Asia is the world’s largest continent, both in terms of land area and by population. Almost 60% of the world’s population live in Asia, split between (depending on how you count) at least 48 different countries. It’s no surprise, then, that there’s a wonderful diversity in Asia when it comes to food.
All those different cultures with their thousands of years of history have given the world countless wonderful dishes and while you’d need a whole library’s worth of books to do justice to them all, we’ve selected some of the best of them here.
Remember also that Asia isn’t just East and Southeast Asia. The continent ranges from Japan in the East to the Middle East in the West, and this list features dishes from all across it, so you can get the best possible overview of the foods it has to offer.
With the largest population of any country in Asia (and the world), it’s inevitable that China and its cuisine are going to feature quite a lot on this list. Zha Jiang Mian literally means “fried sauce noodles” and is a very popular dish in Beijing and the surrounding regions.
The dish has three main components: pork fried in a thick, salty sauce, fresh boiled noodles, and the vegetable toppings. That sauce is made differently in different places, you can just make whichever version it’s easier for you to find ingredients for because they’re all delicious.
If you don’t eat pork, you can also substitute beef or lamb, as Chinese Muslims often do. The vegetable toppings are also down to your personal preference. Beansprouts, cucumber and carrot are popular, but radish, celery, edamame beans and more are used as well.
The end result is a wonderful dish of noodles, bursting with salt and umami flavor, topped with the satisfying crunch of the vegetables – true comfort food.
If you saw the word “salad” and are now thinking “but salads are boring!”, then you must not have tried this one yet.
Papayas are usually eaten as fruit but green ones have a tart crunch that’s more like a vegetable. This delicious salad features plenty of green papaya in a delicious dressing that’s sweet, salty, and spicy.
This all combines to make a perfect light lunch on a hot day. This recipe includes shrimp but some variations in Thailand include crab, either instead of or in addition to the shrimp, so if you want to use crab, go for it!
There are so many different varieties of sushi that we’d need a whole list (and more) just to talk about them, but this recipe is for salmon nigiri. Nigiri is one of the simpler styles of sushi to make and consists of a strip of raw fish on top of a clump of vinegared rice pressed together.
If you’re wondering where the seaweed (nori) comes in, it doesn’t – nigiri doesn’t use it. It’s fairly simple to make as far as sushi goes and tastes absolutely delicious.
Since the salmon is the real star of this recipe, make sure you use the highest quality you can get for best results.
Korean culture is well on its way to taking over the world, with Korean music, movies, and TV shows now almost as popular in the West as in Asia. Their food is on the same path, too.
This spicy chicken stir fry is a great introduction to Korean food if you’ve never had it before. It gets its heat from gochujang and gochugaru (Korean chili paste and flakes) and mixed with the other seasoning, it creates a wonderful, unique flavor.
You’ll also notice that rice cakes are on the ingredient list, but these aren’t the diet snacks you might know – Korean rice cakes are dense, delicious cylinders of steamed rice flour. These are great for absorbing sauces and delivering the flavor directly to your taste buds.
The land that used to be called Persia is now known as Iran and, while it might not be the first country that jumps to mind when you hear “Asia”, it has a culinary tradition that stretches back millennia.
Khoresht Fesenjan unites the earthy, nutty taste of walnuts with the tart sweetness of pomegranate paste to create an unforgettable chicken stew.
Getting used to how much pomegranate paste to add for your taste can take a few tries, so a little sugar can be used to sweeten it up if you go overboard.
Overall, though, this dish is very simple and straightforward to make. When it’s done, you’ll be amazed at how delicious and warming it is.
Beef rendang is a sensational dish of slow cooked beef coated in a cocktail of herbs and spices. This list of seasonings includes toasted coconut, galangal, star anise, cloves, and several others. It’s traditionally cooked until nearly all the liquid is gone and the spices are sticking to the beef.
If you’re pressed for time, you can buy pre-made spice blends for beef rendang, but nothing tastes as good as when you make it yourself!
Its rich layers of flavor typically include quite a lot of spice, though of course you can choose for yourself how spicy you want it to be. It’s delicious with rice and arguably even better the next day, since leaving it overnight gives the flavors time to develop.
When it comes to Pho, it stands or falls based on its broth. The rest is pretty simple – the noodles are boiled and most of the rest of the ingredients, including the beef, are often added while they’re still raw.
