Cover Shrimp toast at Roots, which features on the Essence of Asia list (Photo: Courtesy of Roots)

The unranked collection of restaurants is said to represent the spirit of Asian gastronomy and includes restaurants from across the region, stretching from Pakistan to Japan

Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants has debuted its Essence of Asia Collection, which includes an unranked collection of establishments spanning 49 cities across 20 countries and territories.

Featuring “casual restaurants recognised for preserving culinary traditions, honouring authentic flavours and providing a vital link to their communities,” the resulting list is as broad as its parameters suggest, with a wide range of entries that spans street vendors, well-established institutions, businesses with a focus on giving back and a handful of newcomers.

The list was compiled based on recommendations from chefs of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2020 and 2021, 50 Best’s Academy Chairs as well as 50 Best’s trusted network of partners across the region. The Essence of Asia list is published below with comments from Tatler Dining’s editors around the region.

(Related: Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2021: Mingoo Kang Receives the Inedit Damm Chefs’ Choice Award)

Bangladesh

  • Haji Biryani, Dhaka
  • Kasturi, Dhaka

Cambodia

  • Nesat Seafood House, Phnom Penh
  • Lum Orng Farm To Table, Siem Reap
  • The Sugar Palm, Siem Reap

Mainland China

  • Li Qun Roast Duck, Beijing
  • Chen Mapo Tofu, Chengdu
  • 102 House, Foshan
  • Longjing Manor, Hangzhou
  • Fuchun (Yuyuan Road), Shanghai
  • Lihuayuan, Wuhan

Hong Kong

  • Australia Dairy Company
  • Dignity Kitchen
  • Kau Kee
  • Pei Ho Counterparts
  • Roots
  • Yin Yang Coastal

“Hong Kong is full of fantastic local restaurants so it's a shame to not see more than a handful represented on this list—not to mention that Australia Dairy Company and Kau Kee are already very well established names both locally and internationally—you'd be hard-pressed to find any major travel publication that hasn't mentioned these two destinations. I would have loved to see other classic Hong Kong venues such as Hoi On featured on the list, or even dim sum staples such as Duen Kee (who serve their own farm-fresh watercress). And what about Gingko House, which creates employment opportunities for the elderly in Hong Kong through six restaurants they run across the city as well as using local organic vegetables to support Hong Kong farms? It is great, however, to see that one of Tatler Dining Hong Kong’s Top 20 Best Restaurants and Rising Star Award recipient Roots is recognised on the list, as Stephanie Wong has been doing great work over the years."
––Charmaine Mok, Content Director, Hong Kong, Tatler Dining

India

  • Bengaluru Oota Company, Bangalore
  • Mum’s Kitchen, Goa
  • Ahdoo’s, Kashmir
  • Shree Thaker Bhojanalay, Mumbai
  • Swati Snacks, Mumbai
  • Rustom’s, New Delhi

Indonesia

  • Babi Guling Pande Egi, Bali
  • KooD, Bali
  • Pagi Sore, Jakarta
  • Lupis Mbah Satinem, Yogyakarta

“These restaurants are all worthy of inclusion on the Essence of Asia list. However, as Indonesia is a Muslim country, we think Pagi Sore, which is the most inclusive, and Babi Guling Pande Egi are the most fitting.”
––Diella Yasmine, Senior Editor, Tatler Indonesia

Japan

  • Natsukashiya, Amami Ōshima
  • Honke Owariya, Kyoto
  • Pasania, Osaka
  • Eatrip, Tokyo
  • Sincere Blue, Tokyo
  • Sushi Dai, Tokyo

Laos

  • Tamarind, Luang Prabang
  • Doi Ka Noi, Vientiane

Macau

  • Henri’s Galley
  • IFT Educational Restaurant
  • La Famiglia

Malaysia

  • Artisan Handmade Bread, Ipoh
  • Kedai Kopi Yee Fung, Kota Kinabalu
  • Bijan, Kuala Lumpur
  • Siam Road Char Koay Teow, Penang

“I think this range of eateries says a lot about the Malaysian palate in the present age: while we'll never give up our RM8 (USD$2) plates of wok-fried or stewed noodles, exposure to the West has given us a hankering for ‘trendy’ foods such as sourdough bread. And then there’s a third category of restaurants where, for a bump in price, one is guaranteed a posher ambiance, but served timeless dishes.”
––Samantha Lim, Editor, Tatler Dining Malaysia

