously flaky and crispy after frying, making tequeños an irresistible snack, bar chow, or party appetizer.
This dish is already delicious by itself but could be elevated by a dipping sauce such as Venezuelan guacamole. Thought to have originated in the vacation town of Los Teques, the popularity of tequeños has spread to other countries, giving birth to variations that use wraps such as wonton and empanada dough, and fillings of sliced ham, fruits, and vegetables.
Photo by janethw
3. Tostones (or Patacones)
Plantains are a staple in Latin America, making tostones a part of a Venezuelan’s everyday diet. Believed to have come from their African ancestors, people serve tostones as appetizers or side dishes to complement mains.
Unripe plantains are the star of the dish and are prepared by frying them twice to reach the desired texture that’s unique to tostones. After the first round of frying, the plantain slices are removed from the pan and patted down to remove the excess oil. They are then pounded flat before being fried to golden perfection.
Photo by marketingfotografico
Aside from being served on their own as an appetizer or snack, patacones can also be used instead of bread to make fried plantain sandwiches called patacon maracucho. Made with different fillings like shredded roast chicken, tomato, lettuce, cilantro, avocado, and cheese, the sandwich is originally from Maracaibo City in Venezuela but it’s now well-known and served throughout Latin America.
Photo by demidoff
Spain has really left an indelible mark not only in its colonies’ culture but also in their food. This makes the empanada one of the most popular imports from the Spanish colonizers. While its origin is largely unknown, it’s believed to have come from Galicia, in Spain’s northwestern region.
An empanada is a type of fried or baked pastry with a filling composed of meat, cheese, vegetables, or other ingredients. The word itself means “wrapped in bread,” and what’s inside varies in the country where it’s from.
The traditional Venezuelan empanada is made with ground corn dough with a yellow color when toasted due to the addition of annatto. They can be made with wheat flour as well. Cheese is often stuffed inside, but fillings are diverse. They could be a cheese-and-black-bean combo called a domino or a full-on meal inside with a pabellon – having all the same elements of the country’s national dish.
Photo by alejandrocoutinho
Cachito is a popular Venezuelan dish similar to a croissant. Ingredients vary but it’s typically made with wheat flour, eggs, butter, milk, salt, sugar, yeast, and water. It’s a staple dish in Venezuelan cuisine and often filled with ham and cheese.
It’s unclear where cachitos originated from but some believe it may have been derived from the Venezuelan Christmas dish pan de jamon. Another theory claims that it may have been introduced to Venezuela by Portuguese and Italian bakers in the early 20th century.
In fact, there’s a huge Portuguese influence in all of Venezuela’s baking. Pretty much all the panaderias or bakeries in Venezuela are owned by people of Portuguese descent.
Photo by demidoff
Cachapa is a traditional Venezuelan dish that came from the county’s north-central region where its indigenous people cultivated corn and considered the crop as of divine origin. It’s a thin pancake made with fresh ground corn, queso blanco, and panela or sugar, and cooked in a budare. Enjoyed as an appetizer or a full breakfast, it’s usually folded in half and filled with queso de mano and served with a side of chicharron.
The dish is similar to an arepa in that they both are like pancakes. However, a cachapa is thicker with a more irregular texture due to the added corn. It’s also served savory that’s crispy on the outside and fluffy inside, delivering a delicious culinary experience with each bite.
Photo by asimojet
7. Pan de Jamon
Pan de jamon is a popular Christmas food in Venezuela. It’s a slightly sweet bread roll that’s stuffed with ham, olives, and raisins. Thought to have originated in a Caracas bakery in 1905, when the owner was looking for a way to make good use of leftover ham. After rolling them in a soft and fluffy dough and baking it, the result was a savory bread roll that has since graced the table during the holidays.
Through the years, locals made their own iterations of the bread, giving birth to the most popular version that contains ham, olives, and raisins. It’s now a sweet and savory blend that’s surprisingly delicious, making it a perfect Christmas Venezuelan dish.
Photo by lenyvavsha
During the holiday season, when people feast on lechon or expensive cuts of meat, Venezuelans serve hallacas. Often described as the country’s version of tamales, hallacas are one of the oldest Venezuelan food traditions.
Nothing much has changed in the preparation of hallacas since colonial times, except for a few modern refinements. Like pabellon criollo, they’re considered as a symbolic dish of Venezuela’s multi-cultural heritage with its inclusion of European, indigenous, and African ingredients.
They say the dish originated during Chrismas Eve when wealthy families prepared huge banquets with a variety of meats and vegetables. The next day, slaves would collect the leftovers and wrap them in cornmeal dough with plantain leaves before cooking.
Today’s hallacas are prepared using the same process. A thin layer of cornmeal dough is stuffed with a meat filling of beef, chicken, and pork that’s mixed with several ingredients that include bell pepper, olives, and raisins. They are wrapped in plantain leaves and boiled to perfection.
Hallaca ingredients differ depending on the region. This gives credence to Venezuelans, saying, “No hallaca tastes the same as another.”
Photo by HectorPertuz
9. Pisca Andina
The Andean Mountains are the longest continental mountain range in the world, stretching across seven South American countries that include Venezuela. The freezing temperatures up in these mountains gave birth to the country’s winter special – pisca andina.
Pisca andina is a soup dish that’s made with chicken broth, potatoes, milk, and cheese with lots of cilantro. It’s typically served for breakfast to give warmth in chilly mornings up in the mountains.
Photo by lenyvavsha
Perico is a South American style of scrambled eggs popular in Colombian and Venezuelan cuisine. It consists of scrambled eggs mixed with onions, scallions, tomatoes, and red bell peppers. It’s typically served for breakfast or brunch with bread or stuffed into arepas.
Photo by jgfotografia
Chicharron is a dish consisting of fried pork rinds or pork belly. It’s a popular dish that’s widely consumed throughout Latin America, North America, and the Philippines.
Like empanada, chicharron is a dish of Spanish origin. Before vegetable oil was mass produced, people would cook with animal fat. They’d fry pork in its own fat to extract the lard and save it for future use. The leftover pieces of fried pork would later become known as chicharron.
Chicharron can be consumed in many ways. It can be enjoyed as a snack or side dish with arepas or cachapas and is commonly sold as street food in Venezuela.
Photo by demidoff
Sancocho is a traditional soup or stew made with different types of meat and vegetables. It’s popular in Venezuela and in many Latin American countries like Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, and the Dominican Republic.
In Venezuela, sancocho is enjoyed throughout the country, often as a weekend meal. It can be made with one or more animal proteins like beef, chicken, goat, tripe, fish, or seafood. When mixing two or more types of meat together in one sancocho, it’s referred to as cruzado or “crossover.” Common vegetables and seasonings used include garlic, onions, potatoes, cassava, yams, taro, pumpkin, oregano, and cilantro.
Sancocho can be served with arepas or casabe (cassava bread). It’s a common dish at celebrations and regarded by some as a hangover cure. It’s for this reason why it’s often served for lunch on Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Photo by jgfotografia
13. Pabellon Criollo
Pabellon criollo is recognized as the national dish of Venezuela. This traditional Venezuelan dish is made with juicy shredded beef, black beans, and rice, with tajadas (fried plantains) or a fried egg – or both – as common sides. It’s basically the Venezuelan version of the Cuban ropa vieja.
There isn’t much known about its origin, but there is some speculation based on vague historical evidence on how it became Venezuela’s national dish. During the Spanish occupation, it was known that the foreign colonizers treated indigenous and African slaves harshly, often depriving them of food for days on end.
If they ever got lucky and had food, it was nothing but measly leftovers. Over time, this became the symbol of their struggle. And even after the end of Spanish oppression, the leftover concept eventually gave birth to the dish, naming it pabellon, or “flag.”
It is said that each ingredient represents each ethnic group: the brown meat and yellow plantains as the indigenous people, the white rice as the European settlers, and the black beans as the Africans. Many believe that the colors embody the country’s flag, making pabellon criollo a truly nationalistic Venezuelan dish.
Photo by asimojet
Catalinas are soft Venezuelan cookies. Also known as catalinas criollas or paledonias, they’re a Creole delicacy made with flour, papelón (unrefined whole cane sugar), syrup, and cinnamon.
Best with coffee, hot chocolate, or milk, the most famous catalinas are said to be from Zulia and Lara states though they’re widely available throughout Venezuela.
Photo by anelerodie85.gmail.com
Chicha is a popular drink in Latin America. Each country has its own version of it, using different ingredients. Chicha Venezolana is easily the favorite national drink that can be found all over Venezuela. It’s a thick drink that’s made with rice and milk that’s refreshing and comforting at the same time.
The key to a perfect glass of chicha is soaking the rice for at least two hours or even overnight. After soaking, the rice is rinsed then cooked in fresh water to soften the grains until it turns soggy. Blend the rice with condensed milk for that sweet kick. Nutmeg and a cinnamon stick can be added for that extra flavor.
Photo by rjankovsky
Venezuela has a rich and diverse culture that’s reflected in the country’s cuisine. The ingredients tell stories that are part of Venezuela’s colorful history.
The fifteen dishes on this Venezuelan food guide are just a tiny peek into the exciting food offerings in the country. Judging from where these Venezuelan dishes come from and how they’re prepared, any foodie looking for a gastronomic adventure is in for a treat.
Oh, and one final tip, if you’re enjoying the food in Venezuela so much and want to express your appreciation, just say “La estoy pasando chevere”. Venezuelans will know what you mean.
This article is meant to highlight Venezuelan cuisine and offers suggestions on which foods to try once travel to Venezuela becomes safe again. It is NOT meant to encourage trips to Venezuela right now. If you do decide to visit, then you do so at your own risk. Be sure to check the latest travel advisory before planning a trip to Venezuela.
Cover photo by alexandrelaprise. Stock images via Depositphotos.
Many travelers and food enthusiasts will tell you that Thai food is one of the world’s greatest cuisines. Thailand is one of the best countries to visit for food which is part of the reason why Bangkok consistently ranks among the world’s most visited cities.
When an article on the World’s 50 Best Foods was published in 2017, seven traditional Thai foods made it to the list, the most of any country. 35,000 people worldwide were polled by CNN Travel and the dishes they voted into the list were tom yum goong, pad thai, som tam, massaman curry, gaeng keow wan, khao pad, and mu nam tok.
On top of that, two Thai desserts – khao niao mamuang (mango sticky rice) and tub tim grob – made it to CNN Travel’s list of the World’s 50 Best Desserts!
Living in Asia, we’ve been to the Land of Smiles many times and the one thing that always gets us excited to go is Thai food. Once you get a taste of the cuisine, then you’ll understand why.
If you’re planning on visiting Thailand for the first time, then listed in this Thai food guide are 45 of the best and most interesting dishes to look for in the country.
THAI FOOD QUICK LINKS
If you’re visiting Thailand and want to really learn about Thai food, then you may be interested in joining a food tour or taking a cooking class.
Food Tours: Food and Drinking Tours in Thailand
Cooking Classes: Cooking Classes in Thailand
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WHAT IS TRADITIONAL THAI FOOD?
Many people will probably describe Thai food as aromatic and spicy but there’s actually more to it than that. Traditional Thai food should have a balance of salty, sweet, sour, savory, and spicy. Som tam is a perfect example of this.
Over the centuries, Thai cuisine has been greatly influenced by Thailand’s neighbors, most notably India, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Western influence has made its way into the cuisine as well.
Surprisingly, chili pepper – one of the most important ingredients in Thai food – isn’t native to Thailand. It’s originally from the Americas and was introduced to Thailand by the Portuguese and Spanish.
Thai cuisine is a broad term used to describe seven subsidiary variations. The first six are characterized by region – Northern (Lanna), Northeastern (Isan), Eastern, Southern, Central Plain, and Bangkok – while the seventh pertains to Thai royal cuisine.
Because Thailand shares borders with other countries, regional variations of Thai food tend to correlate to the cuisines of its neighbors. For example, northern Thai food shares dishes with Shan State in Myanmar and northern Laos while Southern Thai food shares much in common with the cuisines of India, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
This confluence of cultural and culinary influences is part of what makes Thai food so appealing.
THE MOST DELICIOUS THAI FOOD
A list of 45 dishes can be daunting to go through so I’ve organized this Thai food guide by category. Click on a link to jump to any section.
Salads / Soups / Starters
Meat / Poultry
Noodles / Rice
Desserts / Drinks
Thai Food Tours
Thai Cooking Classes
SALADS / SOUPS / STARTERS
1. Tom Yum Goong
Pad Thai is arguably the most well-known dish in Thai cuisine but many Thai food lovers will tell you that tom yum is their favorite dish. Get a taste of this complex but well-balanced hot and sour soup and you’ll understand why.
Also known as tom yam, this sour and spicy soup gets its name from two words – tom, which refers to the boiling process, and yam, meaning “mixed”. It’s often cooked with prawn (goong or kung), hence the popular variation tom yum goong (or kung). This is the very dish that ranks highest among the seven dishes on CNN Travel’s list of the World’s 50 Best Foods.
Recipes vary but tom yum goong is typically made with a stock of boiled shrimp heads and a soup base made with nam prik pao or roasted chili paste. The broth is redolent with prawn flavor and known for its characteristically hot and sour notes, with a variety of fragrant spices and herbs infused into the broth.
Like any tom yum, essential ingredients include lemongrass, galangal, and kaffir lime leaves, but many other ingredients are often used like lime juice, fish sauce, cilantro, tomatoes, and crushed red chili peppers. So beloved is tom yum that it’s widely considered to be a Thai national dish.
2. Tom Kha Gai
Like tom yum, tom kha gai is a favorite among Thai food lovers. It refers to a hot and sour soup made with coconut milk, galangal (kha), chicken (gai), kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, mushroom, and other ingredients.
If you compare the recipes between tom yum and tom kha gai, you’ll find there are many similar ingredients, with tom kha gai having the notable addition of coconut milk. This leads to a much creamier, curry-like broth.
In Thailand, tom kha gai is in fact eaten more like a curry than a soup. It’s often paired with rice with the creamy broth being spooned onto the rice to eat.
“Home made tom kha gai” by Hajime NAKANO, used under CC BY 2.0 / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom
3. Por Pia
Por pia is the Thai version of the popular Fujianese/Teochew-style spring roll known as popiah. It’s originally from China though it’s found its way to the cuisines of many countries in Asia, including Thailand. If you’re from the Philippines or Indonesia, then you’ll recognize it as lumpia.
In Thai cuisine, two types of por pia are popular – por pia sod and por pia tod. The former refers to a fresh spring roll while the latter describes a deep-fried version. Both are made with a thin, paper-like crepe and filled with a variety of ingredients like mung bean noodles, bean sprouts, mushroom, tofu, cucumber, and shrimp.
Pictured below are the delicious por pia sod I had on this excellent food tour in Phuket. Fresh spring rolls are typically served with a dark sweet and savory sauce.
I made this por pia tod in a cooking class in Chiang Mai. I enjoy both versions though personally, I prefer por pia tod.
4. Nam Prik
Nam prik (or phrik) refers to a family of spicy chili sauces. They’re made with a variety of ingredients like dry chilis, shallots, garlic, lime juice, and some type of fish or shrimp paste. They’re typically pounded together using a mortar and pestle and served as a condiment with main dishes or as a dip with raw vegetables, poultry, and meats.
There exist over a hundred recipes for nam prik. Depending on the ingredients, preparation, and region, they can be liquid-y in consistency or more paste-like. So far, we’ve only tried nam prik in northern Thailand where two of the most popular preparations include nam prik ong and nam prik noom.
Pictured below is nam prik ong. It’s made with minced pork and tomato and served as a meaty dip for raw vegetables and pork cracklings.
This is the nam prik noom. Like nam prik ong, it’s a thicker type of nam prik made with roasted green chilies, onion, and garlic. It’s also served as a dip with raw vegetables, pork cracklings, and sticky rice.
5. Som Tam
Som tam, like tom yum goong and pad thai, is a Thai food favorite and one of the best dishes you can eat in the country. Originally an ethnic Lao dish, it refers to a green papaya salad that’s become a staple dish in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
Som tam is made with shredded unripe papaya and a mix of other ingredients like chili pepper, fish sauce, palm sugar, dried shrimp, and brined rice paddy crabs. Sourness and heat dominate, though it’s seasoned to have a balance of five flavors – sour, spicy, salty, savory, and sweet.
Many variations of som tam exist – some very spicy, others more sweet – but the original Isan version of this Thai food favorite must be made with fermented fish sauce and shrimp paste.
Pictured below is an authentic Isan preparation of som tam called tam pa. Meaning “jungle pounded salad”, it’s made with shredded green papaya, fermented fish sauce, shrimp paste, tomatoes, kulantro, crab, and chopped up freshwater apple snails.
You can try this very pungent but delicious version of som tam at Som Tam Jay So in Bangkok. Check out our Bangkok food guide for more information.
6. Thai Suki
Thai suki refers to a local version of hot pot. It’s a communal dish where diners dip different types of meat, seafood, dumplings, or vegetables into a pot of broth at the center of the table. When ready, the food is dipped into a spicy “sukiyaki sauce” before eating.
In spite of its name, the dish more closely resembles shabu shabu or Chinese hot pot than sukiyaki. I read that the dish got its name after a restaurant in Bangkok offered a modified version of Chinese hot pot in the 1950s. They called it “sukiyaki” after a Japanese pop song that was a worldwide hit at the time.
The dish was a massive hit and the name stuck, so restaurants throughout the country have been calling it Thai suki ever since.
7. Yam Kai Mang Da Talay
This is one of the most unusual dishes I’ve had in Thailand and probably not something you’d see too often on a restaurant menu. It’s called yam kai mang da talay, or spicy horseshoe crab roe salad.
Horseshoe crabs don’t have edible meat like real crabs. The only thing you can eat are its eggs which are the round green things pictured below. The dish is basically a fresh salad made with shredded green mango, celery, chili, coriander, onion, and horseshoe crab roe. If you’re an adventurous eater, then you may want to try this.
The salad as a whole is enjoyable but apart from some brininess, horsehoe crab roe doesn’t actually have much flavor. They have an unexpected texture as well – like lumpy, rubbery little balls of Play-Doh.
8. Gaeng Keow Wan
Gaeng keow wan refers to green curry. Known for its greenish color, it’s a type of curry popular in the central region of the country.
Aside from the main protein (usually chicken), gaeng keow wan is made with green curry paste, coconut milk, palm sugar, and vegetables and herbs like Thai eggplant, kaffir lime leaves, and sweet basil. The consistency of the curry can vary depending on the amount of coconut milk used.
The green curry paste is prepared by pounding a variety of ingredients like green bird’s eye chilis, garlic, galangal, shallots, fish sauce, lemongrass, kaffir lime peel, and coriander using a mortar and pestle. The green chilis is what gives the curry its signature green color.
Spice levels can vary but gaeng keow wan is typically known to be a sweet and spicy curry. In fact, the word wan in its name means “sweet”, but not for the reasons you think. The creamy mild green color of the curry is known in Thai as a “sweet green”, hence the wan in its name.
Personally, gaeng keow wan is one of my favorite dishes and something I look for on every return trip to Thailand. Pictured below is the delicious Thai green curry I made at a cooking class in Chiang Mai.
9. Gaeng Daeng
Gaeng daeng refers to red curry. As its name suggests, it has a reddish orange hue, its color derived from dry red spur chilis that are pounded in a mortar and pestle to create the base red curry paste.
Aside from red spur chilis, the red curry paste is made with garlic, galangal, shallots, shrimp paste, kaffir lime leaves, coriander, cumin, and lemongrass. Once the ingredients have been pounded into a paste, it’s cooked in a saucepan with coconut milk and different proteins like chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, or duck.
Pictured below is the fantastic duck red curry we enjoyed at the Red Onion restaurant in Phuket. This was the best restaurant we went to on the island. You can check out our Phuket food guide for more information.
10. Kaeng Kari
Kaeng kari refers to yellow curry and is typically known to be the mildest of the three major types of Thai curry.
From what I understand, kaeng kari is basically a milder version of gaeng daeng that’s been lightened with turmeric and generally contains less chili. Other ingredients include garlic, cumin, coriander, fenugreek, lemongrass, ginger, and bay leaf.
Kaeng kari is typically served with chicken (kaeng kari kai) or beef but it can be made with other proteins as well like duck, fish, or shrimp. It can be served with potatoes and vegetables and is usually enjoyed with steamed rice or round rice noodles known as khanom jeen.
Pictured below is the terrific crab yellow curry with khanom jeen rice noodles from One Chun Cafe in Phuket Old Town. This was seriously delicious and a must-try in Phuket.
11. Gaeng Panang
Gaeng panang or panang curry is a variant of red curry that contains ground peanuts. It’s usually thicker and seasoned to be less spicy and sweeter than gaeng daeng.
Aside from peanuts, panang curry paste is made with a host of other ingredients like dry red chili, garlic, galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime zest, coriander, and cumin. The ingredients are pounded into a paste then cooked in a saucepan with thick coconut milk, palm sugar, fish sauce, and different types of protein like chicken, beef, or shrimp.
Like Thai red curry, gaeng panag is usually eaten with steamed white rice.
Photo by Alexander Prokopenko via Shutterstock
12. Massaman Curry
Massaman curry may be the last curry dish on this list but it certainly isn’t the least. Together with gaeng keow wan, it’s just one of two Thai curries that made it to CNN Travel’s list of the World’s 50 Best Foods. In my opinion, it’s also the most interesting.
A dish with Muslim roots, massaman curry is made with ingredients that aren’t often used in Thai curries like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, nutmeg, and mace. These are combined with local ingredients like dried chili, lemongrass, galangal, and coriander to create the massaman curry paste.
Because of its Muslim roots, massaman curry is most often made with chicken but it can also be made with other proteins like beef, duck, mutton, or goat. Rarely is it made with pork.
To prepare, the massaman curry paste is fried with coconut cream before the other ingredients like chicken, potatoes, onions, fish sauce, tamarind paste, coconut milk, and peanuts are added. Like gaeng daeng or gaeng panang, it’s usually eaten with steamed white rice.
I always found the name “massaman curry” to be a bit strange for a Thai dish so I read up on it. As it turns out, massaman is a corruption of the word “musulman” which is an archaic Persian word meaning “Muslim”.
“Takeaway, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom
MEAT / POULTRY
13. Sai Oua
Sai oua refers to a grilled pork sausage popular in northern Thailand and northeastern Burma. It’s made with minced pork, herbs, spices, and a red curry paste known as kaeng khua.
Sai oua is a signature dish in Chiang Mai and in other parts of northern Thailand. It’s available pretty much anywhere and is typically enjoyed as a starter or snack, or paired with sticky rice.
We enjoyed sai oua many times in the north but the best was from this stall at a wet market in Chiang Mai. Even locals say it’s the best. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of the market but it was one of the stops on this Chiang Mai food tour.
Laab or larb is a type of Lao meat salad. It’s considered a Laos national dish and widely consumed in the northern and Isan regions of Thailand.
Styles of larb may differ depending on where it’s from. Lao- or Isan-style larb is made with some type of meat like chicken, beef, pork, or duck. The meat can be raw or cooked and flavored with chili, fish sauce, lime juice, padaek, roasted ground rice, and fresh herbs.
Pictured below is Lanna-style larb. Unlike Isan-style larb, it doesn’t contain fish sauce and it isn’t made with any type of souring agent. Instead, it’s made using a mix of dried spices like cumin, cloves, star anise, cinnamon, and long pepper. In some cases, it can be made with the blood of the animal.
Both versions of larb are served at room temperature and typically eaten with sticky rice and a side of fresh raw vegetables.
Naem refers to an interesting type of fermented pork sausage popular in the Isan region of Thailand. It’s a skinless sausage made with pork, pork skin, cooked sticky rice, garlic, salt, sugar, and bird’s eye chili.
To prepare, naem is wrapped in banana leaves and allowed to ferment in clay pots for 3-5 days. This fermentation process allows for the growth of lactic acid bacteria and yeasts which account for the sourness of the sausage.
When ready, the sausage is sold in banana leaves and typically eaten raw with chili, ginger, shallots, peanuts, and spring onions.
16. Thai Satay
Satay is typically associated with Indonesia or Malaysia but it’s a popular dish in other parts of southeast Asia as well, including Thailand. It refers to seasoned, skewered, and grilled meat served with a sauce.
Thai satay can be made with different types of meat and vegetables but the most popular versions are made with chicken, beef, and pork. It’s usually served with peanut sauce and a side of achat or pickled cucumber salad.
