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Everything You Need to Know about Asian Food

By Joseph, published on 19/03/2018 Blog > Arts and Hobbies > Cooking > A Guide to Asian Cooking

Whether for the Chinese New Year or just for a meal with friends, why not make some Asian cuisine?

In this article, we’re going to have a look at a few different Asian recipes. Whether chicken noodle soup, Pad thai, egg fried rice, dumplings, stir fried beef and onion, or sweet and sour pork, you’ll be more than comfortable with the Asian culinary landscape by the time you finish reading.

Let’s start by having a look around Asia before looking more closely at some of the most popular recipes before having a look at the wok, the magic pan that can make authentic Asian cuisine very different to ours.

Asian Cooking at a Glance

If you say “Asian cuisine”, what food comes to mind first?

Probably things like sushi, caramelised pork, Peking duck, or spring rolls.

Which is the best Asian food? Get ready for a culinary tour of Asia! (Source: Sasint)

But do you know which country each of these things come from?

Let’s learn about the different specialities from around Asia:

  • Chinese cuisine: Spring rolls get their name from the time of year they’re usually consumed, during celebrations announcing the arrival of spring. Chinese cuisine usually uses rice, noodles, vegetables, soy sauce, and rice vinegar. There are fewer spices used, except in Sichuan and Yunann regions.
  • Thai cuisine focuses on the balance and precision between a variety of ingredients. It’s one of the most popular cuisines in the world. Rice and spices are the foundation of their dishes but if you want to make tom yum (a prawn soup), you’ll need to get prawns, mushrooms, and a fair few spices.
  • Indian cuisine: you can taste the religious influence that greatly affects how Indians eat. Since there are a lot of vegetarians, there’s a lot of vegetarian Indian dishes.
  • Burmese cuisine: there’s no messing about here, you eat with your hands! There’s a lot of fruit and vegetables used in Burmese food.
  • Sticky rice is the basis for a lot of Lao cuisine. The world’s stickiest rice is often accompanied by meat, fish, and spices. The country’s capital, Vientiane, is also home to a large number of French restaurants, if you want something closer to home.
  • Cambodian cuisine uses a lot of tropical fruit, rice, noodles, and soups. The large variety of rice available in Cambodia means that you can eat a different type of rice for every meal.
  • Vietnamese food focuses on the 5 main types of taste: salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and spicy. Fish sauce, shrimp paste, soy sauce, rice, lemon grass, and fruit and vegetables are commonly used in Vietnamese dishes. It’s also famous for being some of the healthiest food around.
  • The seasons are hugely important when it comes to Japanese food. There are very few oils and grease used in Japanese cuisine. Given that Japan’s made up of islands, it’s hardly surprising that fish features heavily in Japanese dishes.
  • Kimchi, a dish made from fermented vegetables, is served with almost every meal in Korea. Unlike their Japanese neighbours, the Koreans eat a lot more meat than fish.

You shouldn’t have any excuse for getting the various dishes confused now. If this little trip around Asia’s culinary landscape has whet your appetite, just wait until the next bit.

The Best Asian Cooking Blogs

Now that you know where some of the most famous Asian dishes come from, it’s time to put the theory into practice. To help you, here are the 5 best blogs for learning to cook Asian food.

Which are the best Asian cooking blogs? When it comes to learning to cook, visiting sites can be more helpful than visiting sights. (Source: Glavo)

  • China Sichuan Food: As you can guess, this blog focuses mainly on food from the Sichuan region of China. It includes plenty of recipes for different traditional dishes. There are also posts on the eating culture in China if you’re interested in more than just the food.
  • The Woks of Life: this blog is run by a few food lovers and includes traditional Chinese recipes as well as recipes from other cultures with a Chinese twist added to them. It’s a great idea for those looking to push the boat out a bit.
  • My Korean Kitchen: as you can probably guess, this is a food blog for Korean food. In addition to the classics, there are some interesting recipes you probably won’t be familiar with. There’s also a useful shop on the blog for picking up the things you’ll need to start cooking.
  • Just One Cookbook: This started as a collection of traditional family recipes. This also includes explanations of interesting cooking techniques used for making Japanese dishes. In addition to main courses, there are also recipes for desserts like green tea shaved ice.
  • No Recipes: a great mix for anyone wanting to learn how to cook Japanese food (and others). There’s a good mix of recipes on here. Whether you’re an absolute beginner or fairly experienced when it comes to cooking, you’ll find something you’ll enjoy making. As the same suggests, though, this blog focuses on getting a better understanding of techniques and ingredients so you can start cooking without the need for recipes.

Get your apron on and fire up the stove!

Ready for the next step?

Easy Asian Recipes

If you’re interested in cooking Asian food but are an absolute beginner, don’t worry, we’ve got easy recipes to get even the most inept chef cooking tasty meals.

Here’s a quick example: Chinese noodle and vegetable stir-fry.

Which are the easiest Chinese dishes to make? Noodles can be simple and delicious. (Source: Vinsky2002)

Ingredients for serving four people:

  • 200g of Chinese noodles
  • 400g of soybean sprout
  • 80g sliced Chinese mushrooms
  • 2 leek whites
  • 2 tablespoons of oyster sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of soy sauce

Preparation:

  • Wash the mushrooms, slice the leeks, and rinse the soybean sprouts.
  • Place the noodles in a pot of boiling water (as per the instructions on the packet).
  • Rinse the noodles with cold water to stop them sticking together.
  • Brown the mushrooms, leeks, and soybean sprouts in a bit of vegetable oil. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Remove from the heat once cooked.
  • Heat the noodles in the oyster and soy sauces.
  • Add the vegetables after 2-3 minutes.
  • Mix well and heat for a further 2-3.