Myanmar

  • Rangoon Tea House, Yangon
  • Shan Kitchen, Yangon
  • Shwe Sa Bwe, Yangon

Nepal

  • Newa Momo Nepal, Kathmandu
  • Tukche Thakali Kitchen, Kathmandu

Pakistan

  • N’ecos, Karachi
  • Waris Nihari, Lahore

Philippines

  • Farmer’s Daughter, Baguio
  • Earth Kitchen, Manila
  • Hapag, Manila
  • Bale Dutung, Pampanga 

"Essence Of Asia has spotlighted under-the-radar restaurants like Farmer’s Daughter and Earth’s Kitchen, and thankfully so. These two establishments are dedicated to using local, organic products and strive to support the livelihoods of Filipino farmers. While the ambience at Farmer’s Daughter is nothing to write home about, its food and dedication to agriculture keeps patrons coming back for more. Earth’s Kitchen is a watering-hole for vegetarians, vegans and healthy eaters. It may not be as famous as some of its counterparts, but it has been consistent and reputable with both quality of food and promotion of sustainability.

Bale Datung and Hapag are more well-known, but still deserving of this recognition. Bale Datung is helmed by notable chef Claude Tayag who has been a recognisable figure in the F&B industry for many years and has helped to elevate Filipino food, while Hapag is run by young-guns and new faces on the scene who have been reinterpreting Filipino cuisine and creating modern dishes that have caught people’s attention."
––Isabel Martel Francisco, Editor, Philippines, Tatler Dining & Generation T

Singapore

“It’s really encouraging to see Restaurant Kin on the list, because there few chefs like Damian D’Silva who are as passionate as they are skilled at being a treasured keeper of heirloom recipes—heritage dishes that span the Malay, Eurasian and Peranakan cultures—that are also fast becoming but a memory. It’s chefs like him that assure us gourmands that not all is lost; many of the dishes at this restaurant have long disappeared from local tables. The same could be said about Keng Eng Kee, which is the place for some of the island’s most-loved zi char classics—these have been a feature since the 1950s, and the restaurant remains a family business. 

It’s no surprise to see stalwart hawker favourites Jin Ji Teochew Braised Duck & Kway Chap and Mr. and Mrs. Mohgan’s Super Crispy Roti Prata, and this is just the recognition these small businesses need. Though hawkers and other more casual eateries specialising in time-honoured fare cater to our broader gastronomic needs and desires, their significance is sometimes overlooked. Even before Singapore’s hawker culture was added to the Unesco Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in December 2020, many wondered how these integral parts of our heritage might be preserved. This might inspire consumers to develop a more vested interest in the foods we love. I do however think there’s room for champions such as Samy’s Curry, Plum Village (for Hakka specialties) and Beng Hiang (for authentic Hokkien fare), to name a few, and perhaps a couple more Nyonya stalwarts, such as National Kitchen by Violet Oon and Candlenut.”
––Don Mendoza, Content Director, Tatler Dining, Singapore

“The Essence of Asia list has a good mix of hawker favourites and restaurants like Botanico at the Garage, which serves European cuisine laced with Asian accents. I am quite surprised that it’s part of Essence of Asia list—I think the restaurant hasn’t really been on most food lovers’ radar for the past year, but perhaps e the team is doing something amazing that landed them on this list. Naked Finn is a great addition, especially with founder Ken Loo's commitment to only procuring fresh and sustainable seafood.” 
––Dudi Aureus, Digital Dining Editor, Tatler Dining, Singapore

South Korea

  • Nangpoonbopsang, Jeju
  • Base Is Nice, Seoul
  • Guemdwaeji Sikdang, Seoul
  • Miro Sikdang, Seoul

Sri Lanka

  • Café Kumbuk, Colombo
  • Paradise Road: The Gallery Café, Colombo
  • Mettha’s Traditional Home Cooked Meals, Unawatuna

Taiwan

  • Akame, Pingtung
  • Yu Li Cultural Bookstore and Community Kitchen, Taichung
  • Huang’s Lu Rou Fan, Taipei
  • Plants, Taipei

“I’m glad to see these restaurants represented on the Essence of Asia list, particularly Akame, which is among the most important restaurants representing Taiwan today, while Plants is known as one of Taipei’s best vegetarian restaurants.”
––Chelsea Su, Lifestyle Editor, Tatler Taiwan

Thailand


Vietnam

  • Pho Gia Truyen, Hanoi
  • Ngoc Suong Seafood & Bar, Ho Chi Minh City
  • Pizza 4P’s, Ho Chi Minh City
  • Madam Khanh – The Banh Mi Queen, Hoi An