17. Moo Hong
Moo hong refers to a slow-cooked pork belly stew. It’s considered a signature dish in Phuket and one of the most delicious Thai dishes you can have on the island.
Originally a Hokkien dish, moo hong is prepared by braising pork belly in a sweet marinade made with garlic, black peppercorn, coriander root, soy sauce, and star anise. It’s cooked for over an hour until the pork belly is fork tender and swimming in a thick, dark, garlicky-peppery gravy. It’s absolutely delicious when paired with a bowl of steamed white rice.
I tried this moo hong at the popular Raya restaurant in Phuket Old Town. It’s a Michelin Bib Gourmand awardee and regarded for many years as one of the best restaurants in Phuket.
18. Pandan Chicken
As its name suggest, pandan chicken refers to a Thai dish of marinated boneless chicken pieces wrapped in pandan (screwpine) leaves. They’re fried together, allowing the chicken to be imbued with the floral-like fragrance of the pandan leaf.
Pandan chicken is typically served with a soy-sauce-based dip or a sweet chili sauce, and often enjoyed as a starter or snack.
19. Gai Tod
Gai (or kai) means “chicken” and tod means “fried”, so gai tod refers to Thai fried chicken. It’s a popular street food snack that’s known for its crispy but light coating.
To prepare, chicken pieces like wings and thighs are marinated in a mixture of spices and aromatics before being dipped in a rice flour batter and deep-fried. It’s topped with crispy fried garlic and often enjoyed with sticky rice and a side of sweet chili sauce.
Unlike American-style batter-fried chicken where the coating easily comes off in one piece, the coating in gai tod is thinner and lighter and clings more tightly to the chicken.
“Bangkok street food – Polo Fried Chicken” by Streets of Food, used under CC BY 2.0 / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom
20. Gai Yang
Yang means “grilled” so gai yang refers to Thai grilled chicken. It’s originally a Lao dish that’s popular in the Isan and northern regions of Thailand. But these days, it’s pretty much consumed throughout the whole of Thailand.
To prepare, a whole chicken is halved and pounded flat before being marinated and grilled over a low charcoal flame. Skewers are used to keep the chicken flat so it grills evenly, resulting in juicy meat and a nice, evenly crisped skin. Dipping sauces vary but gai yang is often served with a tamarind-based sauce or a sweet chili sauce. Personally, I prefer the former.
Because it’s a Lao/Isan dish, gai yang is often paired with sticky rice and som tam. We’ve had it a few times in northern Thailand and it was always served with som tam and sticky rice. They go so well together.
21. Yam Pla Dook Foo
Yam pla dook foo is one of my favorite Thai dishes. It refers to a deep-fried flaked catfish salad served with a dressing made with thinly sliced unripe mango, chili, shallots, lime juice, fish sauce, and sugar.
When I first tried this dish, I was surprised by how it looked. It says “catfish” on the menu but it looks nothing like catfish. As described, the meat is flaked and deep-fried so you’re served this plate with the most delicious bits of crispy catfish that go so well with steamed white rice and the unripe mango salad.
I guess you can say I was “catfished”?
In all seriousness, you need to try this dish. It’s textural and interesting and so much fun to eat.
Takeaway, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
22. Pla Pao
Pla pao refers to salt-crusted grilled fish. A whole fish – usually a red hybrid tilapia (pla tabtim) or snakehead fish (pla chon) – is covered in a thick layer of salt before being grilled.
Depending on the size of the fish, it’s usually grilled for about forty minutes (twenty on each side) over a low charcoal fire to keep the flesh moist and succulent. When ready, it’s often served with a Thai seafood sauce made with garlic, bird’s eye chili, fish sauce, lime juice, and sugar.
We had pla pao at Khlong Lat Mayom floating market in Bangkok. According to our tour guide, it’s a common floating market dish in Thailand. We tried the tilapia and it was served with raw vegetables, khanom jeen rice noodles, and a duo of sauces that you’d wrap in lettuce leaves to eat.
23. Tod Mun Pla
Tod mun pla refers to Thai fish cakes. It’s a classic Thai street food or market snack that can be found everywhere in Thailand.
Tod mun pla are red-curry-flavored fish cakes traditionally made with meat from the clown featherback fish (pla grai). It’s usually served with a cucumber dip or a sweet chili sauce and commonly eaten as a starter, snack, or as a main course with steamed rice.
“Lu Yee’s Thai Fish Cakes” by Alpha, used under CC BY-SA 2.0 / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom
24. Hoy Tod
Hoy tod is one of the most popular street food dishes in Bangkok. It refers to a crispy omelette made with oysters or mussels, or both.
To prepare, oysters or mussels are fried with bean sprouts after being coated with a savory egg batter. The omelette is fried till crispy and served with a chili or tomato sauce.
Visit Bangkok and you may find two versions of this dish – hoy tod and or suan. Hoy tod refers to this crispy fried version that can be made with either oysters or mussels, while or suan refers to a spongier, gooier version made with just oysters.
25. Kai Jeaw Poo
Kai jeaw poo refers to a Thai crab omelette. It’s a Thai dish that’s garnered international attention in recent years thanks to Jay Fai, the goggle-wearing street food cook who was awarded a Michelin Star in 2018. Kai jeaw poo is one of her signature creations.
To prepare, eggs, pepper, and fish sauce are whisked together in a bowl before being stirred through with the crab meat. The egg mixture is poured into hot oil and shaped into a tight cylinder using spatulas. When ready, the crab omelette is garnished with herbs and served with chili sauce.
Pictured below is the kai jeaw poo created by Jai Fai herself. It’s crispy on the outside and moist and succulent on the inside. As you can see, it’s practically bursting with crab meat.
26. Goong Ten
Goong ten is one of the most interesting and unusual dishes on this Thai food guide. It refers to an Isan dish of tiny translucent shrimp that are dressed in a mixture of finely shredded lemongrass, garlic, shallots, ginger, bird’s eye chili, mint leaves, lime juice, fish sauce, and chilli powder.
What makes goong ten interesting is that the inch-long shrimp are still alive when placed in the mixture. Like ceviche, the acidity from the lime juice essentially “cooks” the shrimp and causes them to jump about, hence the colloquial name for the dish – “dancing shrimp”.
I don’t know how common goong ten is outside of the Isan region but we were happy to find it at the night market in Chiang Rai. It’s definitely not something you’d find on a typical restaurant’s menu.
NOODLES / RICE
27. Pad Thai
Without a doubt, pad thai is the most famous dish on this Thai food guide. It’s probably the first thing many travelers will look for on their first trip to Thailand.
Pad thai refers to a stir-fried rice noodle dish typically made with chicken, shrimp, tofu, peanuts, scrambled egg, bean sprouts, and other vegetables. The ingredients are tossed together in a wok before being flavored with a sauce made from tamarind juice, fish sauce, palm sugar, dried shrimp, garlic, and red chilis. When ready, it’s often topped with crushed roasted peanuts and served with lime wedges.
Pad thai is very popular among tourists so you’ll just as easily find it sold from street food carts as you would at proper sit-down restaurants. People love it for its balance of flavors. It’s tangy, savory, and sweet all at once.
28. Guay Tiew Reua
Guay tiew reua refers to boat noodles, one of the most popular Thai street food noodle dishes in Bangkok. It features an intensely flavorful soup that’s made with pig or cow’s blood.
In Thai, guay tiew means “noodles” while reua means “boat”, hence the name boat noodles. The name is in reference to how the dish was made and sold in Bangkok during the mid-20th century. Vendors would traverse Bangkok’s canals on small boats selling small bowls of this Thai noodle soup.
Guay tiew reua can be made with different types of noodles along with beef, pork, pickled bean curd, meatballs, liver, and a plethora of seasonings and spices. If you enjoy strong flavors, then you need to have a bowl of boat noodles in Bangkok.
29. Goong Ob Woon Sen
Goong ob woon sen refers to a Thai dish made with glass noodles and prawns cooked with loads of ginger, garlic, and pepper. The ingredients are cooked together in a pot and served in the same pot it was cooked in.
Pictured below is an uncooked version from Khlong Lat Mayom floating market. When made with crab, the dish is called poo ob woon sen. You can find both versions at many seafood restaurants in Bangkok.
30. Khao Soi
If you were to have just one dish in Chiang Mai, then it should probably be khao soi. It refers to a noodle soup dish made with crispy and soft egg noodles in a creamy, curry-like sauce thickened with coconut milk. It’s a popular dish in northern Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar.
The northern Thai version of khao soi is typically made with chicken or beef but you can have it with pork, shrimp, or fish as well. It’s usually served with pickled cabbage, chopped red onions, and a wedge of lime. If you like, you can mix of packet of pork rinds into your khao soi as well for some added crunch.
Khao soi was my single favorite dish from northern Thailand. We had it a few times but the best was from Khao Soi Khun Yai in Chiang Mai. Check out our Chiang Mai food guide for more information.
31. Pad See Ew
Pad see ew refers to a stir-fried noodle dish that’s commonly eaten throughout Thailand. You can think of it as the Thai version of Malaysian char koay teow.
Pad see ew is made with a broad rice noodle called kuaitiao sen yai. Other ingredients include light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, garlic, Chinese broccoli, egg, tofu, and some type of meat. Beef is most often used but it can be made with other proteins as well meat like pork, chicken, or shrimp.
Pad see ew is one of the most popular Thai street food dishes and can be enjoyed pretty much anywhere in Thailand.
“Pad See Ew” by Jose Nicdao, used under CC BY 2.0 / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom
32. Pad Kee Mao
Pad kee mao or “drunken noodles” is another popular Thai street food noodle dish. Made with stir-fried broad noodles, it’s a very similar dish to pad see ew with the most notable differences being the addition of spicy peppers, baby corn, and sweet Thai basil.
From its name, I always assumed pad kee mao was made with some type of alcohol but it’s not. Kee mao means “drunkard” but reasons for this name are unclear. One popular theory suggests that the dish got its name because of its popularity as after drinking food. Having eaten pad kee mao after a night of drinking in Bangkok, I can see that.
This incredibly appetizing-looking plate of pad kee mao was made by the street food legend herself – Jay Fai. You seriously need to try her food.
33. Nam Ngiaw
Nam ngiaw refers to a Shan noodle soup popular in northeastern Myanmar, northern Thailand, and southwestern Yunnan province in China. Frequently made with khanom jeen rice noodles, nam ngiaw is known for its characteristically sharp, tangy, and spicy flavors.
Aside from the rice noodles, nam ngiaw is made with either beef or pork along with chicken or pork blood cake as its main ingredients. It gets its sourness from chopped tomatoes and its spiciness from roasted or fried dry chilis.
Another key ingredient in nam ngiaw is tua nao, which is a type of fermented soy bean frequently found in northern Thai food. It’s a plant-based condiment often used as an alternative to shrimp paste.
34. Yen Ta Fo
Yen ta fo refers to an interesting pink-colored Thai noodle soup. It’s basically the Thai version of Chinese yong tau foo.
Yen ta fo gets its signature pinkish hue from fermented soybean paste. Aside from turning the broth a light crimson, it imparts a sweet, almost flowery essence to the soup. The dish is made with sen yai – the same noodles used to make pad see ew and pad kee mao – along with morning glory, tofu, fish balls, pork, and blood cake.
The pink-colored soup may give some tourists pause but yen ta fo is an interesting and delicious dish. It tastes savory and sour with just a hint of sweetness from the fermented soybean paste.
35. Khao Pad
Khao pad refers to Thai-style fried rice. It’s typical of central Thai cuisine but it exists in many regional variants like green curry fried rice, American fried rice, and the popular pineapple fried rice pictured below.
Unlike Chinese fried rice, khao pad is usually made with fragrant jasmine rice which gives it a distinct flavor. Ingredients vary but Thai-style fried rice is usually made with some type of meat (like chicken, shrimp, or crab), egg, onions, garlic, and sometimes tomatoes. It’s often served with sliced cucumber and prik nam pla, which is a spicy sauce made from bird’s eye chili, fish sauce, and garlic.
36. Pad Krapow
Pad kra pow (or phat kaphrao) is one of the most popular dishes in Thai cuisine. It’s a Thai food favorite made with some type of seasoned ground meat – like pork, chicken, or beef – stir-fried with Thai basil and garlic.
In Thailand, pad kra pow is a popular lunch dish, something you can easily find at restaurants and food courts. It’s usually served with steamed white rice and topped with a Thai-style fried egg (with crispy browned edges).
Being a beloved Thai comfort food, you can think of pad kra pow as the Thai equivalent to American cheeseburgers, Japanese tamago kake gohan, or Taiwanese lu rou fan.
37. Khao Ka Moo
Khao ka moo is another Thai food favorite. It’s originally a Teochew dish consisting of braised pork leg cooked in Chinese five spice. The meat is cooked till fork tender then served over steamed rice with a medium-boiled egg.
Khao ka moo is a popular dish that can be found pretty much anywhere in Thailand, from street food carts to food courts to proper sit-down restaurants. We had this fantastic plate of khao ka moo from the legendary Cowboy Hat Lady in Chiang Mai.
DESSERTS / DRINKS
38. Khao Niao Mamuang (Mango Sticky Rice)
Better known as mango sticky rice, khao niao mamuang is one of my favorite desserts not just in Thailand, but anywhere. As its name suggests, mango sticky rice is a popular dessert made with fresh mango, glutinous rice, palm sugar, and coconut milk.
To make mango sticky rice, coconut milk is mixed with salt and sugar before being heated and added to the glutinous rice. The mixture is left to sit until the coconut milk is absorbed into the sticky rice. It’s then served alongside sliced ripe mango with the remaining milk drizzled on top.
When mangoes are in season, nothing beats mango sticky rice. It’s so good. As described, mango sticky rice was one of just two Thai desserts included in CNN Travel’s list of the World’s 50 Best Desserts.
39. Oh Eaw
Oh eaw (or o-aew) refers to a shaved iced dessert that’s a specialty of Phuket. It’s named after its main ingredient – aiyu jelly – which is a jelly made from the seeds of the oh eaw plant. The jelly is served with sweet syrup and crushed ice topped with ingredients like red kidney beans and grass jelly.
Oh eaw was introduced to Phuket by Hokkien Chinese immigrants who settled on the island during the tin mining boom of the mid-19th and early 20th centuries. Today, you can find this colorful dessert pretty much everywhere in Phuket, from street food carts to food courts to cafes and dessert shops.
40. Tub Tim Grob
Like mango sticky rice, tub tim grob made it to CNN Travel’s list of the World’s 50 Best Desserts. It’s name literally translates to “crispy rubies” which is in reference to the crunchy water chestnuts used in the dessert.
To prepare, water chestnuts are peeled and diced before being coated with red food coloring. They’re then dipped in tapioca flour and boiled in water before being served in a pandan-scented coconut syrup with ice.
Looking at the red rubies, you’d think they’d have the texture of gelatin but they’re very crunchy, just like regular water chestnuts. It’s so refreshing and delicious.
41. Khanom Tako
This is another of my favorite Thai desserts and something we often order at Thai restaurants outside of the country. Khanom tako (or simply tako) refers to a type of Thai dessert pudding covered in a coconut milk topping.
To prepare, a jelly base made of flour mixed with water and sugar is poured into a cup made with pandan leaves. It’s allowed to cool and set before being poured over with the coconut milk topping. The result is a delicious dessert with two distinct layers – a creamy top and a more solid, gelatin-like bottom.
The tako can be served as is but as you can see below, it can also be garnished with any number of ingredients like fruit, corn, beans, or taro.
42. Pa Thong Ko
Pa thong ko refers to a popular Thai street food dessert made with deep-fried dough. It’s basically the Thai equivalent of a doughnut or Chinese cruller.
Thai people like to eat pa thong ko either for breakfast or as a dessert snack. When eaten for breakfast, they usually have it with a bowl of jok or congee. When enjoyed for dessert or as a snack, it’s often served with sweetened condensed milk or a rich and creamy pandan custard.
This batch of pa thang ko was from a popular Michelin-recommended street food stall in Bangkok. I don’t remember the name of the stall but it was the last stop on this Bangkok food tour. Delicious!
43. Khanom Krok
Khanom krok refers to a traditional Thai dessert of coconut-rice pancakes. It’s a fragrant and sweet street food snack that’s similar to Burmese mont lin maya or Indonesian surabi.
Khanom krok is made by mixing rice flour, coconut milk, and sugar into a dough then cooking it in a hot indented frying pan, similar to the pans used to make Japanese takoyaki. Each khanom krok consists of two halves – one salty and the other sweet – which are eventually stuck together to form the finished pancake.
Coconut milk and rice flour are the main components but khanom krok can be made with other ingredients as well like shredded coconut, corn, taro, and green onions. Pictured below are the sugar-dusted pancakes we enjoyed at the Yee Peng Festival in Chiang Mai.
44. Luk Chub
These pretty glass-like beads are known as luk chub, a Thai confection made with a creamy, sweetened mung bean paste. Like Italy’s frutta martorama, they’re often shaped and colored to look like tiny Thai fruits and vegetables using natural dyes like butterfly pea flower and pandan leaf extract.
Based on what I’ve read, luk chub may have been introduced to Thailand in the 16th century by Portuguese traders with a taste for marzipan. Because almonds weren’t available in Thailand, they used peanuts or mung bean paste instead.
45. Cha Yen (Thai Iced Tea)
I love drinking beer when we eat out but Thai restaurants are often an exception, mainly because of this sweet and creamy drink called cha yen or Thai iced tea.
Beloved by both locals and tourists alike, cha yen is an incredibly delicious and refreshing drink made with black tea, sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and sugar. The milk is poured over the tea and ice (or vice versa) before serving to give the drink its signature two-tone look. To drink, you mix the ingredients together until it’s an even orange.
Speaking of orange, have you ever wondered where cha yen gets its nuclear color from? It’s from specific brands of black tea made with the same food dye used to color Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. From what I understand, it’s purely for aesthetics and has nothing to do with taste.
Personally, I like the orange color. For me, when it comes to the most delicious Asian drinks, cha yen is right up there with nuoc mia and boba.
THAI FOOD TOURS
No one knows Thai food better than a local so what better way to experience Thai cuisine than by going on a food tour? They’ll take you to the city’s best local restaurants and street food stalls and explain every dish to you in more detail. If you’re visiting Thailand, then check out Get Your Guide for a list of Thai food tours in different cities throughout the country.
THAI COOKING CLASSES
Aside from food tours, we love taking cooking classes on trips. In my opinion, it’s one of the best ways to learn about the local cuisine. In Thailand, we’ve taken cooking classes in Chiang Mai and Phuket and enjoyed them both. Check out Cookly for a list of cooking classes in Bangkok and in many other cities throughout Thailand.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON TRADITIONAL THAI FOOD
Like all our food guides, this Thai food guide is a perennial work-in-progress that will only get better over time. We’ve been to Thailand many times but we’ve only explored a fraction of the country and its cuisine.
One area that’s of particular interest is the northeastern or Isan region. It’s such an important part of Thai cuisine and many people who’ve had it swear by it. I enjoyed the Isan food in Chiang Mai and Bangkok so I can only imagine what it must be like at the source.
In any case, I hope you enjoyed this Thai food guide as much as I enjoyed writing it. If you’re a Thai food lover and have suggestions on what dishes we should look out for on our next trip to Thailand, then please let us know in the comments below.
Thanks for reading everyone and I hope this Thai food guide leads you to some terrific meals in the Land of Smiles!
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Pound for pound, Singapore has to be one of the world’s best countries for food. It’s little more than half the size of Hong Kong but it’s home to one of the most delicious and diverse cuisines we’ve experienced anywhere in the world.
Food is an obsession in Singapore. It forms an important part of their national identity and is viewed as a unifying cultural thread. As you can probably tell from the plethora of hawker centres and Singapore food blogs, eating is a national pastime and a frequent topic of conversation among Singaporeans.
Being from the Philippines, Singapore is a frequent destination for us and much of that has to do with delicious Singaporean dishes like laksa, nasi lemak, char kway teow, kaya toast, and bak kut teh. And let’s not forget about chilli crab and Hainanese chicken rice, Singapore’s national dishes!
Simply put, this island is overflowing with amazing food. If you’re visiting Singapore and looking for the best dishes to eat, then I hope this Singapore food guide leads you to many shiok meals in the city.
SINGAPOREAN FOOD QUICK LINKS
To facilitate your Singapore trip planning, I’ve compiled links to hotels, tours, and other services here.
Top-rated hotels in Orchard, one of the best areas to stay for first-time visitors to Singapore.
Luxury: Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel (SG Clean)
Midrange: Holiday Inn Express Singapore Orchard Road (SG Clean), an IHG Hotel
If you’re planning your first visit to Singapore, then be sure to check out our detailed Singapore travel guide. It’ll have all the information you need – like when to go, which area to stay, which attractions to visit, etc. – to help you plan your trip.
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WHAT IS SINGAPOREAN FOOD?
Singaporean cuisine is characterized by its diversity. It’s a multiracial and multicultural country with a population consisting mainly of ethnic Chinese, Malays, and ethnic Indians.
Singapore’s geographic location – between the Pacific and Indian oceans – and its history as a former British colony helped lead to this confluence of cultures.
When Stamford Raffles sought to convert the island into a trading post for the British Empire in 1819, immigrants from China, the Malay Peninsula, India, Indonesia, Europe, the United States, and the Middle East flocked to Singapore. With them came their cultures and culinary traditions which led to Singapore’s food becoming the mixed cultural cuisine that it is today.
This culinary diversity is no better exemplified than at the many hawker centres and food courts found throughout Singapore. Walk into any of these hawker centres and it isn’t uncommon to find a food stall selling Chinese Singaporean food next to a stall selling Malaysian food next to a stall selling Indian food next to a stall selling Indonesian food.
This melting pot aspect of Singaporean cuisine is what I love most about this country. It truly is a food lover’s paradise.
MUST-TRY DISHES IN SINGAPORE
To help organize this Singapore food guide, I’ve broken the dishes down by category. Some dishes can fall under more than one category but I’ve done my best to make it as organized and easy to read as possible. Click on a link to jump to any section.
Snacks / Small Meals
Meat / Seafood
Dessert / Drinks
Singapore Food Tours
Singapore Cooking Classes
1. Kaya Toast
Kaya toast refers to a traditional Singaporean breakfast dish. It consists of two slices of toast or charcoal-grilled bread spread over with butter and kaya, which is a jam made with coconut, eggs, and sugar.
Kaya toast is believed to have been invented by Hainanese immigrants as a kope tiam dish. Kope tiam refers to traditional coffee shops in Singapore. It’s served with either coffee or tea and two soft-boiled eggs drizzled with dark soy sauce and white pepper. To eat, the soft-boiled eggs are stirred into a sludge and used as a dip for the kaya toast.
Like nasi lemak, kaya toast is commonly eaten for breakfast though it’s often enjoyed as an afternoon snack as well. Available at many coffee shops throughout Singapore, it’s best eaten immediately upon serving when the toast is still warm and the butter cold.
2. Tau Huay
Tau huay refers to a soft tofu dish popular in many Asian countries. It’s a dish of Chinese origin also referred to as douhua, tofu pudding, or bean curd.
Depending on where it’s from, it exists in varying forms though the Singaporean dish is usually served with a clear sweet syrup with or without toppings like gingko nuts or red beans. It can be served hot or cold with different syrups and varying levels of sweetness.
Bean curd is a popular Singaporean breakfast dish that’s often enjoyed with Portuguese egg tarts and/or youtiao (fried dough sticks).
3. Roti Prata
Roti prata is an Indian-influenced flatbread dish found in many Southeast Asian countries. A common street food dish, it’s known as roti canai in Malaysia or parotta in South India.
To make roti prata, a wheat-flour-based dough is flipped and stretched into a large thin layer on a flat grilling pan. The edges are folded inwards to create multiple layers. The roti prata is cooked for about 3-5 minutes until it becomes lightly browned and crispy.
Roti prata can be eaten on its own though it’s often served with a vegetable- or meat-based curry dipping sauce. It can also be cooked with various ingredients like cheese, onions, chocolate, mushrooms, and eggs.
Common at hawker centres, roti prata is a popular breakfast food in Singapore though it can be enjoyed as a snack at any time of the day.
Murtabak is basically a stuffed version of roti prata. Commonly sold at hawker stalls and as street food, it’s popular in Southeast Asia and the Arabian Peninsula and can be filled with any number of sweet or savory ingredients.
In Singapore, murtabak is typically filled with spiced beef, chicken, or mutton and served with either a curry sauce, sweet pickled onions, or cucumbers in ketchup. A version filled with mozzarella cheese is also popular.
