Most Popular Asian Food, Ranked
Many people think of Asian food as dishes from East and Southeast Asia. But there is so much more to Asian food for the largest continent in the world.
At the risk of igniting fury and debates, we’ve compared the most popular dish in every Asian country recognized by the United Nations. Some are relatively unknown, and others enjoy international fame.
These are Asia’s best national dishes, ranked from meh to heavenly.
49. Armenia: Harees
Armenia’s national dish is a porridge-like mix of wheat and meat. Harees is especially venerated because it played a key role in the survival of Armenians under Ottoman rule, particularly during the bloody resistance of 1915. It’s also the traditional Easter meal.
While we appreciate the cultural importance of harees, the truth is that thick porridge just isn’t very appetizing. It’s not the flavor, it’s the texture.
48. Brunei: Ambuyat
A kind of starch paste made from the trunk of a sago palm, ambuyat is the official national dish of Brunei. The paste is eaten with a special bamboo tool that allows you to pick it up and then dip it in different sauces.
We’ll be honest, this is a dish you can try if you’re in the region but if you never try it, you won’t be missing out on much.
47. Tajikistan: Qurutob
Unlike other Tajikistan dishes like plov, qurutob is 100 percent Tajik and is not shared with any other country.
The dish is pretty simple, mixing bread and onions in yogurt sauce. Sometimes, it includes vegetables and meat. While qurutob isn’t bad, it also isn’t particularly exciting.
46. United Arab Emirates: Balaleet
The UAE shares many of its main dishes like kabsa, shuwaa (or quzi) and harees (or harissa) with other countries of the area. Since these dishes will appear higher up on the list, we’ll use the typical Emirati breakfast dish, balaleet.
This sweet and savory dish has eggs and vermicelli with cinnamon, saffron, cardamom and orange blossoms. It does sound like a good way to start the day, but it simply can’t compete with the rest of the continent’s national dishes.
45. Azerbaijan: Dolma
Dolma is so important to Azerbaijan that the tradition of making it is part of the country’s UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.
There are many variations, but it is, in essence, a stuffed dish that uses vegetables, seafood or offal (organ meats). Some popular dolmas use leaves to wrap the filling in. We definitely encourage you to try this dish, but don’t expect it to be the best Asian food you’ve ever tasted.
44. Nepal: Dal Bhat Tarkari
This soup is a staple in Nepal and neighboring countries. It is made with lentils and steamed rice. Places in the country that are higher elevation use buckwheat or barley. It’s often complemented with tomatoes, onion, chili and ginger and heavily spiced.
On its own, dal bhat tarkari isn’t terribly exciting, though we do enjoy it with meat curry on the side.
43. Yemen: Saltah
A dish with thousands of years of history, saltah is a meat stew cooked with a sauce made with vegetables and herbs. It often has potatoes, eggs and rice as well.
What makes saltah interesting is that, instead of using a spoon, you eat it with flatbread. However, this fun way to eat isn’t enough to place it higher on the list.
42. Afghanistan: Kabuli Pulao
Kabuli pulao is Afghanistan’s national dish and is popular in neighboring countries. It’s a type of pilaf made with steamed rice with meat, carrots and raisins.
The dish is usually served on important occasions, and, sure, it’s tasty enough.
41. North Korea: Mul Raengmyeon
Even though this dish, which translates to “water ramen,” is also popular in South Korea, it is originally from Pyongyang in the north.
It consists of buckwheat noodles served in iced broth. On its own, mul raengmyeon (or naengmyeon in South Korea) is really not very appetizing. What saves it is when it is accompanied by hot grilled pieces of beef or pork. Somehow, the contrast of temperatures works.
Sadly, this isn’t how the dish is always eaten, so we’ll leave it here on the “meh” side of the list.
40. India: Khichdi
It would be controversial to make any Indian dish the national one, given the incredible diversity of cultures that exist within the country. However, Khichdi was once rumored to be in the running for the honorable title, so we’ve chosen it for this ranking.
This popular food is made with rice and lentils. It is considered very healthy and is among babies’ first solid foods. Khichdi is OK, but its simplicity and lack of strong flavor place it lower on the ranking, despite Indian food being some of the best in the entire world.
39. Uzbekistan: O‘sh
O‘sh is another kind of pilaf from Uzbekistan. What separates it from other similar dishes is that the rice is simmered rather than steamed.
The stew used has meat, often lamb, and vegetables like carrots, garlic and pepper. The cooking process means that the rice is more flavorful than its counterparts.
38. Palestine: Musakhan
Dig your hands into Palestine’s tasty national dish, musakhan. Taboon bread is topped with roasted chicken that's cooked with onions, pine nuts and spices.
