Foodies delight: Seven classic dishes of Southeast Asia

From the traditional soups of Vietnam to the curries of Cambodia, the luscious lands of Southeast Asia are ripe with unique, quintessential and delicious dishes. There has long been an emphasis on very aromatic flavours such as citrus and herbs with lime, cilantro and basil. Fish sauces, ginger, lemongrass, lighter curries and of course rice are also mainstays in both Vietnamese and Khmer (Cambodian) cuisine. With the arrival of European influence in the 16th and 17th century, new culinary influences were brought to the banks along the Mekong River, creating a kind of culinary fusion which can still be enjoyed today. To help you recreate these dishes at home, or inspire your Emerald Cruises river cruise and tour to the region, here are seven classic dishes from Southeast Asia. 

Soups & Noodle Dishes


One of Vietnam's most popular culinary exports, Pho has in recent years become a favourite dish the world over. An aromatic broth with distinct notes of cloves, ginger and star anise is poured over thin rice noodles and meat (generally thinly sliced beef) before being topped with fresh garnishes and herbs. A trip to Vietnam is not complete without sampling a bowl of Pho from a friendly street vendor.


Lort Cha

Simple and delightful, Lort Cha is a quintessentially Khmer dish. A combination of short rice noodles, vegetables and Asian spices, it offers a delectable contrast of textures from the chewy goodness of the noodle to the crunch of the vegetables. A favourite among locals, Lort Cha is eaten at all times of the day, and will sometimes even feature a fried egg on top.


 Bun Cha

Consisting of grilled fatty pork (cha) on top of thin vermicelli rice noodles (bun), Bun Cha can be traced back to the Old Quarter of Hanoi, Vietnam's capital. What makes this regional favourite so special, however, is the 'nuoc cham'- a tangy sauce made from lemon, sugar, vinegar, chilies and fish sauce- that comes served alongside. Pour it on and enjoy.


Khmer Curries

 Fish Amok

 While many Southeast Asian curries are known for their intense spice, Cambodia's tend to be milder and even sweeter in flavour. Fish Amok is no different. Made from lemongrass, lime leaves, palm sugar, fish sauce, chilies and turmeric, the curry paste has an almost custard like texture before the flaky white fish and coconut milk are added. Famously served in a banana leaf bowl, Amok is a subtly delicious mainstay in Khmer cuisine.


Chicken Samla

Served as a soup or with rice, Samla comprises many of the qualities of Amok. It is milder, has a distinct lemongrass flavour, and often has a bright turmeric-yellow appearance. Often, however, Samla is made with chicken and a wider assortment of vegetables, and galangal or ginger root, giving the dish its own unique quality.


Light & Fresh Choices

 Papaya Salad

A trip to Southeast Asia just isn't complete without indulging in a fresh papaya salad. The key to this dish is using unripened papaya to get the perfect consistency. Thinly sliced, the fruit is tossed in a sauce made from lime, chilies and fish sauce. It's not uncommon to see this salad served with tomatoes, greens, or a protein like chicken. For a sweeter version, fresh mango will be added.


 Banh Mi Kep Thit

Epitomizing the French colonial influence on the region is this classic Vietnamese sub. Regional ingredients such as cucumber, pickled carrots and daikon, cilantro leaf, and pork sausage (cha lua) combine on a small baguette with European sauces such as mayonnaise or traditional pâté. Once the most popular street food in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), this delectable sandwich can be found in restaurants all over the world, taking on a range of local variations.


On a journey along the Mekong River with Emerald Cruises, you'll have the opportunity to experience the wonderful flavours this incredible region has to offer. Our expert chefs source most of our produce locally, ensuring that every dish you enjoy on board is as fresh and authentic as possible. Want to learn more about how we craft such regionally inspired dishes on board our innovative Star-Ship, Emerald Harmony? Learn from our expert Executive Chef, with this exclusive interview.  

Start your next adventure and discover the flavours of Vietnam and Cambodia for yourself on an inspiring river cruise and land tour. Explore our exciting itineraries today and experience the best of Southeast Asia River Cruises.