If you can get a rich, salty, umami broth with just the right flavor balance, then you’ve done 90% of the work. The best way to do this is to make your own.
You can substitute a store bought broth if you like, but it almost certainly won’t be as good, and there’s nothing like a comforting bowl of hot pho that you made yourself.
Hailing from the Kashmir region of India/Pakistan, rogan josh is the kind of dish that is usually called a curry in the West. Though it’s generally made with lamb, you can substitute other meats if you prefer.
The lamb is cooked in a blend of spices that make a wonderful, vibrant sauce. You’ll note that the recipe doesn’t include onions or garlic – instead, it uses an ingredient called asafoetida to get the flavor that they’d normally bring.
You’ll be able to find this in an Indian grocery store or online. You can also slow cook this dish to save time in the evening, and doing this will make the lamb deliciously tender.
Laksa is a delicious, Southeast Asian noodle soup that’s quite different from pho. Instead, it has a lot of flavors that usually go into curries in it, and the basis for the dish is a Southeast Asian style curry paste.
You can use store bought if you want, but where’s the fun in that? Kaffir lime leaves and lime juice add a fresh sharpness, and the coconut milk mixes with all the spices for a rich broth that you’ll want to finish even after you’ve eaten all the noodles and meat.
Most recipes, including this one, include shrimp, but you can replace it with something else if you’re not a fan.
This dish is beloved in both the Shanghainese and Cantonese cuisines of Southern China, and is usually served on special occasions like the eve of Chinese New Year.
We won’t lie, it’s not the simplest of dishes to prepare, but it is still very much doable for a home cook and your dinner guests’ appreciation will be worth it, as will the delicious dish itself.
Basically, it’s a duck that’s fried whole to crisp the skin, stuffed with eight different fillings (the “treasures”) and then steamed until the meat is tender enough to begin falling apart.
What exactly these stuffings are can vary between different versions, so you have some freedom to choose whatever you think will taste good.
However, steamed glutinous rice is usually one of the fillings, and other common ones include Chinese sausage (lap cheong), mushrooms, water chestnuts, and peanuts.
From the complex to the very simple. This delicious Thai stir-fry can be whipped up in about 15 minutes to make a great weeknight dinner. It uses ground chicken, but you could use any other ground meat as well (pork is especially good).
Holy basil is a herb that you might not find in supermarkets, but it should be available in an Asian grocery store.
It gives this dish a lovely, aromatic note, but if you can’t find it, you can substitute regular basil. This aroma mixes in with the salty, spicy meat to make a dish that’s addictively delicious.
Pilaf is a delicious rice dish that’s eaten in various forms all across Central Asia. It consists of rice cooked in aromatic spices (cumin, cinnamon, turmeric) with little jewels of dried fruit like raisins and chopped dried apricots scattered through it.
This version is vegetarian, but you can add lamb if you’d like some meat in it. It goes excellently with things like falafel, kofta, and kabobs but can also be eaten by itself.
This seafood curry is one of Cambodia’s national dishes. Like other Southeast Asian curries, it gets its wonderful variety of flavors from the paste that forms the basis of the curry mixed with coconut milk.
The original recipe calls for fish, but versions with all kinds of other proteins are now common, including shrimp (like this recipe) as well as chicken, beef, and tofu.
The heat of the chilis is balanced with the creaminess of the coconut milk (fresh coconut cream is usually poured over the finished dish to serve) to create a delicious dish. It’s often served in banana leaves, too, just to heighten the aesthetic appeal.
These delicious steamed dumplings can be made with meat as well, but this recipe is vegan, using only vegetables as filling. What’s more, it doesn’t include any ingredients that are difficult to come by in the West, though you will need a steamer to cook them.
Carrot, cabbage, and bell peppers are the main fillings here but feel free to mix it up if you’re feeling adventurous. The real trick here is not to overfill the dumplings. It’s easy to do when you’re starting, but you’ll get the hang of it before long.
As you might know, many Indian dishes are cooked using ghee (a kind of clarified butter) as a fat for frying, including this one. If you use another oil instead, this will become a vegan dish, although ghee is best for flavor.
This recipe also uses a piece of hot charcoal to infuse an incredible smoky flavor into the dish (but don’t worry, you won’t actually be eating the charcoal!). The dish is loaded with herbs and spices that make it both fragrant and strong-tasting.
This combines with the lovely texture of the cooked lentils to make something that could be called either a soup or a stew. Whatever you call it, though, you’ll definitely want seconds.
