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Asia is Earth's largest and
most populous continent,
located primarily in the
hemispheres and sharing
the continental landmass of
Eurasia with the continent
of Europe and shares he
of Afro-Eurasia with both
Europe and Africa. Asia
covers an area of 44,579,000
(17,212,000 sq mi), about
30% of Earth's total land
area and 8.7% of the Earth's
total surface area.
The continent, which has long been home to the
majority of the human population, was the site of
many of the first civilization. Asia is notable for not
only its overall large size and population, but also
dense and large settlements as well as vast barely
populated regions within the continent of 4.4 billion
It includes several major regional cuisines: East
Asian, Southeast Asian, South Asian, Central
Asian, and Middle Eastern. A cuisine is a
characteristic style of cooking practices and
specific culture. Asia, being the largest and
most populous continent, is home to many
cultures, many of which have their own
characteristic cuisine.
“a style of cooking, especially one that is
notable for high quality.”
“the range of food prepared by a
restaurant, country or person.”
Cuisine = Food
How do we define food?
Food is defined as any substance that
provides nutrients necessary to maintain
life and growth when ingested.
1. East Asian
2. Southeast Asian
3. Central Asian
4. Middle Eastern Asian
5. South Asian
Another well-known aspect of Asian and culture is food, or
more specifically, the different traditions of Asian cuisine
and cooking. Reflecting the broad diversity of histories and
experiences within the community, there are also many
unique types of cuisine that come from its numerous ethnic
cultures. As the modern Asian population continues to
develop and evolve, we are also witnessing a fascinating
transformation of Asian ethnic cuisine as it blends traditional
and contemporary aspects into a uniquely Asian creation.
Cooking is one of the oldest of human activities.
When human evolution was at the hunter-gatherer
stage, cooking was very simple -- kill something,
throw it on the fire along with whatever vegetables
and fruits were found that day, and eat. Spices and
cooking equipment were rather simple at that time
and there probably was not much variety in the
average diet back then. Since those very early
beginnings, cooking has become almost an art form
but still remains a fundamental part of our everyday
Although many Asian cultures share the tradition of
gathering the family or clan together to socialize or
celebrate over a big meal, the various cultures of Asia
each developed their own ethnic cuisine through the
interaction of history, environment, and culture.
Culinary historians and anthropologists tend to
identified three main categories of Asian dietary
cultures that have developed through the centuries. As
with virtually any classification system, there is some
overlap, but they roughly represent to the main groups
or types of traditional Asian cooking.
The first is known as the southwest style that includes
cuisines from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Burma. Having
its roots in Persian-Arabian civilization, the eating of nan (or
flat bread) became widespread, along with mutton, kebabs
(derived from Turkish cooking), and the use of hot peppers,
black pepper, cloves, and other strong spices, along
with ghee (a butter oil). Curry also became a staple in this
dietary culture. Through the teachings of Hinduism, cows
were used only for their milk and not for meat. In addition
to rice, chapati made from wheat or barley are also a staple
part of the diet, and beans also play an important role in
The second major dietary culture of Asia is
the northeast tradition, comprising China, Korea,
and Japan. This tradition developed to emphasize using
fats, oils, and sauces in cooking. In the northeast
dietary culture, the foods, spices, and seasonings go
beyond being mere foodstuffs as they are also used as
medicines to promote a long and healthy life. In
addition, food became associated with many religious
traditions as well, as many northeast Asian cultures
frequently used food as symbolic offerings to worship
their ancestors.
Arguably, Chinese cuisine has become the most prominent
of all Asian styles of cooking, with several different styles
based on region -- the most basic difference being between
northern and southern styles of Chinese cuisine. Southern
dishes emphasize freshness and tenderness while due to
the colder weather, northern dishes are relatively oily and
the use of vinegar and garlic tends to be more popular. In
contrast, Japanese cooking came to emphasize the frequent
use of deep-frying (i.e., tempura, etc.) using vegetable oil or
conversely, raw foods (i.e., sushi and sashimi). In Korea,
much of the tradition cuisine is centered on grilling or
sauteing and the use of hot chili spices (i.e., kim chi, etc.).
