The Journey of Michelin Stars in Southeast Asia

07 Jun, 2023 | A-> Z Guide

The Michelin Guide has been bringing exotic flavors, undiscovered recipes, and new techniques to the Far East.

The Michelin Guide is one of the most well-known and respected culinary guides in the world. We are taking you on a trip through the fine dining institutions, but also showcasing to you that a big price tag doesn’t need to be next to some of the iconic dishes of the culinary world. 

Experience the ultimate gastronomy journey through the Michelin Stars in Southeast Asia. You will have a chance to discover the exotic and delicate flavors of Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, and Vietnam. Get ready to delight in a gastronomic adventure like never before.

What Are The Meanings Behind Michelin Guide's Symbols?

It’s really hard to believe that the most important culinary judges actually started as a tire company. With a marketing idea to encourage people to take the road and use their tires while exploring new destinations, the Michelin brothers developed a travel guide. They surely couldn't imagine that guide would change the course of the culinary world. 

Today, The Michelin Guide is a series of annual guidebooks published by the same tire company, Michelin, for over a century. To be able to understand the importance of this honor, we can say that getting a Michelin star is sure to change the fate of a restaurant! The guide assigns a rating of one to three stars to restaurants, indicating their culinary excellence.

To get a Michelin star, the restaurant itself must showcase high attention to detail, and innovative cuisine, be in a location where Michelin guides exist, and, most importantly, amaze the secret inspectors who will visit the restaurant anonymously.

A system of symbols is used to describe each one:

One star (*): A very good restaurant with consistency in quality. It's worth stopping if you find yourself nearby.

Two stars (**): A restaurant needs to offer excellent cuisine with a deeper understanding of ingredient quality, creativity, and culinary craftsmanship. Two stars mean the restaurant is worth a detour.

Three stars (***): You can plan a journey according to this special restaurant. The maximum number of stars, three, are reserved for exceptional cuisine, tremendous creativity, and a chef who is setting world culinary trends.

Comfort & Quality: When inspecting a restaurant and awarding stars, experts are not judging the quality of service, the interior, or the table setting; they are judging only the food. Service and interior approval comes with a number of "covers," represented by the fork and spoon symbol.

Bib Gourmand: The guide also includes a selection of Bib Gourmand restaurants, which offer good food at reasonable prices. A Bib Gourmand is a symbol of an establishment that serves high-quality food and offers a menu with two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for no more than $40. Bib Gourmand restaurants are all very unique in their simple cooking, but they all have one thing in common: you will love the sense of satisfaction that comes with eating so well at such a reasonable price. For these restaurants, "value for money" became a light motive.

How Is The Journey Of The Michelin Guide in SEA?

The Michelin Guide has been bringing exotic flavors, undiscovered recipes, and new techniques to the pedestal of the gastronomic universe.

The very first edition of the guide for the region was the Singapore Michelin Guide, which was launched in 2016. This marked the first time that the guide had covered a Southeast Asian country. The guide has since been expanded to include other countries in the region, such as Thailand in 2018, Malaysia in 2022, and Vietnam in 2023. 

In 2017, the Singapore guide included a new category called "Street Food", which recognizes street food vendors that have been deemed to have exceptional culinary standards. This category is intended to acknowledge and celebrate the cultural significance of street food.

Since then, visitors traveling to Southeast Asia have chance to savor the unique flavors while indulging in some of the best cuisines in the world. 

1. The Arrival Of The Michelin Guide in Singapore

The guide was met with excitement and anticipation from the Singaporean culinary community, as Singapore is known for its diverse and vibrant food scene. The first edition of the guide included a total of 38 restaurants, with one restaurant earning the coveted three-star rating and six restaurants earning two stars.

Since the launch of the Singapore guide, the guide has been updated annually, and the number of restaurants awarded stars has also increased. For now, Singapore Guide has three restaurants with three Michelin stars: Odette, Zen, and Les Amis. 7 restaurants with two Michelin Stars and 41 restaurants with one Michelin star. To be mentioned 22 more restaurants with Bib Gourmand recognition and 1 street food stall with one Michelin star.

The Singapore Michelin guide has been well received by the public and the culinary community, and many believe that it has helped to promote Singaporean cuisine to the world and encourage culinary innovation. The inclusion of street food vendors in the guide is also seen as a positive step towards recognizing the importance of street food in Singapore's food culture. Now, in the Michelin Guide, you can see dozens of street vendors and hawker centre stalls that are mentioned as a go to when visiting Singapore.

2. The Arrival Of The Michelin Guide in Thailand

Famed for the gastronomic scene with a wide range of delicious street food, Thailand is the second country in Southeast Asia to welcome Michelin Guide. 