Though relatively simple, the dish is delicious and often enjoyed communally, which makes it taste better.
37. Timor Leste: Ikan Pepes
Less than 20 years old, Timor Leste is often ignored by those considering a trip to Asia. But if you do get to visit, make sure you try ikan pepes, or fish wrapped and steamed in banana leaves.
Chili sauce is added for a strong flavor that is enhanced by the particular cooking method.
36. Turkmenistan: Chekdirme
Although beshbarmak (known as dograma) is the national dish of Turkmenistan, we actually prefer another of its dishes, chekdirme.
This stew is made with pieces of lamb or mutton meat, braised with peppers, potatoes, onions and tomatoes. It is usually served with flatbread to complement the flavors and textures.
35. Qatar: Mathrooba
Though kabsa is the national dish of Qatar, we’ve chosen to go with mathrooba — don’t worry, kabsa will appear further down the list.
The dish soaks wheat porridge over chicken, adding vegetables and spices. It’s one of the main foods consumed when the fast is broken during Ramadan.
34. Laos: Larb
This Laosian meat salad is the country’s simple but delicious national dish. It consists of meat or mushrooms with roasted rice, herbs and lime juice. You can choose to have the meat cooked or raw, though we like the slightly bitter flavor of raw meat better.
While it’s a somewhat interesting dish, Laos suffers from having to compete with Vietnam and Thailand, which are masters of the culinary arts.
33. Oman: Shuwa
This festive food involves wrapping meat in palm leaves after marinating it. It’s then cooked in an oven and served over rice with raisins and nuts after it's done.
Shuwa is a good meal to try in Oman, but it’s not something you’re likely to remember as one of the best meals of your life.
32. Kazakhstan: Naryn
Also called beshbarmak, this Kazakh meal is shared with many other countries in the region. It consists of meat noodles with onion sauce.
We like that the dish has a communal aspect to it, as it’s served in a large platter shared by everyone partaking in the meal. But it isn’t really flavorful enough to earn a higher spot on this list.
31. Pakistan: Nihari
Nihari is a meat and pepper stew that is a staple of Pakistani communities around the world. The meat used is varied, so you can choose according to your preference, but it’s usually shank meat. The stew is also made with bone marrow.
We won’t deny that nihari is cozy and comforting, but it lags behind other more interesting soups in the continent.
30. Kuwait: Mutabbaq Samak
Kuwait’s national dish is made with fried fish and caramelized onions over rice. The rice is cooked, not in simple water but in fish stock.
No offense to Kuwait — or the UAE, where it’s also a national dish — the dish is good but not incredibly interesting.
29. Indonesia: Nasi Goreng
One of Indonesia’s six national dishes, nasi goreng is also popular in neighboring Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore. The fried rice dish contains meat and vegetables and is often served with a cooked egg on top.
The dish has an interesting thick, caramelized flavor that sets it apart from other fried rice dishes in East and Southeast Asia. However, it’s not the absolute best one, which sets its back a couple of spots.
28. Mongolia: Buuz
Mongolia serves up steamed dumplings stuffed with goat or mutton, complemented with onion and garlic to add flavor. While goat isn’t the stuffing most people are used to in dumplings, it’s actually pretty delicious.
The best part about buuz is that it’s unpretentious and accessible. You’ll find it anywhere in the country at very affordable prices.
27 Kyrgyzstan: Kuurdak
Kuurdak is usually eaten as an entree and is often followed by beshmabark. It’s basically a roast of onions, meat and offal.
We definitely like the idea of offal so that as much of the animal as possible is used. But the truth is, not all animal organs taste good. Onions are simply not enough to get us excited about this dish.
26. Saudi Arabia: Kabsa
Though kabsa is the national dish of several Middle Eastern countries, it is originally from Saudi Arabia. The dish is somewhat simple, consisting of meat and rice. What makes it place higher than other similar dishes is the fragrant mix of spices used to cook it. These include cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, saffron, black pepper and more.
The meat of choice is varied, and the spices can be complemented with nuts, onions and daqqus, a tomato sauce typical of Arab countries.
25. Bangladesh: Ilish Macher Paturi
Spices like turmeric are used to marinate the fish right before wrapping it in banana leaves. The fish is then steamed or roasted. (We prefer the roasted version).
The dish smells great and is the most iconic national food in Bangladesh.
24. Japan: Curry Rice
You thought we’d use sushi for Japan, didn’t you? Although sushi is certainly delicious and certainly Japan’s most popular food abroad, curry rice is actually the national dish of Japan.
Japanese curry is very different from the curry found in India or Thailand. It is much thicker and stickier, and the flavor tends to be stronger. Though we usually think that’s good, we actually don’t love Japanese curry, especially when compared to other country’s versions.