Appam or hoppers refers to a South Indian pancake dish that’s also widely consumed in Singapore. It’s made with fermented rice batter and coconut milk and can be served in both sweet and savory varieties.
Appam is a popular breakfast dish though it’s commonly enjoyed for dessert as well. It can be served plain or with various ingredients added as a topping. The plain appam I enjoyed below was served with a side of orange sugar and a cup of coconut milk.
If you try appam for breakfast, then you may want to have it with egg. A whole egg is cracked into the center of the pancake while it cooks so you’ll have a beautiful sunny-side up egg in the middle.
Congee refers to a rice porridge dish that’s popular in many Asian countries. Like nasi lemak, it’s a common breakfast food in Singapore though it’s the type of comforting dish that can be enjoyed at other times of the day as well.
Teochew or Singapore-style congee is typically served plain with a slew of Singapore side dishes like lor bak, steamed fish, salted egg, tofu, omelette, and vegetables.
“Congee” by Travis Juntara, used under CC BY 2.0 / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom
7. Chwee Kueh
Chwee kueh refers to a type of steamed rice cake topped with preserved radish. Like Singapore-style porridge, it’s a Teochew dish that’s popular in China and in other parts of Asia.
To prepare, a rice flour mixture is poured into small, saucer-like aluminum cups and then steamed. The rice cakes take the form of the cups when cooked and are served with diced preserved radish and a side of chilli sauce.
If you like strong Asian flavors, then you’re going to love chwee kueh. The steamed rice cake itself is mild in flavor but the preserved radish is what really makes this dish. It has a strong sweet/savory flavor that’s loaded with umami.
A popular hawker centre dish, chwee kueh is commonly eaten for breakfast in Singapore though personally, I prefer to enjoy it as a midday snack. It’s super tasty but I find its flavors to be too potent for breakfast.
SINGAPOREAN SNACKS / SMALL MEALS
8. Curry Puffs
The curry puff refers to a small pie stuffed with various fillings in a deep-fried or baked pastry shell. It’s believed to be a snack of Malayan origin that was invented during the colonization area, mainly due to its similarities to pastries like the British Cornish pasty, the Portuguese empanada, and the Indian samosa.
A popular street food, they’re enjoyed in various forms but in Singapore, the most common types are made with a thick or flaky English-style crust with a variety of Chinese- and Indian-style fillings.
More traditional fillings include chicken curry, sardine, and tuna but more modern puffs can be filled with less conventional ingredients like durian, yam, corn, and red bean. Pictured below is a classic chicken curry puff with egg.
Popiah refers to a Fujianese/Teochew-style fresh spring roll. It’s a dish of Chinese origin that’s become a popular street food dish in Taiwan and in many parts of Asia.
Popiah is made with a thin, pancake-like wrapper smeared with a sweet bean sauce and filled with a variety of ingredients like finely grated turnip, jicama, bean sprouts, and lettuce leaves. Depending on the individual vendor, it can be filled with other ingredients as well like fried tofu, crushed peanuts, shredded omelette, minced pork, shrimp, and crab.
Rojak is an Indonesian dish that’s become a popular food in Singapore and Malaysia. It’s basically a salad made with fresh fruits and vegetables.
To prepare, various ingredients like fresh cucumber, pineapple, and unripe mango and green apple are placed in a bowl and mixed with a thick brown sauce made with shrimp paste, tamarind, sugar, chili, and crushed peanuts.
It doesn’t look all that appetizing but it’s a refreshing and surprisingly delicious dish. It’s sweet, sour, savory, juicy, and crunchy with a good punch of umami from the shrimp paste.
Some westerners may find the combination of tangy unripe fruit and shrimp paste to be odd and off-putting but it’s actually a classic pairing in many Asian countries. It’s definitely one of the most interesting things you’ll eat in Singapore.
Satay or sate refers to a popular dish of seasoned and skewered grilled meat served with peanut sauce. Different types of meat like chicken, pork, mutton, or beef are skewered on bamboo sticks and grilled over a charcoal or wood fire.
Depending on the vendor, satay can be served with different sauces though the most common variety is made with soy and peanut sauce. In Singapore, peanut sauce is most common.
Satay is believed to have originated in Indonesia where it’s considered a national dish. Because of its popularity and universal appeal, it can be found pretty much anywhere from street food carts to hawker centers to proper sit-down restaurants in Singapore.
12. Orh Jian (Oyster Omelette)
Orh jian is a popular dish that you’ll find at many hawker centers in Singapore. It refers to an oyster omelette dish made with fresh raw oysters, tapioca starch, and eggs.
Oyster omelette is originaly a Hokkien or Teochew dish that’s become common in many parts of Asia. Often sold at hawker centres and street food carts, orh jian is known by many names like oh chien, or luak, or o-a-tsian.
To make oyster omelette, starch (typically sweet potato starch) is mixed into the egg batter to give the omelette a thicker, gooier texture. It’s fried till crispy and served with a side of chilli sauce.
13. Chai Tow Kway (Carrot Cake)
Chai tow kway or “carrot cake” refers to another popular dish sold at many hawker centers in Singapore. It’s a dish of Teochew origin that’s made with radish cake stir-fried with eggs, preserved radish, and seasonings.
Oddly enough, chai tow kway is commonly known as carrot cake even though it isn’t made with any carrots. It doesn’t have any connection to western carrot cake either. Instead, it’s referred to as carrot cake because the words “chai tow” can mean either “radish” or “carrot”.
Chai tow kway is prepared in different ways but in Singapore, it’s typically cut into pieces and stir fried with eggs, garlic, and spring onion. It comes in white or black versions.
The black version gets its color from a sweet dark soy sauce. The white version isn’t made with this sauce so it tastes saltier and is cooked more like an omelette.
“Chai tow kway” by Ruth Ellison, used under CC BY 2.0 / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom
14. Yong Tau Foo
Yong tau foo is a Hakka dish popular in Singapore and in other Asian countries with large Hakka, Teochew and Hokkien populations.
Traditionally, it consists primarily of tofu filled with a ground meat mixture or fish paste. It can be eaten dry with a sauce or served as a soup dish.
But in Singapore, it refers to a dish that can contain any number of ingredients like stuffed tofu, fish balls, fish cake, bitter melon, okra, cuttlefish, and other types of vegetables, meat, and seafood.
After cooking the ingredients briefly in broth, they can be served in a soup or offered dry with the broth served in a separate bowl. It can be eaten on its own or enjoyed with a bowl of steamed rice, noodles, or rice vermicelli.
“People’s Park Yong Tau Foo” by Kars Alfrink, used under CC BY 2.0 / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom
SINGAPOREAN MEAT / SEAFOOD DISHES
15. Bak Kut Teh
Bak kut teh refers to a Teochew pork rib soup cooked in a complex broth of different herbs and spices. Pork rib soup is a signature dish in Singapore that’s also popular in Malaysia and in parts of Indonesia and southern Thailand.
The name bak kut teh literally translates to “meat bone tea” though no tea is actually used to make this dish. The name is in reference to a strong oolong Chinese tea that’s usually served with the soup to help dissolve the fat from the pork ribs.
To make bak kut teh, meaty pork ribs are simmered for hours in a broth of herbs and spices that include garlic, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, dang gui (Chinese angelica root), and fennel seeds. Depending on the cook, other ingredients may be added to the bak kut teh like offal, mushroom, Chinese cabbage, and tofu.
Available at almost any hawker food centre, bak kut teh is usually eaten for breakfast or lunch with a bowl of steamed rice or youtiao and a dark soy sauce dip with chopped red chilis.
16. Sup Tulang
Sup tulang refers to a devilishly delicious dish made with mutton or beef bones stewed in tomato paste, chili, and spices. It’s considered a true Singaporean dish, created and popularized by an Indian Muslim food stall along Jalan Sultan in the 1950s.
In spite of its appearance, sup tulang isn’t very spicy at all. It’s more savory-sweet than spicy and is served with soft bread to mop up the sauce. The bread with the sauce is heavenly.
Just be warned, this dish is incredibly delicious but it’s also incredibly messy. It’s impossible to slice off the meat and tendon with utensils so you’ll need to hold the bones in your hands and gnaw at them with your teeth.
Be sure to have a fresh packet of napkins ready cause you’ll need them to wipe the tomato sauce off your hands, face, hair, shirt, pants, and shoelaces. It’s one of the messiest and tastiest dishes you’ll eat in Singapore.
As you can probably tell from the picture above, there isn’t much meat on the bones. The real star of this Singaporean dish is the marrow which you’re meant to suck out of the bones with straws. My god was this good.
17. Chili Crab
If you were to eat just one dish in Singapore, then it should probably be chilli crab. It’s a vital part of the local food culture and considered by many to be the single most important dish in Singaporean cuisine.
Chilli crab is prepared by stir-frying crabs — commonly mud crabs — in a thick, tomato- and chili-based sauce. Egg is often added to make the sauce thicker and richer.
In spite of its name, chili crabs aren’t very spicy at all. They taste sweet and tangy with just a hint of spiciness.
Chilli crab is best eaten with fried mantou bread to mop up the sauce. The fluffiness of the mantou with the sweet tanginess of the chilli sauce is a perfect match. The sauce is flavorful and nuanced so be sure to try it with some steamed rice as well.
Singaporeans are extremely proud of their chili crab. Like Hainanese chicken rice, it’s widely considered to be a national dish. In 2011, CNN Go included chili crab in their list of the “world’s 50 most delicious foods”.
If you’re looking for a special local meal in Singapore, one that goes beyond your average food centre dish, then it should definitely be chili crab. It’s a fabulous dish and one of the best things you’ll eat in Singapore.
18. Fish Head Curry
As its name suggests, fish head curry refers to a dish made with a whole fish head – typically red snapper – stewed in a Kerala-style curry with assorted vegetables like eggplant and okra and over a dozen spices. It has mixed South Indian and Chinese origins and is a popular dish in Indonesian, Malaysian, and Singaporean cuisines.
The gravy has a sour-sweet flavor that goes very well with rice and/or naan bread. The entire fish head was excellent but the best parts for me, are the eyeballs (pictured below), jaw, and tongue.
We enjoyed this fish head curry at the legendary Banana Leaf Apolo along Race Course Road. As their name suggests, you’ll eat your curry on a large banana leaf instead of plates. Banana Leaf Apolo is considered by many to be one of the best restaurants in Singapore for fish head curry.
19. Sambal Stingray
Sambal stingray refers to a Malaysian/Singaporean dish of barbecued stingray served with a spicy sambal paste. It’s a popular hawker food in Singapore that’s cooked and wrapped in banana leaves.
Stingray has a firm, meaty texture that’s different from other fish. To cook, a sambal paste made up of various spices, Indian walnuts, and shallots is spread over the stingray before it’s wrapped in banana leaves and then charcoal-grilled.
Personally, stingray with sambal is one of my favorite dishes to eat with beer. It’s spicy and delicious.
20. Peranakan Cuisine
Peranakan cuisine or Nyonya cuisine refers to the food of the Peranakans. The Peranakans are an ethnic group comprised of the descendants of early Chinese migrants who settled in Penang, Malacca, Singapore, and Indonesia between the 15th and 17th centuries. They inter-married with local Malays and produced a fusion of cultures that manifested itself in many ways, including their food.
Chinese ingredients were used with local spices and cooking techniques to create Peranakan interpretations of Malay food that’s known to be tangy, aromatic, spicy, and herbal. If you enjoy food with bold flavors, then you’re going to love Peranakan cuisine.
For the best example of Peranakan food in Singapore, I suggest trying it at Candlenut. From what I understand, it’s the only Peranakan restaurant in the world that’s been awarded a Michelin Star. Definitely not your average food centre meal.
SINGAPOREAN NOODLE DISHES
Laksa is one of my favorite dishes in Singapore. It’s a spicy Peranakan noodle soup consisting of thick wheat noodles or rice vermicelli made with chicken, prawn, or fish.
Available at almost any food centre, laksa is hugely popular in Singapore and in other parts of Asia. It exists in three basic types – curry, asam, and a combination of the two. Curry laksa is made with a rich and savory coconut milk base while asam laksa is made with a sour, tamarind-based (or gelugur) soup.
Depending on the ingredients, there are many sub-types of laksa but katong laksa is the type you’ll typically find in Singapore. It’s a type of curry laksa known for its gravy thickened with ground dried shrimp.
22. Bak Chor Mee
Bak chor mee is a popular hawker food in Singapore. It’s made with noodles tossed in vinegar and a myriad of ingredients like minced meat, pork slices, liver, mushrooms, meatballs, and bits of deep-fried lard.
Bak chor mee can come in soup or dry versions. Pictured below is the dry version from Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle, one of two Singapore hawker stalls awarded a Michelin Star in 2016. It’s absolutely delicious and something you need to eat in Singapore.
23. Prawn Mee / Hokkien Mee
Prawn mee refers to a popular soup made with egg noodles, rice noodles, prawn, and pork slices. From what I understand, it can come in a dry version as well known as hokkien mee.
I often saw the terms prawn mee and hokkien mee referring to what seemed like the same dish so I asked a Singaporean blogger to clarify. She told me that prawn mee is a soup dish while hokkien mee is a dry noodle dish. Unless I’m mistaken, I believe the ingredients for both are similar.
Pictured below is prawn mee. It’s known for its dark and spicy broth flavored with prawn heads, dried shrimp, white pepper, garlic, and other spices. It’s topped with fried shallots and spring onions and typically served with chopped red chilis in a light soy sauce with lime.
We haven’t tried it but hokkien mee is made by sir-frying the rice noodles with egg, slices of pork, prawn, and squid. It’s garnished with vegetables, bits of chicken lard, sambal, and lime.
24. Char Kway Teow
Char kway teow is one of the most popular dishes to eat in Singapore. It refers to a stir-fried noodle dish made with flat rice noodles cooked over high heat.
To make char kway teow, flat rice noodles are stir-fried in pork fat with light and dark soy sauce, chili, and a slew of other ingredients like belachan (shrimp paste), prawn, blood cockles, Chinese sausage, sliced fish cake, and bean sprouts.
Like nasi lemak, char kway teow is a cheap and delicious dish that’s often eaten for breakfast and sold at many hawker centres in Singapore. Blood cockles and prawns are standard ingredients while more expensive versions can be made with other types of seafood like cuttlefish, squid, and lobster.
As irresistible as char kway teow is, this stir-fried noodle dish has a reputation for being unhealthy due to its high saturated fat content so it’s best to stop after one plate. Or two.
25. Crab Bee Hoon
Like chii crab, crab bee hoon is considered a true Singaporean invention. It refers to a dish made with whole mud crab and bee hoon (rice vermicelli).
Crab bee hoon is available in soup or dry versions. The soup version is served with a milky broth in a claypot while the dry version (pictured below) is prepared by stir-frying the noodles in a wok before braising it in broth.
The crab is usually the star but in this dish, it’s the bee hoon. Vermicelli noodles do an excellent job in soaking up all that sweet and seafood-y crab flavor.
26. Mee Rebus
Mee rebus means “boiled noodles” and refers to a noodle soup dish popular in Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia. It consists of egg noodles served in a spicy and slightly sweet curry-like gravy.
The brown gravy is made with a slew of ingredients like shrimp or tauchu (preserved fermented yellow soybeans) broth, shallots, lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaf, and corn starch as its thickening agent.
Mee rebus is typically garnished with a hard boiled egg, dried shrimp, boiled potato, fried shallots, bean sprouts, and other ingredients.
“Mee Rebus – Food Garden, LCCT RM5” by Alpha, used under CC BY-SA 2.0 / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom
SINGAPOREAN RICE DISHES
27. Nasi Lemak
Nasi lemak refers to a beloved Malay rice dish consisting of fragrant rice cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaf. It’s a popular breakfast food in Singapore and in other countries like Malaysia where it’s considered a national dish.
Like kaya toast, nasi lemak is typically eaten for breakfast though it can be enjoyed at any time of the day. It’s served with a spicy sambal and a variety of garnishes like fresh cucumber slices, ikan bilis (small fried anchovies), roasted peanuts, and hard-boiled or fried egg.
When eaten for lunch or dinner, nasi lemak is usually accompanied by heavier proteins like ayam goreng (fried chicken), sambal sotong (cuttlefish in chili), or small fried fish.
Depending on where it’s from, nasi lemak can exist in varying forms but in Singapore, it’s commonly found in two variations – the Singaporean Malay and Singaporean Chinese versions.
The Singaporean Malay version of nasi lemak is made with a sweeter, less spicy sambal and served with ikan bilis, peanuts, and an omelette or fried egg. Singaporean Chinese nasi lemak on the other hand, is served with a wider variety of sides like deep-fried drumstick, fried chicken franks, sliced fish cake, curried vegetables, and tongsan luncheon meat.
Like laksa and chicken rice, nasi lemak is one of my favorite dishes so the version doesn’t really matter for me. It’s delicious any which way and definitely one of my favorite things to eat in Singapore.
28. Hainanese Chicken Rice
Hainanese chicken rice is one of the most important Singaporean foods and considered by many to be a national dish. It refers to a rice dish of poached chicken and seasoned rice served with sliced cucumber and chilli sauce.
After their British employers were forced out of Singapore during the Japanese occupation, Hainanese servant-class immigrants created chicken rice as an alternate source of income. They opened the first chicken rice restaurants in the early 1940s and the dish has since become one of the most popular hawker center foods in Singapore.
To make Hainanese chicken rice, whole chickens are poached at sub-boiling temperatures. The resulting chicken stock is skimmed off while some of the fat and liquid, along with ginger and garlic, are used to cook the rice. The result is an oily, flavorful rice sometimes referred to as “oily rice”.
Hainanese chicken rice looks colorless and bland but it’s actually very tasty. It’s usually served with a trio of dipping sauces that include chili sauce, kecap manis (sweet soy sauce), and pureed ginger.
Personally, Hainanese chicken rice is one of my absolute favorite dishes and something I need to have on every return trip to Singapore.
29. Claypot Rice
Claypot rice refers to a traditional southern Chinese rice dish that’s become a popular food in Singapore, Malaysia, and Hong Kong.
To prepare, rice is pre-soaked and sometimes par-cooked before being finished in a claypot with a mix of ingredients that help impart flavor to the rice. It can be made with any number of ingredients with some of the most common being chicken, salted fish, Chinese sausage, and vegetables.
Slow-cooked over a charcoal stove, the rice develops a scorched rice crust similar to socarrat in Spanish paella or Korean dolsot bibimbap.
30. Duck Rice
As its name suggests, duck rice is a dish made with roasted or braised duck served with steamed rice. It’s popular at hawker stalls in Singapore and in other parts of Asia.
The braised duck is usually cooked with yam and shrimp and served with a heavy dark sauce over rice. It can be served on its own or with other ingredients like braised hard-boiled eggs, preserved salted vegetables, and hard beancurd.
SINGAPOREAN DESSERTS / DRINKS
Durian is a fruit that many people love to hate. They can’t get past the smell which is a shame because it’s absolutely delicious. For me, it’s one of the best and most unique-tasting fruits in the world.
Known as the “king of fruits”, durian is popular in Singapore and in many parts of Asia. It’s known for its strong odor and spiny, thorn-covered rind. Because of its odor, durian is a polarizing fruit that elicits a range of reactions from deep fondness to intense disgust.
People who can’t stand the odor describe it as being similar to the smell of raw sewage or dirty gym socks. I happen to love durian so I don’t mind its smell. It does have a strong and unusual odor but in my opinion, it’s a small price to pay for a creamy and custardy fruit that tastes similar to almonds.
Because of its strong and lingering odor, durian is banned in many public places in Singapore, including the MRT.
Also know that not all durian are created equal. Some are more prized (and thus pricier) than others with some of the most sought after brands being Mao Shan Wang, D24, and Red Prawn. Check out this article for a list of the best durian in Singapore.
Kueh refers to a family of bite-sized snacks or desserts popular throughout the region. It’s a broad term used to describe a wide spectrum of food products like cakes, dumplings, pudding, or pastries usually made with rice or glutinous rice. Most are sweet but some, like chwee kueh, can be savory.
Pictured below is kueh lopis, a type of kueh made with glutinous rice, gula melaka, and shredded coconut.
If I remember correctly, the green and white kueh below is kueh salat while the other one is kueh bingka jagung. Kueh salat is made with pandan and tapioca while kueh bingka jagung is made with corn pudding and palm sugar.
Cendol refers to a shaved iced dessert made with strands of green rice flour jelly mixed with coconut milk and palm sugar syrup. It’s a popular dessert in Singapore and in many parts of Southeast Asia.
Depending on where it’s from, other ingredients can also be added like red azuki bean, diced jackfruit, glutinous rice, sweet corn, and durian. In Singapore, cendol is typically made with sweetended red bean with the palm sugar poured over as a syrup.
34. Ice Cream Sandwich
To many westerners, this may be the oddest entry in this Singapore food guide. Ice cream wrapped in a slice of white bread may be weird to some people but in some countries like Singapore and the Philippines, it’s an iconic snack.
You can have your choice of flavor like strawberry, vanilla, or durian wrapped in bread (either white or rainbow-colored) or between wafers. For the truest Singapore food experience, I suggest going with the ice cream sandwich made with bread.
“IMG_4892” by Ken Masrhall, used under CC BY 2.0 / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom
35. Teh Tarik
Teh tarik refers to a hot milk tea beverage popular in Singapore and in other Southeast Asian countries. Its name literally means “pulled tea” and is in reference to the way the tea is poured back and forth from a distance.
As you can see below, teh tarik vendors have mastered the art of “pulling” the tea without spilling a drop. They do this to aerate and mix the drink, as well as to cool it and improve its flavor.
Teh tarik is a sweet and rich milk tea drink that’s great to have after a heavy meal in Singapore.
SINGAPORE FOOD TOURS
No one knows the food in Singapore better than a local. Singaporeans are some of the most food-obsessed people in the world so what better way to experience Singapore’s food culture than by going on a food tour? I went on a food tour in Singapore and learned about a few interesting Singaporean dishes I had never heard of before.
It’s fun visiting hawker centres on your own but if you’re pressed for time, then going on a Singapore food tour with a knowledgeable local is one of the best and easiest ways of experiencing the cuisine. Check out Get Your Guide for list of food tours in Singapore.
SINGAPORE COOKING CLASSES
We haven’t done it in Singapore but taking cooking classes is one of our favorite things to do on trips. The way I see it, it’s one of the best ways to learn about an unfamiliar cuisine. It’s like looking under the cuisine’s hood. If you’d like a more in-depth look at Singaporean cuisine when you visit, then check out Cookly for a list of cooking classes in Singapore.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON SINGAPOREAN CUISINE
It’s funny, the more I explore a country’s cuisine, the more I understand how much more there is to learn. We’ve been to Singapore many times but every visit always leaves me wanting for more.
As fond as we are of Singaporean cuisine, we’ll definitely be back to refine and build upon this Singapore food guide. Like Japan and Vietnam, Singapore is one of our favorite countries for food and a place we will never grow tired of. It never ceases to amaze how much good local food there is to be had in a country as small as Singapore.
If you love Singaporean food and have recommendations on which dishes to try and which hawker centres to visit on our next trip to Singapore, then please let us know in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you.
Thanks for reading and we hope this Singapore food guide leads you to many shiok meals in the Lion City!
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Some people travel for adventure, others travel for culture. We travel for food. It isn’t the only reason but it’s the single most influential factor in our choices of destination.
To us, national dishes are every bit as important as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Markets are a favorite destination and very rarely do we go on tours unless it’s a food tour. If I find a local heritage stall that’s been serving the same iconic dish for decades, then I know I’ve done my job.
Personally, I’m partial to street food but we aim to have as well-rounded a food experience as possible. We often take cooking classes when we travel and we always make room for at least one Michelin-starred meal (or equivalent) on every trip.
Needless to say, exploring a new city is always thrilling but even more so when it offers the promise of good or interesting food.
We haven’t been to every country in the world so this list may change over time, but if you’re looking for inspiration for your next food trip, then listed below are what we feel to be twelve of the best countries for food.
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THE BEST CUISINES IN THE WORLD
We understand that taste is subjective. This is our personal list of the best countries for food so not everyone will agree with it. If you feel strongly about a cuisine and think it should be included here, then let us know in the comments below. Like you, we’re always planning for the next big food trip!