This includes a recipe for homemade teriyaki sauce, which is super simple to make. This is another recipe that can be a great weeknight dinner as it’s so quick to prepare and cook, even if you’re making the sauce too.
You can marinade the salmon for a quick 30 minutes and after that, it’s up to you whether you fry it, grill it, or bake it. The sweet saltiness of the sauce really brings the salmon to life without overpowering it.
17. Chicken Shawarma
Shawarma is a Middle Eastern flatbread wrap that’s often served as a street food and in restaurants all over the region. Versions exist with various other fillings too, so you can try other meats or even falafels.
There’s a blend of herbs and spices, augmented by a delicious garlic sauce to add amazing flavor to everything while texture and crunch come from the raw red onions.
Olive oil adds richness and lemon juice adds a zesty freshness. There is nothing so good as biting down into one of these when you’re hungry and in need of something quick and delicious to eat.
This dish combines fried eggplant, green chilies, and shallots, all pickled in mustard-vinegar to make a wonderfully tart and crunchy Sri Lankan delicacy. It’s spicy, too, but of course you can put in more or less chili powder depending on how much spice you favor.
As it’s a pickle, it’ll last more or less forever in the refrigerator, so feel free to make as big a batch as you have space for. This means you can make it on a weekend day and then use it throughout the week, saving you time on those busy weeknights.
This rice bowl dish is probably the most famous Korean dish in the world, even among people who know nothing about Korea. The rice is the base, and on top comes ground beef in a salty, umami sauce, with a whole bunch of crunchy, raw vegetables in support.
You can choose your favorites here, of course, but shiitake mushrooms are especially good because they absorb lots of that lovely sauce and all the flavor it contains. The spicy chili paste (gochujang) adds heat to round off an impressive ensemble.
This dish is popular in Southern China’s Fujian Province and in Taiwan. It gets its name from the ingredients that are used in the sauce – a cup each of sesame oil, soy sauce, and rice wine.
This recipe doesn’t use quite that much, however – a standard American cup must not be quite the same as a traditional Chinese one.
The Thai basil adds a great, aromatic anise flavor as well. This is another one that can be made quite quickly and served with rice if you’re looking for a tasty dinner on a weeknight.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Asian food healthy?
If you’ve read this article, you’ll have seen that Asian food is incredibly varied, so it’s difficult to answer whether or not Asian food is healthy in general.
Many Asian dishes are fried, which you might consider unhealthy, but then on the other hand those dishes can use plenty of healthy ingredients like chicken and vegetables.
A lot of dishes can be salty, but for people watching their sodium intake, this can usually be reduced. While there’s nothing on this list that’s outright unhealthy by itself, there are some dishes, like zha jiang mian (number 1 on the list), that you probably wouldn’t eat a lot of if you were on a diet.
Where can I buy Asian ingredients?
The good news is that most Asian ingredients you’re likely to need can be bought in Asian (or Indian, Middle Eastern etc.) grocery stores. Different types of soy sauce, gochujang chili paste, spices like zaatar, and kaffir lime leaves are usually available in places like this.
However, if you don’t have a shop like this near you, or if you can’t find what you’re looking for there, you might have better luck online. There’s not a lot that you can’t order online in the US.
However, there are a few ingredients that are hard to find at all outside of their own countries (and sometimes even outside of specific regions within those countries), and in these cases, your best bet is probably just to leave it out or substitute it for something else.
Whatever you’re looking for, a good tip is to check to see if it’s known by any other names to make sure you don’t walk past it when you see it on the shelf.
Is cooking Asian food hard?
Again, we’ll point to the huge variety in Asian food as a way of saying that that question doesn’t really have an answer. Several of the dishes on this list are very simple and easy to make and make good weeknight dinners – the teriyaki salmon (number 16) is a good example.
On the other hand, others take quite a lot of time and effort, such as the Eight Treasure Duck (number 10). Some of the techniques might take some getting used to if you haven’t used them before, but most will come easily enough with some practice.
What do I need to cook Asian food?
Aside from the ingredients themselves, of course. Some dishes can be cooked with the equipment that can commonly be found in a Western kitchen. However, if you’ll be cooking a lot of Asian dishes, particularly East Asian ones, then a good wok will go a very long way.
A wok without a non-stick coating is better for stir-frying, but make sure you season it before you start. A steamer will also be useful as there are a lot of steamed dishes in East Asian cuisine.