Meet Chef Pichet Ong, a citizen of the world. He's a New Yorker who was born in Bangkok, raised in Singapore, and schooled in the U.S. at Brandeis and Berkeley (where he earned a master's in architecture).
Today, Pichet owns Qi restaurants, serving his delicious Thai food in Manhattan's Greenwich Village and Times Square. He's also a consultant to many NYC restaurateurs.
"My style of cooking draws inspiration from my childhood in Asia and traveling around the world with my family," says Pichet. "To me, the world exists to be discovered and tasted."
"Before you travel anywhere," he advises, "read up on the country's history. Knowing who traded and settled there will open a window into the place's culture and cuisine."
In his own words, below, Pichet shared with us his 10 favorite places to eat all over the world.
?This is a golden age of dining in China. Cooking was repressed during wartime and throughout Mao's Cultural Revolution. But since the new regime, there has been a renaissance of Chinese cooking. Regional recipes are amidst an exciting revival. Luxury ingredients and refined techniques are being restored to this great and varied cuisine.
"Beijing, China's capital, is like a laboratory of Chinese cooking today. And local specialties like Peking duck have come back to life. At Dadong restaurant, Peking duck is done with perfect technique. The duck is wood-roasted and served in multiple courses, the skin, meat, and broth separately, the proper way."
"Li Qun restaurant, set in a hutong historic district near Tianamen Square, cooks a very proper Peking duck, served the same way in beautiful, traditional surroundings."
"Taiwan was created by Chinese who fled from Mao's takeover. What foodies love about Taiwan: this is the place where traditional Chinese cuisine was preserved, because the top chefs fled here along with many of the cultural elite. Many treasures of Chinese culture exist in Taiwan, including lots of high-end Chinese restaurants."
"Taiwan is a strong food culture. There's a great range of island-grown ingredients and great food markets. Taiwanese conduct their social lives in restaurants, snacking all day..in tea houses, night markets, Western-style food courts, and all sorts of restaurants."
"Taiwan is the birthplace of many culinary concepts. Du Hsiao Yueh originated in Tainan as a noodle restaurant. Now it's now all over Taiwan, serving Taiwanese classics such as fried baby oysters, mullet roe with pickled and candied daikon, and roasted milkfish, an indigenous fish.
Din Tai Fung does Shanghai dumplings perfectly. This purely Taiwanese place has expanded all over Asia and to Australia and the U.S., in LA and Seattle. Expect a wait at Din Tai Fung."
"Bangkok, my hometown, is another place where social life is centered around food and restaurants. People graze all day, which results in small, elegant portions, the original tapas. When you dine out in Bangkok you can order up a storm; dishes are meant to be ordered in multiples."
"The variety of foods of all kinds is huge in Bangkok. There's great Cantonese Chinese food, such as at Mei Jiang in the Peninsula Hotel. Bangkok's Chinese food is the ultimate fusion Chinese because it comes from so many regions, changed by local Thai ingredients and spices. I love bak kut teh, 'meat bone tea.' It's a rich pork broth soup originally from the part of China that borders Thailand and Laos."
"For me, the best Thai food is in Bangkok. The Bangkok style showcases the elegance of Thai cuisine. It's classic and it's delicious. You must order pad thai as made by a Bangkok chef."
"I love Nahm at the Metropolitan Bangkok Hotel. The chef, David Thompson, is a creative Aussie. Get Nahm's set menu. It's a traditional feast, and service is leisurely. This is how Thai food is meant to be eaten."
"Singapore, where I grew up, is a port city with a very strategic location in Asia. It's the ultimate melting pot for people and for food: Chinese, Malaysian, Thai, Indian, English, and more."
"Singaporan food is fascinating, with many signature dishes like chili crab. For this culinary landmark dish, everyone goes to Palm Beach Seafood Restaurant, probably Singapore's top restaurant. It's all about the crabs here: female mud crab, so creamy, meaty, and rich with roe. It's hard to choose between the sauce-drenched chili crab and the black pepper crab, which has a coating but no sauce. Go with a group and order both. The giant prawns, too."
"Singapore's famous food markets and hawkers live up to their reputation. My favorite is Newton Circus, a great place to sample various local cuisines. Highlights are chicken rice, Chinese-Malaysian laksa noodles, and irresistible stir-fried char kway teow noodles."
"Cambodia is an incredible destination, with cuisine to match. Most visitors come to see to see Angkor Wat with a side trip to Kompong Phluk, a floating village."
"In Cambodia, you're probably staying in Siem Riep, which is beautiful and fun. Go to Sugar Palm outdoor restaurant. The owner runs a cooking school. Cambodian food is similar to Thai, but with sweet flavors such as palm sugar, with a lot of dried seafood for flavor. Try the shrimp cakes and crispy coconut-batter crepes."
"Meric restaurant in the five-star Hôtel de la Paix has two menus: traditional Cambodian and fusion Cambodian, as interpreted by an American chef, Bryan Gardner from Maine. Dinner at Meric is transporting, a luxury travel must-do. You can sit cross-legged at a suspended swinging table for a completely exotic experience."
