Why are Asian cuisines so successful
A culinary tour through Asia
The most important ingredients and recipes to cook at home
Asia is a continent of superlatives: over 4 billion inhabitants make up over 50% of the world's population; With over 44.6 million km² and 47 internationally recognized countries, it is also the largest and most densely populated part of the world in terms of area.
From the northernmost point of Siberia to the thousands of tropical islands in Indonesia; From the vast Arabian desert of Saudia Arabia to the wildly overgrown, mountainous archipelago: Asia is incredibly varied in terms of geography, climate, economy, politics and population groups - and this is of course also reflected in numerous food cultures.
With this almost infinite variety, it is extremely difficult to write an all-encompassing guide about the most diverse Asian cuisines. How can you capture the fine Japanese cuisine on the one hand and at the same time properly appreciate the Turkish cuisine with its strong spices and flavors? If we were to devote ourselves to the various cuisines of China in detail - from the influential Cantonese cuisine in the southeast to the savory fare of the Sichuan province in the southwest of the country - would you still keep track of things or just keep scrolling?
What we mean by that is that it is almost impossible to give all the nuances of Asian food culture the attention they deserve without losing track of things. Instead, for this guide, we've divided the geographical regions of Asia into groups based on their flavors and ingredients. In this way we get a good overview of different Asian cuisines and take a short break in some selected countries to delve a little deeper into them.
Here we go! Grab your passport (or maybe just a snack) and join us on a culinary journey through Asia!
The incredibly varied, tasteful journey begins ...
In the following guide we will introduce you to 6 main regions of Asia and show you which ingredients should not be missing in these areas before we go a little deeper into the kitchens of selected countries.
A little note in advance: Although the continent is so impressively large, many people think of the term "Asia" first of the east and south-east of the continent, and anyway the south, which includes India. As you will soon see, we have therefore dealt more and more with these regions.
To put it simply, the most common ingredients in East Asian cuisine (China, Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Mongolia, North Korea, South Korea and Taiwan) are: rice, soybeans (mostly in the form of soy sauces or pastes), seafood, poultry and noodles. Despite these common basic ingredients, the dishes, flavors and cooking techniques in this region vary greatly, as shown by the different cuisines of China, Japan and Korea.
Although there are many regional cuisines in China, which vary from village to village and from family recipe to family recipe, four (sometimes eight) great culinary traditions are usually highlighted. These make it easier for outsiders to grasp the complex Chinese food culture. Its centuries of history have been influenced not only by geographical and climatic conditions, but also by the many cultures and ethnic groups that have lived in China. Here are the key ingredients and dishes from the four great cuisines of China.
Cantonese cuisine, also Yue cuisine, from Guangdong Province - South China: You are probably familiar with some of the dishes of Cantonese cuisine (or variations thereof), as it was the first Chinese cuisine to become known in the United States and other Western countries. They are often flavored with garlic, ginger and spring onions in combination with hoisin, plum, black bean or oyster sauce. Some of the traditional dishes include sweet and sour pork, char siu (marinated, grilled pork), chow fun (fried beef with rice noodles and bean sprouts), salt and pepper prawns, chicken with soy sauce, shark fin soup and, last but not least, the popular dim sums.
Huaiyang cuisine, or Jiangsu cuisine - East China: This kitchen is known for elegant dishes, sophisticated knife techniques and various dumplings. The food is often sweet and rarely spicy. It is also typical that the original colors and tastes of the respective ingredients are retained in order to present them in an appealing way. The Huai River and the city of Yangzhou give this cuisine its name and explain why the dishes are often viewed as very luxurious and opulent - Yangzhou was an important trading center and one of the richest cities in Chinese history. A key component in many dishes is Chinkiang (Zhenjiang) vinegar, a black rice vinegar with a unique, smoky aroma and intense color. Traditional dishes are Chinese dumplings, fried rice and baozi (Chinese yeast dumplings).
Shandong cuisine, or Lu cuisine - Northern China: Shandong cuisine is often considered to be the most influential Chinese cuisine because it was the cuisine of the imperial court. She is known for the use of different cooking methods and ingredients. In addition to many seafood, regionally grown corn, onions, vinegar, peanuts and grains such as barley and millet are also used. For caramelization, honey and sugar are often used, with which various fruits are coated. Shandong cuisine is best known for its braised sea cucumber dishes, as well as braised shrimp, intestines and the well-known milk soup.
Sichuan cuisine, or Szechuan cuisine - Western China: Sichuan cuisine is known for the generous use of garlic, fermented bean paste (Doubanjiang), various chilies, peanuts and of course Sichuan peppercorns. These components turn into unique and flavorful dishes in various dishes. The seven basic flavors found in classic Sichuan dishes (including mapo tofu, schuizu fish, Sichuan hotpot, and chicken kung pao) are sour, spicy, hot, sweet, bitter, aromatic, and salty. Try one of these dishes and taste for yourself how the different ingredients and flavors of Sichuan cuisine complement each other.
The still relatively young, global gastronomic movement towards more seasonality fits perfectly with Japanese cuisine (if it doesn't even follow it). The seasonality of the ingredients plays an important, if not THE most important, role here. Shun is the name of the main season of various ingredients and regardless of whether it is the well-known tender bamboo shoots, cucumbers, chestnuts and sweet potatoes or lesser-known types of fish and important basic grains - they are all only processed when they are in season.
