Asian food comprises the rich assortment of foods eaten in the Central, East, North, South, Southeast and Western regions of the Asian continent. Asian foods are more biased towards sweet, salty, sour, spicy and bitter flavors. On the global front, foods from the continent like the Tempuras and Sushi from Japan, noodles, sweet and sour pork and chicken dumplings from China, and the rich and spicy curries from the Indian subcontinent, are the most well known. Although, the foods vary greatly in taste and variety, the cuisine consists of trademark staples like rice and noodles along with spices like ginger and garlic across the region. Asian cuisine is one of the largest and diversified cuisines of the world.
The Asian culinary heritage has been passed down by some of the most ancient civilizations in history. The customs and traditions of these civilizations are reflected in the Asian food palette till date.
Although Asia encompasses a vast geographical region, its cuisine can be very broadly classified into three main categories which include:-
- Northeastern cuisine - The cuisine encompassing those of China, Korea and Japan forms the second broad classification of Asian cuisine. This cuisine typically makes use of fats and sauces in cooking. Many of the ingredients used in the Northeastern cuisines of Asia are renowned for their medicinal values.
- Southwestern cuisine - This cuisine mainly includes the culinary traditions from the Indian subcontinent as well as from Afghanistan and Myanmar. Southwest Asian cuisine is believed to have its roots in the Persian-Arab civilization and is characterized by the use of strong and pungent spices.
- Southeastern cuisine- This cuisine includes the culinary traditions from Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Cambodia. It consists chiefly of foods made with fresh ingredients characterized by their vibrant colors, rich aroma and light texture.
Asian food is marked by the usage of certain ingredients which are commonly found in almost all dishes of a particular region. They are:-
- Northeastern cuisine: Soy, rice, noodles and eggs
- South-western cuisine: Chilies, cloves, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, ginger, cardamom and ghee (clarified butter)
South-Eastern cuisine: Fish sauce, lemon, galangal (a root from the ginger family), lemongrass, cilantro, mint, basil, tamarind(for additional flavor), coconut milk and chilies.
Common Cooking Methods
Asian food is also characterized by certain common cooking methods which include:-
- Deep-frying – It is one of the most popular methods of cooking, mainly used in Japan and Korea.
- Stir-fry – Asian dishes in China, are mostly cooked according to this method. In this cooking technique very less oil is used as compared to deep frying.
- Steaming – This method is used to make dumplings and some of the fish dishes of Asian cuisine.
- Grilling – Meat and seafood are commonly cooked by grillingin Asia.
- Baking – This method is basically used in making the Indian style flatbreads commonly known as rotis. The traditional earthen oven is still used as one of the primary baking equipments.
Influence on Western World
There has been a profound influence of Asian food on Western culture with increasing globalization and immigration resulting in a new, pan-Asian fusion cuisine. Considered to be a lighter and healthier option of ethnic foods, Asian fusion cuisine is rapidly scaling the popularity charts in countries like America, which has high incidences of lifestyle diseases like obesity and heart ailments.
Complete Food and Diet Routine
The primary meals of Asian cuise consumed throughout the day can be divided into:-
Breakfast – Breakfast is the first meal in Asia with rice being one of the commonest foods eaten in most of the Asian countries. Toast is rarely seen in Asian breakfast. Idli - sambhar (Southern India & Sri Lanka), Baozi, dumplings (China), Paratha (North India & Pakistan) , Khanom chin namya (Thailand) and rice, seafood and natto (Japan) are some of the commonly served breakfast dishes in Asian cuisine.
Lunch – Lunch is often served around 1 PM in most of the countries. It is the heaviest meal of Asian cuisine. Here also, rice serves as the main staple food that is eaten with almost all dishes. Some of the popular lunch dishes served in Asian cuisine are rice, lentils and vegetables (Indian subcontinent), rice, soup and seafood (Japan), rice or noodles and pork/beef/stir-fried vegetables (China), Khao Tom (Thailand) and Bulgogi and rice (Korea).
Dinner – Asian food is famous for its elaborate dinner, unlike European cuisine where dinner is the lightest meal. It is a three-course meal which includes appetizers, main course and desserts.
Food Habits and Etiquettes
Asian food habits and table manners are completely different from the western culture. Some of the following points may reflect the food culture and hospitality of the Asian cuisine:
- The eldest member present at the table is always the first one to start the meal.
- The young members serve the food to the elder members as a gesture of respect.
- The best food in the dish is served to the guests, children and the elderly.
- All the food is served in dishes and everybody takes his/her portion from it.
- In the Indian subcontinent, there is a tradition of the ladies eating food after the male members have completed eating their meals.
- Noodles and rice in East Asian cuisine are eaten with ‘chopsticks’. Two sticks are held together to pick rice and noodles from the plate. The correct usage of chopsticks is a very important etiquette in East Asian cuisine. However, food is traditionally eaten sitting on the floor, using the right hand in South Asia.
Special Asian food items are made during festive occasions. Some of the most popular festival dishes of Asia are:-
- Mooncake – It is a Chinese traditional pastry eaten during Mid-autum festival or moon worship.
- Tang Yuan – It is a special kind of dumplings made with rice flour and water syrup. In Chinese tradition, it is eaten at the time of ‘Lantern festival’.
- Srikhand – An Indian yogurt and sugar dish made especially at the Hindu festival of ‘Janamashtami’.
- Bibingka – It is a Filipino festival dish especially made at the time of Christmas. Bibingka is a kind of pudding made up of rice flour and sugar.
Gourmet Food and Drinks
There is no special classification for gourmet foods in asia. However, the following dishes are consumed during celebrations and are highly popular among the Asian population.
- Indonesian crab curry - This is one of the most popular main dish served in Indonesian cuisine made with crabmeat simmered in a flavorful coconut gravy.
- Lebanese poultry stuffing - This stuffing is particularly used to stuff the whole chicken or turkey. Rice and minced lamb is normally cooked, seasoned and stuffed.
- Chicken and lentils( Middle eastern style) - Chicken thighs are particularly used to create this gourmet dish. Red lentils are also included with an array of spices.
- Bread with Zataar - 'Zataar' is a special spread made of toasted sesame seeds, thyme and sumac. Any kind of bread especially Lebanese bread is eaten with zataar spread.
- Wine and Alcoholic drinks - Rice wine is a popular drink in many Asian countries like Japan and China.. Besides this wine, shandong mary and beijing bellini are the popular Asian takes on western cocktails.
- Tea and coffee - Green tea or jasmine tea. Coffee is generally consumed with milk in the Asian countries.
Asian food is generally considered to be healthy, primarily due to the high use of vegetables and fruits, presence of lighter fats and healthy methods of cooking, such as, steaming, stir-fry, roasting and grilling. The spices used in the Asian food are also believed to promote general health and longevity. However, in recent times, the confluence of western fast food joints in Asian countries is believed to have increased the incidence of heart ailments and obesity problems among the Asians as well.