Mapped: The Best Food Destinations in Asia for an Unforgettable Travel Experience

These top food destinations in Asia should be on your next travel itinerary if you want a delicious adventure.

Traveling is back in full swing, which isn’t surprising considering how everyone got tired of being holed up at home during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, international tourist arrivals in 2022 exceeded twice the numbers of the preceding two years, according to the World Economic Forum. In Asia and the Pacific, the World Tourism Organization noted a 61% recovery as more destinations have opened their doors.

If you want to indulge in a more immersive travel experience the next time you book that flight, consider culinary tourism. Follow your taste buds when drafting your next travel itinerary. Coming up with a list of destinations based on a region’s flavorful offerings makes for a more exciting and memorable adventure.  Here, we map out the best food destinations in Asia based on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list from 2020 to 2024.

The best Asian cities to visit for food

These cities in Asia are home to the best dining spots hailed by Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants. William Reed Media kicked off this prestigious restaurants ranking in 2013, with votes from over 300 industry experts across the Asian culinary industry. Each expert “cast a set number of votes for the restaurants where they have had their ‘best experience’ during the last 18 months before the voting deadline. The list is a simple computation of votes by Asian voters for restaurants in Asia,” as stated in 50 Best’s FAQ page.

Use this map to plan and explore your next out-of-the-country destination—and make sure your stomach always has room for more.

Best restaurants in Asia and their respective ranking, from 2020 to 2024

These Asian destinations continue to put the region’s cuisine in the global gastronomic map. India was the first to gain global recognition for its cuisine, with Chinese, Japanese, and Thai food following suit. Centuries of colonization (or formal colonialism, in Japan’s case) played a key role in bringing Asia’s fare to the world’s consciousness. And with the cross-cultural assimilation, a melting pot of hybrid dishes was born.

Modern media also serves as a vehicle for bringing more attention to Asian flavors. Take, for instance, the late Anthony Bourdain’s travel shows. These travelogues saw the candid chef traipsing around the bustling streets of Manila and Vietnam, sampling every dish he could lay his eyes on. Food shows like Chef’s Table on Netflix put the spotlight on Asian chefs who continue to make their mark in the cut-throat industry, armed with sharp knives and immense pride for their cultural heritage. Countless food blogs dedicated to a whole gamut of Asian recipes are a bookmark away. And then there’s Korean pop culture, which saw a meteoric rise, thanks to Kdramas and K-pop; with it came an interest for everything Korean—bibimbap and kimchi included. 

Injecting new flavors to the global palate

The growing popularity of Asian cuisine is not just a testament to the region’s rich culinary diversity. It’s also a celebration and recognition of various cultural heritages that are now shaping and steering the food industry long dominated by Western taste and standards.

In recent years, countries along the Pacific Rim have influenced trends in the gastronomic world. 

Best restaurants in Asia and their respective ranking per year

Championing hyperlocal and sustainable ingredients

Focusing on locally available ingredients that are also sustainable is key to reducing a restaurant’s environmental impact. Sourcing readily available ingredients within one’s locale ensures that diners are served with the freshest catch or harvest. Commitment to sustainability benefits not just the customers but also everyone involved in running a restaurant—from the farmers and producers who supply what the kitchens need to the chefs who continually innovate to please their customers’ taste buds.

Metiz (Makati, Philippines), which first made the list in 2019, was hailed for its dedication to exploring local influences and using ingredients that aren’t widely known, such as puso ng saging (banana heart) and fermented langka (jackfruit). The same is true for Baan Tepa (Bangkok, Thailand), which embraces local Thai produce. So does L’Effervescence (Tokyo, Japan), a recurring contender in Asia’s 50 Best and is dubbed as “a bastion of sustainably-driven, creative cooking in Japan” with its nature-inspired dishes. 

Paying homage to cultural identity and culinary traditions

For decades, Western cuisine, particularly the French, has been the benchmark for what good food is. This is especially true when it comes to fine dining, where cooking techniques, terminology, plating, and the concept of multicourse tasting menus (degustation) have been considered de rigueur.