The resulting anticipation for the special tastes and textures of the seasonal, natural and often regional ingredients of Japan goes hand in hand with the balanced flavors and makes the dishes of Japanese cuisine so simple and yet extremely complex and well thought-out. Ingredients like soy sauce, miso, dashi, sake and mirin are widely used and traditional dishes include tempura (fried vegetables or seafood), rice bowls like gyudon and oyakodon, sushi, udon, miso soup and tsukemono (pickled or salted vegetables), that accompanies many of the rice-based dishes across Japan.
In addition to high-quality, seasonal ingredients, there are five principles of traditional Japanese cuisine that are commonly used to balance individual dishes, multi-course dishes (such as kaiseki), and Japanese bento. These include: a variety of colors for visual stimulation, texture for sensory stimulation, nutritional values, cooking style or technique and a variety of tastes (salty, sweet, sour, bitter, spicy). Try one of our suggested recipes and see how these principles can be implemented in real life!
A typical Korean meal consists of rice, vegetables and meat and is served with various side dishes (banchan), such as fermented vegetables (kimchi), pan or pancake-like dishes or lightly seasoned steamed, fried or marinated vegetables. Having up to 15 different types of banchan at one meal is not uncommon and most meals are eaten in a cozy, large group - with small rice bowls for each person and many common dishes that are spread out on the table for everyone.
The most commonly used spice ingredients include roasted and unroasted sesame oil, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, fermented bean paste (mostly doenjang made from soybeans) and gochujang - a fermented red chili paste. In contrast to Japanese cuisine, Korean cuisine is very hearty, intensely seasoned and incredibly complex in taste, which can be seen in classic Korean dishes such as bulgogi, bibimbap, kimchi and the increasingly popular Korean fried chicken.
The basic ingredients used in most of the countries of Southeast Asia (Brunei, Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) are by and large: vinegar, shrimp pastes, rice, fish sauce, chilli and fresh herbs. From the vinegar-loving Philippines to the essential balance of the various elements in Vietnamese cuisine, we make our way through the different cuisines of Southeast Asia!
Many of the kitchens featured in this article, if you dive deeper, are unique studies of how different cultures learn from and respond to each other. It is particularly noticeable in Filipino cuisine.
With over 140 different groups with their own traditions and culinary cultures in the Philippines alone, this cuisine is incredibly difficult to grasp and categorize. Added to this are the numerous influences from Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Spain and America, which make the selection of Filipino dishes incredibly diverse. Alone Lechón (a roast pig that was brought to the Philippines during the Spanish colonization of the country) and Lumpia (fresh or fried spring rolls brought by Chinese immigrants) show how extraordinary the components of Filipino cuisine are and quietly underscore their reputation as the only true fusion kitchen.
In order to compensate for the often sweet, sour or salty taste profiles, the Filipino cuisine pursues the idea of contrasting each dish with something other than taste. Filipino cuisine uses vinegar (of various types, but mainly palm), rice, coconut milk, calamansi (a citrus fruit grown in the Philippines), and plenty of pork. The most famous Filipino dish is adobo. For this, meat, seafood or vegetables are marinated in vinegar, soy sauce, garlic and black pepper and then braised. Typically, this dish is served with white rice and traditionally eaten with a fork and spoon.
A harmonious combination of sweet, sour, salty, bitter and spicy aromas is an important part of everyday life in Thailand. So much so that instead of saying "How are you?", Many Thais say "Have you already eaten?" welcome. Most Thai dishes have a spicy note, which is softened by the intense aroma of the fish sauce and the taste of fresh herbs.
Popular dishes such as tom yum soup, pad thai, green papaya salad, green curry and larb represent exactly these fresh flavors of Thai cuisine and often contain some of the most common Thai ingredients: garlic, galangal, lemongrass, shrimp paste, fish sauce, chilies, sticky rice or rice noodles, as well as different types of meat, from beef and pork to duck and seafood.
Similar to Thai cuisine, Vietnamese cuisine uses a lot of fresh ingredients and places greater emphasis on color and texture. It follows the philosophy of the 5 elements, all around the body, nutrients and senses: metal (white, spicy, smell, minerals), earth (yellow, sweet, haptic, protein), water (black, salty, noise, water), fire (red, bitter, taste, fat) and wood (green, sour, optics, carbohydrates). The idea of how these components are reflected in recipes is probably a bit too abstract and difficult, but it may help you to compare the different characteristics of your dish and recognize parallels on your next Vietnamese cooking evening or visit to a restaurant.
The basic ingredients of Vietnamese cuisine range from lemongrass, ginger and fish sauce to fresh Thai basil, mint and lime. Vietnamese dishes are definitely one of the healthiest Asian cuisines that use very little oil or milk and instead rely on the variety of herbs and vegetables, proteins and staple foods such as bread, rice and rice noodles. Dishes like com tam (a chopped up rice platter that is usually topped with grilled pork, a sweet and sour fish sauce, pickled vegetables or vegetables, and an egg), pho (a rich soup that is served with various types of meat, bean sprouts, fresh herbs and chillies Banh Mi (a baguette sandwich filled with sausage, pickled vegetables, pickles, and jalapeños) are well known outside of Vietnam, especially in places with large Vietnamese communities.
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