Underneath each country is a brief description of the cuisine and three recommended dishes to try. It’s impossible to represent a cuisine with just three dishes but we tried to come up with as interesting and well-rounded a mix as possible. Popular dishes are represented as well as lesser known delicacies that curious eaters may want to look out for.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the twelve countries included in this guide. Click on a link to jump to that section.
This was a no-brainer. Japan is our favorite country in the world to visit and a big reason for that is the food. They have the most Michelin stars in the world, surpassing even France, which proves that Japanese is one of the best cuisines in the world.
What’s remarkable about the Japanese is how much time and effort they put into perfecting their craft. Some dishes take at least ten years to fully master. Many restaurants will specialize in just one dish, with that one dish being the culmination of over a decade of practice and discipline. Japanese chefs truly are masters of their craft.
I’ve visited close to twenty prefectures so far and every prefecture has one or two Japanese dishes that are unique to the region. I have no desire to visit every country in the world but I do intend to explore every prefecture in Japan, mainly for the food.
3 Dishes to Try in Japan
Sushi is arguably the most well-known Japanese dish. It’s representative of Japanese cuisine and the first thing many people think of when they think of Japanese food.
Sushi consists of vinegared rice commonly served with raw fish and other types of seafood, though it can be made with other ingredients as well like raw vegetables. It’s often served with gari (pickled ginger), wasabi, and soy sauce and comes in many forms like nigiri, maki, temaki, chirashi, and nare.
In Japan, one of our favorite ways of enjoying sushi is at kaitenzushi restaurants. Kaitenzushi refers to a type of restaurant that serves sushi on conveyor belts. The picture below was taken at an Osaka branch of the popular Daiki Suisan chain.
Like sushi, ramen is one of the most popular Japanese dishes. It’s a noodle soup dish made with four basic elements – broth, tare (seasoning), noodles, and toppings.
Tare refers to the salty concentrated essence placed at the bottom of every ramen bowl. Together with the broth, it’s what determines the style of ramen. There are many regional varieties of ramen but the four basic types are miso, shoyu, shio, and tonkotsu.
Personally, my favorite is tonkotsu or Hakata ramen. Originally from Fukuoka, it’s a milky broth ramen that’s made by boiling pork bones over a high flame for several hours until the marrow seeps out.
Pictured below is a tasty bowl of crab miso ramen from a restaurant in Tokyo. It was recommended to us by a local who called it the best ramen shop he’s ever been to in Japan. Delicious!
Tempura is the dish that turned me on to Japanese food as a child, but it was unagi that made me fall in love with it as an adult. I had it at a sushi restaurant in Boston over thirty years ago and it’s been one of my favorite Japanese dishes ever since.
Unagi refers to freshwater eel while the term kabayaki describes the way in which the fish is prepared. The eel is slit down the middle, gutted, deboned, and butterflied before being skewered and grilled over charcoal. While grilling, it’s basted with a kabayaki sauce which is like a sweetened soy sauce.
Soft, smokey, and savory-sweet, unagi is commonly served in sushi form or over a bed of rice in a dish called unadon or unaju. If you visit Nagoya, then be sure to try hitsumabushi. It’s an interesting version of unagi that originated in Aichi prefecture.
Pictured below is an order of unagi donburi from the excellent Unagi Hirokawa restaurant in Kyoto.
Before our first trip to Vietnam, we weren’t high on Vietnamese food. Now it’s one of our favorites. Personally, it’s in my top three. I enjoy it so much that I recently spent a month in Vietnam eating my way from north to south.
One of the things I enjoy most about Vietnamese food is its sense of balance. Sour is served with sweet, hot is tempered with cold. Fried food is served with fresh vegetables and dishes are often presented with a pleasing harmony of color.
Vietnamese food aims to strike a balance in different aspects of food like taste, nutrients, and presentation, and it does so by paying attention to a specific set of elements per aspect.
We’ve come to love Vietnamese food so much that we’re already planning a trip back. And this time, we’ll stay for at least three months, probably even longer.
3 Dishes to Try in Vietnam
Bun cha is one of my favorite Vietnamese dishes and perhaps the one dish I miss most about Vietnam. It’s a Hanoi dish of charcoal-grilled pork served with cold vermicelli noodles and fresh greens like lettuce, perilla, coriander, and mint. It’s the dish that Anthony Bourdain and Barack Obama shared on that Hanoi episode of Parts Unknown.
Bun cha is often paired with a side of nem cua be or deep-fried crab spring rolls. It’s one of my absolute favorite meals in Vietnamese cuisine and one of the reasons why Hanoi is my favorite city in Vietnam. I think I had it almost everyday the last time I was there.
Banh mi, like pho, is the most well-known Vietnamese dish. Technically speaking, it refers to a small French-style baguette but people use the term to refer to the sandwich.
A banh mi is a baguette sandwich made with different types of meat, vegetables, and condiments. Pork, cucumber slices, coriander, and pickled carrots make their way into many banh mis but you can pretty much make it with whatever you want because the real star of the sandwich is the bread.
Banh mi bread is crusty on the outside but soft and cloud-like on the inside. Personally, it’s one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had and something I wouldn’t mind eating everyday.
Banh mi is good anywhere in Vietnam but the best sandwiches are said to come from Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City.
Bun Bo Hue
Pho is a Vietnamese national dish and beloved by many, but personally, I think there are better noodle soup dishes in Vietnam. Bun bo hue is one of those dishes.
As its name suggests, bun bo is a noodle soup dish that originated in Hue in central Vietnam. It’s made with rice vermicelli, thin slices of beef, and hefty chunks of beef shank. Depending on the cook, it can contain other ingredients as well like oxtail, pig’s knuckle, and congealed pig’s blood.
The broth in bun bo hue is so incredibly flavorful. I had gotten used to the mildness of pho so I was surprised by how tasty this was. It’s my favorite noodle soup dish in Vietnam and something you need to try when you visit Hue.
When it comes to countries with the best food, Thailand is a no-brainer. Before 2020, Bangkok was the most visited city in the world for four consecutive years. CNN once declared it the best city in the world for street food so adding it to this list was easy.
This list goes beyond beyond Bangkok which is a good thing because there’s a lot of good food to be had throughout the country. Generally speaking, Bangkok and central Thai food is known to be a little sweet compared to the saltier and more bitter cuisine of the north and the spicier dishes of the south.
It’s available throughout Thailand but you may want to visit the northeast region as well to try Isan food. It’s a regional Thai cuisine that’s been heavily influenced by Laos and Khmer cuisines.
3 Dishes to Try in Thailand
Tom yum (or tom yam) is one of the most popular and beloved dishes in Thai cuisine. It refers to a family of soups made with lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, fresh lime juice, and fresh Thai chilis.
Tom yum can be made with different proteins like chicken, pork, or fish, but the most popular version is made with prawn (tom yum goong). Known for its distinctively hot and sour flavors, it’s often touted as the dish that defines Thai cuisine.
Writing this article now, I can almost feel that hot spicy-sour broth streaming down the back of my throat. It’s raining where I am so a bowl of tom yum would be so perfect right now. It’s a delicious dish and a great introduction to Thai food.
Pictured below is a bowl of kuay teow tom yum goong nam khon from Pe Aor, one of the most popular tom yum restaurants in Bangkok.
Like tom yum, pad thai is one of the most popular Thai dishes. For many people, it’s the first thing that comes to mind when they think of Thai cuisine.
Pad thai refers to a stir-fried rice noodle dish made with tofu, scrambled egg, peanuts, bean sprouts, and other vegetables. It’s often made with chicken or shrimp though any type of meat or seafood can be used. The ingredients are sauteed in a wok then tossed with a sauce that gives the dish its signature sweet, salty, sour flavors.
Pad thai is a universally appealing dish that can be found pretty much anywhere in Thailand, from humble street food carts to proper sit-down restaurants.
Khao soi is my favorite northern Thai dish. Popular in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, it’s perhaps the one dish that best represents northern Thai cuisine.
Khao soi is a dish made with both crispy and soft egg noodles in a creamy curry-like coconut sauce. It’s commonly made with chicken or beef and served with a side of chopped red onion, pickled cabbage, and a wedge of lime.
For some reason, khao soi is typically served only at lunch. In Chiang Mai, one of the best places to try it is at Khao Soi Khun Yai.
When compiling this list, I almost forgot about Singapore. That would have been a travesty considering how good and diverse their food is, especially for such a small country! Pound for pound, Singapore is one of the world’s best countries for food.
When you think of hawker food, one of the first countries that springs to mind is Singapore. Hawker centers with dozens of stalls offering a wide range of inexpensive food can be found throughout the city. Singapore has a reputation for being an expensive city but you’ll never guess it from its abundance of cheap and delicious hawker food.
Singapore is a multiracial country with ethnic Chinese, Malays, and Indians making up most of its population. This diversity is reflected in a cuisine shaped by a multitude of culinary influences. That for me makes it one of the world’s best countries for food.
Walk into any hawker center in Singapore and you’ll have your choice of Chinese, Indian, Malay, Indonesian, and Peranakan food. I love it!
3 Dishes to Try in Singapore
Laksa is one of Singapore’s most popular dishes. It’s a Peranakan dish made with wheat noodles or rice vermicelli in a rich and savory coconut milk broth. It’s often made with chicken, prawn, or fish though other types of meat and seafood can also be used.
Laksa is equally popular in Malaysia where it’s considered a national dish. Tart versions made with sour asam (tamarind, gelugur or kokum) are also available but in Singapore, the most popular version is the coconut-based curry laksa. That’s the version I prefer.
Laksa seems to be one of those dishes that sparks heated debates on which version is the best. Everyone has their preference and no one is incorrect.
Personally, I find the offerings at Sungei Road Laksa to be worthy of consideration. It’s one of the best restaurants in Singapore for laksa and one of the few remaining places that still makes it with a charcoal burner.
Hainanese Chicken Rice
As its name suggests, Hainanese chicken rice is a chicken rice dish originally from Hainan in southern China. Thanks to the Chinese diaspora, it’s taken root in other parts of Asia like Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam.
Hainanese chicken rice consists of a whole poached chicken served with seasoned rice and a medley of dipping sauces, typically pureed ginger, kecap manis (sweet soy sauce), and chili sauce. The rice is cooked with the fat and liquid from the poached chicken giving it its signature oily sheen and flavor.
This dish’s lack of color makes it seem bland but looks can be deceiving. It’s incredibly flavorful and delicious, especially when eaten with the trio of sauces. Check out this local’s recommendations on where to find the best Hainanese chicken rice in Singapore.
Chili crab is the single most important Singaporean dish. It’s made by stir-frying crabs, typically mud crabs, in a thick sauce made with tomato, chili, and egg.
In spite of its name, chili crab isn’t very spicy at all. It tastes tangy and sweet with just a hint of spiciness. It’s often eaten with a side of fried mantou bread to mop up the sauce.
Singaporeans are abundantly proud of their chili crab and consider it to be their greatest culinary invention. I still remember our server’s face when he brought it out to us. He was beaming with pride, like “wait until you foreigners get a taste of this!”
Like many Asian kids, I grew up eating Chinese food. We’ve traveled many times to Hong Kong and Macau but for reasons I won’t get into here, we’ve stayed away from mainland China.
We have our reasons for not going but to not include China in this list of the best cuisines in the world would be inexcusable. With food staples like rice, soy sauce, noodles, tofu, chopsticks, and tea, I don’t think there’s ever been a cuisine as influential as Chinese. It’s without a doubt one of the world’s best countries for food.
My sister has been living in Shanghai for close to two decades so we may find ourselves in China within the next few years. We’ll see. Yunnan and Shanxi provinces are of particular interest but there are so many regional cuisines to explore in China. A stay of six months sounds like a minimum.
3 Dishes to Try in China
“Dumpling” is an incredibly broad term when it comes to Chinese food but it’s the best way of encapsulating the endless variety of dishes that fall under this category.
In culinary terms, the word dumpling is used to describe any dish made with dough wrapped around a filling. Fillings vary as do the ingredients used to make the dough and the method used to cook the dumpling. With China being such a vast country with many regional cuisines, that can mean an endless variety of dumplings.
Among the most common types of Chinese dumplings are jiaozi, xiao long bao, sheng jian bao, zongzi, wontons, and bao zi. Some of these varieties can be further subdivided depending on fillings used and method of cooking. You could probably spend a lifetime in China and not try every dumpling.
We’ve been eating Peking duck ever since we were children but in the eyes of Beijing locals, if you’ve never had Peking duck in Beijing, then you’ve never really had Peking duck.
Peking duck refers to a Beijing duck dish characterized by its thin, delicately crisp skin. For show, the duck is carved tableside and served wrapped in small pancakes with spring onion, cucumber, and a sweet bean sauce. There are many delicious dishes in Chinese cuisine but Peking duck has long been one of my favorites.
A Taiwanese friend of mine is married to a Beijing local. Like me, he’s been eating Peking duck all his life but according to him, the Peking duck in Beijing is on another level. It’s just another reason for us to finally visit China.
Photo by Michael Evans
Like dumplings, fried rice is a broad term that refers to an endless variety of dishes made with cooked rice. The rice is stir-fried in a wok with any number of ingredients like meat, seafood, egg, and vegetables.
Fried rice was invented in China during the Sui Dynasty but it’s now become a part of many different cuisines around the world. Some of our favorite fried rice dishes include yang chow fried rice, salted fish fried rice, chahan (Japan), sinangag (Philippines), and nasi goreng (Indonesia).
Photo by takedahrs via Pixabay
For many years, I’ve looked at India as being one of the world’s best countries for food. I based this largely on my experience with staple dishes like rice and curry, samosas, biryani, and naan bread.
The problem was, I always enjoyed it outside of India so I wondered if the dishes I came to love, like murgh makhani, were bastardized versions of Indian food. I wanted to have it at the source. I finally got my wish a few years ago when I visited India for the first time and ate my way through Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi, and Agra.
Like China, India is a vast country that demands several months to do it justice. Before that trip, I thought I had a good enough grasp of Indian food but what I had experienced up to that point was just the tip of the iceberg.
Tasting for the first time colorful dishes like puchka, pav bhaji, tandoori mutton burra, paan, and jalebi made me realize that Indian truly is one of the best cuisines in the world.
3 Dishes to Try in India
This dish, along with chicken tikka masala (which I would later learn is more English than Indian), is what made me fall in love with Indian cuisine. It’s the reason why I wanted to visit India.
Butter chicken or murgh makhani refers to a curry dish made with tandoori-roasted chicken served in a mildly spiced tomato sauce with butter. I lived for many years in the US and we would always order murgh makhani or chicken tikka masala with basmati rice and some naan bread. That meal is pure heaven.
I like butter chicken so much that I had it for all but one meal while I was in Delhi, at several highly-rated restaurants including Moti Mahal where it was invented. I learned that the versions I enjoyed for many years at Indian restaurants in the US were authentic.
Biryani is Ren’s favorite Indian dish. It refers to a popular Indian-Muslim dish made with meat and long-grain rice (like basmati) flavored with a host of spices like saffron, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, garlic, and ghee. To prepare, the meat and rice are cooked separately before being layered and cooked together in a pot.
Like Chinese fried rice, there exists a number of variations of biryani in India. One of the most popular is Hyderabadi biryani. It’s made with basmati, goat or chicken meat, and a multitude of spices and aromatics like yogurt, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, bay leaves, nutmeg, saffron, and black cumin.
Pictured below is an excellent plate of mutton biryani from the popular Arsalan restaurant in Kolkata.
A samosa is a popular appetizer or snack that can be found in the local cuisines of many Asian, Mediterranean, and African countries, though the Indian version is perhaps the most well-known.
Indian samosas are typically filled with a mixture of mashed boiled potatoes, onions, lentils, green peas, paneer (fresh cheese), and spices. It’s deep-fried in vegetable oil and served with a chutney, commonly mint, coriander, or tamarind.
“Samosa” by Avinash Bhat, used under CC BY-SA 2.0 / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom
Before we visited Turkey a few years ago, we knew next to nothing about the cuisine. After a few days of eating things like lahmacun, kofte, and borek, Turkish food endeared itself to us and quickly became one of our favorites.
Based on what I’ve read, Turkish cuisine can be described as a continuation of Ottoman cuisine. It evolved from the fusion and refinement of multiple cuisines like Central Asian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Eastern European, and Balkan. Its diversity and long history make it one of the best cuisines in the world.
This diversity and multitude of influences was noticeable even to novices like us. From the testi kebap of Anatolia to the Ottoman court cuisine of Istanbul to the fresh fish of the Black Sea, we could see just how much the cuisine would change as we moved from one region of the country to the next.
If you enjoy lamb, then you’re going to love Turkish food. It favors heavily in the cuisine and is found in many dishes like kebabs, kofte, lahmacun, and pide. Whenever you see the word “meat” in a menu, more often than not it refers to lamb.
3 Dishes to Try in Turkey
This looks like Turkish pizza but it isn’t. It’s lahmacun – a round, thin piece of dough topped with minced lamb, vegetables, and herbs.
Lahmacun is baked like a pizza but it’s thinner and it isn’t made with any sauce or cheese. To eat, you roll it up and wrap it around pickles and fresh vegetables like tomatoes, onions, lettuce, and parsley. Like pizza, it’s delicious and one of the most enjoyable things we ate in Turkey.
Testi kebap or pottery kebab is interesting. It’s an Anatolian casserole-type dish that’s prepared in a clay pot or jug, hence the name.
Testi kebap is typically made with lamb, onion, tomato, pepper, garlic, and butter. The ingredients are placed inside the clay pot which is then sealed with dough before being cooked in a tandoor oven or charcoal smoker. When cooked, the pot is brought to your table and cracked with a hammer for a bit of tableside theater.
The high temperature and pressure inside the clay pot is what makes the meat so delicious and tender. Pottery kebab is a popular dish and a must-try in Cappadocia.
Photo by franz12 via Shutterstock
I’ve only had kunefe once but it quickly became one of my favorite desserts, not just in Turkey but anywhere. It’s a traditional Middle Eastern dessert that’s become popular in other countries like Turkey, Greece, and the Balkans.
Kunefe is made with shredded kadayif dough soaked in a sweet, sugar-based syrup. It’s layered with cheese and topped with other ingredients like clotted cream or nuts. When you eat it piping hot, the cheese pulls away in these deliciously gooey, stretchy strings. It’s so good!
When it comes to countries with the best food, Italy is on many people’s lists. It’s one of the best cuisines in the world, having produced many beloved dishes like pizza, lasagna, risotto, and gelato.
Like Chinese food, we’ve been eating pizza and pasta almost all our lives. But we’ve never been to Italy. I know, I know, how can we call ourselves genuine food lovers if we’ve never been to the country that produced one of the most popular and influential cuisines in the world?
When we were deciding which countries to visit on a recent trip to Europe, we wanted more than anything to include Italy. But after looking at a map and seeing all the places we wanted to visit – Rome, Sicily, Florence, Naples, Venice, Tuscany, Milan, Bologna, Verona, Sardinia – we knew it couldn’t be done.
I only get 3 months on a Schengen visa and Italy alone demands 3 months. It would have to be its own trip, one we’ll be making in the not too distant future.
3 Dishes to Try in Italy
Pizza has to be one of the greatest foods ever invented. It’s originally from Naples but it’s evolved into many forms and has become one of the most popular foods in the world. With Naples being the birthplace of pizza, it only makes sense that it still produces the best version of this dish.
Pizza Napoletana refers to Naples-style pizza. It’s a Protected Designation of Origin dish, meaning it needs to follow a strict set of guidelines to carry the Napoletana label. If it isn’t made with a specific set of ingredients grown in specific regions in Italy, then it can’t be called an authentic pizza napoletana.
We often make wood-fired Naples-style pizza at home but of course, nothing compares to having the real thing in Naples.
Like “dumpling”, pasta is an incredibly broad term that describes an infinite number of dishes. It refers to any starchy noodle dish made from wheat flour mixed into a paste or dough, then flattened and cut into strips or other shapes. Like pizza, it’s an exceedingly popular dish that’s found its way to many other parts of the world.
Like Chinese food, we’ve been eating pasta dishes all our lives but only on a few occasions have we eaten dishes made with fresh pasta, and obviously never in Italy! It’s our greatest shame as food lovers and something we hope to rectify soon.
Just like sushi is always good in Japan, I’m pretty sure pasta is good anywhere in Italy. Thanks to the late great Anthony Bourdain, the one pasta dish I’m dying to try is cacio e pepe.
“Cacio e Pepe” by Sarah Stierch, used under CC BY 2.0 / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom
Ossobuco is one of Ren’s favorite dishes. She makes it all the time at home so it only follows that we want to try it in Italy.
Ossobuco is a northern Italian dish of cross-cut veal shanks braised with vegetables, white wine, and broth. It’s often garnished with gremolata and traditionally served with either risotto alla milanese or polenta. The soft unctuous marrow inside the bone is the most prized part of this dish.
Micaela & Massimo from Vaprio d’Adda (MI), Italy, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom
We’re originally from the Philippines so we’re quite familiar with Spanish food. Many of our dishes have Spanish origins or names like adobo, paella, arroz caldo, and menudo.
Food plays a major role in Filipino culture. Every gathering, every celebration features copious amounts of food and it wasn’t until our first trip to Spain that I realized where we got that trait from. From tapas and pintxos to aperitivos to the long lunches followed by a siesta, Spanish people know how to celebrate life, and often, they celebrate it with food.
We visited over ten cities and towns in our three weeks in Spain and we never had to look too hard to find amazing food. It wasn’t hard adding Spain to our list of countries with the best food.
3 Dishes to Try in Spain
Paella is one of the most well-known dishes in Spanish cuisine. Originally from Valencia, it’s a dish made with round grain rice, saffron, olive oil, and meat and/or seafood. It gets its name from the wide shallow pan which is used to cook the dish.
Paella Valenciana and paella de marisco are the most traditional forms of paella but my personal favorite is paella negra. It’s a seafood paella similar to paella de marisco, except its made with squid ink which turns the rice (and your teeth) black. Enjoy it with much gusto but don’t forget to wipe your teeth before you smile.
Pintxos are small bar snacks similar to tapas. The main difference is that they’re typically skewered to a piece of bread with a toothpick. And while tapas dishes are ordered ala carte, pintxos are laid out on a bar so you’re free to grab whatever you like.
Pintxos are common in northern Spain, especially in Donostia-San Sebastian which has come to be known as the country’s gastronomic capital. It has a strong social component and is often eaten with friends and family over glasses of wine or beer.
One of our best experiences in Spain was to go bar hopping in San Sebastian and Logroño, putting away as many pintxos as we could muster. Like I said, these Spaniards really know how to enjoy life!
Tortilla de Patata
The tortilla de patata is a classic dish in Spanish cuisine and one of its most popular. It’s a comforting and filling omelette dish made with eggs, potatoes, and onions.
Often served as tapas, the tortilla de patata is proof that simple dishes are often the best. We enjoyed this one at a mercado in Madrid.
This was another no-brainer. You can’t write an article on the best cuisines in the world and not include France. Not only is it one of the world’s most influential cuisines, it’s the birthplace of gastronomy and home to arguably the best loaf of bread on the planet.
Being the birthplace of the Michelin Guide, French cuisine has a reputation for being refined and snooty but it’s home to more down-to-earth cooking as well. Some of the most beloved French comfort foods include cassoulet, boeuf bourguignon, and ratatouille.
Because of its reputation and history, I imagine France being in the top three of most people’s lists of countries with the best food. Personally, we haven’t been back to France in many years but it’s a country we might revisit somewhere down the line.
3 Dishes to Try in France
One of the things I love most about France is the baguette. A baguette is a long thin loaf of French bread made from basic lean dough. It’s often cited for being one of the best breads in the world, renowned for its crisp crust and soft airy center.
I haven’t had bread that good until I ate a banh mi in Vietnam, which makes sense since it was the French who introduced the baguette to the Vietnamese. We don’t have any immediate plans of revisiting France but the baguette is reason enough to go back.
“baguettes at the Edgar Quinet market” by Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble, used under CC BY 2.0 / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom
A cassoulet is a slow-cooked casserole dish made with various types of meat (typically duck, goose, and pork sausage), carrots, onions, and white beans. It’s originally from the south of France and is named after the traditional cooking vessel used to make it – the cassole.
If you’re like me and prefer street food and rustic dishes to fine dining, then these are the types of dishes you’ll want to look for in France.
“Cassoulet” by Isabelle Hurbain-Palatin, used under CC BY-SA 2.0 / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom
Like the baguette and French pastries, the crepe is one of the things I enjoyed most about Paris. It’s originally from Brittany in the northwest region of France but it’s made its way to many other parts of the world.
