Asian gastronomy, Asian Cuisine

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Asian gastronomy, Asian Cuisine; Often cuisine or gastronomy is grouped by region, but the traditional food associated with a specific area is only a small sample of the popular foods of that area.

Asian regional cuisine tends to be confusing because of its large culinary term that encompasses all the food of this area, being the largest continent in the world, as it is made up of many different countries, regions and cultures.

Many culinary experts consider the term Asian cuisine to be very broad and it is generally divided into the following regions: First is East Asian cuisine which encompasses Japanese, Chinese and Korean food.

Then Southeast Asia, where we can find Malaysian, Vietnamese and Thai food. While Central Asian cuisine includes Kazakh, Mongolian and Tibetan food.

Subsequently, in South Asia there are many varieties where Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian food stands out, and finally the food of Western Asia, known as Middle Eastern cuisine.

There are many differences between the foods used to cook each of the dishes of Asian gastronomy. A single region can offer a wide variety of native dishes.

A very important step is to understand the types of cuisine that comprise Asian gastronomy by region and their characteristics.

Characteristics of Asian cuisine

The following is a long list of characteristics of each region that make each dish of the Asian continent so particular:

South Asia

The foods of this area mainly comprise the following types of cuisine: Afghan, Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi, Nepalese and Sri Lankan. These are characterized by the use of ground spices as well as strong herbs.

Dishes from these regions are usually seasoned with black pepper, chili, ghee, butter and are complemented with goat meat, lamb, chicken or fish.

Among some must-try menus in this region is the freshly baked chapati, hand-kneaded and baked breads, which are perfect for dipping in fresh mango chutney.

Another must-try is the kheer dessert, a rice and dairy-based pudding that also includes raisins, cardamom, cashews, saffron, almonds and pistachios.

Western Asia

This region is known as the Middle East and has a very diverse cuisine as the countries that compose it, including Israeli, Arab, Armenian, Kurdish, Turkish, Azerbaijani and Georgian food. The main characteristic to recognize these dishes is the use of olive oils and olives, in addition to sesame seeds, chickpeas, parsley, dates, as well as pita and flat breads.

On the other hand, the famous kebabs, grilled meats and tabbouleh are signatures of this region, as well as the abundant vegetables and yogurt-based dressings that cannot be missing in this cuisine.

Central Asia

The cuisines of regions such as Turkmenistan, Usbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kasak and Tajikistan tend to be less common, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have excellent dishes on their menu. The use of cattle meat is unpalatable to their diners.

The predominant meats are lamb, beef and horse, while rice, fruits, seasoned broth, pilaf and spices add a lot of flavor to these dishes, it should be noted that bread is highly appreciated in this region.

East Asia

In these regions the cuisine begins to be more familiar, among these areas are Chinese, Japanese and Korean, which are famous worldwide, although other regions such as Mongolia, Taiwan and Macao, belong to East Asia.

China has only 8 different culinary variations due to its geography, climate and history. The most consumed foods in this region are rice, soybeans, noodles, mango, beans, tea and seafood.

Southeast Asia

This region includes Vietnamese, Thai, Cambodian, Malaysian, Lao and Myanmar popular cuisines, this is a very dynamic and diverse region, where the predominant ingredients are fresh herbs, citrus fruits, vegetables, rice and fish sauce.

Asian gastronomy, characteristics
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Asian gastronomy, characteristics

History of Asian gastronomy

According to anthropologists and culinary historians, 3 main categories of Asian cultures that have developed over time can be identified and are as follows:

The first style is known as southeastern which includes Indian, Pakistani and Burmese cuisine. It has its roots in the Arab-Persian civilization that used the following ingredients in its cooking: flatbread, lamb, kebabs, hot peppers, cloves and black pepper, as well as other strong spices along with ghee.

Another basic ingredient is curry, which was part of that culture. While Hinduism suggested that cows were only for milk production and not for meat consumption. Additionally, rice, beans and wheat and barley chapati were foods that emerged from these civilizations.

