Sweets sold in a local Vietnamese market

Sweets sold in a local Vietnamese market

Look back to a recent trip you took and chances are your memories involve something you ate. It’s easy to understand why they say food is the spice of life. We all eat, and when we travel, the dining experience is amplified. I see and try things you may not normally. And for that reason alone, an impression is left.

In Asia, the stamp can be huge. For many, it’s the place to go on a culinary adventure. Countries like Vietnam, Thailand and Japan are renowned for their cuisine. And in most cases, the best spots don’t cost an arm and a leg. They’re family-run joints that have been around for eons. Or street vendors. Or institutions that simply take pride in doing one dish extremely well.

Take Hanoi, for instance. You can’t go wrong at Pho Lam Nam Ngu, where Mrs. Huong doled out her first bowl of out-of-this-world pho ga (traditional Vietnamese chicken noodle soup) in the 1950s. The shop is now run by her two daughters, who swear by the virtues of northern pho, which has a distinctly different taste to the pho made in the south.

In Bangkok, I love Soi Polo, which has been serving up some of the best grub in Thailand’s capital for more than 40 years.

As one might expect, it’s a little off the beaten track — down a lane that leads to the exclusive, members-only Royal Bangkok Polo Club, to be exact. The restaurant does a lot of items well, but you can’t leave without trying its signature dish: the fried chicken. It’s legendary, thanks in part to a New York Times article.

In Tokyo, some of the best haunts are izakayas, popular for their made-to-share dishes. I recommend trying Gonpachi, rumored to have inspired a scene in the movie Kill Bill.

And in Phnom Penh, head down Street 136 and look for the guy in the vest and tie selling papaya salad. Or just listen for him. Mao Bora has made singing to customers part of his program, and even recently released his first single — perhaps the first street vendor to do so!

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