The Michelin Guide first arrived in Thailand in 2018 with the launch of the Bangkok Michelin Guide. The first edition of the Bangkok guide included a total of 30 restaurants, with two earning the coveted three-star rating and six restaurants earning two stars. The guide also included a selection of street food vendors, but only one was awarded stars.

Since the launch of the Bangkok guide, the guide has expanded to cover other cities in Thailand, such as Chiang Mai, Phuket, and Pattaya. In total, 29 restaurants received one Michelin star, while six restaurants received two stars. Almost all of them are located in the capital, Bangkok. For a full enjoyment of the Thai fine dining experience, R-Haan and Sorn are the restaurants to be visited. In Thailand, food enthusiasts can find 189 Bib Gourmand restaurants and 217 other recommended entries. Don’t miss the iconic Jay Fai and her crab omelet, the only Michelin-starred street food in Thailand. While travelers explore the famous Yaowarat Road, known as Chinatown in Bangkok, they are able to enjoy varios street food vendors from the Bib Gourmand list. If you are a night owl, the Hip & Chic Food Fest Tour is something not to be missed.

Not very known is that Michelin also has a "Green Star" rating, which denotes a restaurant that is particularly environmentally friendly and a leader in sustainable gastronomy. A green star rating was included in the 2020 Bangkok guide, and three restaurants received this honor.

If your Thailand vacation hasn't been inspired yet by its world-famous beaches, a Michelin guide can be your new inspiration for an ultimate travel experience.

3. The Arrival Of The Michelin Guide in Malaysia

The Michelin Guide arrived in Malaysia in 2022, announcing the 2023 First Malaysia Edition. With the launch of the Kuala Lumpur and Penang Michelin Guides, Malaysia's distinct gastronomic landscape has finally been acknowledged.

While honoring the special talents in the industry, the first edition of the guide included a total of 97 recognitions, with four restaurants earning one Michelin star. A Bib Gourmand is awarded to 32 venues for providing high-quality meals at reasonable costs. Not to be missed in Kuala Lumpur is the one-star restaurant Dewakan, with a true Malaysian representation. Dewakan serves contemporary Malaysian meals that honor their heritage by embracing both local and indigenous ingredients.

Visiting Penang can give us a totally unique feel about the culinary approach. Highlighting Peranakan cuisine, known also as Nyonya food, which presents a mix of Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Eurasian ingredients and cooking techniques. The finest of this fusion can be tried at Auntie Gaik Lean’s Old School Eatery in Penang, which has been awarded one Michelin star.

4. The Arrival Of The Michelin Guide in Vietnam 

The newest member on this list is Vietnam. The evening of June 6th, 2023 made great changes to the gastronomy world of Vietnam when Michelin announced the very first guide for Vietnam, emphasizing Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City as food destinations. 4 Vietnamese restaurants were awarded one Michelin star including Anan Saigon, Gia, Hibana by Koki, and Tam Vi. Anan Saigon was the only restaurant in Vietnam that entered the Top 50 best restaurants in Asia in early 2023. The name “Anan” means “Eat, eat!” in Vietnamese.

The arrival of the Michelin guide has marked a significant milestone for the country's cuisine culture and culinary scene. The guide, which is considered one of the most prestigious in the culinary industry, has long been associated with fine-dining establishments in Western countries, but its expansion into Southeast Asia has brought attention to the diverse and vibrant food culture of the region.

Michelin experts are in delight with the abundance of gastronomic charms and culinary traditions that can be found with every step taken. Not only high-end restaurants were named, but street vendors in hidden alleys were also honored on the Bib Gourmand list with 13 restaurants in Hanoi and 16 in Ho Chi Minh City, with popular food such as Bun Cha, Pho, and Cha Ca. But, to tell you the truth, even before the Michelin guide appeared in Vietnam, gourmets were always heartily prepared with fresh local products and fragrant herbs, utilizing traditional recipes and techniques. Food is one of the best reasons for people to take a Vietnam vacation. Vietnam Michelin star just confirms that.

5. Michelin Guide in Other SEA Countries

The Michelin Guide has not yet been expanded to cover any other Southeast Asian countries besides Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam. Luckily, that doesn’t mean other countries are not celebrated for their flavors and unique recipes by their chefs on Michelin - explored world locations. The Philippines might be next on the list, given how Tim Flores and Genie Kwon are showing respect for the deeply rooted heritage of family-inspired recipes at their Chicago restaurant, Kasama. It is the world's first Michelin-starred Filipino restaurant.

Many Bib Gourmand Award-winning restaurants across the world are bringing their roots to the light, highlighting the origin and heritage of Southeast Asian countries. We are looking forward to witnessing the excitement of a new culinary world where Southeast Asia is becoming a significant leader in the globe's gastronomy.

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