Asian cuisine has been with us for a long time now but its popularity these days have increased dramatically. Throughout the world’s capitals, Asian restaurants have sprouted like mushrooms, from the lowly street food vendors to the most expensive eateries. Perhaps it’s because of the Orient’s exotic flavors and spices that people have been drawn to patronize its delicacies.
The demand for Asian spices started hundreds of years ago, where Europeans made routes, traveling east by land and sea just to avail themselves of this precious cargo. The western world was never the same again, at least with their taste buds. But one of the secrets of Asian cooking is, to the surprise of everybody, its simplicity.
Most dishes are simple and easy to make. A bowl of rice, for instance, taken with stir-fried vegetables would make for an easy-to-make, nutritious, and tasty dish. The greens are always crunchy, low-fat and very healthy. Other items like soup, bread, and rice will always make one feel full for a longer time. Let’s look at what the gastronomical world of Asian cuisine has to offer.
Most Well-known Asian Cuisines
Being the biggest continent, Asia indeed has a lot to offer. From its people, their culture, traditions, and the food. Asia is comprised of various regions, each having its own culture and distinct cuisine. Here are the most popular countries and their cuisines:
Almost all cities in the world have their version of Chinatown. And the food in their restaurants is really to die for. People fall in line for their soups, noodles, rice, and various kinds of meat dishes. China is further subdivided into regions, and each has its special cuisines. Cantonese, Hunan, and Szechwan don’t only refer to the people but their special cuisine as well.
For those who relish Japanese food, their cuisine is healthy, delicious, and always aesthetically-presented. Food to the Japanese is part of their culture, and when one partakes of their meal, he gets an insight into their lifestyle and culture.
Traditional Japanese cuisine is simple and delicious. Ingredients used are seasonal and produced locally. One would expect rice and seafood to be served all year round since Japan is a rice producer and its shores abound with fish, shellfish, and seaweed.
If one wants to rave about an experience with spicy foods, then Thailand is the land to visit. Just enter a Thai restaurant and be overwhelmed by the aroma of spices that could drive the senses mad. Dishes usually are prepared with an assortment of vegetables and spices. Balancing these ingredients is the key to Thai cooking. Thais also serve a lot of side dishes that will balance the richness of some dishes.
When we talk about Indian food, we always associate it with curry. Other Asian countries took a cue from India about being “spicy” and rightly so because Indian food is spicy, rich, and varied. India has its regions and each with their spicy cuisine. We can broadly classify the cuisine into Northern and Southern, each with its own individual use of herbs, spices and cooking style.
Even the utensils used by these Asian countries are different and unique. What they may have in common are the herbs and spices used. But for most Asian countries, eating with the hands is a prominent tradition as its denizens want to feel their food. Experiencing genuine Asian cuisine will be an exotic and exhilarating experience.
Popular Asian Dishes
Asia is a melting pot of cultures, traditions, influences and of course, foods. The continent is so vast it makes choosing the best cuisine a daunting task. But many Asian foods have stood out and have become popular almost everywhere. The Americas love them, so do Europeans. Often, it becomes difficult to pinpoint the dish’s origin because Asian countries use the same spicy ingredients. Nevertheless, these popular foods are delicious, hot and healthy.
Scan over an Asian menu, and you will surely find this dish in the listing. But curry powder isn’t just one variety, there are several, and each country has its blend. Try eating the dish in restaurants in different Asian countries as the dish may taste different for each country.
Originally from China, dim sum are bite-sized morsels that can be served as appetizers. Derived from Cantonese, Dim Sum means “a little token.” It’s popular in all Southeast Asian countries. These small surprises are usually served hot in tiny steamer baskets or small plates. Although the servings are small, one can order a lot of varieties.
This is usually bought as a street food which is relished as a snack. It’s maybe the Asian version of the American hot dog. The balls are made from pulverized fish meat, eaten on a stick or served as toppings for soup. You can get them at Asian stalls or through street vendors. The fish balls can be served fried, cooked or steamed.
This is the most popular staple food in Asia. Almost all households include this in their meals. Mainly, it’s cooked plainly with coconut milk and saffron added. Meat or vegetables complement the rice for a complete meal. To make fried rice, just throw all the ingredients into the wok containing some cooking oil. Some meat, vegetables, spices, eggs then the rice. It could be a meal or a side dish.
Hainanese Chicken Rice
This dish is simple, very straight-forward, and very easy to make. It’s popular in Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, and China. It’s made up of plain boiled chicken, served with white rice, and can be accompanied with condiments like cucumbers, eggs or lettuce or a bowl of clear chicken soup. It’s a dish that can stand on its own, without the spices. This signature dish is being claimed by more than one country as its place of origin.
This is a very spicy noodle soup being claimed by Singapore as its inventor. More likely though, its origin could either be Malaysia or China. Its popularity has become worldwide, from Asia to Australia, and beyond. The soup’s consistency can either be watery or thick with as less liquid as possible. Most eaters prefer the latter.
For being the undisputed King or Queen of Asian foods, satay cannot even decide on a single name. Some people call it sate or satay or satay or sati or whatever. This dish is basically made from small portions of meat on a stick roasted over charcoal or an open fire.
