Does eating a searing red curry with a piece of buttery naan make you feel like a different person from one who normally eats, say, a baguette of Serrano ham and heirloom tomatoes?
Does eating pickled vegetables on a daily basis start to get to you, make you feel a little differently about life after awhile?
Does standing in the narrow corridor of a Japanese yakitori bar, smelling grilled chicken and onion, watching smoke billow around a bandannaed man flipping the skewers, temporarily give you a new identity?
Like traveling, food can pull the rug – subtly or blatantly – out from under a given identity.
The transformative effects of food might not be as immediately obvious as those of a new cultural environment, but they’re just as significant.
Which is why I bring you my top five Asian food blogs.
Why Asia? Because the continent is fortunate to have some extremely talented and experienced cooks and writers dedicating their lives to exploring its cuisine.
These bloggers will help you navigate the overwhelming realm of Asian food. They’ll flesh out the context for you and guide you through the culinary metamorphasis that takes place in travel.
And they’ll make you so. freaking. hungry.
Poco is a Japanese woman blogging about her mother’s cooking. The aim of her site is to preserve knowledge of and respect for traditional Japanese cooking. She quotes her grandfather :
“You eat local cuisine and you’ll not get sick.”
The site is a food diary of what her mother cooks every day—literally, almost every day—as well as an extensive catalogue of Japanese ingredients and recipes. This is one of the best resources I’ve found on Japanese food and cooking.
I think Poco sums it up simply and sweetly in an essay entitled The Natural Style:
I never forget that our body is made up of foods.
I cannot tell you how many times in Beijing I’d spend the morning devouring Appetite For China and the afternoon scouring the city for roujiamo (a kebab-like sandwich of pulled pork) or the perfect dan dan mian(spicy Sichuan noodles).
Diana Kuan grew up partly in Puerto Rico, where her family operated a Latin-Chinese “fusion” restaurant (before fusion became the most overhyped food concept of the century) and partly in suburban Boston, where the family ran a “Polynesian-style take-out and Cantonese bakery.”
Combine that family background with French culinary training, a stint as a pastry chef, years spent as a food writer covering everything from chocolate to Ethiopian food, and a move to Beijing, and you have one helluva perspective on food.
Appetite For China runs the spectrum from the traditional (mapo tofu) to the innovative (absinthe cranberry frappe).
And you can’t beat Diana’s 100 Chinese Foods To Try Before You Die if you’re moving or traveling to China.
3. Eating Asia
Writer Robyn Eckhardt and photographer David Hagerman have been living in Asia for over thirteen years, and are currently based in Kuala Lumpur.
Their blog is equal parts travel, people, and food, and can’t be missed if you’re traveling to Malaysia.
The photos and the stories behind them invoke fields, valleys, smoky alleyways and street-side noodle stands where you’ve never been but can somehow feel and taste.
The writing is suburb and direct – as much about recipes as it is about local ingredients, people, and stories.
Even though I’ll be leaving Japan soon and don’t have another Asia trip planned, I visit this blog because I want to be there in the dumpling steam, sitting at a tiny plastic table beside a ramshackle stand, with the taste of scallions and meat and sharp vinegar in my mouth at 7 a.m.
Karen Coates is the Asia correspondent for “Gourmet” and author of “Cambodia Now: Life in the Wake of War,” among other books. She and her husband have spent more than a decade living in, traveling through, and writing about Asia.
Rambling Spoon is as much about Asian politics, history, nature, and social life as it is about food. Coates writes:
Food is life (and death). It is history and politics and science and nature. It is everything, and it is not a subject to be taken lightly. After all, food is everything we are.
I would argue, food is also essential to traveling, and it is part of the transformation that takes place in traveling.
What we put in our bodies links us to people and landscape.
And those links are evident in the stories, recipes and photos that come together on Rambling Spoon.
5. Sticky Rice
The bio on this site leaves an air of mystery about the authors:
“Eating, drinking, sitting, watching -these are the things we love about Hanoi. On this site we will attempt to eat our way through Vietnam’s northern capital and pass on the results.”
Despite the dearth of personal info, the writing has a distinct voice. It manages to be snarky, insightful, slightly pretentious and down home all at once.
It makes for great reading and stokes a desire to go to Vietnam that I didn’t know I had.
For anyone traveling to Hanoi, and Vietnam in general, this is the one blog that should not be missed, and for those of you for whom food blogs are porn, Sticky Rice is particularly drool-worthy.
Sticky Rice teleports you to the green banana stand, to the cluttered café, to the pho joint that haunts your dreams.
Again, these five blogs are the ones I find exceptional in the way they capture places through food. There are, of course, many more great Asian food blogs.
Consider food blogs as travel guides that give you another angle through which to experience culture. With these blogs as your guide, you can learn how to literally swallow up and digest a place.
For more about the connection between food and place, check out this author’s article about Tasting Place, or peruse Essential Cookbooks for the Culinary Traveler. You also might want to know how to eat a new language before you embark on your culinary adventure.
For up-to-date Southeast Asian restaurant reviews and trip planning information, check out TravelFish.