However, with the rise in popularity of Asian cuisine comes the imperative to go back to one’s roots sans the influence of the West. Now, numerous chefs deliberately put the spotlight on their respective culture.

Restaurants like Toyo Eatery (Makati, Philippines), which consistently made the list since it first appeared in 2019, is committed to promoting the Filipino cultural heritage. Toyo Eatery’s dishes are prepared using varying cooking techniques from around the Philippines. The restaurant, helmed by husband-and-wife tandem Jordy and May Navarra, also promotes kamayan-style eating, where you use your bare hands to scoop food into your mouth. It’s a distinct Filipino way of partaking food that reflects the spirit of communality. 

Meanwhile, Seroja (Singapore) zeroes in on Malay cuisine. Chef Kevin Wong, who hails from Jalan Sejora, sources ingredients from Singapore and Malaysia for the restaurant’s multicourse menu. Then there’s the centuries-old technique of fermentation in Korea, which is showcased in the traditional-meets-modern dishes of Mingles (Seoul, South Korea).

Playing with seasonal menus

Sühring (Bangkok, Thailand) and Wing (Hong Kong) both have one thing in common: seasonal menus that are at the mercy of whatever is locally available in the market at any given time. This may initially sound limiting, but working with seasonal ingredients means more room for creativity. A more creative kitchen results in a diverse menu that can tickle the customer’s fancy.

Working with what Mother Nature has to offer also ensures that ingredients are always fresh, which make for flavorful spoonfuls.

Opening up the kitchen for interactive dining

Once, kitchens in fine dining restaurants were sacred and, to an extent, enigmatic. A hierarchical system, where the chef’s word is set in stone, was best exercised behind closed doors. But with evolving dining preferences and demand for transparency, an open kitchen has become trendy.

The Ministry of Crab (Colombo, Sri Lanka), located in an exquisitely preserved 400-year-old Dutch hospital, boasts a simple but roomy open kitchen. The interiors of Ode (Tokyo, Japan) are awash in gray, a color that extends to the kitchen (also open) and even to the omakase dishes. This attention to detail makes for an elegant gastronomic experience. Then there’s Burnt Ends (Singapore), where the bustling open kitchen is dominated by a “four-tonne, two-oven brick kiln” that chef-owner Dave Pynt designed—undoubtedly the piece de resistance of the famous dining spot.

This kind of seamless setup engages not only the diners’ taste buds but all their other senses as well. It fosters a deeper appreciation of each dish. 

A trip for your taste buds

Planning your trip around food allows you to immerse yourself in a new place. It can even lead you to roads less traveled but are nevertheless exciting.

Before flying out, research on the dishes your destination is well-known for, but don’t ignore other less popular fares. Japan, for instance, is more than just a bowl of ramen or a serving of tempura. Each district or province has its own specialty, which makes for a more interesting food-centric journey.

Explore dining on different budgets. The maps in this blog can be a good jump-off point, but that doesn’t mean you always have to break the bank eating at these fine-dining restaurants. These chef-helmed establishments are just one facet of a city’s subculture, so don’t hesitate to try out street food, local market, or fast food if you truly want to get to know your destination.

If you’re unsure or if you want a more authentic experience, it’s best to ask the locals for recommendations. Seek the help of your hotel concierge or Airbnb host.

And most important of all: Know the dining etiquette, which varies per country and even per region. You don’t want an embarrassing faux pax getting in the way of an otherwise savory meal.

Asia’s diverse culinary tapestries and traditions no longer trail behind Western standards. The region’s offerings have now found a place in the global food scene, albeit overdue. From sourcing produce to cooking techniques to plating, from fine dining to casual fares, Asian cuisine is definitely worth booking that trip.

Disclaimer: Some establishments included on this list may have closed since publication. We recommend checking directly with the restaurant before making a reservation.

All information presented here are based on available data and are only meant for an overview of the subject. For in-depth analyses, an extensive study is necessary.

 Pushpins is a GIS company in the Philippines. For more information on how we can help your organization make use of geospatial analysis, message us here.

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