There you go! Asian recipes aren’t always as complicated as you might think.

Chinese Recipes

If Chinese food is your preferred meal of choice on a Friday night you can find more recipes in our easy Chinese cooking blog.

Cooking with a Wok: the Magic Pan

What’s better than making all your Asian recipes in a wok?

You’ll quickly see that you can even use it for cooking western dishes.

How much does a wok usually cost? If you’re going to be cooking a lot of Asian food, you should probably invest in a wok. (Source: Kalhh)

So what are the advantages of using a wok for cooking Asian dishes?

  • It’s fast: Have you ever waited a long time in an Asian restaurant for a stir-fry? I doubt it!
  • It’s cheap: since it’s quick, it requires less energy to heat then your traditional pan.
  • It’s healthier: you don’t need to put a lot of grease or fat in a wok. If you buy a non-stick wok, you won’t need any. Less grease means fewer calories.

There are 4 main ways to cook using a wok. You can:

  • Sautéing: You can sauté plenty of different types of noodles as well as chicken or beef.
  • Frying: You should probably ignore the part about cooking in a wok being healthy if you choose this option.
  • Stewing: You could even cook beef bourguignon in a wok.
  • Marinating: Do you need to make a nuoc mam for a dish? You can use your wok for this.
  • Steaming: You’ll need a bamboo basket and a grill. Simply add water halfway up your wok and your food in the basket atop the grill. Cover and let it steam gently.

Make sure your wok is hot before putting anything in it. You can throw a bit of water in to check. If it evaporates right away, your wok is ready to be used.

Since the wok will be hot, you’ll need an oil that can be used at high temperatures. Peanut oil is recommended since it has a high smoke point.

You can learn these tips and more in cooking courses London or elsewhere!

If you’re investing in a good wok, there are several materials to choose from: steel, iron, stainless steel, or non-stick. Historically, woks were cut from steel and pressed. These woks are fairly cheap but don’t tend to last as long.

You should look for non-stick woks which will last longer. A wok with a 20 to 30cm diameter will give you enough space to comfortably mix ingredients together.

Here are a few woks that are highly recommended:

WokAvailable At:Size:Dishwasher Safe:Material:Price:Good Housekeeping Institute Score:
Carbon Steel WokJohn Lewis24cmNoCarbon Steel£1898
Ikea TolerantIkea33cmNoNon-stick£672
Ken Hom Carbon Steel Performance WokJohn Lewis31cmNoCarbon Steel£28.9992
Carbon Steel Wok (Flat Base)souschef.co.uk33cmNoCarbon Steel£1583
Loft Copper Effect WokMarks and Spencer30cmYesNon-stick£29.5075

Why Is Asian Food so Different to Western Food?

Do you like Asian cuisine and learning about Asian cooking?

Of course you do or you wouldn’t have read this far. You’ve probably noticed that Asian food is quite different to a lot of Western cuisines.

Why is that?

This is the question that we’re hoping to answer in this part of the article.

Firstly, the two cultures are diametrically opposed. A country’s cuisine is heavily influenced by its history, climate, and its culture. While a lot of bamboo grows in China, there’s not so much of the stuff in Spain. In Europe we grow a lot of wheat while rice is favoured in Asia.

The two cuisines don’t use the same staples: European food uses wheat and Asian food uses rice.

Furthermore, Asians regularly frequent markets, which can be found everywhere and at any time unlike in Europe where produce markets are often only a few days of the week. Asians use a lot of vegetables and spices, especially in India. We’re not as familiar with their versatility in the West.

We season differently, too. In Asian cuisine, soy sauce is often used, whereas in European cuisine, there’s a reliance on olive oil, especially in the Mediterranean. This is where history can explain the roots of certain dishes. Soy sauce was used in ancient China and olive oil is thought to have originated in Crete.

The way meats are cooked is also different between the two:

  • Meat in Asia is often cut into thin slices and boiled. The wok is used to sauté, stew, fry, or steam it.
  • Meat in Europe is often left whole so that different levels of cooking can be achieved in a pan. Steamed meat isn’t as common and Europeans prefer roast, grilled, or braised meat.

Tastes are different, too. There are 5 main flavours: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and spicy.

  • Asian cuisines tries to use all the flavours in harmony.
  • European food, on the other hand, often only uses two of the flavours: salty or sweet.
    This is also why our stomachs can also sometimes struggle to digest the spicier foods from the continent.

In short:

  • “Asian cuisine” is as broad a term as “European cuisine” and it’s hard to talk about one or the other without going into more detail. In fact, Chinese food has almost nothing in common with Indian food.
  • If you want to learn more about Asian food, there are plenty of different blogs you should check out.
  • You can also find easy-to-follow recipes and impress your friends and take them on a culinary journey.
  • Don’t forget to invest a wok if you’re looking to make Chinese or Vietnamese food. It’s a very useful tool that can even be used for cooking non-Asian cuisine, too.
  • You should now know the main differences between Eastern and Western tastes.
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