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For the year 2000

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The Best Food


Munshi Ahmed for Asiaweek Pictures.
The chef at Singapore's Ah Hoi's Kitchen doesn't normally get this wet. But the chilli crab is always delicious.

What's the dish most associated with Indonesia? Where would you go in Taipei to find the perfect beef-noodle soup? Asiaweek's intrepid gourmets set out to find the answers. Here's what they came up with

KOREA
NAENGMYON
By Laxmi Nakarmi

Nearly two-thirds of large South Korean restaurants serve this famed North Korean dish. Presented in a steel bowl, naengmyon comes in two different styles. Mul naengmyon is served cold, made with fresh beef stock that has been chilled. This variety includes Hamhung naengmyon, from Hamkyung province and famous for the texture of the noodles. Bibim naengmyon, the other main style, is for those with high-endurance palates. It is served with a hot red-pepper paste in place of the beef stock.

A couple of naengmyon restaurant chains are run by North Korean defectors. These places often do nothing but the noodle dish, occasionally even specializing in just one variety. But most large Korean establishments will serve naengmyon together with one of the famed Korean barbecue dishes, such as pulgogi (thin strips of beef marinated in soy and sugar) or kalbi (spare ribs). The place to go for a true naengmyon experience is the Ojangdong Hamhung Naengmyon restaurant in Seoul. No reservation is required, but expect a wait of 15 to 20 minutes. It will be worth it.

Ojangdong Hamhung Naengmyon, 91-10 Ojangdong, Chung-gu, Seoul.
Cost: $20 maximum for two people.

PHILIPPINES
ADOBO
By Wilhelmina Paras

Though considered an everyday Philippine dish, adobo — chicken and pork simmered in vinegar, soy sauce, garlic and peppercorns — is actually Mexican in origin. Most Filipinos will tell you the best adobo is eaten at home. Still, a high-quality version can be found at the Bistro Remedios in the bohemian district of Malate, Manila.

This restaurant offers a "picnic adobo" wrapped in banana leaves, the way rural Filipinos traditionally prepare their packed lunches. Aside from the obvious environmental benefits, the leaves impart a distinctive fragrance and flavor to the dish. With its sumptuous dEcor of canopies, mosaics and colored glass windows, the Bistro Remedios captures the ambience of an affluent 18th-century Philippine household. Surrounded by the nightlife, artisans, music and dancing of Malate's busy Remedios Circle, the restaurant provides an island of genteel serenity from which to watch life go by.

Bistro Remedios
Remedios Circle, Malate, Manila.
Cost: $3.30 for a picnic adobo.

CHINA
PEKING DUCK
By David Hsieh

You can get Peking duck virtually anywhere in the capital nowadays, at a greasy spoon in an obscure side street or at one of Beijing's most renowned restaurants. But if you really want to enjoy the full splendor of a 12-course Peking duck dinner, then it has to be the main branch of Quanjude Peking Duck Restaurant, a venerable state-owned chain. Situated at the southeast corner of the Hepingmen intersection, Quanjude serves hundreds of excellent ducks a day. Arrive early to secure a table or expect a long wait.

At the other end of the spectrum is Pianyifang, a no-frills establishment where the dEcor, presentation and service hark back to the "best" of the planned era. Don't leave it too late. This restaurant closes early in the evening.

Hepingmen Quanjude Peking Duck Restaurant

14 Qianmenxidajie, Xuanwu District, Beijing. Cost: $180 for a 12-course dinner for 10 people, not including liquor and beverages; $13 for one duck.

Pianyifang Peking Duck Restaurant

73 Tiantandonglu, Chongwen District, Beijing.
Cost: $9 per duck.

SINGAPORE

CHILI CRAB
By Tan Su Yen
This mouth-watering dish of crab in a luscious tomato, chili and garlic sauce is traditionally enjoyed at the congested seafood restaurants on the East Coast. With its atmosphere of hustle and bustle, Ah Hoi's Kitchen, near the Botanical Gardens, combines the appeal of street food eaten under the stars with the creature comforts of a restaurant. Its fresh Sri Lankan crabs deliver a knock-out punch. Mop up the spicy, tangy sauce with mantou, or deep-fried buns. Bibs are provided, as are enamel finger buckets.

Ah Hoi's Kitchen

Traders Hotel, 1a Cuscaden Road. Cost: from $16.

INDONESIA
RENDANG
By Arif Mustolih

Taken from a beef round, this blackish-brown meat has a deceptively firm appearance. On the inside, however, it is moist and tender. A four-hour caramelizing process in coconut milk covers the meat in an oily, glossy residue, and gives it a distinct sweet-savory taste. At the Sabana Nasi Kapau restaurant in Jakarta, the meat is marbled. The house's specialty is to enhance the dish with spices and red kidney beans — a highly successful addition to the original recipe.

Sabana Nasi Kapau

J1 Melawi Raya No. 21-A, Blok M, South Jakarta.
Cost: 95 cents for rendang, rice, chili relish and cassava leaves.

JAPAN
SUSHI
By Murakami Mutsuko

Arrive early for lunch at the Midori-zushi restaurant in the Setagaya area of Tokyo — or you will find yourself getting a table just in time for dinner. One of the great attractions is that the seafood is delivered daily from the Tsukiji market, with the catch displayed in glass cases in front of the counter seats. Discerning customers can select the biggest or most appetizing, and then watch as it is diced and delivered before their eyes.

Many start by ordering sashimi (raw fish without rice) or sushi (on a rice ball). To follow, there is a choice of melt-in-the-mouth tuna, broiled lobster, soft, creamy scallop or firm Japanese "white fish meat." And don't miss the miso (bean paste) soup with fish chunks — Midori's answer to France's bouillabaisse — served at the end of the meal. The service is energetic and efficient, and the chefs across the counter are always happy to offer suggestions to any overwhelmed customers. If you are looking for a particularly quiet meal, Midori will provide private rooms for groups of eight or more. There is no extra charge, unless you want your own personal chef in the room with you.