"Tokyo, Japan's exciting international city, is a magnet for chefs from Japan, Asia…all over. Tokyo's food is just incredible, and you can find every cuisine in this dynamic city. To me, the best is Japan's own cooking."
"Delicately fried Japanese tempura is my most favorite food of any kind. You can get completely amazing tempura at Ten-ichi, with a few Tokyo locations. Tempura is all they serve, the way a lot of restaurants in Asia serve only one item. I love the just-peeled fresh shrimp that Ten-ichi's chefs pluck direct from the fryer to your plate with long metal chopsticks. Ten-ichi is expensive but an experience. Same deal with Tsuna Hachi, also for tempura."
"Tokyo visitors love going to the fish market, Tsukiji, in the early morning, with good reason. It's the best place to get sushi, and is a memorable experience. Oh, I do love Japan."
"To me, Sydney represents the New World. It's international, dynamic, and creative, filled with all kinds of people, from Asia and everywhere, including lots of chefs."
"One ultimate Sydney dining experience is Quay restaurant. Quay satisfies the dining criteria for visitors: the view of Sydney Harbour, the bridge, and Sydney Opera House through huge windows; and absolutely delicious food with fantastic presentation."
"The 'New Australian food' of Quay's Sydney-bred chef, Peter Gilmore, blends the flavor of the Orient with the hearty, healthy, straightforward food of Australia. His take on sashimi, 'sea pearls,' must be tasted. I can't get enough of Peter's 'mud crab' congee and his pork belly, as tender as tofu."
"I also love Billy Kwong. It's run by Chinese-Australian chef Kylie Kwong, who serves a traditional Chinese 'eating house' meal with fresh local ingredients. Kylie's sashimi and orange-scented duck are musts."
"I lived in LA for two years, and if I didn't live in NYC I'd be there. This is a city of neighborhoods, with very interesting dining and food-shopping scenes. One of my fave corners of LA is Venice Beach, a unique village of canals with its own subculture."
"One totally great Venice restaurant is Gjelina. It's a visual treat, with eye-candy clientele and décor. The food is beautiful too: salad, pizzas, market food, small plates. There are so many temptations at Gjelina, I could do a tasting menu of just salads, plus dessert from the in-house bakery. I wish there was a Gjelina in every city."
"You may have to wait for a table at this hot restaurant. Best thing to do in the meantime is to have a cup of joe at Intelligentsia Venice Beach next door. Such beautiful Californians there, people with that yoga glow!"
"A lot of Gjelina's produce is from the nearby Santa Monica Farmer's Market. When you're in town, go on a Saturday if you can. It'll tell you a lot about LA."
"Ah, Paris. I've been going to France's magnificent capital since I was 7 years old! Dining here is a total adventure: hearing French, seeing the classic dishes on a menu, dealing with Parisian waiters. There are endless Paris bistros and cafés that are perfect in their own way, and I love them for that."
"Parisian desserts and pastries are closest to my heart. The average bakery there is better than the best one in most other places. I love the newer patisseries (dessert bakeries) like Pierre Hermé, for incredible treats like macarons in global flavors like Isfahan rosewater or lychee."
"Sadaharu Aoki is a Japanese patissier who owns several Paris locations. You can't go wrong with his macaron or millefeuille. But my favorite thing Aoki does is making French pastries with Asian ingredients: green tea, sesame, yuzu."
"I have to admit that I always return from Paris with a suitcase filled with chocolate confections and Aoki delights like buttery green-tea pound cakes."
"People don't think of Scandinavia as a great place to eat, but I've had wonderful meals all over this welcoming part of Northern Europe. The 'new Nordic cuisine' is hot now. These days you hear a lot about the celeb-chef restaurant in Copenhagen, Denmark, Noma, which is very hard to get into. And Scandinavia has quite a few French restaurants with Michelin stars, as good as anywhere you find French chefs."
"For me, Scandinavia's best places to eat spotlight cold food: fish and shellfish, salads, local produce and dairy. You won't believe the pure taste of the small, sweet fjord shrimp in Norway and Denmark, served with seasonal salad."
"And a hundred kinds of herring…pickled, salted, smoked, spiced; in tomato, in mustard, in sour cream; with dill, with beets, with berries, with caraway seeds. You can't imagine this world of herring!"
Go have a traditional smorgasbord in Sweden. I went to many of these fresh, healthy, seafood-centric buffets. They're a showcase of the foods and tastes unique to Scandinavia. And every smorgasbord is terrific; locals have high standards created over centuries of eating this way.
- Will you like Scandinavian cuisine?
- What will be served in a Scandinavian smorgasbord?
- The still-swingin' place to stay that was the world's first designer hotel back in 1960, Radisson Blu Royal Copenhagen
- And a Finnish Bauhaus landmark now an affordable hotel, Sokos Torni Hotel Helsinki
- In Stockhom, the coolest place to say is the boutique-y Nobis Hotel