Finally, the third major dietary culture of Asia is
the southeast style, which includes Thailand, Laos,
Cambodia, Viet Nam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and
Brunei. The traditional emphasis in this region is on
aromatic and lightly-prepared foods, using a delicate
balance of quick stir-frying, steaming, and/or boiling,
supplemented with discrete spices and seasonings,
including citrus juices and herbs such as basil, cilantro, and
mint. Also, while northeastern cuisines emphasize using soy
sauce in nearly everything, many cultures in the southeast
substitute fish sauce, along with galangal, lemon grass, and
tamarind for additional flavor.
Comparing the three cuisines with each other, we notice
that curries are very important to the cuisines of the
southeast and southwest, less so in the northeast.
Southwestern curries are generally based on yogurt,
whereas the curries of the southeast are generally based on
coconut milk. Of course, rice is a staple starch in all three
cuisines areas. In addition to rice, southwestern cuisines are
supplemented with a variety of leavened and unleavened
breads while southeast and northeast cuisines add noodles
made from rice, egg, or potatoes (remember, pasta was
invented in China). Garlic and ginger are used in all three
cuisine areas, while chilies are much more common in the
southwest and southeast.
In addition to unique cuisines from Asia, western
cultures were also introduced to the unique tools used
to prepare Asian foods. Perhaps the most important is
the wok. The wok is the most important piece of
cooking equipment in southeast Asia and China.
Because traditional Asian households did not have
resources to make or buy several different pans for
different types of cooking, the traditional wok was
developed with a unique rounded bottom that provides
a range of cooking temperatures in one pan, thereby
becoming a nearly universal staple of Asian households.
Similarly, the cleaver developed as another versatile
cooking instrument as it can be used to perform all the
functions of an entire set of cooking knives and utensils
common in the average western kitchen -- general
chopping, slicing, dicing, carving, crushing, scooping,
etc. And of course, we can't forget about the
-the chopstick.
Although its true origins are unknown, a Chinese
legend notes that the philosopher Confucius, living in
China around 500 B.C., influenced the development of
chopsticks through his non-violent teachings. The
widely-accepted belief was that because knives were
associated with war and death, Confucius urged his
followers not to use them at the dinner table, which
supposedly led to the invention of chopsticks as a
Asian food is generally a blend of several tastes
together -- sweet, sour, salty, spicy, and bitter. While
western palates tend to segregate tastes, Asian cuisine
emphasizes a combination of flavors and textures,
often within a single dish. Blends of rice or noodles
with vegetables and/or a protein source may also
include something crunchy, such as nuts, or something
softer, such as raisins.
Another difference is rather than adding a ground
powder to a dish (as is common in the U.S.), Asian
cooks, especially in the southeast region, prepare spice
blends though various techniques including blending
whole spices and freshly grinding them, and preparing
curry blends. Other unique ingredients provide flavor,
texture, and color to define various Asian cuisine. The
popularity of Asian cooking shows such as "The Iron
Chef" is just one example of how popular and even
trendy Asian cuisine has become.
Along with being seen as new and trendy, these Asian fusion
dishes also appeal to many customers because they tend to
be lighter and are perceived to be healthier than other types
of "ethnic" cuisine. In fact, many westerners are only now
understanding the health benefits of many Asian foods. Many
nutritionists point out that America's biggest health problems
-- heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and many cancers -- are
seen far less often in Asian countries. One reason is, not only
is physical activity that blends spirituality with fitness (such
as tai chi) more common in Asian societies, but experts are
finding that Asian diets also play a key role.
Research shows that the average Chinese adult, for example,
eats half as much fat and one-third less protein than the
average American. The Chinese rely heavily on grains, fruits,
and vegetables. Meat is rarely the main ingredient in a meal;
instead, small amounts are offered up in dishes composed
mainly of vegetables and rice. The popularity of eating fish in
many Asian countries is also linked to lower incidences of
many of the chronic health problems that are more common
in the U.S., as is the drinking of green tea for its antioxidant
benefits. Ethnic grocery stores and frozen Asian dinners have
enjoyed explosive growth in recent years, further reflecting
the rising popularity of Asian food.
However, a healthy diet that took centuries to achieve
may be lost in just decades. Many observers are noting
that obesity and heart disease is slowly becoming a
problem in many Asian urban areas, as more Chinese,
Japanese, etc. are copying the unhealthy eating habits
of normally associated with Americans and flocking to
fast food restaurants that seem to be growing
exponentially across Asia. It seems ironic that the
blending of eastern and western cuisines can have such
different results for each culture involved.