I had the very typical child’s palate, which I kept until I was much older. Like most kids, I hated vegetables and loved meat and junk food. I would never eat a vegetable dish without meat in it. Moreover, I was very much a typical Filipino—I was a dedicated rice person. Except for spaghetti, I always chose rice over noodles like ramen.
It’s amazing how all that changed along with my view of the world. As my experience of different countries, cultures, and cuisines widened, so did my palate. Because when you travel, you can’t not try local dishes, which may seem exotic or totally unfamiliar at first—but you still have to, nonetheless.
And maybe it was also because of being in that particular environment. For instance, eating Korean food in South Korea or Japanese food in Japan. The level of enjoyment or appreciation would not be the same if I ate Korean or Japanese food in the Philippines, no matter how “authentic.” The local experience enhances the flavor of the food, amplifies the positive impression, and then whatever strange feeling or skepticism you had would be totally washed away. Then you’d find yourself craving for more. Then it will become embedded in you. At least, that’s what happened to me.
I’d say that Asian cuisines are really some of the most exciting, as well as the healthiest and most diverse, in the world. Below are the top Asian cuisines that made me love vegetables. Note that these are my personal preferences; there are actually a lot of veggie-loving cuisines around Asia, but these are my favorites. Later on, I’ll provide additional options for those looking for more healthy options, vegetables or not.
The Best: Korean Cuisine
If I had to choose the cuisine that played a huge part in my ✨reformed✨ food preference, it would be Korean cuisine. Japanese cuisine is known to be one of the healthiest in the world, and I’d agree too. It also influenced my taste. But when it comes to vegetables, I think Korean cuisine really stands out with abundance and freshness.
Here are my favorite Korean dishes that made me appreciate vegetables.
✨Sparkly eyes✨ Bibimbap is the first dish that made me really enjoy vegetables without meat—although there’s egg, but I didn’t really consider that meat.
I first loved bibimbap in the local food courts in the Philippines. These localized versions are mixed with meat and are rather oily. Then, I got to try the real thing in South Korea. A cheap local dish mixed with N number of vegetables topped with egg served by an adorable eomeoni. It wasn’t until halfway through the dish that I realized there was no meat in it. I think the savory and meaty flavor I was getting was from the mushroom. Complemented by the crunch from the carrots and cucumber, it actually felt like eating meat. That was the first moment I loved vegetables more than meat.
Then there’s kimbap as well, which is similar to Japanese maki sushi. But compared with maki, whose main ingredient is fish or seafood, the star of kimbap is the fresh and crunchy vegetables.
Although kimbap has different meaty versions, I love the freshness in a regular kimbap even without fish or meat. Just like bibimbap, it can have only an egg/omelet along with fresh veggies like cucumber and carrots which give it a delicious crunch in lieu of meat. That’s the part that I love the most about kimbap—it’s easy to fool yourself into thinking there’s got to be meat there because of the texture of fresh, crunchy vegetables.
Even a main meat dish like samgyupsal has a lot of vegetables! As opposed to what many Filipinos are used to, which is eating meat with rice, the Korean style serves pork belly strips with lettuce leaves to wrap them with, along with other side dishes or banchan like the ever-mandatory kimchi and different kinds of pickled vegetables.
1st Runner-Up: Japanese Cuisine
Japanese cuisine is definitely a healthy cuisine, but that mostly comes from the country’s use of fresh and natural ingredients and not necessarily lots of vegetables. For example, sushi is a well-known light and healthy Japanese delicacy but it’s not made with vegetables. Japanese love their fresh and additive-free raw seafood. Nonetheless, of course, there are Japanese dishes that helped illuminate the path for me toward the appreciation of veggies:
Shabu-shabu is a mainstream example of a great Japanese dish filled with delicious vegetables. It might also be due to the appetizing presentation or the DIY experience of mixing them. But the shabu-shabu dishes I’ve tried had heavenly soup bases, which really complemented the veggies well. It’s very nice and comforting to eat shabu-shabu, especially on a cold, rainy day.
Oden is similar to shabu-shabu in that they are both Japanese hot pot dishes or nabemono. The difference is with the ingredients and the kind of pot. Oden has all the ingredients cooked in one huge pot, and then you take your pick and the chef serves them in small bowls. There are lots of vegetables in oden, and my favorite is the cabbage rolls.
This is a special case as they are not very common, but I was able to try a vegetarian ramen dish in Tokyo way back. At first I was like, what, no chashu? Oh no. But it actually tasted as delicious as it was healthy! If you’re wondering and find yourself looking for healthy ramen in Tokyo, just go to Tokyo Ramen Street! The name of the shop is Soranoiro Nippon and luckily they’re still there!
2nd Runner Up: Vietnamese Cuisine
I first typed up Thai cuisine but suddenly got reminded of gỏi cuốn, so here we are with Vietnamese as my second runner-up. The dealbreaker for me, aside from gỏi cuốn, is that Vietnamese dishes have relatively milder flavors so you can better taste the freshness and healthiness of what you’re eating. Also, I love Vietnamese coffee!
Gỏi Cuốn (Fresh Spring Rolls)
Just like with kimbap, I love the freshness packed in every roll of gỏi cuốn. The wrap is sticky but I enjoy the cold, soft, and chewy feeling to the bite. It typically has shrimp and thin slices of pork but is also generously filled with veggies.
I like pho as a nice break from ramen, which is usually heavily flavored. Pho is just light and smooth, fragrant with herbs. If I was sick in bed, I’d probably choose pho over ramen.
Other Worthy Asian Cuisines for a Healthy Diet
If you ended up on my daybook looking for Asian cuisines that would be good for your health-conscious or even vegetarian diet, here are other cuisines worth looking at:
Indian vegetarian cuisine – Chicken tikka masala and tandoori aside, a huge portion of the Indian population is actually vegetarian. But I think their vegetarian dishes are more of an acquired taste—and I have not acquired it. However, if you’re on a strict vegetarian/vegan diet, Indian vegetarian cuisine would be an exciting option.
Thai cuisine – A more approachable option, tempting you with the aroma of Thai herbs and coconut milk in every dish.
Filipino regional cuisines – Step out of Manila to find more vegetables and healthier options. There are actually lots of vegetable dishes in Philippine provinces, such as pinakbet, ginisang ampalaya, laing, ginataang langka, and many more.
What do you think? Are there other Asian dishes that I should’ve tried and included on this list? I’d love to explore more, so let me know what other Asian cuisines you’ve tried! Hopefully I can easily find them around me!