Each of the Asian countries has their version of a spring roll. But ask a seasoned traveler and he would point out that the best ones are those made in Vietnam. Maybe if one has the time, he can try the many Asian versions of this delicacy. The spring roll is usually fried pastries that are filled with meat or vegetables. But that will depend upon the country. As mentioned, each one has its spring roll version.
There is no need for any introduction to this delicacy which has gained immense popularity internationally. It’s a “high-class food” eaten in classy restaurants. But these days, one can buy prepared sushi in supermarkets. Sushi is more than just some raw fish laid over a bed of rice. Especially in Japan, creating and rolling sushi is considered by many as a science and a work of art. Ingredients used are raw fish, a special kind of rice, seaweed, and soy sauce with wasabi paste,
This is a watery fragrant soup that has its origins in Thailand but is now popular in many Asian countries. When served, it can be an appetizer; the main dish is eaten with or without rice. But the soups unique spicy-sour taste has been relished by many. For the sour ingredients, the soup uses some heavily smashed lemongrass, tamarind, and lime.
What Should You Pair with Asian Cuisine?
Is it red wine or white wine? What goes best with Asian food? Do we decide on the most traditional culinary rule of thumb where red is for meat and white are for fish? Maybe it can still be the most reliable rule. With Asian cooking, why not try local wines for local foods? People from the East are used to it, and perhaps they are right. As the saying goes, “what grows together, goes together.”
But choosing the right wine could pose a dilemma. How can one pair wine with foods that come from a country with no experience in wine production? How does one do the pairing with food ingredients that aren’t known in wine producing countries? With Asian cuisine, choosing the right wine could be a problem. But the absence of an Asian “wine culture” is not the issue. It’s more on pairing the flavors of the wine and the food themselves.
The ingredients used in Asian cuisine choose the right beverage challenging. Imagine these: fermented sauces, spices, and herbs, sweet and sour yin-yangs. All these combined can produce palate histrionics that can send the flavor of any wine run for cover.
Remember that Asian food isn’t just one dish. On the contrary, it’s a multitude of dishes. There isn’t a single wine that would go with all these varieties. But the good news is that most Asian foods go best with beer, except sushi and sashimi which tend to be delicate.
The choice of wine is determined by the main ingredient of the food being served. For instance, a grilled chicken breast is white meat and therefore, the right choice is white wine. Various cooking techniques can also influence the wine of choice. Pouched, steamed or raw dishes may work well with one wine but will not with those are deeply fried or very fatty foods.
For Thai food, a cold, crisp and hoppy beer is your best friend. The flavor of wine gets lost with the heat of Thai Cuisine. For the Japanese, sushi, and sashimi, go white, light and crisp beer. Chinese and Korean foods are the most wine-friendly. The flavor combinations are mildly spicy as compared to the volcanic Thai recipes.
Choosing the right wine for Asian cuisine could be an exciting experiment. Exploring new ingredients and techniques in food preparations in Asian cuisine may or may not tickle the taste buds but washing the results down with a good glass of “grape juice” should make the experiment worthwhile.
Common Misconceptions About Asian Cuisine
We have stereotyped our conceptions of Asian food because that’s the way we ordered it and delivered to our doorstep. Steamed rice, noodles, stir-fried veggies, and maybe a side of dumplings plus that predictable fortune cookie. These are what we have in mind when we “go Chinese” tonight. But Asian food isn’t just rice, stir-fried veggies, noodles, and soy sauce. It’s much, much more than that. Here are the most common mistaken beliefs about Asian foods that should to the least, be remedied.
It’s Not All About Stir-Fry and Soy Sauce
There are no better-varied cuisines in the entire world than those we have in Asia. Each country has their cuisine and are as different as they are as many. Japan have their own flavors, Korea their techniques, Indonesia their spices. You will find all these and more, not just to tickle the palate but to experience the culture as well.
The whole continent is brimming with spices and concepts to incorporate them into food. Far from anything, Asian cuisine is not just soy sauce, rice, dim sum, and stir-fry. Asian cuisines offer healthy steamed dishes, barbecues with an Asian twist, a variety of noodle soups from different regions and steaks, served ala Asian.
Rice and Noodles Aren’t the Only Foods
Again, Asians are stereotyped, making the whole world think that Asians only eat noodles and rice. That’s a downer and should be remedied. True, Asians eat a lot of rice and noodles. After all, these are their staple foods. But certainly, they aren’t limited to these.
Rice and noodles are almost always components of every meal. That is where Asians draw their carbohydrates from. Other components could include steamed eggs, barbecued pork, veggies, deep-fried fish, and so much more, all with special spices.
In some Asian countries, rice or noodles can even be omitted in the meal. This most certainly demonstrates that Asians aren’t all about rice and noodles. Consider these dishes: Malaysia’s satay, Japan’s sashimi, Korea’s pajeon, and the Middle East’s kebabs.
Asian Foods Are Not Limited to Just Chinese, Japanese or Korean
This is truly a misconception. Asian foods are not limited to these three countries. There are more countries that can offer as much, if not better varieties of Asian foods. Even India and the Middle East are still considered part of Asia, and yet they are disregarded on the issue. The Southeast Asian countries are now coming on their own, and their cuisines are getting raves. They have their unique cuisines to offer, and it is about time they are recognized.