What is the one thing Asia is known for around the world ? Food. Indian, Chinese and Thai cuisine have been invading the dinner tables for decades and take top spots of the most popular cuisines according to Google Trends. Ever since the world started to shrink, thanks to travel and globalisation we have access to many regional foods and beverages in our neighbourhood gourmet store. However, while shopping for souvenirs many of us have friends or family who would be delighted to receive travel gifts that are local food or beverages from the destination. You could even throw a destination food party back home for your bunch using the sauces and ingredients gathered on travel. The very prospect of visiting a distant land and coming home with a cultural trinket is quite exciting for me. So let’s get on with it as I share some of the local specialities across Asia’s top destinations that you should carry along with you.
Competitive and undisputed food capital of Asia, Singapore has Indian, Chinese, Malay, Thai stalls everywhere you go. There’s a reason why I call Singapore the culture capsule of Asia, you get every culture in the continent thriving with pride here. Without a doubt, if you are in Singapore you will be food touring and may be tempted to buy a season-full of Chili Crabs and Hainanese Chicken Rice or Nasi Lemak from the Maxwell Food Centre or Tiong Bahru. But there are local food favourites you could shop at markets or street shops to make a perfect food souvenir.
Best Markets: Tiong Bahru Market, Geylang Serai Market, NTUC Fairprice
What to buy ? Chwee Kueh (steamed rice cakes topped with preserved radish), Singapore Chili Crab Paste, Singapore Hainanese Chicken Rice Paste, Laksa Paste, Singapore Bak Kut Teh Spices and Singapore Sling Bottle (Changi Airport Duty-Free), Singapore Sling Truffles (Raffles Hotel Gift Shop).
When I think of Shanghai the one memory etched on my mind, is the tea shopping experience, best steamed buns and the hand-pulled noodle soup. Well that said, though it has some of Asia’s best rooftop restaurants and bars, Shanghai does have a roaring street market in its otherwise nondescript streets. Shanghai is a bustling city and a melting pot of China’s regional diversity which only means you could shop till you drop on all things Chinese cuisine here.
Best Markets: Tianshan Tea City, Yu Gardens and Market, Jiashan Market, Wei Xiang Zhai
What to buy? Oolong Loose Tea, Jasmine Tea, Black sesame brittle, White Rabbit candies, Dried Noodles and Seafood.
The financial capital of India gained its reputation for being the nerve centre of all trade thanks to its coveted geographical location. What started out as a port for merchants to trade goods across the Arabian Sea and to Europe soon turned into a massive marketplace for every Indian product. As the gateway to Asia’s rich food culture, Mumbai has niche markets for all goods sold. My favourite is the spice market and the local stores where you can shop for curry powders and pastes just as the city goers do. All the food shopping may work up an appetite and since the city has been popular for its diverse street food, I recommend you satiate those hunger pangs from your shopping spree over a plate of pav bhaji or paani-puri.
Best Markets: Crawford Market – Whole Spice Market, Matunga Central Market, Big Bazaar at Lower Parel, Sarvodaya Food Store at Churchgate
What to buy? Garam Masala, Biryani Masala, Sambhar Masala, Mango / Lime Pickle, Coriander Chutney, Whole Spices ( Bay Leaf, Coriander Seeds, Cumin Seeds, Cinnamon Sticks, Black Cardamom, Green Cardamom, Dried Ginger, Whole Turmeric, Dried Red Chillies)
Singapore faces some stiff competition in every walk of life from Hong Kong and it is no different for being a foodie hub. This island cluster city is a Cantonese cuisine paradise with a bustling street food scene just like its Asian sisters in the continent. Dried Seafood, herbs, pastes that are staple of the Chinese cooking can be easily found in the markets as well as some of the wet markets that have special local produce.
Best Markets: Dried Seafood Street and Tonic Food Street, Kee Wah Bakery, Wing On Plus Store
What to buy? Dried Seafood (Oysters, Shrimp, fish maw) Chinese Ginseng, Shrimp Paste, Shiitake Mushrooms, Pineapple Buns, Moon Cakes, Egg Puffs, Wife Cakes.