A crepe is a very thin type of pancake. It can be sweet or savory and filled with any number of ingredients. The simplest forms can be made with just powdered sugar, but there are more elaborate crepes like the popular flambeed crepes suzette and the savory Breton galettes.
Photo by pitrs10 via Deposit Photos
UPDATE (7 March 2022): We’re in Mexico right now and loving it! I’ll update this entry soon as I can.
We were supposed to visit Mexico for the first time in 2020. We were going to do a southern food tour in the US then make our way south to Mexico. We were going to eat our way through Mexico City, San Cristobal, Puebla, and Oaxaca. But we all know how 2020 turned out.
We both lived for many years in California so we’ve had our fair share of good Mexican-American food – Ren in downtown and East LA and me from the mom-and-pop burrito shops in San Francisco’s Mission District. But as much as I love burritos, fajitas, and nachos, it’s still Mexican-American food.
I have no way of knowing if what I’ve had is even close to the real thing because we haven’t been to Mexico, but that’s what we want to find out. By all accounts, Mexico is indeed one of the world’s best countries for food.
Tacos al pastor, I have my eyes on you.
3 Dishes to Try in Mexico
Tacos al Pastor
I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about tacos al pastor but I’ve become even more obsessed with it after watching the Taco Chronicles on Netflix. It’s the one dish I’m most excited to try in Mexico.
Tacos al pastor refers to a taco dish made with pork grilled on a spit. Marinated pork is slowly grilled on a vertical rotisserie called a trompo. When cooked, the meat is sliced off in thin pieces and served on a small corn tortilla with onion, cilantro, pineapple, and other ingredients.
If the method of cooking tacos al pastor sounds familiar to you, it’s because it isn’t originally from Mexico. Like gyros and shawarma, it’s said to be a deviation of the Turkish doner kebab which was brought to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants in the 1930s.
“Awesome tacos from Cocuyos” by Bex Walton, used under CC BY 2.0 / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom
Like feasting on tacos al pastor in Mexico City, eating mole in Oaxaca and Puebla is high on our list of priorities in Mexico.
Mole refers to a traditional sauce used in Mexican cuisine. It comes in many forms and is typically made with a vast array of ingredients like chili peppers, tomatillos, dried fruits, nuts, garlic, herbs, chocolate, and spices. I read that authentic moles contain an average of about 20-30 different ingredients!
From what I understand, it takes a lot of care and preparation to make a proper mole. I’ve been to Mexican-American restaurants in the US and I don’t recall seeing mole too often, probably because it’s so laborious to make.
We had a homemade mole from a Mexican friend not too long ago and I was surprised by how delicious it was. What looked like a brown unappetizing sludge turned out to be one of the most flavorful things I’ve ever put in my mouth.
“O3318930” by Scott Mattoon, used under CC BY 2.0 / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom
If you like tortilla chips, then you’re probably well-acquainted with guacamole. It refers to an avocado-based dip or thick sauce often used in Mexican and Mexican-American cuisine.
Guacamole has existed in Mexico since pre-hispanic times and is made by mashing ripe avocados with a mortar and pestle. It’s seasoned with sea salt and often made with lime juice, cilantro, and jalapeños.
“guacamole in our new mocajete” by Valerie Hinojosa, used under CC BY-SA 2.0 / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom
12. United States of America
The US won’t make it to many people’s lists of countries with the best food and I can understand why. When you think of American food, the first things that comes to mind are hamburgers, hot dogs, and apple pie. Not exactly the most exciting of choices but that doesn’t mean the US doesn’t deserve to be on this list.
The fact is, anyone who’s been there knows that the food in America is amazing. The US is a melting pot of cultures so they don’t have as clearly defined a cuisine as other countries on this list. American cuisine is basically fusion cuisine that’s taken food from other cultures and made it their own.
Some of the best examples of this include pizza, Tex-Mex, and Chinese food. New York and Chicago deep dish pizzas are different from classic Neapolitan pizzas. Tex-Mex evolved from Mexican food while General Tso’s chicken doesn’t exist anywhere in China. But that doesn’t change the fact that they’re all delicious.
I was surprised to hear a Japanese friend tell me one time that the best sushi he’s ever had came from a restaurant in San Francisco. Chalk it up to superior ingredients or improved techniques but some things just taste better in America.
3 Dishes to Try in the U.S.
Like pizza, the hamburger is one of the most popular foods in the world. From rice burgers in Japan to langos burgers in Budapest, it can be found in some form in virtually every major city on the planet.
In spite of its name, evidence suggests that the hamburger was created in America and not Hamburg, Germany. It’s said to have been created by a Danish immigrant in 1900 though there are rival claims that challenge this idea.
Whatever its true origin, this comforting dish made with a patty of ground beef sandwiched between two buns is largely associated with the US. It’s the one dish that perhaps best represents American cuisine.
The philly cheesesteak is one of my favorite comfort foods. I absolute LOVE this sandwich, so much so that I wanted to make a stop in Philadelphia after our southern food tour just so I could eat cheesesteaks everyday for several days.
At its most basic, a cheesesteak is a sandwich made from thinly sliced beef and melted cheese in a long hoagie roll. It’s typically made with American cheese, Cheez Whiz, and provolone and is believed to have been invented in Philadelphia sometime in the 1930s.
I’ve had cheesesteaks in many different US cities. Most were good but the cheesesteaks made in Philadelphia are the best. It’s all about the bread and according to a friend of mine from Philly, the secret is in the city’s water.
“cheesesteak” by stu_spivack, used under CC BY-SA 2.0 / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom
Texas-style barbecue is one of the main reasons why we wanted to do a southern US food tour en route to Latin America. It refers to methods of preparing barbecue that are unique to Texas regional cuisine. Different regions in Texas have their own unique barbecue styles with beef brisket, pork ribs, and sausages being some of the most common dishes.
“Close up of the ribs” by J Dimas, used under CC BY 2.0 / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom, removed watermark
FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE BEST COUNTRIES FOR FOOD
Again, this list of the world’s best countries for food reflects our own personal preferences. It isn’t meant to be a definitive list and not everyone will agree with it. Taste is subjective and it can change over time. There are never right or wrong answers when it comes to food preferences.
With that said, I assumed this article would be easy to write but it turned out to be much more difficult than I thought! It wasn’t easy narrowing it down to just twelve. We haven’t been to every country in the world so this list will likely evolve over time.
We’re yet to visit Morocco but based on what we know and what we’ve experienced, I can see it making this list. Greece used to be on it before I remembered Singapore. Some people may not agree with that and that’s ok.
Other than Mexico, there’s an entire region of good food waiting to be discovered in Latin America. Mexico is a priority but we plan on spending a few years in Latin America to immerse ourselves in the culture and really explore the food. Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru are also of interest.
In any case, I hope you enjoyed reading this article on the world’s best countries for food as much as I did writing it. Thinking and talking about food is always fun.
If you have any suggestions on which countries and cities we should visit for food, then please let us know in the comments below. Thank you and happy traveleating!
Seoul is a massive city. It has one of the most populated metropolitan areas in the world. There’s a lot to see and do in Seoul but thankfully, the city has an efficient and extensive metro system that makes sightseeing a breeze.
Like first-time visitors to Tokyo, people who visit Seoul for the first time will have their hands full navigating the city’s myriad attractions so I’ve come up with this 5 day Seoul itinerary to help you maximize your stay.
Like any trip, it’s always better to stay longer but five days will give you enough time to explore Seoul’s top tourist attractions at a moderate, enjoyable pace.
SEOUL ITINERARY QUICK LINKS
To help you plan your trip to Seoul, I’ve compiled links to hotels, tours, and other travel-related services here.
Top-rated hotels in Myeongdong, the best area to stay in Seoul for first-time visitors.
Luxury: THE PLAZA Seoul, Autograph Collection
Midrange: Solaria Nishitetsu Hotel Seoul Myeongdong
Budget: Dream Guesthouse
Seoul Sightseeing Tour: History of Seoul Tour
Hanbok Rental: Hanbok Rental and Photoshoot Experience
Day Trip: Nami Island (and More) Day Tour from Seoul
Travel Insurance (with COVID cover)
Korea Tour Card
Discover Seoul Pass
SEOUL TRAVEL GUIDE
People visiting South Korea and Seoul for the first time will find our Seoul travel guide very useful. It’ll have all the information you need – like when to go, how to get around, what and where to eat, etc. – to help you plan your trip.
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WHAT TO DO WITH 5 DAYS IN SEOUL
Listed below are the top Seoul attractions along with a few recommended restaurants. You can jump to the location map to see exactly where they are in the city.
We highly recommend getting a Korea Tourist Card or Discover Seoul Pass. Either one will be very helpful to you as you hop from one attraction to the next on this Seoul Itinerary. The Discover Seoul Pass is especially helpful because it gives you free admission to many of the attractions recommended here. You can click on the links for more information.
NOTE: We usually use Google Maps to navigate but it doesn’t work as well in Korea. In Seoul, it’s best to navigate using the NAVER Map, Navigation app (iOS | Android).
SEOUL ITINERARY QUICK GLANCE
DAY ONE • Gyeongbokgung Palace / Gwanghwamun Gate • Tosokchon (lunch) • Bukchon Hanok Village • Changdeokgung Palace / Huwon • Changgyeonggung Palace • Jongmyo Shrine • Ikseondong Hanok Village • Insadong Area • Jogyesa Temple • Imun Seolleongtang (dinner)
DAY TWO • Gyeonghuigung Palace • Deoksugung Palace • Jeonju Yuhalmeoni Bibimbap (lunch) • Namdaemun Market • N Seoul Tower • Myeongdong Area • Myeongdong Kyoja (dinner)
DAY THREE • Noryangjin Fish Market • Hongdae Area • Gangnam Area • BBQ Olive Chicken Cafe (lunch) • Bongeunsa Temple • COEX Mall • Starfield Library • Gangnam Shopping Street • Wonjo Masan Halmae Agujjim (dinner)
DAY FOUR • Cheonggyecheon Stream • Gwangjang Market • Woo Lae Oak (lunch) • Ihwa Mural Village • Dongdaemun Design Plaza • Itaewon Area • Sigol Bapsang (appetizer) • Woosung Galbi (dinner)
DAY FIVE • Day Trip
SEOUL ITINERARY: DAY 1
Your first stop on day one of this Seoul itinerary is Gyeongbokgung, the oldest and largest among Seoul’s Five Grand Palaces. Built in 1395, it served as the main palace of the Joseon Dynasty and currently houses the National Palace Museum of Korea and the National Folk Museum of Korea.
Gyeongbokgung is the biggest palace in Seoul and considered by many to be the most beautiful so it makes sense to go there first. Pictured below is Gwanghwamun Gate. It’s the main gate to the palace and where you can watch the changing of the Royal Guard.
Entrance to Gyeongbokgung is KRW 3,000 but you can get an integrated palace ticket for KRW 10,000 that gives you access to Gyeongbokgung, Changdeokgung (including Huwon), Changgyeonggung, Deoksugung, and Jongmyo Shrine.
You can witness the ceremonial changing of the Royal Guard at Gwanghwamun Gate at 10AM and 2PM everyday except Tuesday. It’s one of the most interesting times to visit Gyeongbokgung so it’s best to arrive before 10AM. Other than Gyeongbokgung, the only other palace where you can watch the changing of the guard in Seoul is at Deoksugung.
We visited Gyeongbokgung on our own but if you’d prefer to go on a guided tour, then there are a few palace tours you can choose from on Klook or Get Your Guide. Many tourists who visit Gyeongbokgung will rent a hanbok (traditional Korean dress) first for more memorable pictures.
Operating Hours: 9AM-6PM, Wed-Mon (closed Tuesdays) Admission: KRW 3,000 Closest Subway Station: Gyeongbokgung Station (Line 3, Exit 5) or Anguk Station (Line 3, Exit 1) Estimated Time to Spend: About 1-2 hrs
After exploring Gyeongbokgung, head over to Tosokchon for lunch. It’s about a 5-minute walk west of the palace. Tosokchon has been open for over 30 years and is known for serving some of the best samgyetang in Seoul.
Samgyetang is a hearty Korean soup dish made from a whole young chicken stuffed with glutinous rice and boiled in a broth of Korean ginseng, jujube fruits, garlic, ginger, and other ingredients. It’s believed to have a cooling effect on the body and is thus especially popular in summer.
We’ve tried many delicious dishes in Korea and samgyetang is definitely one of the most interesting. Pictured below is a version of the dish made with black chicken.
Address: 5 Jahamun-ro 5-gil, Sajik-dong, Jongno-gu, 서울특별시 South Korea Operating Hours: 10AM-10PM, daily Closest Subway Station: Gyeongbokgung Station (Exit 2) What to Order: Samgyetang What We Paid: Around KRW 15,000-20,000 per person
Bukchon Hanok Village
Bukchon Hanok Village is an atmospheric residential/commercial neighborhood in Seoul located between Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung palaces. After lunch at Tosokchon, make your way there before proceeding to Changdeokgung.
Bukchon Hanok Village is home to hundreds of hanoks or traditional Korean houses that date back to the Joseon Dynasty. It’s one of the most popular places in Seoul to rent a hanbok for pictures.
While many of the hanoks have been converted into cultural centers and teahouses, the majority are still residences so it’s important to be respectful and keep your voices down when you visit.
I’ve visited Bukchon Hanok Village a few times, always on my own, but there’s a free walking tour you may want to join. You can visit on a guided tour as well.
Closest Subway Station: Anguk Station (Line 3, Exit 1 or 2) Estimated Time to Spend: About 1 – 1.5 hrs
From Bukchon Hanok Village, it’s about a 10-15 minute walk east to Changdeokgung Palace. It’s the second of the Five Grand Palaces you’ll be visiting on this 5 day Seoul itinerary.
Changdeokgung was the second royal villa built in Seoul, after Gyeongbokgung. It’s perhaps the most well-preserved of the five palaces and one of the most visited. If you were to visit just two palaces, then it should probably be Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung.
One of Changdeokgung’s most notable features is the rear secret garden or Huwon. It was used as a resting place by the Joseon kings and considered one of the best examples of Korean garden design. It features a small pond, a pavilion, and a large tree that’s over 300 years old.
Admission to the Huwon is separate from the palace but the integrated palace ticket will give you access to both. Like Gyeongbokgung and Bukchon Hanok Village, Changdeokgung is a great place to rent a hanbok for pictures. You can also visit on a guided tour.
Operating Hours: 9AM-6PM, Tue-Sun (closed Mondays) Admission: KRW 3,000 (palace), KRW 8,000 (Huwon) Closest Subway Station: Anguk Station (Line 3, Exit 3) Estimated Time to Spend: About 2 hrs
Connected to Changdeokgung is Changgyeonggung, the next of the Five Grand Palaces in Seoul. It was built in 1483 for the wives of the Joseon kings.
Changgyeonggung Palace is smaller and less impressive than the previous two but its proximity to Changdeokgung makes it a worthwhile stop on this Seoul itinerary. Plus, you’ll have free access with the integrated palace ticket.
“Changgyeonggung Palace, Seoul, erly 15th century (12)” by Richard Mortel, used under CC BY 2.0 / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom
Operating Hours: 9AM-9PM, Tue-Sun (closed Mondays) Admission: KRW 1,000 Closest Subway Station: Anguk Station (Line 3, Exit 3) Estimated Time to Spend: About 1 – 1.5 hrs
Located directly south of Changdeokgung and Changgyeonggung palaces is Jongmyo, a royal shrine where the ancestral rites for deceased Joseon kings and queens are performed.
Jongmyo Shrine is where you’ll find the royal spirit tablets. These are the placards used to designate the seat of a deity or past ancestor. It’s a sacred place that’s more solemn in atmosphere than the royal palaces so it’s important to be respectful when you visit. It’s the only non-palace included in the integrated palace ticket.
“Jongmyo Shrine” by whyyan, used under CC BY 2.0 / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom
Operating Hours: 9AM-6PM, Wed-Mon (closed Tuesdays) Admission: KRW 1,000 Closest Subway Station: Jongno 3(sam)-ga Station (Line 1, 3, 5 / Exit 8, 11) Estimated Time to Spend: About 1 hr
Ikseondong Hanok Village
Directly to the west of Jongmyo Shrine is Ikseondong Hanok Village, perhaps one of Seoul’s best kept secrets. A labyrinth of hanoks that have been converted into cute cafes and boutiques, it’s like a trendier version of Bukchon Hanok Village.
We visited Ikseondong in the morning when many of the shops were still closed so it’s best to go later in the day. If you’re looking for something a little less touristy in Seoul, then Ikseondong is a great neighborhood to get lost in for an hour or two.
Photo by Alejandro via Flickr (CC0 1.0)
Closest Subway Station: Jongno 3(sam)-ga Station (Line 1, 3, 5 / Exit 6) Estimated Time to Spend: About 2-3 hrs
Make your way to Insadong, this first of five popular Seoul neighborhoods you’ll be exploring on this Seoul itinerary. It’s comprised of a main street – Insadong-gil – connected to a network of smaller alleyways filled with art galleries, traditional craft shops, restaurants, cafes, and street food stalls.
At one point, Insadong was home to the largest market of antiques and artwork not just in Seoul, but in all of South Korea. If you’re looking to purchase more traditional items in Seoul, then Insadong is the place to go.
It’s fun to explore the area on your own but if you’d like to go with a guide, then you may be interested in this city sightseeing tour that takes you through the heart of Insadong.
Closest Subway Station: Jonggak Station (Line 1, Exit 11) or Anguk Station (Line 3, Exit 6) Estimated Time to Spend: About 3-4 hrs
From Insadong-gil, continue west to Jogyesa Temple, the head temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. It’s one of the most important Buddhist temples in Korea and serves as the main venue for many Buddhist events in Seoul.
Photo by Various images via Shutterstock
Operating Hours: 24 hrs Admission: FREE Closest Subway Station: Jonggak Station (Line 1, Exit 2) Estimated Time to Spend: About 30 mins – 1 hr
A short walk from Jogyesa Temple is Imun Seolleongtang, the oldest restaurant in Seoul. They’ve been serving seolnongtang or ox bone soup for close to 120 years.
My sister-in-law is a Korean former chef from Seoul and one of her favorite dishes is seolnongtang. It’s a hearty soup dish made by boiling beef shank bones for several hours to extract the flavor from the bones.
As you can see below, the process turns the broth cloudy and milky white. Brisket and other cuts of beef are added to the broth along with rice and soft wheat noodles.
Seolnongtang is great to have with makgeolli which is a sweet-sour alcoholic beverage made from rice or wheat mixed with nuruk, a Korean fermentation starter. What better way to end a day of historical sightseeing in Seoul than with dinner and drinks at Seoul’s oldest restaurant?
Address: 38-13 Ujeongguk-ro, Gyeonji-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea Operating Hours: 8AM-9PM, daily Closest Subway Station: Jonggak Station (Exit 3-1) What to Order: Seolnongtang, makgeolli What We Paid: Around KRW 10,000-15,000 per person
SEOUL ITINERARY: DAY 2
If you haven’t had your fill of palaces yet, then the second day on this Seoul itinerary will take you to Gyeonghuigung Palace, the fourth of the Five Grand Palaces.
During the latter half of the Joseon period, Gyeonghuigung served as the king’s secondary palace. It was where he retreated to in times of emergency. At its peak, it was comprised of about 100 buildings but most were destroyed during the Japanese occupation.
Admission to Gyeonghuigung Palace is free. It’s about a 10-minute walk from Deoksugung Palace. If you’d like to catch the 11AM changing of the guard at Deoksugung, then it’s best to be at Gyeonghuigung by around 9:30AM.
Photo by Gary Todd via Flickr (CC0 1.0)
Operating Hours: 9AM-6PM, Tue-Sun (closed Mondays) Admission: FREE Closest Subway Station: Seodaemun Station (Line 5, Exit 4) Estimated Time to Spend: About 1 hr
Deoksugung is the last of Seoul’s Five Grand Palaces. It became the primary royal palace after Gyeongbokgung was burned down during the Japanese invasion of Korea. It’s for this reason why it’s the only other palace in Seoul where you can witness the changing of the Royal Guard.
Deoksugung’s changing of the guard happens three times a day – at 11AM, 2PM, and 3:30PM. It takes place in front of Daehanmun which is the palace’s main gate. Admission to Deoksugung is included in the integrated palace ticket.
“Deoksugung Palace, Seoul (59)” by Richard Mortel, used under CC BY 2.0 / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom
Operating Hours: 9AM-9PM, Tue-Sun (closed Mondays) Admission: KRW 1,000 Closest Subway Station: City Hall Station (Line 1, 2 / Exit 1, 2, 3) Estimated Time to Spend: About 1 hr
Jeonju Yuhalmeoni Bibimbap
After exploring Deoksugung, walk over to Jeonju Yuhalmeoni Bibimbap for lunch. Owned and operated by Grandma Yu, this humble restaurant has been serving Jeonju-style bibimbap in Seoul for over 40 years.
Like bulgogi, galbi, or japchae, bibimbap is a beloved and well-known Korean dish. It refers to a bowl of white rice topped with sauteed and seasoned vegetables, gochujang (Korean chili paste), a raw or fried egg, and sliced meat. The contents are mixed together thoroughly before being eaten.
Address: 12-2, Bukchang-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea Operating Hours: 11AM-7PM, Thurs-Sat / 11AM-6PM, Sun-Wed Closest Subway Station: City Hall Station (Exit 8) What to Order: Jeonju bibimbap What We Paid: Around KRW 10,000 per person
After lunch, continue south to Namdeamun Market. It’s Korea’s largest traditional market with over 10,000 shops selling a variety of goods like clothes, houseware, toys, accessories, and food.
Spend as much time as you want exploring the market before proceeding to the next stop on this Seoul itinerary. Markets are one of the best places to experience local Korean culture and sample Seoul’s street food.
“Namdaemun Market” by Adrián Pérez, used under CC BY-SA 2.0 / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom
Operating Hours: 24 hrs Closest Subway Station: Hoehyeon Station (Line 4, Exit 5) Estimated Time to Spend: About 1-2 hrs
N Seoul Tower
From Namdaemun Market, continue south to Namsan Seoul Tower. It’s a little under 2 km (1.2 miles) away, part of which is uphill, so you may want to take the Seoul metro to Myeongdong station then walk the rest of the way.
Standing at almost 480 meters (1,575 ft) above sea level, N Seoul Tower is one of the tallest towers* not just in Seoul, but in all of Asia. It towers over Namsan Mountain and boasts an observation deck offering sweeping 360° views of downtown Seoul.
The observation deck is the main draw but there are other attractions within and around the tower as well like the Locks of Love, a game plaza, a VR entertainment center, and over a dozen restaurants and cafes.
You can get to N Seoul Tower on foot, by taxi or bus, or by cable car. Most tourists go by cable car. You can purchase tickets to the observatory at the gate.
*If you’d like to visit the tallest tower in Seoul, then head over to Lotte World Tower. It’s the tallest building in South Korea and the 5th tallest in the world.
Operating Hours: 11AM-10PM, daily Admission: KRW 16,000 (observatory), KRW 13,000 (cable car roundtrip) Closest Subway Station: Myeong-dong Station (Line 4, Exit 3) Estimated Time to Spend: About 1-2 hrs
From N Seoul Tower, take the cable car back down then walk to Myeongdong, one of Seoul’s most popular neighborhoods and shopping districts. It boasts a neon-lit labyrinth of department stores and boutiques selling a variety of goods like designer apparel, cosmetics, bags, luggage, and mobile accessories.
If you’re visiting Seoul primarily to shop, then this is probably where you’ll be spending most of your time.
Aside from designer boutiques, Myeongdong is home to a wealth of restaurants and cafes. It’s one of the most popular areas in Seoul to have street food.
Various vendors set up in the late afternoon to sell a variety of street food like tteokbokki (rice cakes), skewered seafood, and most decadent of all – grilled lobster tails.
Closest Subway Station: Euljiro 1(il)-ga Station (Line 2 / Exit 5, 6, 7) or Myeong-dong Station (Line 4 / Exit 5, 6, 7, 8) Estimated Time to Spend: About 3-4 hrs
There are many restaurants to choose from in Myeongdong but a popular choice is Myeongdong Kyoja. They’ve been around for over 50 years and are known for serving some of the best kalguksu or knife-cut noodles in Seoul.
Kalguksu consists of handmade, knife-cut wheat flour noodles served in a bowl with broth and other ingredients. At Myeondong Kyoja, it’s typically enjoyed with a side of steamed mandu or Korean-style dumplings.
