Far East foods and flavours offer an opportunity to create signature dishes that add a twist to familiar menu items.
Consumer demand for bolder flavours and cravings for ethnically inspired menu options have challenged chefs and operators to look for cuisines to tempt the palates of dining-chair travellers. To that end, Far East foods and flavours are migrating increasingly from “ethnic” restaurants onto menus at operations of all types.
“Asian specialty products and recipes have become readily available to create innovative dishes, and with the casual-dining market and food-truck phenomena, Asian innovation has defined itself in the culinary scene,” says British Columbia-based Gordon Food Service Chef Michael Viloria.
Many factors figure into this explosion of Asian influence, but one thing’s certain: Diners’ yen for Asian food ranges far beyond Chinese takeout.
“In the last couple of years, we’ve seen very specific cuisines being explored—really getting into the nitty-gritty of regional cooking,” says Ontario-based Gordon Food Service Corporate Chef David Evans.
Street foods in particular translate into opportunity, according to Technomic Inc.’s 2016 Food Trends for Canada’s Restaurant Industry report. Technomic sees international flavours “moving beyond now-familiar street foods to include lesser-known specialties found at the food carts and kiosks of far-flung lands.” This movement, Technomic notes, “speaks not just to authenticity, but to sincerity of flavor experiences and true culinary heritage.”
Adding Asian to menus
It’s easy to satisfy diners’ cravings for Asian flavours. Try specials and limited-time offers that introduce these flavours or create signature dishes that menu the familiar with a twist. The following are just a few ways:
Bao buns. Stuff them with anything from traditional pork belly to crispy salmon skin with crunchy pickled veggies, to fried chicken to house-smoked meats for appealing snacks or shared plates.
Korean fried chicken. Its thin, crisp crust brushed with a sticky sweet and spicy sauce is another way to satisfy fried-chicken lovers.
Kimchee. Top everything from tacos and hot dogs to poutine with Korea’s national dish of fermented cabbage and vegetables. It’s easy to prepare in-house with ingredients you have on hand for a signature blend of vegetables.
Asian-inspired handhelds. Stuff wonton and eggroll wrappers with fillings based on ingredients and sauces you already have on hand to create updates to sandwich and sharing-places menus.
Noodle bowls/rice bowls. Simple and satisfying, Asian bowls pack a wallop of flavour. Examples:
Laksa lemak. This traditional Singapore street food has a rich and flavourful coconut curry broth swimming with snow peas, eggplant, red pepper, prawns and puffy fried tofu over tender, chewy rice noodles.
Bibimbap, literally “mixed rice.” This highly customizable Korean dish tops steamed rice with thin slices of meat and a fried or poached egg, kimchee, gochujang (dried chili paste), and any other tasty bits on hand.
Desserts. Atlantic-region Gordon Food Service Customer Solutions Manager Kent MacDonald sees dessert as an untapped opportunity to pull in Asian flavours—particularly when crafted as a mashup with traditional sweets—and as a delicious means of menu differentiation. Try these:
- Egg roll or wonton wrappers stuffed with fruits and deep-fried.
- Chocolate infused with five-spice powder and cinnamon.
- Avocado milkshakes or ice cream.
- Matcha green-tea powder blended into cakes or custard.
The Asian pantry
Add Asian flavour to your menu with these essential ingredients:
- Korean: gochujang (chili paste), doenjang (fermented soybean paste).
- Vietnamese: fish sauce, rice noodles, lemongrass, pandan leaves.
- Chinese: hoisin, sesame, fermented black beans, egg rolls, wonton or egg-roll wrappers.
- Indian: cardamom, curry, garam masala, turmeric, tamarind, naan, chai tea.
- Japanese: matcha (green-tea powder), mochi (sweet rice-flour paste).