FOOD TALK

With more Asian cities added to the Miche­lin Guide edi­tions, the stature of Asian restau­rants on the world stage is also ris­ing. And the culi­nary might is un­stop­pable, says Priyanka El­hence.

Epicure (Indonesia) - - CONTENTS -

The evo­lu­tion of Asian cui­sine, from street eats to fine din­ing fare

Think of Asian food and street eats like In­done­sian sa­tay ayam, Sin­ga­poreʼs chicken rice, Tai­wanʼs liu sha frit­ters or Viet­namʼs banh tam bi come to mind. Th­ese coun­tries have steadily evolved from street food desin­ta­tions to gas­tro­nomic hubs. And chefs from around the world are tak­ing no­tice, set­ting up their restau­rants in the re­gion at a dizzy­ing speed.

The re­cent an­nounce­ment of Gag­gan’s fourth con­sec­u­tive win of first place on the Asia’s 50 Best Restau­rants 2018 list goes to show that there’s last­ing ap­peal to Asia’s mul­ti­far­i­ous, Asianchef fronted restau­rants. Chef-owner Gag­gan Anand at­tributes the con­ti­nent’s culi­nary trans­for­ma­tion to its amass­ing wealth, a well-trav­elled pop­u­la­tion and more re­fined palates, re­sult­ing in the well-heeled de­mand­ing the same culi­nary stan­dards as the Western world. Peru­vian-ja­pa­nese, mod-sin and Per­anakan of­fer­ings are the cur­rent culi­nary trends. “Asian cuisines are the next big thing and every­one wants to find out more about their flavours, spices and in­gre­di­ents – we’re fi­nally get­ting the recog­ni­tion we de­serve,” says Mal­colm Lee of one Miche­lin-starred Can­dlenut in Sin­ga­pore. At Can­dlenut, din­ers en­joy an omakase tast­ing menu of Per­anakan-in­spired cre­ations, through which he show­cases the In­done­sian buah keluak as both a dessert and a savoury sauce.

Asian tech­niques and flavours were also in the spot­light at last year’s Madrid Fu­sion, where kom­bucha, curry leaves, turmeric and curry pastes made us­ing In­done­sian-style pes­tle and mor­tars were com­monly used through­out the event. At the Oc­to­ber 2015 San Se­bas­tian Gas­tronomika, Eneko Atxo from three Miche­lin­starred Azur­mendi in­vited An­dré Chi­ang for a col­lab­o­ra­tive Six Hands, 10-course din­ner. It was also dur­ing this Gas­tronomika that Chi­ang ex­pressed his de­sire to re­vive the long for­got­ten his­tory of fer­men­ta­tion and show the world how far Asia could take the tra­di­tional pre­serv­ing tech­nique. It was af­ter this that Chi­ang in­tro­duced ‘jus des idees’ at (the now de­funct) Restau­rant An­dré, where he of­fered fer­mented juices as an al­ter­na­tive to wine pair­ings.

“Asian el­e­ments play a big role in my kitchen. We cook with miso and kimchi, and make our own tem­peh but with lo­cal beans rather than soya,” shared Juan Roca of the leg­endary El Celler de Can Roca af­ter a visit to In­done­sia in 2016. Xavier Agulló, one of Spain’s lead­ing food crit­ics, also ad­mit­ted that Asian flavours are very ap­peal­ing to Western cul­tures be­cause of the nu­anced com­bi­na­tion of the five notes – sweet, sour, bit­ter, salty and umami.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, the num­ber of Miche­lin-starred restau­rants in Hong Kong and Ma­cau has tripled over 10 years, and a CNN re­port last year shone the spot­light on Tokyo be­ing a global culi­nary cen­tre of ex­cel­lence and the world’s great­est food city, sur­pass­ing Paris. The city boasted a stag­ger­ing 226 Miche­lin­starred restau­rants, com­pared to its near­est ri­val Paris, which only clocked in 94. Julien Royer of two Miche­lin-starred Odette echoed the sen­ti­ment, say­ing that it was not only the qual­ity and va­ri­ety of the pro­duce re­sult­ing from Ja­pan’s ge­og­ra­phy and the coun­try’s four dis­tinct sea­sons, but the pride that the peo­ple took in their re­gional pro­duce and cook­ing styles. “The Ja­pa­nese bring the same ded­i­ca­tion, con­sis­tency and at­ten­tion to de­tail, whether it’s a small neigh­bour­hood kaiseki or sushi joint with only counter seats, or a big fine din­ing restau­rant,” he says. I agree – it’s im­pos­si­ble to eat badly in Ja­pan.

What­ever route this ex­cit­ing new age of Asian cui­sine takes, one thing is for cer­tain – it’s go­ing to stay close to its roots and tra­di­tions. Min­goo Kang, chef-owner of Min­gles restau­rant in

Seoul finds that the Korean din­ing scene has pro­gres­sively be­come more vi­brant, with chefs re­tain­ing their Korean her­itage but adding an in­ter­na­tional flair to the cui­sine. “Peo­ple are in­quis­i­tive about this new cui­sine and pre­fer to try Korean eater­ies rather than Euro­pean fine din­ing restau­rants. At Min­gles, the last main course we serve is a tra­di­tional Korean ta­ble tray with rice, soup and many side dishes. This is what we are known for. It’s im­por­tant to have na­tional iden­tity.”

Unafraid and un­re­servedly proud of their dis­tinct and var­ied culi­nary cul­tures, and even of the cui­sine’s per­cieved pe­cu­liar­i­ties, chefs in Asia are now step­ping up to the plate to show­case lo­cal tech­niques and in­gre­di­ents. Fi­nally, the flag for Asian cui­sine is fly­ing high, and there’s no stop­ping its global up­swing.

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