Jan 03 2013
An amalgamation of various regional Asian cuisines, pan-Asian cuisine stands up for centuries of culture, unique ingredients, tools and techniques of cooking styles
Chef Eagle Wu, master chef of Ano Tai at Delhi’s Jaypee Vasant Continental says, “There is a vast list of ingredients, tools and techniques that are being utilised globally to create newer concepts and combinations, but pan Asian cuisine, in its originality, exudes an unparalleled culinary glamour.” Pan-Asian cuisine is an amalgamation of various regional Asian cuisines namely China, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Burma, Vietnam, Singapore, Mongolia, Korea and Japan. Amongst global cuisine groups, it occupies a very significant position and stands up for centuries of culture, unique ingredients, tools and techniques of cooking styles from diverse areas — above all, a wide range of food philosophy and concepts.
Myriad flavours and delicacies exist within the vast spectrum of pan Asian cuisine. Chef Eagle Wu being from China strives to push to fore lesser-known offerings from the region, with flavours that appeal to the Indian palate without having to Indianise them. The Hot Pots, with a choice of meats, seafood, veggies and other delights seem to be a big rage, he says, with its nutrition value that also adheres to the international trend of a one-dish meal.
Execitive chef, Rahul Hajarnavis of Shiro at Delhi’s Hotel Samrat feels the trend has grown in the recent past as more and more Indians are travelling to Southeast Asia, as it’s more accessible and affordable compared with other parts of the world. Also, there is a wide canvas to mix and match from. He cites an example, “Japanese cuisine requires an acquired taste, but now we are doing a lot of it with other neighbouring influences, such as Korean flavours that make it more palatable to Indians.” Shiro does teppanyaki in 16 different flavours, which are all a confluence of different regions. In the Japanese style of teppanyaki, meat is stir fried in a lhasa paste to bring out a distinct flavour. Chef Rahul says, “The focus is shifting to authentic flavours such as Hargau, translucent dumplings, where we just use some sesame oil and basic seasoning”. Ingredient is the king in many ways.
Eating habits have changed to the extent that now people can even differentiate between authentic Chinese cuisine and Indian Chinese cuisine. According to chef Michael Hsiung Tung, executive chef, Dimsum Bros, a standalone restaurant chain, “Pan Asian Cuisine has gone through many transformations. In the past 10 years, people have started travelling to China and Hong Kong, and are tasting the local food. More Chinese, Thai and Japanese aspects have entered the kitchen. It is great to experiment with all foods that originated from the region, so that we have new combinations available for the customer who likes to try different food”.
The popularity of the trend is also attributed to the fact that the cuisine is “big on flavour, relatively healthy and cheap to produce” says chef Michael. In recent times, it has been observed that taste for pan-Asian cuisine grows the fastest in three to five years.
Chef Chua Kek Eng of Yo!China Café, who is from Singapore, says he loves the trend as it gives him creative licence to experiment and create new sensations. He explains, “Nowadays, people don’t just eat their food, but they also know their food and if not, they understand the basics of what they are eating. Pan-Asian food, that includes Thai, Malaysian, Filipino, Southern Indian and Japanese cooking, is basically ‘fusion’ cooking, bringing together ingredients and flavours from each ethnic group. Here you get to taste all the cuisines in one place with creative experiments”.
There is also a whole fun element to pan-Asian cuisine adding to its popularity. It comes with an interactive element to give guests the advantage of seeing their food being prepared in see-through kitchens or with the whole open-street culture, where people can see and experience how their meals are prepared according to personal preference.
Some of chef Chua Kek’s pan-Asian offerings include — chicken skewers with teppanyaki udon noodle made of Japanese udon noodles fried in a Chinese way with tamarind Thai sauce. Tom kha prawn shots where delicately sautéed prawn in butter is speared atop a shot glass in Japanese style with a Thai coconut milk broth. A standard tom yum ramen too, shrugs boundaries with Japanese yaki sauce that is used to enhance flavour.
The simple yet hearty mantra seems to be one of the strongest driving forces of the cuisine. “It is simple, nutritional, easy and full of fresh flavours,” says Sandeep Panwar, executive chef, The Metropolitan Hotel and Spa. The chef personally likes Thai cuisine the most and tries to incorporate it in most of his creations. “I love the freshness of lime leaves, lemongrass, yuzu lemons, fresh coriander and much more. We have so many ingredients in common and yet different results. For example, sambal’s just like our chutneys yet so different,” says Sandeep.
What’s new? The importance of these ingredients is being recognised by the west and being incorporated in their cuisine as well. As examples, Sandeep cites desserts with Thai ingredients such as lemon leaf brûlée and lemongrass panna cotta, among others.