- Rice cultures: jasmine, basmati, sticky, black and more, along with dishes served with rice, the custom of serving rice at the end of a meal, steaming and frying, and congee, with its different names and preparations
- Noodle cultures: wheat, rice, mung bean, buckwheat, in soupy, dry, boiled, wok fried, deep-fried preparations
- Curry cultures: from creamy to watery, fiery to mild, always complex
- Bread cultures: French-style baguettes, steamed buns, deep-fried mantou, naan, chapatti
- Fermented foods: from miso and shio koji to kimchi, tempeh, pickles and more—millennia-old, with a surge in popularity in recent years in the US
- Vegetarian and special dietary cuisines for religious or health purposes
- Celebratory meals and dishes and the rituals that accompany them
- Wet markets: floating or town center, vegetable and produce, meat and seafood
- Fire: from the fires of outdoor kitchens to tabletop grilling
- Iconic artisanal foods and how to make them in the US
- Sweets: Asian flavors in desserts and the artistry behind Asia’s most elaborate desserts
- Asian beverages: sake, shochu, beer, distilled beverages, cocktails
- Tea cultures: black, green, pu’erh, matcha, herbal, with tea cuisines and tea ceremonies
Asia and the Roots of Innovation
The cuisines of Asia are deeply rooted in history and traditions that have evolved over millennia, many of which survive intact in the everyday lives of the citizens of bustling metropolises and remote villages alike. Rituals, whether embracing a bowl of rice or a cup of tea, are still at the center of many a meal, especially when it comes to celebrations. Today, chefs throughout the continent operate within these roots and traditions, while they also bring in new points of influence from around the globe to their cuisines, taking risks as they build on the old to create the new.
As part of our upcoming Asia and the Theater of World Menus, culinary experts and accomplished chefs will represent the time-honored and the innovative, as we look at iconic but lesser known traditional and authentic recipes and dig into dishes with modern sensibilities that integrate East and West with a focus on flavor quality, highlighting the tastes and textures of Asian ingredients—herbs and aromatics, spices, vegetables and legumes, rice and noodles, seafood, fish and meats, and specialty sauces from Sriracha, which has risen in popularity in the US to reach a nearly salsa-like level, to the Korean ganjang.
We will experience first-hand how tradition and innovation collide throughout the continent, whether it is with a chef who blends contemporary French cuisine and seasonal Japanese ingredients with playful gastronomic twists to stimulate the senses and give dishes their own distinct character, with an operator who offers modern interpretations of Southeast Asian cuisine paired with specially handcrafted Asian cocktails, or with yet others who have re-imagined long-established street foods as bar snacks.
A Balance of Cultures and Flavors
Asia is the immense breadth of China and the beaches of Indonesia, the neon street corners of Tokyo and the temples of Kyoto, the rice-filled plains of Thailand and the peaks of India’s Himalayas. It is faces, sights, colors, sounds, and flavors that vary as much within a country as they do over the continent. Asia is all encompassing, with 24/7 food cultures that are both shared and distinctive among various countries and regions.
Chefs and experts will explain and explore those differences and similarities, covering topics that will include:
Asian cuisines also critically consider the balance, and in many cases layering, of flavors—sweet, hot, sour, salty, bitter, umami—as well as the balance of textures essential in a way found nowhere else in the world. Further, typically a balance of hot and cold, cooked and fresh, rich and light are part of the total script of the menu, whether it be for a casual family meal or a festive dining out experience (think fresh Vietnamese herbs with grilled lemongrass pork; or the role of Indian, Japanese, and Korean pickled foods). Culinary experts will showcase balance strategy and discuss its place in the contemporary American restaurant.
Guest chefs will light up the stage with demonstrations of culinary techniques and equipment, from the time-honored to the latest in the world of culinary science and technology, from chopsticks, woks and cleavers, mortars and pestles, tandoor ovens, donabe and hotpots, binchotan and satay grills to immersion circulators and lyophilizers.