Kalguksu is great but if you’d like more restaurant suggestions in the Myeongdong area, then check out our list of must-try restaurants in Seoul.
Address: 29 Myeongdong 10-gil, Myeongdong 2(i)-ga, Jung-gu, 서울특별시 South Korea Operating Hours: 10:30AM-9:30PM, daily Closest Subway Station: Myeongdong Station (Exit 8) What to Order: Kalguksu, mandu What We Paid: Around KRW 10,000-15,000 per person
SEOUL ITINERARY: DAY 3
Noryangjin Fisheries Wholesale Market
On the third day of this Seoul itinerary, head over to Noryangjin Market, one of the biggest and most well-known seafood markets in Seoul. We visited Noryangjin on our very first trip to Seoul to try sannakji, Korea’s infamous dish of “live” octopus sashimi.
Parts of Noryangjin stay open for 24 hours but one of the most interesting times to visit is at 3AM during the live fish auction. Up to 300 tons of marine products are traded at the market everyday.
What makes the market even more interesting are the many restaurants on the second floor that can prepare and cook your seafood for you. Just bring your fresh seafood to them, negotiate a price, and enjoy a seafood feast in Seoul.
Operating Hours: 24 hrs (high-class fish market) Closest Subway Station: Noryangjin Station (Line 1, Exit 1) Estimated Time to Spend: About 1-2 hrs
After your seafood feast, hop back into the Seoul metro and head over to Hongdae, one of our favorite neighborhoods in Seoul.
Hongdae refers to the area around Hongik University. It’s a lively and youthful neighborhood with plenty of cute cafes, restaurants, boutiques, and street performers.
Because Hongdae is populated with students, it has a fun college town atmosphere that’s unlike any other in Seoul. You could easily spend the whole day here exploring its myriad shops and cafes.
Closest Subway Station: Hongik University Station (Line 2, Exit 9) Estimated Time to Spend: About 3-4 hrs
The Gangnam district is one of the most affluent neighborhoods in Seoul. It’s drawn comparisons to Beverly Hills, CA and features some of the most expensive real estate in Seoul. The district gained global popularity thanks to Korean singer Psy’s smash hit “Gangnam Style”.
BBQ Olive Chicken Cafe
If you’re a fan of Korean television dramas, then you may recognize this place. It was featured prominently in the hugely successful Goblin series.
BBQ Olive Chicken Cafe is a chimaek restaurant chain with multiple outlets throughout Seoul. Chimaek refers to the popular combination of Korean fried chicken and beer, one of the best duos you can have in Seoul!
Two BBQ Olive Chicken Cafe outlets were featured in the Goblin tv series – one by Cheonggyecheon Stream and another in Gangnam. The former is more popular but this itinerary for Seoul takes you to the heart of the Gangnam commercial district next so I’m suggesting you go to the one in Gangnam.
Address: 687-2 Ilwon-dong, Gangnam District, Seoul, Korea Operating Hours: 11:30AM-2AM, daily Closest Subway Station: Daecheong Station (Exit 4) What to Order: Golden Olive Chicken, sweet potato fries What We Paid: Around KRW 15,000 per person
After lunch, take the Seoul metro to Bongeunsa Temple, a Buddhist temple located directly north of COEX Mall. It’s a good place to make a quick stop before visiting the mall’s Instagram-famous Starfield Library.
“Bongeunsa temple, Seoul” by mia!, used under CC BY-SA 2.0 / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom
Operating Hours: 24 hrs Admission: FREE Closest Subway Station: Bongeunsa Temple Station (Line 9, Exit 1) Estimated Time to Spend: About 1 hr
COEX Mall Starfield Library
Starfield Library is an open-air public library located in the middle of COEX Mall. It features hundreds of books and magazines, even iPads that you can use to read E-books. It’s a stunning library that’s become one of the most popular picture-taking spots in Seoul.
Operating Hours: 10:30AM-10PM, daily Admission: FREE Closest Subway Station: Samseong Station (Line 2 / Exit 5, 6), Bongeunsa Station (Line 9 / Exit 1, 6, 7), or Cheongdam Station (Line 7, Exit 2) Estimated Time to Spend: About 2-3 hrs
Gangnam Shopping Street
If you’d like to go shopping or get a bite to eat in Gangnam, then a good place to go is Gangnam-daero or Gangnam Shopping Street. Located between Gangnam and Sinnonhyeon stations, this stretch of road is the most popular shopping and dining area in the Gangnam district.
“Gangnam-gu, Seoul” by Kan Wu, used under CC BY 2.0 / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom
Closest Subway Station: Gangnam Station (Line 2 / Exit 10, 11) or Sinnonhyeon Station (Line 9 / Exit 5, 6) Estimated Time to Spend: About 2-3 hrs
Wonjo Masan Halmae Agujjim
If you walk north on Gangnam-daero, then you’ll eventually find yourself at a cluster of restaurants specializing in ganjang gejang. It’s a dish of raw crab marinated in soy sauce.
To prepare, fresh raw crabs are cleaned then put in an earthenware crock where they’re salted for about six hours. A mixture of soy sauce and other ingredients is boiled briefly then poured over the salted crabs.
After an hour, the sauce is removed and reboiled before again being poured over the crabs. This process is repeated several times before the dish is chilled and consumed.
I love crabs but I’ve never had it prepared in this way. It’s absolutely delicious and one of my favorite things to eat in Seoul. If you enjoy exploring the world through food, then you need to try ganjang gejang.
There are a few ganjang gejang restaurants in this area but we went to Wonjo Masan Halmae Agujjim based on the strength of its reviews.
Address: 10 Gangnam-daero 99-gil, Seocho-gu, Seoul, South Korea Closest Subway Station: Sinsa Station (Exit 4) What to Order: Ganjang gejang What We Paid: Around KRW 30,000-40,000 per person
SEOUL ITINERARY: DAY 4
The fourth day on this Seoul itinerary starts at Cheonggyecheon, an 11 km long urban stream that runs through the heart of central Seoul. It starts at Cheonggye Plaza and passes under 22 bridges before flowing out into the Han River.
Cheonggyecheon Stream is a favorite photo backdrop for both locals and tourists in Seoul. During the hotter months, you’ll often find people sitting on the stream’s edge with their feet submerged in the water.
It’s easy to walk the length of Cheonggyecheon Stream on your own, but if you’d like to learn about the many tourist attractions along the way, then you may be interested in joining this free walking tour.
Photo by SS pixels via Shutterstock
Closest Subway Station: City Hall Station (Line 1, Exit 4) Estimated Time to Spend: About 1-2 hrs
Walk east along the stream to Gwangjang Market, one of Seoul’s oldest and most well-known traditional markets. Open since 1905, it’s famous for its vintage clothing arcade and its abundance of street food.
Gwangjang Market is one of the best places to have a Korean breakfast in Seoul. We were there early in the morning when the stalls were packed with locals enjoying dishes like eomuk (fish cakes), tteokbokki, bindaetteok (mung bean pancakes), and kimbap (Korean sushi rolls). A few stalls were even offering sannakji.
Operating Hours: 8:30AM-11PM, daily Closest Subway Station: Jongno 5-ga Station (Line 1 / Exit 7, 8) Estimated Time to Spend: About 1-2 hrs
Woo Lae Oak
A short walk from Gwangjang Market is Woo Lae Oak, one of Seoul’s oldest restaurants. They’re known for their bulgogi and other barbecue dishes but they’re also famous for their naengmyeon.
Naengmyeon is a dish of chilled buckwheat noodles typically served in an iced broth made from beef, chicken, or dongchimi (watery brine made from kimchi). It’s originally a North Korean dish that became popular throughout the peninsula after the Korean War.
When we had lunch at Woo Lae Oak, everyone else was having barbecue but I suggest trying the naengmyeon. It’s an interesting dish and Woo Lae Oak is said to be one of the best places to try it in Seoul.
Address: 62-29, Changgyeonggung-ro, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea Operating Hours: 11:30AM-9:30PM, daily Closest Subway Station: Euljiro 4-ga Station (Exit 4) What to Order: Naengmyeon, bulgogi What We Paid: Around KRW 15,000-20,000 per person
Ihwa Mural Village
From Woo Lae Oak, make your way north to Ihwa Mural Village. We haven’t been there but it’s a popular destination for people wanting to take pictures for their Instagram.
Ihwa Mural Village was once a decaying residential neighborhood set for demolition over a decade ago. To save the neighborhood, local artists from Seoul were commissioned to create murals and sculptures and turn the area into an artistic landmark. The initiative worked, with Ihwa Mural Village becoming a popular tourist attraction in Seoul.
Like Bukchon Hanok Village, Ihwa Mural Village is a residential neighborhood so you’re reminded to keep your voices down when you visit.
“梨花洞壁畫村” by Wei-Te Wong, used under CC BY-SA 2.0 / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom
Closest Subway Station: Hyehwa Station (Line 4, Exit 2) Estimated Time to Spend: About 2 hrs
Dongdaemun Design Plaza
Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) is one of the most striking buildings in Seoul. It was designed by world-renowned architect Zaha Hadid and functions as the primary venue for important design-related shows, events, and conferences in Seoul.
DDP is comprised of five halls – the Art Hall, Museum, Design Lab, Design Market, and Dongdaemun History and Culture Park. Some areas are free to enter but limited time exhibits will often charge for admission. If you like art and design, then this is a great place to explore and get lost in for a couple of hours.
Operating Hours: 10AM-7PM, Tue-Sun (closed Mondays) Admission: FREE Closest Subway Station: Dongdaemun History & Culture Park Station (Line 2, 4 ,5 / Exit 1) Estimated Time to Spend: About 2 hrs
Among Seoul’s most popular neighborhoods, Itaewon is the one we’re least familiar with. It’s known for being one of the most culturally diverse neighborhoods in Seoul.
Itaewon refers to a lively commercial area in Seoul’s Yongsan-gu neighborhood, close to where American soldiers stayed after the Korean War. Over the years, it’s developed into an international destination with numerous bars, clubs, and restaurants offering a wide range of international cuisines.
Itaewon is a favorite hangout for expats and tourists in Seoul. If you like to party, then you may be interested in this pub crawl (Klook | Get Your Guide) that takes you to some of the best bars in Itaewon or Hongdae.
“Itaewon, Seoul” by Aleksandr Zykov, used under CC BY-SA 2.0 / Processed in Photoshop and Lightroom
Closest Subway Station: Itaewon Station (Line 6) Estimated Time to Spend: About 3-4 hrs
We’ve only been to Itaewon once, ironically, to have dinner at this tiny old-fashioned Korean restaurant known for serving over 20 different types of banchan.
Banchan refers to those little plates of food served at the start of a Korean meal. They’re normally treated as just side dishes but at Sigol Bapsang, they’re the star.
For less than USD 15, you can enjoy a banchan feast with rice and a steaming bowl of jjigae (fermented soybean paste stew). Banchan is offered at almost every Korean restaurant but Sigol Bapsang is the only place we’ve been to in Seoul (or anywhere else) that serves it like this.
Address: 235 Itaewon-ro, Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea Operating Hours: 24 hrs Closest Subway Station: Itaewon Station (Exit 2) What to Order: Banchan What We Paid: Around KRW 10,000-15,000 per person
If you’re still hungry after Sigol Bapsang and don’t want to hang out in Itaewon, then you may be interested in having a Korean barbecue dinner at Woosung Galbi. It’s just a few stops away by Seoul metro at Yaksu Market.
Meat is expensive in Korea. You often have to shell out quite a bit of money to enjoy Korean barbecue. Thankfully, we found Woosung Galbi. It’s a no frills barbecue restaurant that offers just two things on their menu – pork galbi and pork rinds.
I read that Woosung Galbi is popular among locals and Seoul food bloggers. True enough, the place was packed with no other foreigners in sight. It’s a good place to enjoy simple but delicious pork barbecue at reasonable prices in Seoul.
Address: 372-40 Sindang3-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea Operating Hours: 2PM-2AM, daily Closest Subway Station: Yaksu Station (Exit 5) What to Order: Pork galbi, pork rinds What We Paid: Around KRW 15,000-20,000 per person
SEOUL ITINERARY: DAY 5
This itinerary for Seoul recommends that you spend your first four days visiting the city’s top cultural attractions and its most popular neighborhoods. On your fifth and final day, I recommend exploring beyond the city and going on a day trip from Seoul.
Nami Island (pictured below), the DMZ (border barrier with North Korea), and Everland theme park are among the most popular destinations, but for more suggestions, be sure to check out our article on some of the best day trips you can make from Seoul.
Of these day trips from Seoul, I found the DMZ tour to be especially fascinating. It gives you an inside look at the history and tension between North and South Korea.
SEOUL ITINERARY MAP
To help you understand where the attractions in this Seoul itinerary are in relation to one another, I’ve pinned them all on a map (the red pin is Seoul Station). Click on the link to open a live version of the map in a new window.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON THIS ITINERARY FOR SEOUL
There’s much to see and do in Seoul so first-time visitors will have their hands full navigating this massive city. But if you plan your trip well, then 4 or 5 days in Seoul should give you enough time to see the city’s top tourist attractions.
As described at the top of this Seoul itinerary, the city’s metro system is extensive and efficient so it should be all you need to get around Seoul. You’ll be riding the subway a lot so it’s a good idea to invest in a T-money card. It’s a transportation card that saves you KRW 100 per journey and eliminates the hassle of having to buy single journey tickets every time.
You can purchase a T-money card at convenience stores and most Seoul metro stations. If you’d like to purchase one in advance, then you can get a mobile app version for foreigners called the Korea Tour Card or get it as part of the Discover Seoul Pass.
No matter how you get it, the T-money card is a huge timesaver. It’ll be very helpful to you when you visit the attractions on this Seoul itinerary.
Anyway, I hope you found this 5 day Seoul itinerary useful. If you have any questions, then feel free to let us know in the comments below. Thanks for reading and I hope you have the best time when you visit South Korea and Seoul!
Some of the links in this itinerary for Seoul are affiliate links, meaning we’ll get a small commission if you make a booking or purchase at no extra cost to you. As always, we only recommend products and services that we use ourselves. We truly appreciate your support as it helps us make more of these free travel guides. Thank you!
Seoul is a huge metropolis. Like Tokyo, there’s so much to see and do that you’ll need about five days to cover the city’s top tourist attractions.
If you’re visiting Seoul for the first time, then I suggest staying for a week, maybe even longer if you’re a big fan of K-pop or Korean dramas. A week will give you enough time to visit the city’s most popular attractions and take one or two day trips.
A lot of people know about Nami Island and the DMZ but there are many other day trip destinations in South Korea that aren’t as well known. If you need help putting together your Seoul itinerary, then listed below are eighteen of the best day trips you can make from the city.
SEOUL DAY TRIPS QUICK LINKS
To help with your Seoul trip planning, I’ve compiled links to hotels, tours, and other travel-related services here.
Top-rated hotels in Myeongdong, the best area to stay in Seoul for first-time visitors.
Luxury: Lotte Hotel Seoul
Midrange: L7 Myeongdong by LOTTE
Budget: Namsan Forest in Myeongdong
Sightseeing Tour: Hop-On Hop-Off Tours
Hanbok Rental: Hanbok Rental and Photoshoot Experience
Alive Museum: Alive Museum & Dynamic Maze Ticket in Seoul
Travel Insurance (with COVID cover)
Korea Tour Card
Discover Seoul Pass
SEOUL TRAVEL GUIDE
People visiting Seoul for the first time will find our Seoul travel guide very useful. It’ll have all the information you need – like where to stay, which attractions to visit, what and where to eat, etc. – to help you plan your trip.
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BEST DAY TRIPS FROM SEOUL
1. Nami Island
Nami Island is one of the most popular day trips people make from Seoul. It’s a tiny half-moon-shaped island in the middle of the Han River. By tiny, I really do mean tiny, because the entire island has a circumference of just 5 km (3.1 miles)! You can easily explore the whole island in less than half a day.
Despite its small size, Nami Island is one of the most interesting places you can visit from Seoul. It’s recognized as a micronation with its own flag, currency, passport, and national anthem. You even need an “entry visa” to step foot on the island!
Nami Island owes much of its popularity to the Winter Sonata Korean drama series that was filmed in part on the island. It’s known for its lovely walking paths lined with towering pine, gingko, maple, and metasequoia trees. They’re beautiful at any time of the year but especially in autumn when the leaves explode with color.
You can visit Nami Island on your own using public transportation but it’s easiest to go on a guided tour. You can book one on Klook or Get Your Guide. Many tours will take you to Nami Island and other points of interest in the area. Check out my article on Nami Island for more pictures and information.
Admission: KRW 16,000 How to Get There: The easiest way to get to Nami Island from Seoul is to book a roundtrip shuttle bus.
2. The DMZ
DMZ stands for Demilitarized Zone. It refers to a 4 km wide strip of land that stretches for 250 km along the border or Military Demarcation Line (MDL). It serves as a buffer zone between North and South Korea. Like Nami Island, a tour of the DMZ is one of the most popular day trips you can make from Seoul.
When I visited the DMZ, I went on a joint JSA and DMZ tour. JSA stands for Joint Security Area and refers to the only portion of the DMZ where soldiers from the north and south can stand face-to-face. I’m not familiar with the situation but tours to the JSA have been halted for now.
A trip to the JSA was the most exciting part of the tour but the DMZ on its own makes for an interesting day trip from Seoul. You can refer to my article on the DMZ and JSA for more pictures and information.
I was surprised to learn this but it is possible to visit the DMZ on your own by metro (details below). However, most people go on guided tours that you can book through Klook or Get Your Guide.
How to Get There: Take the metro to Imjingang station where you’ll be taken through a military checkpoint. You’ll need to be dressed appropriately and have your passport with you in order to be allowed to continue. You can refer to this article for more information.
If you’d like to spend the day at an amusement park in Seoul, then two places come foremost to mind – Everland and Lotte World. Lotte World is located in central Seoul while Everland is located about an hour away in Yongin.
Everland is South Korea’s biggest theme park and receives about 6 million visitors annually. It’s owned by the Samsung group of companies and features a variety of rollercoasters and theme park rides in five themed zones. You can check out our guide to Everland for more information.
There are a number of Everland transfer and package deals you can get on Klook or Get Your Guide. Personally, I think the Everland full day trip with ticket and transfers is the most convenient option. That’s what we did.
Admission: KRW 58,000 (adults), KRW 46,000 (children) How to Get There: One of the cheapest and fastest ways of getting to Everland from Seoul is by local bus. You can catch Bus 5002 from Exit 5 of Gangnam station all the way to Everland.
4. Hwaseong Fortress
Hwaseong Fortress is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Suwon, about an hour south of Seoul. It was built in 1796 to honor the remains of a Joseon prince who was sentenced to die in a locked rice chest by his own father.
In spite of its chilling backstory, Hwaseong Fortress is a popular day trip destination for people looking to do some light hiking from Seoul. Stretching for over 5.5 km (3.4 miles), you can walk along the fortress walls for a scenic workout and terrific views of Suwon City. There’s a palace and a couple of museums you can visit as well.
I went to Hwaseong Fortress on my own by metro but you can also book a guided tour through Klook. You can refer to my article on Hwaseong Fortress for more pictures and information.
Admission:KRW 3,500 for an integrated ticket How to Get There: Take the metro to Suwon station. Exit the station and cross the street to the bus stop. Take Bus 5 or 7 and get off at Jangan Park stop which is about a 10-15 minute ride away. Hwaseong Fortress will be on your right.
5. Yangpyeong Dumulmeori
Dumulmeori refers to an area where the Bukhangang and Namhangang rivers meet in Yangpyeong County. Surrounded by water, it’s a scenic spot that’s often used as a filming location for Korean movies and television dramas, most notably She Was Pretty.
Dumulmeori’s peaceful setting and proximity to Seoul make it a popular day trip destination for locals. It’s a great place to go for a stroll or a leisurely bike ride. Other attractions include the lotus flowers of Semiwon Garden and the area’s many farms where you can go strawberry picking.
You can easily go to Dumulmeori on your own using the metro. If you’d like to go on a guided tour, then you may be interested in this sightseeing tour from Klook.
Photo by Stock for you
How to Get There: Take the metro to Yangsu station. From there, it’s a short taxi ride or a 20-30 minute walk to Dumulmeori.
6. Bhukansan National Park
Bhukansan is the only national park in the Seoul metropolitan area. Located just north of the city center, its proximity and accessibility make it one of the most popular hiking destinations from Seoul.
The park has three main peaks and a variety of hiking trails that offer different levels of difficulty. Proceed to one of the park’s information centers to get a trail map and find a hike best suited for you.
Photo by munduuk
How to Get There: CLICK HERE for directions to the park’s information centers.
Many people only know Incheon for its airport, but there’s enough to do in this port city that make it an interesting day trip destination.
For one, there’s Incheon Chinatown and its plethora of restaurants serving Korean-Chinese cuisine. It’s said to be the birthplace of jajangmyeon which is one of our favorite Korean dishes. Had we known that before our trips, then we would have spent the day there! Next time for sure.
Other points of interest include Wolmido Island, Songdo Central Park (pictured below), and Songwol-dong Fairy Tale Village. You can check Klook for tours and travel deals in Incheon.
Photo by Noomna nakhonphanom
How to Get There: Take the metro to Incheon station.
8. Heyri Art Valley
Heyri Art Valley is an art community in Paju, just a few kilometers south of the DMZ. Built by creatives, it’s a curious mix of galleries, exhibit halls, cafes, shops, and living spaces for artists.
If you like the arts and offbeat destinations, then you’ll probably enjoy Heyri Art Valley. It felt a bit like a giant cabinet of curiosities or a social experiment in creative living. The fact that it’s located seemingly in the middle of nowhere, close to the North Korean border, definitely adds to its intrigue.
We visited Heyri Art Valley on our own by local bus, but it may be easier to go on a guided tour. You can book one through Klook or Get Your Guide.
How to Get There: From Hapjeong station, take Bus 2200 to Heyri Gate 4 bus stop. The ride will take about 50 minutes.
9. Alpaca World
As its name suggests, Alpaca World is a farm / petting zoo with alpacas and other farm animals like rabbits, deer, horses, and ostriches. The alpacas are tame so guests are free to pet, feed, and interact with them. For an extra fee, you can even go on leashed walks with the alpacas.
Alpaca World is located in a sprawling forested area with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains. If you’re traveling with kids or like farm animals, then it makes for a pleasant escape from the urban confines of Seoul.
It’s a bit difficult to get to Alpaca World using public transportation, especially on a day trip, so it’s best to go on a guided tour. Unfortunately, no tours seem to be available right now but be sure to check on Klook before your trip.
Photo by cherrydonut
Admission: KRW 15,000
10. Gwangmyeong Cave
Gwangmyeong Cave is an abandoned mine that’s been repurposed into a subterranean theme park. It features light tunnels, aquariums, exhibit spaces, and a VR center. On occasion, it holds historical exhibits as well.
Perhaps most interesting of all is a 194-meter long wine cave offering about 170 varieties of South Korean wine. I guess you’ll know where to find us on your next visit to Korea.
You can go to Gwangmyeong Cave on your own or join this guided tour. It’ll take you to the Korean Folk Village as well.
Photo by oshdr
Admission: KRW 6,000 How to Get There: One of the fastest ways to Gwangmyeong station is by KTX high-speed train. Find exit 8 then take Bus 17 to Gwangmyeongdonggul bus stop (35 mins). From there, it’s about a 10-minute walk to Gwangmyeong Cave.
11. Korean Folk Village
The Korean Folk Village is a living museum in Yongin, near Everland. It occupies about 245 acres of land and features 260 traditional houses from the late Joseon dynasty.
To create the museum, real houses were transported from different parts of Korea and restored onsite to recreate a traditional Joseon period village. Daily performances by actors in period costumes help recreate the illusion.
I enjoy going to these living museums on trips because it’s always interesting to see history recreated in such painstaking detail. The Korean Folk Village is so convincing that it’s been used as a backdrop for many Korean movies and dramas, most notably Jewel in the Palace and My Love from the Star.
You can visit the Korean Folk Village on your own or go on a guided tour (Option 1 | Option 2).
Photo by meunierd
Admission: KRW 22,000 How to Get There: From Gangnam station (Exit 10), take Bus 5001-1 to the Korean Folk Village bus stop (1 hr).
