Four foods to try in South East Asia by El Baqueano chef Fernando Rivarola

Fernando Rivarola - 03/07/2015

While Fernando Rivarola regularly breaks down culinary frontiers by inviting Latin American chefs to participate in his Cocina Sin Fronteras (Cooking without borders) project, his latest trip saw him venture far further afield – to Asia.

The chef-patron of Buenos Aires restaurant El Baqueano, No.18 in Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants, traversed Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam. Here, he tells Sorrel Moseley-Williams about the star dishes that tempted and surprised him along the way.

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Fernando gets to stuck in at a local fish market


Sai Ua – Shang Mai, Thailand

Thailand is one of South East Asia’s most gastronomically developed countries. Bangkok’s markets are amazing and chaotic, a place to while away a day choosing and sampling emblematic dishes.

The most delicious and surprising dish I tried was Sai Ua, a grilled sausage made from minced pork that’s marinated in lemongrass, kaffir lime, galangal and red curry paste and is sometimes fermented. Your mouth is inundated with spices from the first bite, and it finishes with a nice heat and natural acidity that invites you to keep on eating with every mouthful. It’s a snack or can be served with sticky rice.

If I could make this type of sausage in Argentina, it would be the most delicious and spiced Argentine-Asian choripán (sausage sandwich) in existence.

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Bánh cuốn, Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi is a curious city with vast architectural, cultural and religious contrasts, while its gastronomy is singular, both passionate and delicious. You can try small portions of traditional dishes in almost any market at very cheap prices, but the best way to properly try the city’s food is to wait until evening.

We went to the city centre to check out the night markets and wait for the magic to happen, to dine where local people eat. Thousands of people take to the streets to enjoy local dishes, and it’s curious to see Vietnamese families sitting on small plastic chairs that are practically toy size, eating a delicious soup or a crunchy bánh mì (baguette).

One memorable breakfast dish was bánh cuốn, a type of pancake made from rice that’s very thin and almost transparent, steamed and filled with wood ear mushrooms, dried pork, shallots, dried shrimp and coriander. You have to dress it with a traditional sweet and sour sauce made from fish, vinegar, lemon juice, chilli and pepper, and you should have it in the morning when you’re really hungry.

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Hainanese chicken rice, Tian Tian, Singapore

Hainanese chicken rice is one of Singapore’s most emblematic dishes, although its name is taken from Hainan in China, from where it originates. The dish is so simple and delicious that Anthony Bourdain himself succumbed to the delicacy.

The best way to enjoy local street food is buying from hawkers, the country’s mobile food carts. One of the prettiest local markets is Maxwell Food Center, behind China Town, where you can find one of the city’s most famous stands that makes the emblematic Tian Tian Hainanese chicken rice. The dish is prepared simply, although it’s important to use free-range chicken and a delicious chilli sauce made from sriracha.

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Kinilaw (or Kilawin), Manila, The Philippines

The Philippines is a mega-diverse country formed of hundreds of islands and inhabited by more than 90 million people who speak lots of different languages; there are heaps of Spanish names and surnames that nod to its colonial past, while English is the mother tongue. All this points to the fact that its gastronomy is very important.

Manila’s fusion is interesting for foreigners because a lot of dishes conceal memories from Spain such as adobo, paella and fried pork. But without a doubt, one of the most delicious is kinilaw.

Kinilaw could be called a predecessor to Mexican (but not Peruvian) ceviche, as they both share the art of “cooking” with an acidic method. It generally uses a fish – preferably from the blue or oily families, although originally you could use any type of meat. The distinctive touch, however, is coconut vinegar, from nipa palm, which gives it a fermented touch, and it can also be spicy; the variables are infinite. It also uses juice squeezed from the characteristic Philippine calamansi lemon as well as ginger and fresh herbs.

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Images: Fernando Rivarola, Franco Ferrantelli