In the northeastern region, the second culture or tradition comprising China, Korea and Japan, the use of oils, fats and sauces was developed in their cuisine. Meanwhile, condiments and spices went beyond cooking and were also used for medicinal purposes.

It should be noted that food is also associated with many religious traditions, since several Northeast Asian cultures used food as offerings to worship their ancestors.

It can be said that Chinese cuisine is considered the most outstanding of all Asian styles, and it is very varied according to each region. The dishes of this cuisine are usually more oily and the use of garlic and vinegar is very frequent.

Japanese food, on the other hand, highlighted the constant use of fried foods or, conversely, the use of raw foods such as sushi or sashimi. While in Korea, its cuisine is based on grilling or sautéing, not to mention the use of spicy chili.

Finally, the third culture is the southeastern style, which includes countries such as Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Singapore, Indonesia, among others.

The main characteristic of this region is the use of aromatic and lightly prepared foods, where quick sautéing, steaming or boiling is used.

Most dishes from these areas are complemented with mild seasonings and spices, as well as citrus juices and fine herbs such as coriander, basil and mint.

Typical dishes of Asian gastronomy

Many of the recipes of Asian gastronomy are those that have gained popularity and fame at international level, among which the following stand out:

  • Xiaolongbao: also known as small basket bun and comes from a region of Shanghai, China. It is a ball-shaped dumpling filled with pork that is steamed.
  • To make this type of food requires a lot of patience, since the cooking process is not as easy as it seems.
  • Among the ingredients used to make these balls are pork, shrimp, herbs and spices. It is a very delicious dish and a favorite of many.
  • Jawain’s butter paratha: a perfect thing to do in the morning, is to taste a delicious tea along with Jawain’s butter paratha. This is an Indian bread that originated in Peshawar.
  • It is a flatbread made with whole wheat flour that is fried in butter (ghee) and stuffed with vegetables such as cauliflower or boiled potatoes. 
  • Nasi lemak: this is a simple rice dish with a different style. The meaning of this dish is rice and fat; it refers to the creaminess of coconut milk. Considered the national and traditional dish of Malaysia.
  • This popular Malaysian dish is made with coconut milk, rice, anchovies, cucumber slices, hard-boiled egg and roasted peanuts, and is best combined with fried chicken or chicken rendang.
  • Preparing this dish can be very tedious, it is usually recommended to cook the anchovies a day in advance to shorten the cooking time. The surprise factor comes with the fragrance that this wonderful dish gives off.
  • Ambuyat: this dish managed to conquer the hearts of Bruneians and visitors to Brunei. It is a comforting dish that was of great support to Bruneians in World War II when rice was scarce, becoming a part of the iconic traditional cuisine of this country.
  • It is composed of carbohydrates made from sago starch and boiled water. It may be easy to prepare, but it is somewhat exhausting, especially when grinding and stirring the sago starch.
  • The ambuyat is consumed as a sauce made of binjai (local fruit similar to mango, but a little more acidic). It goes perfectly with side dishes such as fish, vegetables or meat. 
  • Candied Haws: also called tanghulu, this is a very popular and traditional Chinese fruit snack, a delicacy similar to candied apples.
  • It is usually eaten during the winter season and is made with Chinese hawthorn fruits, which are coated with sugar syrup and pierced on bamboo skewers.
  • Kimchi: this dish is a classic of Korean food and today is considered one of the most popular preparations for Asians.
  • This side dish is made with fermented and salted vegetables (Nappa cabbage or Korean radish) to which many seasonings such as ginger, scallions, garlic, chili powder and seafood are added. 
  • In the past, kimchi was kept underground in jars to preserve it, but today’s technology allows it to be stored in refrigerators.
  • Ais kacang: also known as Ice kacang is a Malaysian dessert that is very popular in Brunei and Singapore. It was traditionally made with shaved ice and red beans, but nowadays gelatin and sweet syrup are added to provide a better flavor.
  • This can be found in different colors, with a variety of toppings and fruit cocktails. It is a perfect dessert for those who love cold desserts or ice cream, as it is very delicious.
  • Sushi: considered the traditional dish of Japan and rated as the most popular worldwide. Among the ingredients for its preparation are rice, vinegar, sugar and salt, which are mixed with seafood, fish, tropical fruits and vegetables.
  • The preparation of sushi turns out to be difficult, from the selection and cleaning of the fish and seafood, to the cutting and presentation of the dish. Additionally, it is accompanied with wasabi, soy sauce and pickled ginger.
  • Egg tarts: is a kind of custard tart very famous worldwide, being easily found also in many Asian countries.
  • It is truly a fantastic dish and consists of a puff pastry crust on the outside that is filled with egg custard and carefully baked. When it is baked you can taste the flavor of the custard along with the butter.
  • Lao baguettes: To prepare a healthy sandwich, the best is this delicious dish that is very similar to the Vietnamese banh. These baguettes are heavily influenced by the French, but feature crunchy vegetables.
  • It is an easy dish to prepare and has ingredients such as spicy watercress, carrots, tomatoes, chicken breast and additionally a large portion of spicy chili and garlic sauce, to give it that surprise touch.

