Also commonly referred to as Southern Asia, South Asia is home to eight culturally diverse nations. While it remains popular among tourists for a variety of travel-oriented reasons, the region’s food is one of its highly appealing factors. Each of the unique eight destinations in this part of the world has something exotic to offer to an adventurous foodie.
An Introduction to South Asia
Home to more than 24% of the world’s population, South Asia is one of the most densely populated regions in the world. While the eight nations of Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Maldives, Bhutan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka fall under the South Asian umbrella, they all have distinguishing factors that make each region significant in its way.
A common misconception around the world is considering South Asia and Southeast Asia as the same regions and using the two names interchangeably. In reality, both are entirely different sub-regions of Asia.
In terms of tourist attractions, South Asia comes across as a bit more challenging than Southeast Asia. However, those who have had the privilege to experience destinations here report their adventures as quite rewarding.
While India is the most popular country in the region for tourists, especially for backpackers, other destinations also offer unforgettable travel experiences.
Among many such experiences, tourists from around the world share an affinity for South Asian food. In the ensuing write-up, we discuss the top five places one can visit in South Asia for an exotic culinary experience.
Five Exotic Food Items to Try in South Asia
Curating a list of food items and culinary destinations in South Asia is not easy at all. There is a wide variety of delicacies to choose from, and often more than one place that offers them. In the following list, you will find some of the most popular dishes and where to find them when traveling through South Asia:
1. Biryani – India and Pakistan
If a list of popular South Asian foods needs to begin, then it should start with biryani. It is a rice dish that features layers of chicken or mutton cooked in a special masala. It happens to be quite a popular dish in Pakistani and Indian homes. However, the style of cooking and added condiments may differ from one city to another even within these countries. And this has often led to online debates on what method is the most authentic.
As a tourist, you can easily find biryani both as street food and on menus of local diners. Particularly in Pakistan, you will find two popular versions of this dish in Lahore and Karachi respectively.
2. Morog Pulao – Bangladesh
Morog Pulao also happens to be a dish made from rice, but it is a specialty from Bangladesh. Many people mistakenly take it for chicken biryani, but it is a milder version of the dish if you had to compare.
Unlike biryani, Morog pulao is not supposed to be spicy at all. The concept is to combine the sweetness of onions and acidic heat of chilies without overwhelming the taste buds. Bengalis describe the dish to be incredibly aromatic and tasty, given the textures of onions and chicken.
The locals serve it as a one-dish meal on special occasions; often with an exclusive drink called Borhani. Since it is such a popular local delicacy, you can ask any local to guide you to several venues specialize in Borhani.
3. Bolani – Afghanistan
The world has many reservations about Afghanistan, as the country has been a victim of conflicts for a long time. The Afghani culinary experience, however, would undoubtedly change your perspective.
One of the most appreciated food items from this South Asian country is Bolani. Commonly described as a vegetarian flatbread, it is alternately known as Poraki or Perakai. The vegetable stuffing for the fried or baked bread is comprised of chives, lentils, potatoes, leeks, and pumpkins.
While you can enjoy the bread as a special delicacy, the locals often serve it with other main course dishes. It brings out a richer flavor from the bread, and of course, a more enhanced local food experience.
While many areas in Afghanistan are still not recommended for traveling, you can find these delicacies in surrounding regions that are not off-limits.
4. Jasha Maroo – Bhutan
Jasha Maroo is a dish that originates from Bhutan, which is often described as one of the happiest places in the world. The dish resembles a spicy curry or stew containing diced chicken cooked in a mix of garlic, onions, tomatoes, chilies, coriander, and ginger.
Many locals often replace the chicken with beef to give a newer flavor to the dish. As with many other Bhutanese dishes, Jasha Maroo is also frequently served with Red Rice – another local delicacy. Some people also serve a portion of chicken broth with the dish.
Many Bhutanese diners offer the dish as part of their menus. You can consult the locals to find out the best-reviewed places to try it. However, people describe the dish as quite fiery. So if you don’t trust yourself to bear the heat, then you can always request the chef to serve a milder version.
5. Parippu – Sri Lanka
If you are tired of eating a lot of meat and want to diversify your food experience, then Sri Lanka has Parippu to offer. The locals also call it daal (lentils) curry. It is made from Masoor, which are split red lentils.
The boiled lentils are mixed with a combination of sautéed condiments. These include fresh green chilies, onions, tomatoes, and tempered spices such as turmeric, cumin seeds, curry leaves, fenugreek, and mustard seeds. In the end, the locals add fresh coconut milk, which not only adds more flavor but brings about a thick and creamy texture.
The dish is a staple in Sri Lankan households and can be easily found on menus of popular restaurants.
Except in conflict-ridden areas, South Asian countries encourage and welcome tourists. Therefore, it is also easy to find accommodations within these regions. For example, in Pakistan, you can easily find a place to rent on Prop, which is a popular local property portal.
If you have a love for experiencing food from around the world, you should not miss out in South Asia. And those who already have been there can guarantee you a taste you will cherish forever.