Asian foods share many similar influences and even some of the same ingredients, but different varieties have distinct tastes. The specific spices, vegetables and meats of each culture, as well as distinctive cooking techniques, make every type of Asian-influenced food unique.
Chinese cooking uses most meats, poultry, fish and vegetables known to the Western palate but also includes some ingredients less familiar to Americans. Such ingredients include northern white cabbage, leeks, dried seaweed and lotus leaves.
Because of the country’s varied weather conditions, environment, tastes and products, there are about 56 regional styles of food in China.
Chinese cuisine offers an assortment of dishes that provides a blend of color, texture, flavor and aroma. Vegetables are a central part of the meal, adding texture, flavor, vitamins and minerals.
Traditional dishes are steamed and braised, which means they are healthier than fried or battered dishes.
Underlying all Chinese cooking is the ancient theory of yin and yang, which is related to the Chinese belief about health: Balance is the great regulator of life. All foods are divided into three groups: yin for cooling foods; yang for heating foods; and yin-yang for neutral foods.
The Chinese diet is generally semi-vegetarian. On average, Chinese dishes have a 3-to-1 vegetable-to-meat ratio.
Most Chinese styles of cooking include plenty of fresh seafood and low-fat tofu, or bean curd, lots of rice or noodles and the common use of quick stir-frying.
Chinese dishes are separated by northern and southern tastes. Northern dishes are relatively oily, and the use of vinegar and garlic is quite popular. People in northern China favor noodles, dumplings, and other staple foods made from flour, while the majority in the South consume rice almost daily.
Common, essential ingredients:
Garlic, spring onions, fresh ginger, dried mushrooms, bean curd, soy sauce, bean sprouts, fresh coriander, black beans, skinless chicken and pork, bamboo shoots and spice powder
Indian cuisine is a combination of many subtle tastes. Flavors are varied and exotic.
Indian food is considered spicy by many people. Most Indian dishes contain a delicate blend of spices. A variety of fruits and vegetables are also important in the Indian diet.
Wheat is considered a staple in a north Indian meal. Usually a north Indian meal consists of Roti or Paratha, types of Indian bread, and sabji, a gravy made from vegetables. Salads and spiced rice are also popular in northern India.
Rice is considered a staple of meals in southern India. Usually a south Indian meal consists of rice and sambar, or curry. Vegetables cooked with spices, sambar and yogurt with pickles are also popular in the southern part of the country.
Common Indian dishes:
Mughlai curries, thick and mildly spiced, often topped with boiled egg; Tandoori meats, meats baked in a clay oven, called a tandoor, with special spices; Chapati, round, flat pieces of unleavened bread; Naan, bigger, chewier versions of chapati; Paratha, fried bread; Puri, puffy fried chapatis; Kofta, spiced vegetable dumplings in curry; Dosa, a rice-flour pancake rolled around curried potatoes and vegetables; Idti, mashed rice, usually accompanied with sambar; Barphi, fudgy diamonds made from reduced milk; Lal mohan, brown, spongy balls of flour in sweet syrup.
Vietnamese food relies heavily on rice, wheat, legumes, an abundance of fresh herbs and vegetables, minimal use of oil and a treatment of meat as a condiment rather than a main course.
Vietnamese food is based on the concept of yin and yang, focusing on foods that cool the body and those that heat it. Fried or grilled foods are often served with raw and uncooked vegetables.
Common Vietnamese dishes:
Beef Noodle Soup; Coconut Chicken with Rice; Shrimp Salad; Combination Cold Cuts; Sweet Taro, a tropical Asian plant; Jackfruit, fruit from a tropical Asian tree; Pork Sausages; Spring Rolls; Fish Balls; Hun Style Noodles; Seafood Noodles; Rice Steamed Rolls; Fried Meat Rolls; Rice Cakes; Vermicelli, which is pasta in long, thin strands; Grilled Shrimp Paste; Lean Meat Pie; Hue Sour Shrimp; Grilled Green Rice
Sources: learn.senecac.on.ca/~schou2/vf.html www.ksvn.com/cooking
Rice is Japan’s most important agricultural product. It is used to make sake — a Japanese liquor made from fermented rice — rice cakes and rice crackers.
