Malaysia is South-East Asia’s unsung culinary star. Rich coconut curries are accessorised with fiery sambals (spicy sauces); fish and meat are skewered, satayed and balled; distinctive nyonya food (Chinese-Malay) is a rare treat; and much fuss is made over the malodorous durian fruit, sweet and custardy despite its foul smell.
Malaysia also has significant Indian and Chinese minorities so you get three great culinary traditions for the price of one. The Malay-Indian dish roti canai (puffed flatbread) may just be the world’s best breakfast.
Malaysia: Restoran Rebung Chef Ismail, Kuala Lumpur (+60 3 2283 2119, www.rebung.com.my)
Stuck below the culinary behemoth of India, many assume Sri Lanka is more of the same. But order a curry here and a dozen dishes will appear, more South-East Asian in style and incorporating anything from tuna to beetroot, all served with rice. Coconut milk, dried fish, lemon grass and cashew nuts predominate with lots of spice.
Sri Lanka also shines at breakfast time – a string hopper (a flat spiral of rice noodles), dhal and sambol (relish) feast is hard to beat – and an authentically generous hand with the chilli is sure to wake you up.
Sri Lanka: The Palmyrah, Columbo (+94 11 257 3598, www.renukahotel.com)
Lebanon is one of the jewels of the southern Mediterranean culinary continuum. The food majors on seasonal produce and ranges from meze (small dish) treats such as kibbeh (meat and bulgur balls), tabbouleh (herb, tomato and bulgur salad) and baba ghanouj (roasted aubergine dip) to grilled meats and pastry or semolina-based sweets. Lebanon also has a fruitful wine industry – some even claim this to be the oldest wine producer in the world.
UK: Chez Marcelle, Kensington, London (020 7603 3241)
Many visitors to Eastern Europe gripe about the food, but the only complaint you’ll have in Budapest is from your waistline. Hungary is best known for its goulash (beef stew with spicy paprika) but its fertile plains produce an impressive array of fruit, game and dairy products that contribute to a varied diet. Notable eats include hideg meggyleves (chilled sour cherry soup), delicious pastries, sausages and palacsinta (stuffed pancakes). The country is also famed for its sweet tokaj wine.
UK: Gay Hussar, Soho, London (020 7437 0973, www.gayhussar.co.uk)
Hungary: Gundel, Budapest (+36 1 468 4040, www.gundel.hu)
You either love or hate Korean cuisine, with kimchi (the omnipresent fermented cabbage and chilli condiment) the most controversial dish. Korean food shares elements with Japan and China but its bulgogi (grilled marinated beef), robust hotpots and stews are distinct and delicious. Specialities include hodduck (honey pancakes) – and yes, if you’re brave, man’s best friend is on the menu.
Korea: Samwon Garden, Seoul (+82 2 548 3030, www.samwongarden.com)
Rhymer Rigby, travel writer
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