12. Namhansanseong Fortress
Namhansanseong is a mountain fortress and UNESCO World Heritage Site about 25 km (15.5 miles) southeast of Seoul. Built on top of Namhan Mountain, it stretches for about 12 km (7.5 miles) and was used as an emergency capital during the Joseon Dynasty.
Namhansanseong has a similar appeal to Hwaseong Fortress. It’s a great day trip destination for people looking to do some hiking while exploring an historical attraction.
You can hike along the fortress walls or the many trails that take your through the forest. Along the way are temples, shrines, command posts, and fortress gates, not to mention spectacular views of the mountains and city.
Photo by nop popeye77
Admission: KRW 2,000 (Emergency Palace) How to Get There: From Sanseong station (Exit 2), take Bus 9, 9-1, or 52 to Namhansanseong bus stop (15 mins).
13. Jeonju Hanok Village
When I asked a Korean friend of mine for day trip destinations from Seoul, the first place he mentioned was Jeonju. It’s home to a village with over 700 hanoks or traditional Korean houses.
Most first-time visitors will probably visit Bukchon Hanok Village in central Seoul. But if you’re looking to visit a hanok village outside of the city, then Jeonju is a good place to go for a day trip. It’s become more popular in recent years and is now one of the most visited cities in South Korea.
Jeonju is almost 200 km south of Seoul. You can get there in under 2 hours by high-speed train, but for a day trip, it may be easier to book a private tour (choose the option with Jeonju Hanok Village). If you really want to get into character, then you may want to rent a hanbok as well.
Photo by Guitar photographer
How to Get There: One of the fastest ways to Jeonju station is by KTX high-speed train. From there, you can catch one of many buses (12, 60 ,79, 109, 119, 142, 508, 513, 536, or 542) to Jeondong Cathedral (Hanok Village) bus stop (30 mins).
We’re familiar with Gangneung because of the hugely popular Korean television series Goblin. It’s home to Jumunjin Breakwater where one of the show’s most memorable scenes was filmed. The city also became known for hosting the ice events in the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Gangneung is located on the eastern coast of South Korea so much of its appeal is intertwined with the sea and the outdoors. Some of its most popular sites include Youngjin Beach, Gyeongpo Lake, Soldaram Bridge, and Sodol Adeulbawi Park.
Gangneung is over 220 km east of Seoul but you can get there in 2 hours by high-speed train.
Photo by photo_jeongh
How to Get There: One of the fastest ways to Gangneung station is by KTX high-speed train.
15. Sokcho / Seoraksan National Park
Sokcho is a sleepy fishing town along South Korea’s east coast, less than 60 km (37.3 miles) north of Gangneung. It has a few popular beaches and hot springs but it’s best known as a gateway to Seoraksan National Park.
One of its most notable attractions, at least for Korean drama fanatics, is the red lighthouse at Daepo Port. A scene from the popular Strong Woman Do Bong Soon television series was shot there.
Other points of interest within Sokcho itself are Sokcho Beach and Abai Shikdang, a waterfront village made famous by another television series – Autumn in My Heart.
Photo by photo_jeongh
As described, most people travel to Sokcho to visit Seoraksan. It’s a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and considered by many to be the most beautiful mountain in South Korea. In fact, so beloved is Seoraksan that it’s often described as the “backbone of the Korean peninsula”.
The park features hiking trails that take you through a forested landscape with temples, valleys, waterfalls, and interesting rock formations. It’s beautiful at any time of the year but especially in autumn when the mountains explode with color.
You can reach Sokcho by intercity bus from Seoul but it takes about two and a half hours each way. For a day trip, it may be best to book a guided tour through Klook.
Photo by dah_ken
Admission: KRW 3,500 (Seoraksan National Park) How to Get There: Take an intercity bus from Seoul Express Bus Terminal (Seoul Gyeongbu) to Sokcho Bus Terminal. To get to Seoraksan National Park, take Bus 7 or 7-1 from across the terminal to Soraksan Sogongwon bus stop (1 hr).
16. Naejangsan National Park
Speaking of mountains and fall colors, another great place to visit in autumn is Naejangsan National Park. It’s considered one of the best places in South Korea to view the leaves turning color. Like Seoraksan, people visit Naejangsan to enjoy its nature views and many hiking trails.
You can get to Naejangsan National Park from Seoul by bus, but the faster way is to go by KTX high-speed train. It’ll get you there in about an hour and thirty minutes. If you plan on visiting Naejangsan for the day, then traveling by KTX train is the most feasible option.
Photo by Noomna nakhonphanom
How to Get There: Take a KTX train from Yongsan station to Jeongeup station. Exit the station and turn right to find the bus stop. Take Bus 171 to Naejangsan bus stop (45 mins).
17. Oak Valley Snow Park
If you’re visiting Seoul in winter, then you may want to spend a day skiing or snowboarding. There are a few ski resorts near Seoul like Jisan Forest Resort, Daemyung Vivaldi Park, and Oak Valley Snow Park.
You can book skiing or snowboarding trips on Klook or Get Your Guide. These are obviously seasonal activities so be sure to check back around wintertime for more options.
Catching the cherry blossoms in spring isn’t as easy as it sounds. They typically bloom around the first week of April in Seoul but that can change from year to year. If you aren’t staying long enough, then you can miss them. That happened to us on our very first trip to Korea.
If you arrive too early in Seoul, then one thing you can do is to spend the day in Jinhae. It’s a district in Changwon that’s home to the biggest cherry blossom festival in South Korea. The climate is warmer there so the cherry trees bloom earlier.
The cherry blossoms in Jinhae are stunning, but here’s the catch – Jinhae is over 300 km southeast of Seoul so it’ll take you about 4 hours and 30 minutes to get there by bus. If you’re willing to spend 9 hours in an intercity bus, then you’ll be rewarded with some of the most beautiful cherry blossoms in South Korea.
Check out my article on the Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival for more pictures and information. We made the arrangements ourselves but considering the time constraints, it may be best to book a guided day tour.
How to Get There: Take an intercity bus from Nambu Bus Terminal to Jinhae.
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When you think of limestone karsts in Vietnam, you think of Ha Long Bay. When you think of colorful paper lanterns, you think of Hoi An. When you think of pristine rice terraces and trekking, you think of Sapa.
Located about 320 km northwest of Hanoi, Sapa is home to the Hoang Lien Son mountain range and some of the most popular trekking trails in Vietnam.
Travelers who make the trip to Sapa go on single- to multi-day treks through a verdant mountainside of rice paddies and villages inhabited by the colorful people of Vietnam’s northern ethnic groups.
I recently visited Sapa to go trekking and to experience the region’s highland cuisine, which is described as being one of the most unique in Vietnam.
If you’re planning on visiting Sapa – whether to go trekking, to eat, or to just enjoy the town’s cool mountain atmosphere – then I hope this Sapa travel guide can help you plan your trip.
VISIT SAPA QUICK LINKS
This Sapa travel guide is comprehensive and detailed. In other words, it’s very long. For your convenience, I’ve compiled links to hotels, tours, and other services here.
Top-rated hotels in downtown Sapa. These hotels will put you in the heart of the city.
Luxury: BB Hotel Sapa
Midrange: Sapa Centre Hotel
Budget: Sapa Backpacker Hostel
Trekking Tour: Waterfalls, Trekking and Tribal Villages Tour
Motorbike Tour: Motorbike Tour with Silver Waterfall
Travel Insurance with COVID cover (WFFF readers get 5% off)
Hanoi to Sapa tickets
eSIM Data Plan
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GUIDE TABLE OF CONTENTS
Sapa Travel Restrictions
How to Apply for an E-visa to Vietnam
Sapa at a Glance
Best Time to Visit Sapa
Traveling to Sapa
Where to Exchange Currency
Best Areas to Stay in Sapa
Trekking in Sapa
Other Things to Do in Sapa
Vietnamese Food Guide
Where to Eat in Sapa
Which Cafes to Visit in Sapa
Points of Interest in Sapa (Map)
How to Get Around in Sapa
How Many Days to Stay / Sapa Itinerary
Sapa Travel Tips
SAPA TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS
Because of the current global situation, travel guidelines can change suddenly. To keep you updated, our friends at Booking.com created a website that lists detailed information on travel restrictions around the world.
Before planning a trip to Sapa, be sure to check Booking.com for information on travel restrictions to Vietnam. If you do decide to visit Sapa, then we highly recommended getting travel insurance with COVID coverage.
HOW TO APPLY FOR AN E-VISA TO VIETNAM
You may need an e-visa and medical declaration to visit Vietnam depending on which passport you carry.
I’m a Philippine passport holder so I can visit Vietnam visa-free for up to 21 days. However, I wanted to stay longer so I applied for an e-visa through iVisa.com which allowed me a stay of up to 30 days. In my case, the approval process took about 2-3 days.
Requirements and fees may differ depending on your passport, so you can visit iVisa.com for more information and to apply.
SAPA AT A GLANCE
The term Sapa refers to both the town and the district in Lao Cai Province.
The town itself is fairly small, occupying an area less than 25 sq km. Published population numbers are inconsistent but based on a 2009 census, there are an estimated 9,000 people living in Sapa town with a good number more living in communes and villages throughout the district.
The majority of the Vietnamese population is comprised of the Kinh people. They make up about 86% of the country’s total population, but they never colonized Vietnam’s highest valleys.
In Sapa, only about 15% are Kinh. The vast majority is comprised of people from the Hmong, Dao, Giay, Xa Pho, and Tay highland tribes.
BEST TIME TO VISIT SAPA
The best times to visit Sapa are from March till mid-May and from late September till November. Days are sunny with little rain, making it an ideal time to go trekking.
MAR-MAY: Spring is one of the best times to visit Sapa. The weather is pleasant and the skies are clear, though it does start to get rainier in May.
JUN-AUG: Summer is the wettest time in Sapa and peak season for domestic tourism. Trekking is a big part of the Sapa experience so this may not be the best time to go.
SEPT-NOV: Towards the end of September till November is arguably the best time to visit Sapa. The weather is similar to spring and the rice terraces are at their greenest and most beautiful.
DEC-FEB: Sapa experiences cold winters. It’s the only place that experiences snow in Vietnam so this may not be the most comfortable time to go. But if you don’t mind the cold, then this is one of the most beautiful times to be in Sapa.
I visited Sapa in early September. Days were generally overcast so I didn’t bother taking the cable car to Fansipan Mountain. It didn’t rain but it would drizzle everyday, making trekking a bit worrisome. I was always concerned about getting caught in a downpour while out on a trek.
Climate: Annual Monthly Weather in Sapa
For more on Sapa’s weather, check out these climate graphs from climate-data.org. I’ve also created average temperature and annual rainfall graphs with the most ideal months to visit marked in orange.
TRAVELING TO SAPA
The majority of people traveling to Sapa will be coming from Hanoi, mostly by bus or train. I wrote about it in detail in our Hanoi to Sapa article but I’ll describe each method briefly below.
BY BUS: This is the best way to get to Sapa from Hanoi. It’s a few hours faster than trains and much cheaper. Plus, buses can take you directly into Sapa town. Follow the link to book bus tickets from Hanoi to Sapa.
BY TRAIN: You can take an overnight train but the total journey will be about 3 hours longer than a bus. Sleeper trains are also considerably more expensive and less comfortable. On top of that, trains can only go as far as Lao Cai Station so you’ll need to complete the journey in a minibus. Click on the link to book train tickets.
If you’re traveling to Sapa from a point of origin other than Hanoi, then you can check Bookaway or use the widget below to find transportation options available to you.
WHERE TO EXCHANGE CURRENCY
The unit of currency in Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong (VND).
I already had enough VND with me so I didn’t need to exchange currency in Sapa, but the best place to do it is at a bank. There are a few around Sapa Lake and near Sapa Station.
Instead of exchanging currency, a better option may be to withdraw VND from an ATM. In my case, rates are comparable and it saves me from the hassle of having to bring too much foreign currency.
I suggest letting your bank know that you plan on using your ATM card abroad so you don’t run into any problems. In my experience, my card works in some machines but not in others.
NOTE: Some ATM machines may ask if you’d like to proceed with or without conversion. Always proceed WITHOUT conversion. That way your local bank does the conversion at better rates. Proceeding with conversion often leads to terrible exchange rates.
BEST AREAS TO STAY IN SAPA
If it’s your first time in Sapa, then it’s best to stay within the town itself. But there are plenty of accommodation options in Lao Chai and Ta Van as well which are villages about 7-10 km from Sapa town.
I stayed at Little View Homestay which is a spartan but comfortable boutique inn about a 5-10 minute walk from the town square. Rooms are small but clean, and they serve breakfast at the top floor which offers terrific views of the valley.
The inn is located down a hill so you’ll need to walk uphill everyday to get to the heart of town. Sapa is a mountain town so very few roads, if any, are flat.
You can book a room at Little View Homestay on Booking.com or Agoda. If you don’t think this is the right place for you, then you can check these links for alternate listings: Booking.com | Agoda.
Check out some of the top-rated hotels in the Sapa downtown area.
Luxury: BB Hotel Sapa
Midrange: Sapa Centre Hotel
Budget: Sapa Backpacker Hostel
LAO CHAI / TA VAN
Lao Chai is a Black H’mong commune about 7-8 km southeast of Sapa town. It consists of three villages with about a hundred Black H’mong families. A little farther away is the village of Ta Van. It’s occupied by people from the Giay, H’mong, and Dao ethnic groups.
Both Lao Chai and Ta Van are popular trekking destinations from Sapa town. You can get to either village by car or motorbike but the journey is perhaps best enjoyed on a trek.
If it’s your first time in Sapa, then you can perhaps spend a night or two in Sapa town before moving to Lao Chai or Ta Van. You can book a room at either village on Agoda.
You can also book hotels and homestays in Sapa using the handy map below.
TREKKING IN SAPA
As described, going on a trek is one of the best things to do in Sapa. I went on a self-guided trek for half a day but you can arrange for multi-day guided treks with stays in nearby villages if you like.
The easiest self-guided trek you can do is from Cat Cat Village. You can walk down to the village which is about 2 km from Sapa town. From there, you can take a leisurely trek along the trails that go beyond the village.
I walked along this trail for a few hours before turning back. I’m not sure where it goes but I believe it takes you to the popular trekking destinations of Lao Chai and Ta Van villages.
People looking for a longer and more serious trekking experience will need to hire a guide. You can trek for as many days as you like but 2-day treks seem to be the most popular.
Based on what I’ve read, treks can cost anywhere between USD 20-40 per person per day depending on the length and difficulty of the trek. This typically includes meals and homestays.
You can book a trek in advance through Get Your Guide but it may be cheapest to arrange for one in Sapa. People will approach you offering treks but I suggest asking your hotel for recommendations.
Listed below are some of the villages you’ll be visiting on the most popular 2-day treks through the Muong Hoa Valley.
1. Y Linh Ho Village
Located about 5 km from Sapa town, Y Linh Ho Village is the first stop on many 2-day treks. It’s a small commune consisting of about a dozen hamlets scattered about the terraced mountainside.
Y Linh Ho Village is inhabited by people from the Black H’mong ethnic group. They’re referred to as Black H’mong because they wear traditional clothing dyed black from indigo.
Photo by MENG KONGSAK via Shutterstock
2. Lao Chai Village
Lao Chai Village is a larger Black H’mong commune made up of three villages with over a hundred families. As previously described, there are a few hotels and homestays in Lao Chai. I checked on Agoda and there are a handful you can book in advance.
3. Ta Van Village
About 2 km west of Lao Chai Village is Ta Van, a village of about a thousand people from the H’mong, Giay, and Red Dao ethnic tribes. The majority of people on a 2-day trek will stay here for the night. There are quite a few hotels and homestays you can book in Ta Van on Agoda.
4. Giang Ta Chai Village
Located about 15 km from Sapa town, Giang Ta Chai Village is the next village from Ta Van. Inhabited by people from the Red Dao ethnic group, it’s often the first stop on your second day of trekking. Highlights include the Cau May Waterfall and a suspension bridge.
5. Hau Thao Village
There doesn’t seem to be as much information about this village but Hau Thao appears to be a H’mong commune as well. It’s one of the last stops you’ll be making on your second day of trekking before heading back to Sapa town.
OTHER THINGS TO DO IN SAPA
1. Take the Cable Car to Fansipan Mountain
At 3,147 meters (10,326 ft) above sea level, Fansipan Mountain is the highest peak in Vietnam. You can take a 15-20 minute cable car ride to the top for spectacular views of the valleys below.
Ideally, it’s best to go on clear days because clouds can obscure the view. It was overcast every day I was there so I didn’t wind up going. I read that March and April are the clearest months in Sapa.
Photo by diy13 via Shutterstock
You can purchase cable car tickets here at Sapa Station or in advance through Klook. You can also book trekking tours with visits to Fansipan Mountain through Get Your Guide.
Cable Car Fare: VND 800,000 roundtrip Estimated Time to Spend: At least half a day
2. Explore Cat Cat Village
Cat Cat Village is the easiest trek you can make from Sapa town. It’s a H’mong and Dao hill tribe village located about 2 km from the center of town.
Because of its proximity to Sapa town, Cat Cat Village is always crowded, mostly with domestic tourists dressed in traditional H’mong costumes. There are many picture-taking spots throughout the village which were obviously set up for the sole purpose of taking souvenir photos.
Cat Cat Village is pretty, though many parts look quite touristy and fake. Regardless, it makes for a pleasant day trip for people looking for an easier trek from Sapa town.
One of the most popular selfie spots in Cat Cat Village is Tien Sa Waterfall. Known as Cat Cat Waterfall in English, Cat Cat Village was named after this waterfall.
Admission: VND 70,000 Estimated Time to Spend: At least half a day
3. Visit Love Waterfall and Silver Waterfall
Sapa is home to beautiful waterfalls. Love Waterfall and Silver Waterfall are two of the most beautiful. Located about 15 km west of Sapa town (and about 3 km of each other), I arranged for a motorbike to take me to both for VND 250,000.
Pictured below is Love Waterfall which is arguably the prettier of the two. It’s nestled within a thick wooded area at the end of a scenic 30-minute walk through the forest.
Grander and more powerful though perhaps not as picturesque is Silver Waterfall. It’s located along the main road about 3 km before Love Waterfall.
Unlike Love Waterfall which you can’t get as close to, there are steps on the side of Silver Waterfall which you can climb to get to a steel viewing bridge about 30 meters (100 ft) above the ground.
Admission: VND 70,000 (Love Waterfall), VND 20,000 (Silver Waterfall) Estimated Time to Spend: About 3 hrs for both
4. View the Exhibits at Sapa Museum
Sapa Museum is a small museum with a few exhibits on the history and ethnology of the Sapa region. It isn’t that big and well-maintained but it’s free so it’s worth a quick visit. It’s about a 2-minute walk from Sapa Station.
Admission: FREE Estimated Time to Spend: About 30 mins
5. Visit the Stone Church
The Stone Church with its unique architecture stands out. Formally known as the Holy Rosary Church or the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, it’s a Catholic church built by the French in the early 20th century.
The Stone Church is located by the town square so you can’t miss it. If you visit on a Saturday night, you’ll find an outdoor market set up in front of the church and around the town square area.
Admission: FREE Estimated Time to Spend: About 15 mins
6. Try Buffalo Jerky
Sapa is home to one of the more interesting regional cuisines in Vietnam. One dish you may want to try is dried buffalo meat (thit trau gac bep). You’ll find it hanging from many market stalls in Sapa.
Born from a need to preserve food, buffalo meat is marinated then hung to dry so it keeps for the duration of the rainy season, typically for 8-12 months. When ready to eat, it’s grilled, smoked, or stewed into many dishes.
I had smoked buffalo meat with pickled vegetables at The Hill Station, one of the best restaurants in Sapa town.
VIETNAMESE FOOD GUIDE
Vietnamese food is one of our favorites. If you’d like to learn more about Vietnamese cuisine, then check out our guide on Vietnamese food for a list of the best dishes to eat in Vietnam.
From thang co in Sapa to mi quang in Da Nang to com tam in Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll be pleased to find that Vietnamese food is every bit as diverse as its landscape.
If you have a sweet tooth, then be sure to check out our Vietnamese dessert guide as well.
WHERE TO EAT IN SAPA
1. A Phu Restaurant
If you were to have just one dish in Sapa, then it should probably be thang co or horse meat stew. It’s a traditional H’mong hot pot dish made with horse and other types of meat like buffalo, pork, and goat.
Horses that are too old or sick to work are butchered for food. The meat is simmered in a large pot or pan for hours with up to twelve different spices. As you can see below, they use every part of the horse like its lungs, tail, kidneys, and intestines so nothing goes to waste.
Hot pot servings in Sapa are typically for at least two people but A Phu Restaurant was kind enough to prepare a single serving for me so I could try it.
Thang co is typically served with rolls of flattened rice noodles which you dump into the broth to eat with the meat. Served with seasonings like salt, chili, and lime, it’s a hearty and filling stew that’s ideally suited to Sapa’s harsher winters.
If horse meat is a bit extreme for you, then you may want to try salmon hot pot instead. Salmon has been successfully farmed in the region for over a decade so it’s as ubiquitous as thang co. Sapa restaurants serving thang co will often serve salmon hot pot as well.
When searching for the best place to have thang co in Sapa, two places often came up, one of them being A Phu Restaurant.
2. Thang Co A Quynh
This was the first restaurant I visited to try thang co. Unfortunately, none of the servers could speak English well so I couldn’t negotiate for a single serving.
Instead of thang co, I tried other Sapa specialties like free-range pork and bamboo sticky rice. Pictured below is a tasty dish of grilled pork with lime leaves. Pork in Sapa is typically roasted or grilled.
Sapa pork has an interesting name in Vietnamese. It’s referred to as thit lon cap nach which means “pig brought by armpit”. This refers to how small pigs would be carried under the armpit to sell at the market.
Known as com lam in Vietnamese, bamboo sticky rice refers to glutinous rice cooked in bamboo tubes. In the past, hill tribe people didn’t have any pots or pans to work with so they learned to cook rice using bamboo.
To prepare, bamboo is stuffed with salted glutinous rice and water then capped with banana leaves. According to online descriptions, the bamboo is fried but I believe it’s roasted over a fire.
The cooking process results in a roll of rice that’s crunchy on the outside but chewy and sticky on the inside. You can find com lam at virtually every restaurant and market stall in Sapa.
Like A Phu Restaurant, Thang Co A Quynh is often cited for serving some of the best thang co in Sapa. It’s a traditional restaurant where diners sit on low platform tables to eat.
Can you see the large cauldron on the left? That’s what they use to cook thang co.
3. Little SaPa Restaurant
Little SaPa Restaurant isn’t as traditional as the other restaurants on this list but they serve very good food. I asked my server for recommendations and she suggested the sweet and sour pork and these fried “Little SaPa” spring rolls.
Made with pork, chicken, onion, and vegetables, these delicate spring rolls were some of the best I had in Vietnam.
Little SaPa Restaurant is one of the most popular eateries in Sapa. They’re a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence awardee with a 4-star rating and over a thousand reviews.
4. Anise Restaurant
Anise Restaurant serves traditional ethnic food but presented in a more refined way. Pictured below is a dish of deep-fried native chicken cooked with lemongrass.
As you can see, it’s served with a roll of com lam made with colored sticky rice. Rice colored with leaves is another specialty in Sapa. It can come in seven colors – dark red, light red, pink, indigo, green, yellowish green, and yellow.
Anise Restaurant is tucked away in a stairwell alley just off Sapa Park, so it can be a bit hard to find. You can refer to the location map near the bottom of this guide for its exact location.
5. The Hill Station – CLOSED
The Hill Station is arguably the best restaurant in Sapa. Like Anise Restaurant, they’re known for serving traditional ethnic food prepared in a more refined way.
I asked my server for recommendations and she suggested I have rainbow trout or buffalo. I had the smoked buffalo with pickled vegetables and this pretty three-colored Dzay sticky rice. It was my best meal in Sapa.
The Hill Station has two branches in Sapa. I went to the signature restaurant located in the same building as their boutique hotel. They have a deli as well about 5 minutes away.
WHICH CAFES TO VISIT IN SAPA
1. Dao Coffee
The area around Sapa Park gets pretty lively at night so it’s a great place to go people watching. The roofdeck of Dao Coffee is one of the best places to do that.
Sitting up here with my Vietnamese drip coffee after a satisfying dinner was one of my fondest memories from Sapa.
Dao Coffee is located on Thach Son Street overlooking Sapa Park.
2. Cong Ca Phe
Cong Ca Phe is a Vietnamese coffee chain with a cute Viet Cong theme. They serve good Vietnamese coffee but they’re best known for their ca phe cot dua or cold coconut coffee.