Setting the Stage
Whether it is a cook serving a plate of just-fired Char Kway Teow on a banana leaf-covered plastic plate at a hawker stall in Singapore, 10 curries in an alley restaurant in New Delhi, a suckling pig fresh off the spit in Ubud, a fully orchestrated Kaiseki menu with antique china embracing every morsel of seasonal beauty in a dining room with a Zen garden view in Tokyo, or a modernist tasting menu in a secret dining room in Shanghai, dining throughout Asia is deeply imbedded in performances and rituals. As diners, even as culinary professional diners, we are as likely to be moved by these elements as we are by the foods foreign and familiar.
Eating in Asia means being open to experiencing with equal frequency meals within the context of a restaurant’s groundbreaking architecture or the plastic chairs of a street stand, a dining room’s minimalistic design or the colorful boats of a floating market, tableware made of the finest porcelain or hand-shaped from local clay, wall décor ranging from graffiti to world-class photographers, beach front or skyscraper landscape, and a soundtrack that can as easily be a soothing brook as the sounds of traffic running by as we stand at a corner to eat.
We will explore the magic behind sophisticated restaurant spaces with world-class designers and talk about the street as performance space with cultural experts from around the world. We’ll look at art and style trends throughout Asia and how they are reflected on our shores with chefs and journalists. We’ll see how tableware can transform the ordinary into the unforgettable, and how colors and environment are critical to shaping experiences, from the simplest to the most sophisticated of meals. Whether you are thinking about design, setting, and performance for a food truck or quick-service concept or for a chef-driven restaurant, you will leave filled with inspiration and strategies for success.
Asia in America
Through food media marketing efforts on behalf of countries eager to spread the word about their cuisines and expand the availability of their products exported to the US, a myriad of travel options, and overall interest in expanding our experiences with respect to ingredients, techniques and flavors, Americans are discovering ways to satisfy an ever-growing interest in a wide variety of cuisines from around Asia.
Americans—Baby Boomers and Millennials alike—are curious and adventurous, regularly seeking out opportunities for discovery, challenge, and education in their dining experiences and appreciating the increasing availability of such occasions. The cuisines of Asia stimulate the mind as well as the senses, sometimes because of the unfamiliar languages and lack of easy points of reference. Their frequent focus on vegetables, fruits, grains, and fish, with meat rarely taking center stage, and a wide variety of light dishes also appeal to those seeking to eat more healthfully.
Although diners may feel like they know a variety of dishes and cuisines from a number of countries in Asia, in reality the selection and access in the US is still limited. Even in intensive Asian enclaves in and around places like Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, and New York, many operators still don’t have the full range of authentic ingredients and flavors to work with, handicapping adventurous American cooks and diners—and the media who follow them.
Nonetheless, we are a long way from the chow mein and cashew chicken of years gone by. Our cities, large and small, our food television programs, and our computer screens are increasingly overflowing with the bright, vibrant flavors of South Indian vegetarian and Thai curries, banh mi, hand-crafted ramen, every variation of Korean BBQ (including Korean tacos), pho, sushi and sashimi, more unusual dim sum (and dim sum re-imagined), a riot of Southeast Asian salads, rice bowls, cold noodle bowls, and much more.
Having tasted this rising tide of Asian flavors, our industry is still just beginning to learn how to replicate and adapt these flavors—even as we eagerly track what’s next in terms of Asian culinary stars.
Through Asia and the Theater of World Menus, we will explore countless techniques, ingredients, flavors, and dishes worthy of wider attention and enjoyment by American diners. With American chefs embracing and experimenting with what once was considered exotic, these foods are poised to become ever-bigger players in our national dining scene, from casual, independents to high volume, from food trucks and QSRs to university cafés.
Creative, artistic, imaginative, inventive, inspirational, anchored: contemporary Asian chefs, chefs influenced and inspired by Asian cuisines and cultures working around the world, and chefs from every continent who are opening restaurants in Asia embody all of these qualifiers and more, as we will discover during the 2015 Worlds of Flavor® International Conference & Festival, Asia and the Theater of World Menus.