Asia is home to so many glorious things and its food certainly tops the list. The popularity of Asian dishes has managed to proliferate the Western market, with restaurants popping up on every corner within big cities and don’t forget the famous go-to takeaway food everyone loves: Chinese.
However, instead of getting these foods from pricey and “authentic” restaurants, why not try to make them yourself? Before you jump into cooking up a huge batch of pad thai or stuffing your face with kimchi, you need to know some names and facts about some of the best Asinan cuisines you haven’t tried before.
But first, what sets apart Asian cuisine from Western recipes? Why do they taste so different from Western food? In a study published in Nature and also reported in Gizmodo, the two sets of foods vary in terms of taste due to the way ingredients are paired. Western cuisines tend to pair ingredients that share the same flavours while Asian cuisines do the contrary.
Here’s a graphic about the backbone of flavour networks. The nodes are the ingredients while the colour represents a food category. The size of each node indicates the prevalence of the ingredient in recipes.
Image Credit: Nature
Here’s our list of Asian cuisines you can make for your family and friends. Introduce them to something new!
#1 Tsukemen Ramen, Japan
Western instant noodles would have us pour in hot water to cook the ramen. This Tsukemen Ramen (roughly translated as dipping noodles) from Japan, however, is served in a separate bowl with the broth and garnish on the side. The noodles are eaten by dipping into the hot broth. This isn’t your usual ramen! Side garnishes may include ume plum, bbq pork, marinated egg, green onion, nori and bean sprouts.
Image Credit: City Foodsters via Flickr
#2 Pad Thai, Thailand
Since we’re talking about Asian cuisine, you can never have too many noodle dishes. Here’s another one from Thailand; the famed Pad Thai.
Pad Thai is a stir fried noodle dish with eggs and firm tofu. It’s flavour comes from tamarind pulp, fish sauce, dried shrimp, garlic, red chilli peppers and palm sugar. It is served with lime wedges and chopped roasted peanuts. There are so many versions of Pad Thai, however, the usual ingredients might include coriander leaves, bean sprouts, turnips, crab, chicken and other vegetables.
Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons
#3 Rendang, Indonesia
Rendang, although served in other Malay regions in Asia, is a known Indonesian spicy meat dish. The authentic dish is usually dark in colour and dry. This dish is usually prepared and served during important ceremonies or when welcoming a guest. Rendang is number 11 on CNN’s 2011 50 Most Delicious Foods list.
Rendang uses slow-cooked meat with coconut milk, ginger, turmeric leaves, shallots, chilli, lemongrass and galangal. Other spices which serve as organic preservatives to the meat may be added. The spices absorb in the meat and give the dish its very unique and savoury taste during the long and slow cooking. It is usually served with rice and other vegetable side dishes.
Image Credit: StuartSPlivack via Flickr
#4 Kimchi, South Korea
Kimchi the national dish of South Korea. It is a side dish that seems to be included in many other Korean recipes. It is usually made of vegetables and tastes spicy and sour. Traditional kimchi is fermented underground for months. Its hot and spicy taste comes from red chilli pepper flakes dried under the sun.
Kimchi is high in fiber and low in calories, which make it one of the world’s healthiest foods. The dish is usually a blend of sweet, spicy, sour tastes among other gastronomic delights.
#5 Shrimp Dumpling, Hong Kong
To be able to judge the quality of a dim sum restaurant, you have to sample their shrimp dumplings! Steamed shrimp dumplings or har gow is one of Hong Kong’s best dishes.
This cuisine uses a shrimp in dumpling dough and steamed. After steaming, the thin dough starts to look translucent. The shrimp filling is paired with water chestnuts and bamboo shoots for texture.
#6 Nasi Kerabu, Malaysia
Nasi Kerabu entices many with its dominant blue color speckled with red from its side dishes. Nasi Kerabu is a dish from Malaysia and is often eaten with dried fish, fried chicken, crackers and salads.
The curious colours of Kerabu is not from any synthetic colouring; rather it is from butterfly-pea flowers that are used in cooking. The herbs served with it lend the powerful taste to the dish. Variations of the recipe may include marinated chicken, keropok, fried fish and salted egg.
Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons
#7 Oyster Omelette, Taiwan
You might have tasted a couple of omelette recipes, but never an oyster omelette right? If you like the sound of that, Taiwan do it best.
The egg batter in this omelette is usually mixed with potato starch for a thicker egg wrap and its filling is composed of small oysters. The dish is usually fried on pork lard for added taste. It is usually served with a savoury sauce.
Image Credit: Maurina Rara via Flickr
#8 Pho, Vietnam
Pho is Vietnam’s best and most popular soup. It is a soup of linguine-shaped rice noodles served with a hot broth, herbs and meat. It can be found on Vietnam streets as well as restaurants.
The broth is usually made after boiling chicken bones or meat with spices wrapped in cheesecloth to avoid them floating around the pot. It is served with lots of vegetable garnishes like basil, onions, chilli peppers, bean sprouts, thyme and cilantro.
#9 Peking Duck, China
Pecking duck cuisine has been served since ancient times in China. Famous for its thin and crisp skin, it is one dish fit for an emperor. It is seasoned with spices before being roasted or glazed with maltose syrup.
When in an authentic Chinese restaurant, it is usually carved in front of the customers. The skin is the first thing served. Then the meat is served with side dishes and garnished with spring onions, sweet bean sauce and vegetables. The bones usually add flavour to a broth.
Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons
#10 Adobo, Philippines
The Philippine adobo is derived from the Spanish seasoning, adobar. The dish is made up of chicken or meat marinated in garlic, vinegar and soy sauce. It is then slowly cooked and simmered in the marinade. Other cooking ingredients include bay leaves, chilli, brown sugar, potatoes and black peppercorns.
Adobo is usually served with rice.
Images Credit: Mallory Dash via Flickr
#11 Katong, Laksa Singapore
The origin of Laksa is still debated, but Singapore’s Katong Laksa is a very popular dish. It is an iconic dish in a broth of spices and coconut milk. The Katong laksa is composed of vermicelli noodles, dried shrimp, cockles, prawns and fishcake.
Every Singapore visitor is advised to try this one for its rich taste and its colour of flaming sunset.
Image Credit: “Katong Laksa” by Meutia Chaerani / Indradi Soemardjan
#12 Falafel, Middle east
There is a great debate over whether the Middle East should be considered part of Asia (several middle eastern countries are still part of the continent but the huge difference in tradition and culture makes others think they should not be categorised as being in the Asia region) as it certainly differs hugely in food types and traditions compared to the Asian counterparts we’ve seen in this post.
However, Falafel is too amazing to pass up so we decided to include it here! It is usually served inside a pita or on flatbread. It is made of chickpeas with scallions, parsley, garlic, cumin and coriander added for flavour. It can be deep fried or baked.
Image Credit: Wikipedia
We hope you enjoyed these flavours of Asia! Don’t restrict yourself to trying these 12, there are many other cuisines worthy for your palates waiting to be featured in the next article.