Spices used in Asian gastronomy

Among the condiments and spice mixtures commonly used in Asian cuisine, chutneys, sambals and dals stand out. 

In Vietnamese and Thai cuisine the preference is mostly for condiments based on chili peppers, garlic, tamarind, fish sauce and leafy spices. For Asians, hot sauce is like tomato sauce for Westerners.

Each region has a favorite hot sauce and among the most common are: sambal trassi, aji, garlic and sriracha.

Similarly, spices are often mixed and used to enhance intense flavors and are mainly based on the combination of coriander seeds, sesame seeds and smoked, pickled or roasted chili peppers.

This mixture of spices is used in different ways, depending on the food and the region, all in order to bring a spicy balance to the salty, sweet, spicy and sour flavors and aromas of each dish.

While some spice blends are generally used throughout Asia, others, such as five spice and curry, in particular regions enter into more subtle flavor blends.

For example, in East Asia, fermented bean seasoning, hoisin sauce, Chinese five spice, Japanese seven spice and teriyaki may be included in the spice mix. 

In South Asia curries are larger in size, but vary according to the region; in the southern part of India this spice tends to be much spicier, but with hints of coconut; in Pakistan and in the northern part of India they are called masalas and are more aromatic, mild and fruity. 

While in Sri Lanka the curries are spicier and are made with a chili base.

In the Southeast Asian part, people can enjoy blends of sambal, making it into spicy, fragrant, sweet and hot sauces. 

In this area curry is also very popular, on the other hand, Thai curry is spicy, sour, aromatic and sweet, while Vietnamese curry is not as intense as Indian curry, but milder than Thai curry.

Asian gastronomy drinks.

  • Milk: this drink in Indian cuisine is very present, compared to the cuisine of other Asian countries. It is the ideal base for drinks that are made to help overcome the heat.
  • Since milk ferments easily, Hindus commonly add yogurt or dahi to their recipes. They also produce cheese (panir) from the milk.
  • Lassi: this traditional drink based on yogurt, additives and water, is usually served sweet with fruits and rose water, to dry or cool with spices or to relieve the spiciness of dishes.
  • Masala chai: is a tea to which spices are added in different proportions. The base is a strong infusion of black tea, milk, sugar or honey.
  • Sake: This drink is traditionally drunk with an appetizer such as sashimi. They are different rules of etiquette when drinking sake, it is advisable to comply with them if you want to make friends.
  • For example, you should always pour the sake first for the companion and never fill your own cup, in which case it is best to have someone else fill it.
  • Soju: this drink is a distillate of Korean origin obtained from the distillation of rice, its flavor is similar to vodka, but with more sweetness and with an alcohol content between 20 and 45°.

Read also: Cantonese Chinese food; Chinese Fried Rice

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