Sometimes perfection comes from simplicity, and these street foods from around Southeast Asia deliver great taste with few ingredients
Malaysia, roti canai
Roti is a light and flaky flatbread that originally came from the Indian subcontinent. This common base for many Malaysian dishes can be filled with well-seasoned onions, eggs, vegetables, meats or cheese, fried and served with a dal, or curry dipping sauce. Remove all of the fillers, and you’re left with roti canai, a simple yet popular dish eaten by pulling apart pieces of roti bread and dipping it into the accompanying curry sauce. Its simplicity allows one to appreciate the subtle oil and lightness of the bread and rich flavours of the sauce.
Singapore, chicken and rice
Hainanese chicken and rice is a Singaporean street meal and comfort food. Served wrapped in paper, this dish comes exactly as the name describes, with steamed chicken on top of a pile of rice, served with a little bag of light chili sauce to pour over it. The rice is not a mere accompaniment to a well-seasoned chicken, though. It is also cooked in chicken broth with onions and other seasonings, providing big flavour to a dish with essentially only two components.
Vietnam, bahn mi
Banh mi sandwiches are a common Vietnamese dish that combines the traditional flavours of the country with its French colonial heritage. Originally made of pâté on a baguette, banh mi’s ingredients today run the gamut from pork sausage and cold cuts to shrimp to eggs – or some combination of the above. Common toppings include coriander, jalapeño, daikon radish, carrot, cabbage, cucumber and chili. Add some mayonnaise or soy sauce on top, and you have a delicious meal to go.
Thailand, mango sticky rice
In the springtime, mangoes are plentiful in Thai markets and the demand for mango sticky rice is equally high. Fresh slices of sweet, yellow mangoes are paired with coconut milk and sticky rice, a glutinous form of the grain. Its rich sweetness belies the simplicity and healthfulness of this dessert that comes together from only three whole-food ingredients.
All throughout Southeast Asia skewered, grilled street meats are a common sight, but probably the most recognisable is satay. Satay consists of small pieces of well-seasoned meat on a stick – normally chicken, mutton, beef or seafood – served with a spicy peanut dipping sauce. The small portions means you must order satay in multiples, and it’s a natural sharing dish.
This article was published in the June 2018 edition of Southeast Asia Globe magazine. For full access, subscribe here.