Food tourism: Where are the top food destinations in Asia?

Be sure to hit up these places with an empty stomach. Source: Shutterstock.

DO YOU LIVE TO EAT or eat to live? In Asia, it’s likely the former.

Asia is a melting pot of cultures and that translates well into the plethora of cuisines and tastes that can be found in the region. In fact, Asian countries are beginning to come out on top of well-known culinary destinations such as France and Italy.

Any visitor to Asia will find that “Where to eat?” and “What to eat?” are important everyday questions.

For the Malays, Chinese, and Indians, “Have you eaten?” is probably the first thing that people you meet will ask you.

Good food is the very thing that keeps their stomachs and hearts full, so much so that it’s a major deciding factor for the vacations that they take.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that their desire to sample food and drinks motivates their travels.

According to a survey conducted with over 50,000 global travelers, 82 percent of Hong Kong travelers are planning to take a dedicated food tourism trip sometime this year and 70 percent of them say they pick a destination for its great food or drink.

The survey also said that gastronomy tourism or food tourism is particularly popular among Asian travelers from China (65 percent), India (57 percent), Thailand (53 percent), Indonesia (50 percent), and Hong Kong (48 percent).

Asian travelers are particularly attracted to just about anything Instagrammable, including food. Beautiful flat lays or close-ups of food and an explosion of colors are bound to get their attention.

The top four food destinations in Asia, according to millions of’s traveler reviews, are:

Ipoh, Malaysia

Located nearly 180km north of Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh is a city in Perak that first got its claim to fame for being the world’s largest producer of tin way back in the 1900s.

Aerial view of Ipoh at sunrise. Source: Shutterstock.

In the 1980s, after the collapse of tin prices, Ipoh took a seat back and simply became the ideal retirement place, thanks to its beautiful limestone karst mountains and serene ambiance.

These days, Ipoh has become a main “pit stop” for travelers heading to Cameron Highlands or Penang.

And truly, when it comes to its food, it can get pretty hard to decide what to eat.

Our picks: Ming Court dimsum, Concubine Lane tau fu fah (bean-curd pudding), Thean Chun kai si hor fun (flat rice noodles with shredded chicken in broth), Thean Chun caramel puddingLou Wong bean sprout chicken rice, and Sin Yin Loong Ipoh white coffee.

Kaohsiung, Taiwan

What first started out as a small trading village in the 17th century is now Taiwan’s must-visit destination.

Tips: Go to Kaohsiung with an empty stomach. Source: Shutterstock.

Located in southern-western Taiwan, the bustling Kaohsiung is a massive port city with impressive skyscrapers, gorgeous sprawling parks, and lively night markets.

Natural, historical, and industrial attractions aside, the city also boasts culinary delights and mouthwatering hidden eats that are sure to tantalize your taste buds.

The food here is also relatively cheaper than Taiwan’s capital, Taipei.

Our picks: Gang Yuan beef noodlesGao Xiong Po Po shaved ice dessertHongmaogang Restaurant (for seafood), Liuhe night marketWu Pao Chun Bakery, Duck Zhen braised duck, Royal Beef Cubes’ hand-torched wagyu beef cubes, and Ban Jiushi pan-fried milkfish.

Nagoya, Japan

With a population of over two million people, Nagoya is the fourth-most populous city in Japan.

Nagoya has more than just its Edo period castle to be proud of. Source: Shutterstock.

It’s also an agricultural and economic center with automotive as its main industry due to its strategic location near the fertile Nobi Plain and the Pacific coast on central Honshu.

What really sets Nagoya apart from other Japanese cities, however, is its distinctive cuisine, referred to in Japanese as “Nagoya meshi”, which means Nagoya’s local food.

“A study conducted by the city of Nagoya related to domestic tourism found that more people visited the area to enjoy the food (50.9 percent) than to see the famed Nagoya Castle (49.9 percent),” CNN wrote.

Our picks: Nonkiya doteni (pork or beef and vegetables simmered with miso), Atsuta Horaiken hitsumabushi (grilled freshwater eel with rice), Yabaton misokatsu (deep fried pork cutlets served with miso sauce and rice), Yamamoto Honten misonikomi (udon noodles simmered in miso), and Nadai Kishimen Sumiyoshi (flat udon noodles in broth).

Johor Bahru, Malaysia

Just a short causeway ride away from Singapore and at the tip of peninsula Malaysia is the capital of Johor, Johor Bahru.

Johor Bahru is one of the biggest cities in Malaysia. Source: Shutterstock.

Regarded as one of the fastest-growing cities in Malaysia after Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru (or JB, as locals would call it) is the main commercial center for the state and is located in the Indonesia–Malaysia–Singapore Growth Triangle.

However, the city flies under the radar when it comes to Malaysia’s food havens as it’s often overshadowed by Penang, Malacca, Kuala Lumpur, and Ipoh.

This just means there are more surprising culinary gems for travelers to discover, from restaurants to the simplest hawker fare.

Our picks: Hwa Mui Kopitiam chicken chop (Hainanese-styled), Bukit Chagar roti canai (Indian-styled flatbread), Kerala Curry House banana leaf rice, Hiap Joo Bakery banana cake, Restoran Ya Wang herb roasted duck, Restoran Tua Thow kway teow soup (flat rice noodles in broth), Ong Shun Seafood Restaurant, Restoran Ah Piaw wantan mee (wonton noodles), Kam Long Restaurant fish head curry, and Toddy’s Coconut Wine Shop.