People all over the world have gotten to know more about the rich and varied cultures of Asia, thanks to the spread of the Internet and the migration of Asians throughout the world. If you’d like to explore the cuisines of three major Asian countries, here’s a brief.
China is one of the world’s largest countries, both in geographic area and population. As with many large countries, each region within its boundaries has its own food specialties. However, typical Chinese cuisine will often contain noodles or rice and a complementary dish with vegetables, meat or fish. Chicken and fish are popular meat sources. Food is usually served in small, bite-sized pieces that can easily be picked up with chopsticks. Chinese food is served in large, communal portions. Each diner is given a bowl of rice and everyone picks food from the communal dishes with chopsticks or other utensils.
Authentic Chinese food, as opposed to Chinese-American food, also is known for its lavish use of spices. Two of its regions, Hunan and Sichuan, are especially noted for their small but fiery red peppers, used in sauces. Two regions, Canton on the mainland opposite Hong Kong and Shanghai on the northern coast, are noted for the excellence and abundance of their fresh seafood dishes.
Moving southeastward from China, Korea has a cuisine that is distinct from its larger neighbors. Korean food is distinguished by its use of certain spices: red peppers, garlic, onions, ginger, mustard, sesame, and bean paste. Chili paste is another favorite flavoring, and often is served as a table sauce so that diners may add more to their taste. Koreans also favor fermented foods such as the popular pickled cabbage dish, kimchi.
The Korean barbecue cooking method known as pulgoki has become popular in many parts of the world. Meats cooked in this way are usually coated with a basic sauce of soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, and sugar. The addition of other seasonings distinguishes one region from another, and sometimes one cook from another. Korea’s location on a peninsula gives it access to the Yellow Sea, the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean. Consequently a large part of Korean cuisine includes seafood. Small dried sardines, dried cuttlefish and seaweed often are found in Korean dishes.
The Japanese have been seafaring people for hundreds of years. Because of this widely available resource, Japanese chefs have raised the preparation of sushi, or raw fish, to a fine art. Japanese meals typically include a bowl of rice, soup, vegetables and fish, chosen from a variety such as squid, octopus, eel, clams, and other seafood. Japanese flavors are often subtle, but there are surprising standouts such as wasabi, a spicy cucumber that can be added to dishes or used as a sauce on its own. Other common Japanese seasonings include rice vinegar, mirin, miso, sake, and soy sauce. Seaweed, ginger, mushrooms and beans are used to flavor both rice and soup.
Where Chinese portions emphasize community, Japanese table settings stress aesthetics. Food often is served in many different bowls containing small portions presented in a highly stylized manner. The thoughtful selection of dishes and their arrangement on the table are considered as important to the dining experience as the food itself. Japanese cooking is eaten with chopsticks or flatware, depending upon the food.