We’re also not huge fans of eating it with fried pork cutlets, as the overall effect is a bit heavy.
23. Bhutan: Ema Datshi
What we love about ema datshi is that it really does its best to not waste anything. Cow or yak milk is used to make cheese. The fat is separated to make butter, and the liquid left over after the cheese is done is used to make soup.
The cheese is put into the soup along with chili peppers for a hot broth that will warm you up and nourish you, even in the Bhutanese Himalaya.
22. Maldives: Gulha
The official national dish of the beautiful island nation includes smoked fish made into a ball with coconuts and onions and then deep-fried.
Gulha is more of a snack or street food rather than a full-on meal. Its combination of flavors is so rich, you’ll likely have more than you can count during a trip here. Pair it with a cup of hot tea to enhance the flavors even more.
21. China: Peking Duck
One of China’s most famous foods, Peking duck is served on thin, savory pancakes with onions and cucumber. As the name suggests, it originates from Beijing and has gained a worldwide following due to the crispy texture of the duck skin.
This is a dish you definitely have to try on a visit. If you just can’t get enough, ask for duck soup, which is made from the leftover duck. It’s delicious and reduces food waste, which is always a win in our book.
20. Sri Lanka: Rice and Curry
Sri Lanka’s version of rice and curry is very different from the Japanese version. This one has a softer, yet rich flavor. It is usually made with either vegetables or chicken.
Our favorite version uses rice cooked in coconut milk, which makes it creamier and adds a sweetness that works well with the curry’s spice.
19. Bahrain: Muhammar
As with Qatar, we will forgo using kabsa for Bahrain, even though it’s the country’s national dish. Instead, we’ll use another Bahrain staple that we find much more delicious: muhammar.
This rice dish is traditionally made with date syrup, making it sticky and sweet. To create contrast, it is usually served with roast lamb or fried fish. This combination of textures and flavors is enriched with numerous fragrant spices and a hint of lemon juice.
18. Malaysia: Nasi Lemak
You won’t turn a corner in Malaysia without seeing a nasi lemak stall. The food is ubiquitous and can be eaten anytime hunger knocks on your door.
It is basically a rice dish cooked in coconut milk and screwpine. The coconut milk plus the banana leaves the rice is served on make it fragrant and full of a distinctly refreshing flavor. It’s sometimes served with eggs or meat.
17. Myanmar: Mohinga
Soups are usually a bit simple, but mohinga defies the stereotype with a complex mix of contrasting flavors. Rice noodles and fish are complemented by garlic, lemongrass, ginger, fried onions, chilis, chickpeas and more.
Mohinga is usually a breakfast dish. Beginning your day with this explosion of flavors almost guarantees to put you in a good mood.
16. Iraq: Masgouf
This grilled carp dish is anything but simple, taking up to three hours to cook to perfection. Before being placed on a specific grill made for it, the fish is marinated with a sauce made with turmeric, olive oil and tamarind.
Once the whole cooking process is done, most of the fat has burned off, meaning that the fish is crispy rather than greasy. It is usually served with flatbread.
15. Cyprus: Souvla
Cyprus offers meat skewers roasted slowly on a charcoal grill. Souvla is often overlooked for a similar Greek dish called souvlaki. But we prefer the Cyprian version, which cooks the meat very, very slowly, making it juicer and more tender.
While cooking, wine, herbs and oil are sprinkled on, giving it an even richer flavor.
14. Israel: Falafel
If you’ve never had the chance to eat falafel, we hope you get to try it as soon as humanly possible.
Israel’s national dish consists of fritters made with chickpea. The Israeli version puts them in a pita with salad, hummus, tahini sauce and fried eggplants. You can find it in street food stands in Israel and around the world, making it the perfect food when hunger strikes while touring a city.
13. Georgia: Khachapuri
We only have two words to say: cheese bread. Do you even need to know anything else?
Khachapuri is made by putting melted cheese and an egg in the dent of a round bread. As you eat, you can break off the crust and dip it in the cheese. The dish is so important in Georgia that inflation is measured with the khachapuri index, which compares the price of khachapuri in different cities. It is also an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Georgia.
Bottom line: Try it as soon as you can.
12. Taiwan: Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup
Many places in East and Southeast Asia have a form of beef noodle soup, but the Taiwanese version is so famous, it has its own annual festival. The soup is made with stewed beef, Chinese noodles and vegetables.
It may be simple, but it hits the spot in just the perfect way.
11. Syria: Kibbeh
Kibbeh consists of rolls of ground meat, wheat and onions shaped into balls that are deep-fried, grilled or eaten raw. We are partial to the deep-fried variety, especially when served with markouk or pita bread and garnished with olive oil, as it’s often done in Aleppo.
