At the heart of South-east Asia’s culinary scene are lanes that teem with travellers and locals savouring traditional delicacies and a heady atmosphere.
Charoenkrung Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Come dusk, workers stream out of offices in the riverside district of Bangrak, making a beeline for their favourite vendors (above) on Charoenkrung Road. One of the most popular, Jok Prince (1391 Charoenkrung Road, Silom, Bangrak, Tel: 66 81 916 4390), sits in an alley leading to the now-defunct Prince Cinema. It serves superb pork and century-egg congee infused with the smoky flavour of slightly burnt rice from the bottom of the pan.
Back on Charoenkrung Road, Prachak, a hole-in- the-wall joint that has been open since 1897, makes some of Bangkok’s best roast duck, usually served with a mildly spiced chilli sauce. Get here early as it closes at 8pm – though it runs out of duck long before that. For dessert, Sor Boonprakob, at the corner of Soi 44, serves the national treat: sticky rice with fresh mango. Like many other weathered establishments here, it has been in business for more than 80 years.
Luang Prabang Night Market, Luang Prabang, Laos
Laos’ cultural capital turns into a culinary haven come nightfall, as the small alley that runs from Sisavangvong Road to the Morning Market becomes the most affordable place to sample Luang Prabang’s delicacies. On Sisavangvong Road, baguette-sandwich sellers and fruit-shake vendors set up shop at the entrance to the old town’s main road.
The dimly lit red-brick-paved lane where the night market (above) is held has just a scattering of wooden benches, but most vendors can explain the dishes to you in English. While barbecued meat such as ping kai (grilled chicken) is popular among tourists, try some of the lesser-known local dishes, such as aw lahm, a thick eggplant stew with bark from the pepperwood tree. There’s also kaipen, a Mekong river weed that is dried, soaked with dressing and topped with sesame seeds. It’s eaten with a spicy chilli paste made with buffalo skin.