Last updated: 11:07 AM ET, Wed July 29 2015

Mixing Southeast Asian Food and Travel

Tour Operator | James Ruggia | July 29, 2015

Mixing Southeast Asian Food and Travel

PHOTO: A tour from Destination Asia explores the world of Singaporean food neighborhood by neighborhood. (courtesy Singapore Tourist Board)

For a long time now that great smell wafting from Southeast Asia’s kitchens has been a siren song for American travelers looking to experience new destinations. Southeast Asian food with its chilies, satays, salads and curries have become increasingly popular throughout the U.S. as restaurants, mostly Thai and Malay, have been opening at such a degree that they’re beginning to challenge Chinese cuisine as America’s favorite Asian eating. As always the food is always better in its own native environment and the following experiences can help you  find your way to a real Southeast Asian meal.

Bangkok’s klong or canal tours have become one of the city’s “must-do” experiences for visitors. Most of these klong tours end at the Grand Palace for a tour of its glittering temples and the essential repository of Thai sovereignty, the Emerald Buddha. Food lovers can now mount a long-tail speed boat at the Maharaj Pier on the Chao Phraya for a ride on the Chao Phraya to the Yai Klong and to the Sanaha Klong to the canal-side home of Amita Cooking School.

The school is owned and operated by Tam Piyawadi Jantrupon, a very classy Thai lady who offers very personal cooking classes in the home she grew up in and she is half the experience. Her home is sort of a teak wood compound connecting six houses that have been in her family for four generations.

“In the old days, the klong was Main Street and I still remember when the food used to come to us on boats,” she said. She takes you around her herb garden explaining how each different plant has its own medicinal and culinary qualities.

She’ll show you where the flood of 2011 brought the water levels and she’ll take you through the cooking of four Thai dishes, so that you can finish with a four course dinner that you cooked as she tells wonderful stories of Bangkok.

The classes take a maximum 12 people, and cost about $85 per person. They are taught in English (she spent a couple of years in California) and run from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. every day except Wednesdays. Amita will also send a van to the major hotels for pick-up and drop off at the major hotels. When it’s all over you’ll feel like you know a lot more about Thailand and not only its food.

Southeast Asian Food Experiences

Khiri Travel just released seven new culinary experiences across five countries that showcase authentic local food in iconic settings. "Each culinary offering can be tailored as a tour in its own right or as part of a full-day, half-day or multiple-day tour," says André van der Marck, vice president of Khiri Travel.

In Myanmar, you can take in a Bagan royal food feast of 30 dishes or you can do lunch in gardens beside ancient Mon ruins in Chiang Mai, Thailand. You can go to market in Indonesia to prepare your own local sasak meal in a shaded bamboo retreat beside rice paddies.

In Bali, you can tour the Sindhu night market and eat snacks such as sate, bakso soup, gadogado or mee goring. In Yogyakarta, in the Malioboro area, you can sample dishes such as gudeg (jackfruit curry with egg) and soto daging (beef soup). In Cambodia, Khiri Travel has arranged for a spread of Khmer snacks to be prepared for guests cruising on the moat at Angkor Thom in the early evening.

"All the dining experiences can be prepared to a budget or modified for guests who prefer things spicy, mild, with or without certain meats or with local or international soft drinks or alcohol. Our signature Khiri Travel dining interactions are as flexible as they are varied," said Marck.

The food of Singapore may be the best in Southeast Asia. The cuisine is still haunted by the old Peranakan traders who brought their recipes from Guangzhou to Melaka and Singapore where their Malay wives made a hybrid known locally as Nonya cooking, basically grandma’s cooking.

A program from Destination Asia explores the Lion City’s full culinary offering following a food trail that goes through the neighborhoods of Joo Chiat, Katong and East Coast Road.

Destination Asia also offers a pod chocolate tour in Bali that follows the local delicacy from seed to bar. The tour includes a chance to make your own chocolate in a number of shapes and sizes. The location of the tour makes it easy to combine with elephant trekking and white water rafting. Thai food may have led Southeast Asian food into the American marketplace, but it’s only one of several great cuisines from a region that includes Burmese, Indonesian, Malaysian, Singaporean and Vietnamese.

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