Seven Southeast Asian Foods for the Health-Conscious Traveler

For tourists who wish to see a mélange of warm culture cradled on an expansive spectacle of greens, water and terrain, Southeast Asia will be the prime place to visit. Tourists go here to do water sports, enter fascinating caves, trek the green mountains outside the bustling modern cities, and taste the distinctively Southeast Asian dishes, which can be both scrumptious and healthy. Thus, if ever you visit Southeast Asia, don’t worry about getting the right healthy diet, as these seven hearty foods from Southeast Asia are sure to satiate and nourish you (list is in no particular order).

Southeast Asia food
Tom Yum Goong (Image credit: by pazavi from Flickr.com)

1. Tom Yum (Thailand)

Tom Yum is Thai’s signature dish. It is not only a unique blend of spicy, sour, salty, sweet and bitter tastes but also incredibly healthy. The ingredients used are said to improve blood circulation, assist in digestion, prevent cancer and enhance immune defense. The exceptional taste comes from the three basic ingredients: lemon grass, galangal, and Kaffir lime leaf. It can be served with any meat, like shrimp, seafood, chicken or beef. At only about 298 calories per serving, it’s definitely worth a try.

Tom Yum is actually becoming popular outside Thailand. However, the original source remains the best place to experience it. Several food chains and restaurants in Thailand serve it. One of them is the MK and Coca food chain where it is served as a hotpot. Diners can therefore take over and choose what goes into their soup. The ingredients range from 10 to 30 baht (less than $1 US) a pop. Another place to consider is Baan Rim Pa, especially if you prefer having the soup over a spectacular setting.

2. Pad Thai (Thailand)

Pad Thai is another healthy food from Thailand. The dish contains stir-fried noodles, tofu, vegetables and peanuts. With all those ingredients, Pad Thai has about 600 calories per serving. If you want, you can request additional vegetables and less meat to make it even healthier, with fewer calories.

If you have already tasted Pad Thai in places outside Thailand, then you might have tasted the light and less-flavored version. Thus, you might have never yet tasted the real flavor and classic texture of the freshly cooked version, which you can only get from restaurants in Thailand.

3. Pho (Vietnam)
Pho, or Noodle soup, is Vietnam’s very own hearty soup for the health-conscious travelers. The great thing about Pho is its versatility: it may be served with seafood, beef, chicken or pork, together with the basic ingredient, which is the rice noodle. The soup may include fresh herbs, vegetables and tofu; the calories, thus, vary from one restaurant to another.

Since Pho is a traditional dish widespread in Vietnam, you can easily find a place where it is served. In fact, the wayside stalls offer it at a cheaper price than those served in restaurants — it’s more scrumptious, too. If you want to eat the dish in a fancier ambiance, however, then you might opt to dine in the more popular Pho restaurants, such as those in Hanoi.

4. Goi Cuon (Vietnam)

Vietnam Summer Rolls
Vietnam Summer Rolls (Image credit: by macloo from Flickr.com)

Goi Cuon is Vietnam’s fresh summer roll. It deserves to be in the list because of its entirely healthy features. The spring roll is a healthy gourmet of unsullied shrimp and ground pork mixed with only the freshest vegetables and herbs and wrapped in rice paper. The hoisin peanut sauce is a perfect match, and a bite is spectacular and beyond compare. Since it is not fried but served cold and fresh, the calorie-count is quite small, at about 160. Delicious summer rolls are served everywhere in Vietnam but you might want to pay extra for the atmosphere and excellent service in deluxe restaurants.

5. Som tam (Laos)
Lao cuisine stands out from the other Southeast Asian cuisines for serving bitter, rather than sweet, food. Plus, seeing a platter of vegetables together with the main course is not an uncommon sight. Lao cuisine is healthy, and Laotians believe that a bitter tasting food is a healthy food. Thus, expect to see Som tam being served frequently during meals. Som tam is actually a salad made from shredded raw papaya and other fresh vegetables. Other neighboring countries, such as Thailand, have their own version of Som tam. However, the original sour and bitter tasting version of the dish came from Laos. The calories per serving size (275g) are about 125.

6. Pakbet (Philippines)
Pakbet or Pinabet is an Ilocano dish popular in the Philippines. It is a combination of eggplant, bitter gourd, okra, squash, winged beans and other vegetables sautéed in garlic, onion, tomatoes, ginger and a bit of shrimp paste. This dish is definitely a rich source of dietary fiber and nutrients. For a single serving (about 385g), the calories are 99. This dish is great if you want a flavorful, healthy gourmet of vegetables, and it can be found at every Filipino home in the northern region of the Philippines.

Yong Tau Foo Stall in Pasir Panjang, Southwest Singapore (Image credit: by 22n from Flickr)

7. Yong tau foo (Singapore and Malaysia)
Yong tau foo is a Chinese-inspired dish. What is spectacular about this dish is the tofu stuffed with seafood, meat or vegetable, boiled and then served in or with a broth containing noodles, lettuce, lady fingers (okra) and bitter gourd. A bowl of yong tau foo has about 300 calories. You may find this dish in various food stalls in Singapore and in the Ampang region of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Healthy foods do not necessarily have to be bland and tasteless. That’s why tourists love to come to Southeast Asia. The food is healthy, flavorful, inexpensive, and always served with a smile.

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About the author: Maria Mozo

A former article contributor covering Asian destinations for Planet Abroad, Vicki Mozo continues to inspire and gear up travel enthusiasts across the globe through TravelHoppers.com. She intends to furnish enticing tips and ideas to satiate the boundless cravings for fresh and prime destinations. With years of writing and contributing articles on the web, she is set to carry on with only one goal -- to always impart what is essential, sensible, and useful.

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