Rice is served in a bowl with various ingredients on top. Common toppings include Japanese fried food, pork cutlets, boiled eel, chicken, egg or tuna sashimi, which is a Japanese dish consisting of bite-size slices of fresh raw tuna, traditionally served with soy sauce and wasabi.
Japanese cuisine features two types of traditional noodles: Udon and Soba. Udon is a thick noodle made with wheat flour, usually served in soup or broth. Soba is a noodle made with buckwheat flour. Both are prepared in a hot soup with various ingredients. They can also be dipped in a cool broth and eaten.
Sushi is a Japanese cuisine made by laying slices of raw fish on rice and rolling the sushi by hand.
Common Japanese dishes
Nabe — Ingredients including fish, shellfish and a variety of vegetables and meats are cooked in soup stocks, seasoned with soy bean paste or soy sauce
Sukiyaki — A dish made from beef, vegetables and tofu, seasoned with soy sauce and sugar, then cooked and dipped in a raw, beaten egg before serving
Shabushabu — High grade sliced beef is lightly cooked and then dipped into a sauce based on soy sauce
Onigiri — Rice balls with a picked plum and fish in the middle
Thai food combines the stir-fried dishes of China, the Muslim coconut sauces from Malaysia, the rustic, bitter flavors from Laos and sticky rice. Thai meals are based on rice, as it is the basis of the Thai diet. Rice neutralizes taste and can be combined with many dishes.
Thai cooks add many fresh ingredients, like coriander, lemon grass, basil leaves and chilies to create their own flavors of cuisine. Small portions of meat, fish and poultry are used, along with fresh vegetables, which are quickly cooked so they are crispy, colorful, sharply flavored and nutritious.
An authentic Thai meal should consist of a soup, a curry dish with condiments and a dip with fish and vegetables. A spiced salad may replace the curry dish. When making changes to the basic menu, the soup may be spicy, but the curry dish should be replaced by nonspiced items.
There must be a harmony of tastes and textures within individual dishes and the entire meal. The balance of the different dishes must complement each other in aroma, texture and flavor.
Common ingredients of Thai food:
Ka Phrao — Holy basil, or sacred basil
Horapha — Sweet basil or common basil
Phrik — Chilies, or Capsium annam
Phrik Klee Nu — Hot chilies
Phrik Yuak — Bell chilies
Phrik Haeng — Dried chilies
Phrik Pon — Ground chilies
Pak Chee — Coriander, sometimes called Chinese parsley or cilantro
Kra-Theim — Garlic
Khing — Ginger
Ma Krut — Kaffir lime
Ta Khrai — Lemon grass, or citronella
Kra Chai — Lesser ginger
Bai Sa Ra Nae — Mint leaves
Phrik Thai — Pepper
Phrik Thai Awn — Fresh green pepper
Hom Lek — Shallot
A Korean diet is quite varied and full of nutrition. It is richly endowed with fermented foods, vegetables and grains, soups, teas, liquors, confectionery and soft drinks.
The Korean meal is almost always accompanied by a big bowl of hot soup or stew. The classic meal contains a variety of vegetables.
Korean foods are seldom deep-fried like Chinese food; they are usually boiled, blanched, broiled, stir-fried, steamed or pan-fried with vegetable oil.
Koreans serve kimchi, a traditional Korean food, at almost every meal. Kimchi is made from fermented vegetables. The basic taste of kimchi is generally derived from salt; lactic acid fermentation of vegetables; spices, including hot red pepper, garlic, ginger and green onion; and pickled seafood.
Common Korean Dishes
Bap — Steamed rice. Barley, beans, chestnut, millet or other grains are often added for enhanced taste and nutritional values.
Guk and Tang — Soup. Vegetables, meat, fish, shellfish, seaweed, and even boiled cow bones can be used to make guk and tang.
Gui — A broiled or barbecued dish. Bulgogi, thin-sliced marinated beef, and galbi, marinated beef ribs, are well-known examples of gui. Fish are often broiled, too.
Namul — A vegetable or wild green dish. Usually parboiled or stir-fried and seasoned with combinations of salt, soy sauce, sesame seeds, sesame oil, garlic and green onion.
Jeon — Pan-fried dishes including mushrooms, zucchini, fish fillets, oysters or green peppers with ground meat filling. They are thinly coated with flour, dipped in a beaten egg and then pan-fried.