This mouth-watering dish will definitely be a highlight of a Syrian meal.
10. Philippines: Philippine Adobo
Now we're entering the top 10 most popular Asian foods, starting with Philippine adobo.
Borrowing from the Spanish adobo tradition, Filipinos cook meat in a marinade of vinegar, garlic and soy sauce. Since the cooking process is slow, the meat has time to soak up the flavors, which it then transfers to the white rice it is served on top of. The dish is most definitely one you want to try at least once.
9. Jordan: Mansaf
On first read, mansaf doesn’t sound like the delicious meal it is. Fermented dried yogurt is used as a broth to cook lamb to tender perfection.
This process ensures that the dish is rich but not heavy or greasy. The lamb is then served with rice and almonds on top of flatbread and doused with the fermented yogurt sauce.
8. Cambodia: Fish Amok
Cambodian cuisine is usually overlooked, which is a shame given how good and understated it is. Fish amok first came about as a royal Khmer cuisine. If it was good enough for the Khmers, its certainly good enough for us!
The dish is made with a thick fish curry made with coconut cream and steamed in banana leaves. You usually eat it with rice out of the banana leaf or coconut shells, which keeps the flavor to the last bite.
7. South Korea: Bibimbap
Bibimbap is always a good idea. The concept for this dish is simple, but it manages to be one of South Korea’s best dishes.
To make it, you place simple white rice in a bowl topped with seasoned vegetables, kimchi, an egg and, if you want to, meat. You then cover it with gochujang, a fermented chili paste, and mix it all together right before eating. This is a rare dish that actually tastes better without meat, so it’s perfect for vegetarians. (Or vegans without the egg).
6. Iran: Ghormeh Sabzi
People in Persia have been eating ghormeh sabzi for more than 5,000 years! It uses a mix of sauteed herbs with beans or peas and meat seasoned with turmeric. It is served over steamed rice. The most common meats used are beef and lamb.
The food is similar to other dishes in the area, but it's the mixture of herbs seasoned with spices that sets it apart, giving it a deliciously rich, sometimes bitter, flavor.
5. Lebanon: Shawarma
Yes, kibbeh is the national dish of Lebanon, but since we already used it for Syria in the ranking, we’ll go with the mouth-watering shawarma.
If you’ve ever been to Europe, you’ve probably tasted this amazing dish of slow-cooked, impossibly fat and juicy meat. You can thank Middle Eastern immigrants for bringing this absolute gift to the rest of the world. The meat is marinated, then cooked on a rotating skewer and usually served in a pita with sauces and vegetables.
4. Turkey: Doner Kebab
The entire world is in debt to whoever invented the doner kebab, now a staple street or restaurant food around the world with similar flavors of the shawarma.
Meat — usually lamb — cooked in a vertical skewer is shredded straight onto a plate or a bread or wrap. The process of cooking it on a rotating skewer saves up its juices, permeating every cut with fatty goodness. Without a doubt, this is one of the best foods ever created.
3. Thailand: Pad Thai
Is it stereotypical to use pad thai? Perhaps, but the uber popular dish has been the national dish of Thailand since the 1930s and has earned a worldwide following for a reason.
Stir-fried noodles are tossed with meat, peanuts, vegetables and scrambled eggs in a wok. The ingredients are doused in a special sauce to give it a sweet and tangy flavor. We would have a hard time finding a Thai dish that isn’t a gift to your taste buds, but there’s no denying pad thai is among the very best of the country’s cuisine.
2. Singapore: Chilli Crab
Juicy crab meat is stir-fried in a chili sauce (hence the name) to create a perfectly spicy flavor and spongy texture. Steamed buns accompany the meal for you to soak up any leftover sauce, which we think was probably a way to keep people from wanting to lick their plates.
Singapore is known for its diverse food, with even street food earning Michelin stars. But even in a land full of delectable food, chilli crab (yes, spelled with two l's) stands out as a don’t-miss dish.
1. Vietnam: Pho
Before we tried pho, we would have never guessed that a soup could make it as the No. 1 Asian dish in our stomach’s hearts. But this incredibly simple, surprisingly heavenly Vietnamese dish is, as the song says, simply the best. It's also a great hangover food.
Herbs, meat and rice noodles somehow manage to mix together to create utter perfection. You are usually served the noodles and meat in a broth with the herbs on the side so you can add to taste. Chiles, Thai basil, cilantro, onions and bean sprouts are some of the most common herbs. You can also add hoisin sauce to enhance the flavor of this meal that manages to be comforting, healthy, cheap and delicious.