Midori-zushi

1-20-7 Umegaoka, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo 154-0022.
Cost: $30-$50 for a substantial meal with beer or sake; up to $18 for a set lunch of assorted sushi.

HONG KONG

DIM SUM
By Yulanda Chung

These delicacies are normally served in restaurants the size of aircraft hangars, with the floor show provided by hardy old dears pushing carts of food between the tables. But the Treasure Inn seafood restaurant, on the top floor of a former wet market, provides something completely different: nostalgia. The fish stalls and butcher's shops have all been relocated, but diners can still look up at the wooden roof and imagine the market noises that used to echo through the building. The old colonial structure also retains its original banisters, red-brick walls and large, semi-circular windows, contributing to an atmospheric dining experience. Recommended: the steamed rice-rolls and pan-fried glutinous rice.

Treasure Inn

3/F, Western Market, 323, Des Voeux Road, Sheung Wan. Cost: $10 per person.

TAIWAN
BEEF NOODLES
By Bradley Winterton
You won't get many Taipei people agreeing on the best place for beef noodles — but those in the know make straight for Chou Ji, in the area of the railway station. The most popular choices are fried noodles with beef (niu rou chao mian) or beef noodles in soup (niu rou tang mian), both of which come in large and small portions. This is a simple, though clean, neighborhood place, with diners sitting on metal stools under strip-lighting in a tiled room. For a poor man's cabaret, you can watch the noodles cut into strips from the handmade base. Miss Julie, who speaks good English, is always happy to help customers with their selection. Chou Ji shuts not long after seven in the evening, so, alas, a tasty late dinner is not an option here.

Chou Ji

Lane 80, Han Kou Street, Section One, No. 12-5, Taipei. Cost: $2 for a large beef noodles in soup, a little less for a large fried noodles with beef.

INDIA
TANDOORI CHICKEN
By Sanjay Kapoor

If they are peckish late in the evening, many New Delhi food-lovers head for the restaurant complex tucked away in the Pandara Road colony of Lutyen's Delhi. Most of the restaurants here serve authentic tandoori cuisine, but Pindi, situated in the right-hand corner, is special.

A good tandoori chicken should have a slightly hard crust, acquired in the tandoor or fiery oven, and a soft, juicy, well-marinated core. Bite into Pindi's and you will realize instantly that here is a chef who knows his chicken. Pindi also prides itself on its service — a legacy of its days as a dhaba, or Punjabi roadside restaurant, when truck drivers would stop by for a quick bite. The waiters are polite and hate to make customers wait — so you can eat the variations available and still be out in 40 minutes flat.

Pindi's

116 Pandara Road, New Delhi, 110003.
Cost: $4 for a full tandoori chicken, $2 for a half-plate.

MALAYSIA

NASI LEMAK
By Andrew Leci
Once served mainly for breakfast, nasi lemak (meaning fatty rice, but don't let that put you off) is now eaten at any time of the day or night. And with good reason, because it is more than just one meal. One dish can comprise a number of elements, giving the diner one different mouthful after another. Nasi lemak also comes in a quite bewildering number of versions, from the roadside-stall variety to the five-star hotel offering. Not surprisingly, the price range is vast, reflecting the quality of ingredients as well as the dEcor. (Overheads can be really low at an open-air eatery where there is nothing overhead.)

The best version in Kuala Lumpur? That's a tough question, but many people love the Nasi Lemak Antarabangsa in Kampung Bahru, a predominantly Malay area in the heart of the city, cluttered with roadside stalls and al fresco food courts. The diner (now there's a grand word in this context) is offered a plate of rice cooked in coconut milk, onto which can be added any number of side dishes. They vary from day to day, but you're sure to find chicken or beef rendang, sambal squid, fried and boiled eggs, beef lung, spicy beef and potato croquettes. Meals are also accompanied by chili sauce, which is pungent, sweet and aromatic, with a powerful aftertaste.

Nasi Lemak Antarabangsa has a legion of devoted followers, many of whom turn up early (the place opens at 7.45 p.m. and closes at 11 a.m.) and sit patiently at plastic-covered tables, waiting for the management to shed light on matters by switching on the fluorescent tubes overhead. There are more romantic places to dine, it has to be said, but Malaysians are serious about their food, and don't allow anything as trivial as lack of ambience to spoil their appetite.

Nasi Lemak Antarabangsa

4 Jalan Raja Muda Musa, Kampung Bahru, 503000 Kuala Lumpur.
Cost: 80 cents for a plate of rice and a few condiments to $2.60 if you pile your plate high and sample almost everything on offer.

THAILAND
TOM YAM
By Julian Gearing

Thais will suffer exhaust fumes and the roar of tuk-tuk taxis to savor the country's best-known dish at roadside restaurants. But tom yam (hot-and-sour soup) is best sampled at Mango Tree, down a small soi (street) off Silom Road in the heart of Bangkok's business district.

Set in an 80-year-old traditional Thai house, Mango Tree serves up dishes that look as though they were taken straight from the pages of the best Thai cookery books. The tom yam, which can contain prawns (kung), other seafood, chicken or meat, comes with just enough spice and lemon tang to suit even the most demanding of palates. Lunchtimes tend to be quiet, but in the evening, when traditional classical Thai musicians play, be sure to book in advance.

Mango Tree

37 Soi Anumarn Rachthon (near Coca Surawongse), Bangkok. Cost: $2.40 (small) or $3.60 (large).

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