Made with condensed and coconut milk, ca phe cot dua is basically a coconut coffee slushie. It’s delicious and refreshing and one of my favorite things to drink to cool off in Vietnam.
Cong Ca Phe is a Hanoi coffee chain that’s become one of the most successful cafe brands in Vietnam. The have outlets throughout the country, including this one in Sapa which is located almost directly opposite Dao Coffee.
3. Kafa Cafe
I enjoyed the evening vibe at Sapa Park so much that I looked forward to having coffee there every night after dinner. Kafa Cafe is the largest cafe in Sapa and one of the first buildings you’ll notice.
I was happy to sit by the sidewalk but Kafa Cafe offers multiple levels of open air seating offering great views of the park.
As described, Kafa Cafe is the biggest coffeehouse in Sapa. It occupies an entire building on one end of Sapa Park.
POINTS OF INTEREST IN SAPA
To help you visualize where everything is, I’ve pinned all the places recommended in this guide on this map. Click on the link to open a live version of the map in a new window.
HOW TO GET AROUND IN SAPA
Sapa is a small trekking town so you’ll be getting around mostly on foot.
I only needed to hire motorbikes twice. The first time was to take me to Love Waterfall and Silver Waterfall. The second was to take me back up to Sapa town from Cat Cat Village.
The trek back up to Sapa from Cat Cat Village is very steep so I hired a motorbike to take me up the rest of the way. But if you’re in better shape than I am, then you may not need to do that.
HOW MANY DAYS TO STAY / SAPA ITINERARY
How many days you should stay in Sapa depends on how long a trek you intend to do. One- to three-day treks seem to be the most popular.
To make the most of your time in Sapa, I think 3 days is ideal. You can devote 2 days to a trek then an extra day for the rest of Sapa’s attractions. Here’s a 3D/3N sample itinerary to help you plan your trip.
DAY ONE • Fansipan • Love Waterfall • Silver Waterfall • Cat Cat Village
DAY TWO • Trek to Y Linh Ho Village • Lao Chai Village • Ta Van Village (spend the night here)
DAY THREE • Giang Ta Chai Village • Hau Thao Village • Back to Sapa
SAPA TRAVEL TIPS
1. Plan your Trip with Sygic Travel
I’ve been using Sygic Travel for many years now and it’s still my go-to app for travel planning. It isn’t perfect but it makes creating itineraries easier. It allows me to pin all points of interest on a map then organize them by day to create as efficient an itinerary as possible.
You can download Sygic Travel for free on iTunes or Google Play. Check out my article on Sygic Travel for more information.
2. Rent a Pocket Wifi Device
Having a fast and reliable connection to the internet is a must these days, especially when traveling. You’ll need it to navigate, convert currencies, and do last minute research. We never go on a trip without renting a pocket wifi device first.
Most people visiting Sapa will be coming from Hanoi. You can rent a 4G pocket wifi device through Klook and have it delivered to your hotel in Hanoi. We prefer pocket wifi devices because we find them easier, but a cheaper alternative is to get a sim card or an eSIM.
3. Don’t Give Money to Children
I heard this a few times from locals in Sapa and Hanoi – don’t give money or candy to children no matter how much they beg.
One, it encourages them to stay on the streets and keep begging from tourists. And two, giving something to one child will cause all the other children to expect something as well. My guide on this food tour in Hanoi warned me that kids can follow you for miles!
I read that buying trinkets and souvenirs from street vendors is discouraged as well, though I don’t understand the rationale for that as much.
4. Tip Your Guide
Tipping isn’t mandatory in Vietnam but it will certainly be appreciated. Many people in Sapa rely on tourism so even a relatively small tip will go a long way.
I didn’t go on a guided trek but I read that a VND 100,000 tip is standard. If you’re happy with your guide, then you’re always welcome to give more.
5. Check for Sapa Travel Deals
There are many online tour companies offering travel deals. The ones I use the most are Klook and Get Your Guide. Follow these links for a complete list of Sapa tours and travel deals on Klook and Get Your Guide. Even if I don’t buy anything, it’s always fun to look just to see what’s available.
6. Get Travel Insurance
Travel insurance isn’t something we get before every trip, though we do find ourselves buying it more often these days. Call it middle age I guess.
If we plan on doing something physical on a trip, things that could get us hurt like skiing or bike riding, then we’ll definitely get travel insurance. We want that safety net in case something goes wrong.
When we do feel the need for it, we always get insurance from SafetyWing or Heymondo. They’re travel insurance providers often used by many long-term travelers. Click on the links to get a free quote from SafetyWing or Heymondo. Get 5% off on Heymondo when purchasing a policy using our link.
7. Don’t Be Confused by the Currency
Vietnam’s currency is confusing. All the zeros are confusing enough but some banknotes even look the same. For example, VND 100,000 bills have a similar green hue as VND 10,000 notes.
Based on what I’ve seen and heard, tourists overpaying for things isn’t uncommon in Vietnam. In fact, it happened to a woman who was on this Hoa Lu and Tam Coc tour with us in Hanoi. Instead of giving a vendor a VND 50,000 banknote, she mistakenly gave her a similarly red VND 200,000 bill instead.
Be careful when paying for things with cash in Vietnam because if you make a mistake, some vendors may not correct you.
8. Bring the Right Power Adapter
Vietnam has Type A, Type C, or Type F electrical outlets so be sure to bring the right power adapters for your devices. Electrical voltage is 220V and the standard frequency is 50Hz.
I’m hardly an expert on trekking in Sapa but I do hope this guide helps you plan your trip. I’m only sharing some of the things I learned from my trip. If you have any questions or comments, then please leave them in the comment section below. You’re welcome to join our Facebook Travel Group as well.
Thanks for reading and have an amazing time trekking in Sapa!
These are some of the things I brought with me to Sapa. Have a look inside our backpack to see what other gear we use. (NOTE: The following links are Amazon affiliate links.)
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Lisbon is cool. It’s a gorgeous city that appreciates and fosters the arts.
I lived for a time in San Francisco in the late 1990s and Lisbon reminded me a lot of the city by the bay.
Like San Francisco, Lisbon is a waterfront city with a red suspension bridge that looks eerily similar to the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s known for its hills and trams and its many restaurants offering a wide range of cuisines.
In many ways, the diversity of the Lisbon food experience is a reflection of the city’s melting pot culture which is very much what San Francisco used to be like (until it got invaded by Silicon Valley).
But what reminded me of San Francisco the most was Lisbon’s creative energy. It has an artistic vibe that appeals to creatives of every type. This was most apparent at Lx Factory and Embaixada, two creative hubs that were among my favorite spots to visit in Lisbon.
If you have an interest in contemporary art, design, fashion, and food, then Lx Factory and Embaixada need to be on your Lisbon itinerary.
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WHAT IS LX FACTORY?
Lx Factory is a creative hub and co-op occupied by an eclectic mix of shops, boutiques, art galleries, restaurants, cafes, and bars.
Located in the Alcantara neighborhood, it’s situated by the Tagus River and near the 25 de Abril Bridge, in a waterfront industrial area halfway between Cais do Sodre and Belem. To get there, we took the tram from Cais do Sodre to Calvario. Lx Factory is about a 2-minute walk from the Calvario tram stop.
Before LxFactory opened, the area it occupies was little more than an abandoned industrial space that was the former home of Companhia de Fiaçao e Tecidos Lisbonense, a weaving and textile company that opened in Alcantara in 1846.
Over the decades, the space was occupied by the Anuario Comercial de Portugal and Grafica Mirandela printing companies, as well as the Companhia Industrial de Portugal e Colonias food processing plant. Vestiges of these companies can still be seen at the co-op today.
As soon as you walk in through the main gates, you’ll be greeted by a lively street market atmosphere. We arrived shortly after it opened in the morning and the place was already buzzing with activity.
Lx Factory is comprised of dozens of shops, restaurants, and cafes that occupy indoor spaces and outdoor booths spread out over a large area measuring 23,000 square meters. There is so much to see and explore here so plan to stay for at least two or three hours. If you’re traveling to Portugal with kids, then this is a great place to spend the day.
Lx Factory has a youthful and vibrant energy that feels very much like a weekend artisanal market. You’ll find all kinds of interesting things here, like this woman making fresh fruit juice using a bicycle-powered juicer.
If you’re the type of shopper who enjoys poring over displays with quirky one-of-a-kind items, then you’re going to love shopping at Lx Factory. There is so much cool stuff here covering an eclectic range of hobbies and interests.
Ren and I considered purchasing this giant vintage alarm clock but we were worried about overweight baggage fees.
There are so many shops and booths spread out over a large area that it’s easy to overlook things. Lx Factory is comprised of multiple warehouse-type spaces so shopping here feels a bit like a treasure hunt.
If I remember correctly, this was a vintage-themed barber shop.
This bookshop was one of the biggest and most interesting spaces at Lx Factory. It’s the former site of one of the aforementioned printing companies that used to occupy this facility. As you’ll see in the next few pictures, this place is massive.
You can climb up to the second floor to check out the printing presses. I don’t know if they’re still operational but much of the machinery is still here. This area was partially cordoned off so they may be.
I went up to the very top which puts you about forty feet above the ground. Everywhere you went in this shop there was something interesting to pore over and inspect.
If you’re looking for unique well-designed items to bring home as gifts, then Lx Factory is probably one of the best places to go in Lisbon. Pictured below are different types of flavored liqueurs.
Aren’t these cool? They’re different types of liquor packaged in test-tube-like bottles.
Ginjinha is perhaps one of the best souvenir food items you can bring home from Portugal. It’s a type of sour Portuguese liqueur made from ginja berries. You can find it served throughout Lisbon in small edible chocolate cups.
Lovely set of plates, bowls, and serving trays
Anthem of the introverted
We were set on having lunch at Time Out Market so we didn’t eat at Lx Factory, but there are plenty of dining options here covering a wide range of international cuisines from Portuguese to Mexican to Japanese to Thai.
Pictured below are colorful cans of conservas. Like ginjinha, these beautiful tins are among the best souvenir food items you can bring back from Portugal. Conservas refers to gourmet canned seafood popular in Portugal and Spain.
I read that this place is pretty good. As their name and logo suggest, Dogs serves gourmet hot dogs, beer, and other comfort food.
This was the interior of some random restaurant we walked through. All of the restaurants and food stalls at Lx Factory are well-designed like this one.
We didn’t stick around but I read that the nightlife at Lx Factory is vibrant as well. It draws artisanal market shoppers during the day but at night, young Lisbon goes to Lx Factory to drink, listen to music, and socialize.
There are a number of bars at Lx Factory, many of which stay open till around 1AM.
Lx Factory is a bastion for creativity so there is plenty of art to be appreciated here, most of which is in the form of large-scale street art. I read that they routinely ask local artists to paint murals so each return visit may reveal something new.
Could this painting have been done by the elusive Banksy?
An installation of birds in flight dangling over outdoor market stalls at Lx Factory.
We spent a little over two hours here, but we had to leave to go meet people at Time Out Market. We easily could have spent the entire afternoon here.
Address: Largo do Contador Mor 17, 1100-160 Lisboa, Portugal Closest Tram Stop: Calvario Operating Hours: Varies per establishment
WHAT IS EMBAIXADA?
About 5 km east of Lx Factory, in a more central part of Lisbon, is Embaixada – a unique shopping gallery with restaurants and independent retailers showcasing the work of Portuguese artists and designers.
Meaning “Embassy” in Portuguese, Embaixada opened in September of 2013 in the trendy Principe Real neighborhood, in a building that’s every bit as interesting as the boutiques that call it home.
Embaixada is located in Palacete Ribeiro da Cunha, a late-19th century Arabian palace featuring Moorish-inspired architecture mixed with Art Nouveau details. This juxtaposition of trendy boutiques in an historical setting is what makes Embaixada so interesting.
This is the main stairwell leading up to the second floor. The building has four floors but I think only the first two have commercial spaces. According to their website, there are presently 17 shops and restaurants at Embaixada.
This central inner courtyard is the building’s most fascinating architectural feature. It’s wrought with well-preserved detail from its tiled floor to its carved archways and intricate railings.
Morrish metalwork overlooking the first floor dining area
I don’t believe the elevator is still operational but this is the view of the shaft from the back stairwell. From the looks of it, everything at Embaixada is still in its original condition.
Decorative door handle
Interesting details adorn every square inch of this building. People with an eye for detail will enjoy exploring this space.
They’ve kept the original interiors intact and mostly unrestored, providing an interesting contrast between the palace’s historical elements and its trendier features. These rope lights with hanging monkeys was the lighting system for a designer shoe shop.
The building itself is so interesting that you almost forget there are shops through these decades-old doors.
This furniture and lifestyle shop was beautiful. The shops at Embaixada seemed very meticulously curated.
Cutting boards, boxes, bowls
Going through the many unique items on display at Embaixada, you get the sense that most of these would be difficult to find elsewhere, like these handmade wine bottle stoppers.
Shopping for clothes at Lx Factory felt a bit like flea market shopping while the boutiques at Embaixada are more upmarket and fashion-forward. Lx Factory is for hippies, Embaixada for fashionistas.
Ren’s cousin bought three pairs of these funky-looking shoes. They didn’t have them in her size so they had to ship them to her from Portugal. They don’t manufacture their shoes en masse, which from what I understand is the type of retailer you can expect to find at Embaixada.
If you’re shopping for unique items made by Portuguese designers, the type of design-driven products that you can’t find at big retailers, then Embaixada is a great place to go.
There are a couple of dining options on the first floor of Embaixada, highlighted by the courtyard seating area of the Gin Lovers Bar and Restaurant. We would have drinks and dessert here twice during our stay in Lisbon.
Gin Lovers offers over sixty brands of gin along with wine, cocktails, and Portuguese food created by Chef Fernando Semedo.
They have another restaurants at Embaixada called Atalho Real, a steak restaurant offering premium cuts of meat from different parts of the world. Both Atalho Real and Gin Lovers are TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence awardees with near-perfect 4.5-star ratings.
Address: Largo do Contador Mor 17, 1100-160 Lisboa, Portugal Closest Transit Stop: Principe Real Operating Hours: 11AM-7PM, daily
If you have an interest in art and design, then you’re going to enjoy Lx Factory and Embaixada. They’re both hubs of creativity that are similar in ways but different in others.
Lx Factory is the much bigger venue with more to see and do. It has a flea market vibe so it’s more fun and energetic. If you like arts and crafts and rummaging for clothes on weekend market racks, then you’ll probably enjoy Lx Factory more. There’s something to enjoy for everyone though it does seem to cater to a younger crowd.
Embaixada isn’t as big but what it lacks in quantity it more than makes up for in quality. It’s an upmarket shopping gallery with unique boutiques offering a more refined range of products. It may not be as fun as Lx Factory but it’s a fascinating space that appeals to a more mature and stylish demographic.
If you like art and design and have the time, then you should definitely visit both. Lx Factory and Embaixada are windows into the creative arena that is Lisbon, with each giving their own unique point of view.
We loved them both.
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Aside from seeking out the best restaurants in Tokyo, there are two food-related activities that we enjoy doing in Japan – going on food tours and taking cooking classes.
Local-led food tours are a great way of discovering hidden restaurant gems, but if you really want to learn about Japanese food, then there’s no better way to do that than to take a cooking class. It’s like looking under the cuisine’s hood.
I took this airKitchen cooking class in Tokyo and learned how to make Japanese food favorites like tempura, udon, and tamagoyaki.
If you want to learn as much as you can about Japanese food during your stay in Tokyo, then I highly recommend taking a cooking class.
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WHAT IS AIRKITCHEN?
airKitchen is a cooking class booking platform based in Japan. They offer dozens of cooking classes in different cities throughout Japan, most notably in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Hokkaido, and Fukuoka.
They’ve recently expanded their operations to Thailand as well, offering cooking classes in key cities like Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Phuket.
airKitchen offers so many cooking classes in Japan that you could probably find one for whatever Japanese dish you want to make. Gyoza, ramen, sushi, udon – they have a class to teach you how to make it. As of this writing, they offer over 400 cooking classes in Tokyo alone.
Most classes are fairly small, about 4-6 students, with each class running for around 2-2.5 hours. They offer cooking classes throughout Tokyo so it should be easy to find one near you.
HANDMADE UDON, TEMPURA, AND TAMAGOYAKI
The cooking class I chose in Tokyo taught me how to make three Japanese dishes – udon, tempura, and tamagoyaki. It’s taught by Masako and her team and lasts for about two and a half hours. It costs JPY 6,890 per person and you can book it directly on airkitchen.me.
Tamagoyaki refers to a type of Japanese omelette made by rolling together several layers of cooked egg. It’s typically cooked in a rectangular pan called a makiyakinabe or tamagoyakiki. You can see one of Masako’s assistants holding one below.
To make tamagoyaki, you need to cook thin layers of omelette, roll it up, then repeat the process several times. Ren often cooks tamagoyaki at home so I’m familiar with the process, but this was the first time I had ever tried it myself.
I’ve heard this before but according to Masako, the mark of a skilled Japanese home cook is how well they make tamagoyaki. I think this applies to any cuisine, not just Japanese.
Cooking eggs sounds simple, but doing it well actually takes a good amount of experience and skill. Masako’s assistant was a master at it.
Masako revealed to us that the secret to her tamagoyaki is miso paste. Not just any miso, but miso made using her mother’s secret recipe. It made a world of difference.
Aside from her mother’s miso paste, Masako’s recipe for tamagoyaki called for two types of egg, chopped spring onion, and sugar.
After cooking the tamagoyaki, it was time to divide it into four even slices. Japanese knives are very sharp so cutting the soft egg was easy. It was like sliding the knife through butter.
And voila! My very first attempt at making tamagoyaki. Not so bad if I say so myself.
Do you notice how much lighter mine is compared to the one Masako’s assistant made? It’s because I overmixed the yolk. They asked me to mix it gently so the cooked omelette would have more color. It’s clear from looking at this what they meant.
Like I said, it’s easy to cook egg but doing it well takes much skill and experience.
This is Shoma of airKitchen. He took the class with me and as you can tell from his expression, he was quite pleased with the result of his tamagoyaki.
The miso really does make a difference. You can taste it.
Masako sells these tamagoyakikis so I was happy to bring one home to Ren as a souvenir.
The next dish we made was udon, which is one of my favorite types of Japanese noodle. It’s a thick and chewy wheat flour noodle that’s typically served hot in summer and chilled in winter.
To make the udon noodles, we dissolved salt in water then mixed it with high-quality udon flour.
After mixing the flour and water together, we formed the dough into balls then wrapped them in plastic. We would knead them for a few minutes with our hands as I expected. What I didn’t expect, was what would happen next.
I didn’t know this, but apparently it’s common practice for home cooks in Japan to knead balls of dough with their feet!
We stuffed the dough into resealable plastic bags then proceeded to use them as a dance floor. Kneading dough can tire out your arms so this method makes sense. Just don’t forget to use plastic.
Kneading the dough activates gluten in the flour and gives the noodles their bouncy texture.
After doing the Irish jig on our balls of dough, we would knead them some more with our hands before dusting them with flour and flattening them out with rolling pins.
While rolling over the dough, Masako advised us to push down on the dough then slide out our hands to the edges of the rolling pin. Doing so helps flatten the dough evenly. The goal is to get it to about 3mm in thickness.
Once the dough is flat enough, you fold it twice like a letter to get it ready for cutting. This next step was fun.
Masako advised us to cut the flattened dough into thin strips to make Tokyo-style udon. Cutting them too wide is the Nagoya style of preparing udon, which is called kishimen.
Masako provided us with these wooden guides to make perfectly even cuts every time. “Push, don’t slice” was the proper technique here.
Don’t the udon noodles look pretty in this brown basket? They were now ready for boiling.
After a few minutes, our steaming bowls of udon were ready. It looks delicious as is but it isn’t done yet. It’s still missing its star ingredient.
Udon broths vary from region to region but this version was made with katsuobushi (dried, fermented, and smoked skipjack tuna), mirin (rice wine), and salt. If you’d like to try making this at home, then you can jump to Masako’s udon recipe at the bottom of this post.
The last thing I learned to make today was tempura, one of my all-time favorite Japanese foods. It’s a popular dish of battered and deep-fried seafood and vegetables.
The secret to great tempura is in the batter. To make it, soft wheat flour is mixed with iced water to keep the batter cold. This is key, because keeping the batter cold slows down the development of gluten.
It’s for this same reason why Masako advised me not to overmix the batter, because doing so activates gluten which causes the flour mixture to become soft and doughy when fried.
Tempura batter should be kept cold and lumpy to create fluffy but crisp tempura when cooked.
When I was dropping the battered pieces of seafood and vegetables into the pot of oil, I made the mistake of dropping it in too quickly. Masako’s assistant politely corrected me and told me to drop it in as slowly as possible. She didn’t explain why, but perhaps to lessen the amount of batter coming off the tempura?
Those bits of excess batter are scooped out between batches so they don’t burn and leave a bad taste in the oil. Called tenkasu, they’re saved and used to make other Japanese dishes like okonomiyaki.
Vegetable or canola oil are most often used to make tempura, though the best results are said to come from sesame oil and tea seed oil. They produce the lightest and crispiest tempura.
Even the plating requires finesse. I followed Masako’s lead and piled the different pieces of tempura onto my plate. I don’t remember the word she used but the goal is to make the pile resemble a mountain.
They said I made my mountain too high but I wasn’t complaining.
Any type of tempura is delicious, but ebi or shrimp tempura is always the star.
This was the secret ingredient I was referring to earlier. Now my bowl of udon is complete. Oishi!
FINAL THOUGHTS ON THIS TOKYO COOKING CLASS
At the end of the class, Masako gave me the most amazing souvenir. Using the Japanese brush technique called sumi-e, she wrote our names in kanji on hand fans.
If I understood correctly, my name – John – sounded like the Japanese word for “help”, while Renée translated to something like “so beautiful sound”.
I loved these. Arigato gozaimasu Masako!
Here’s a parting shot of Masako and her team along with Shoma of airKitchen. According to Shoma, Masako is somewhat of a local celebrity who’s appeared on cooking shows in Tokyo. It was honor taking her class.
Taking cooking classes is something Ren and I enjoy doing on trips, because like I said, there’s no better way to learn about a foreign cuisine than by taking a cooking class.
I’ve been eating tempura and udon almost all my life but I learned things today that I never knew. Eating a dish is one thing, but learning how to make it is another. It gives you a level of understanding that you otherwise wouldn’t get from just eating it, no matter how familiar you are with the dish.
Even though I have virtually no experience in the kitchen, I enjoyed this class tremendously. They guide you through each step so it’s impossible to mess up. It’s like Japanese cooking for dummies.
If you’re visiting Tokyo and want to get a better understanding of Japanese food, then I suggest taking a cooking class. I’m happy to recommend Masako’s class if you want to make udon, tempura, and tamagoyaki. But if you’d like to make other dishes, then you can search through airKitchen’s extensive list of cooking classes in Tokyo.
MASAKO’S UDON RECIPE
For Udon Noodles
250g udon flour
Katsuobushi (to taste)
4 Tbsps salt
2 Tbsps mirin
For Udon Noodles
Dissolve salt in water.
Add salt water to flour little by little. Mix with both hands until the mixture becomes like rough powder. Place into a plastic bag and leave for 10-20 minutes.
Remove the dough from the bag and knead it into a ball. Put it back in the plastic bag.
Step on the plastic bag with the dough inside for about 3 minutes. Remove the dough from the bag and knead into a ball. Put it back in the plastic bag and leave for 20 minutes.
Sprinkle flour on your workstation. Using a rolling pin, flatten the dough evenly until it’s about 3mm thick.
Sprinkle more flour on the flattened dough and cut into 3mm wide strips.
Bring water to boil in a large pot, about 3-4L of water per 250g of udon noodles. Cook noodles for about 7-12 minutes. Noodles should be cooked al dente – soft but not mushy. Pat dry.
In saucepan, combine ingredients and bring to simmer.
Serve with udon noodles and garnish with chopped green onion.
We’re airKitchen affiliates and were given a free cooking class in Tokyo in exchange for an honest account of the experience. As always, all thoughts, words, and opinions expressed in this post are mine and mine alone.
Some of the links in this guide are affiliate links, meaning we’ll earn a small commission if you make a purchase at no added cost to you. We only recommend products and services that we use ourselves and firmly believe in. We really appreciate your support as this helps us make more of these free travel guides. Thank you!