Upon coming across my decision on what my paper would be about, it was very evident that I would be discussing the Asian cuisine, due to me often watching a clips on YouTube of them eating live octopus, squid or fish. It amazes me to see some of the things they eat and how they eat it. In their tradition, it is polite to slurp your food while eating. It lets the chef know you are enjoying it or they prepared it just right. Food is very important to them, when they are walking on the street often before going into conversation, they may ask the person “Have you eaten today? , that is equivalent to our American traditional question when starting a conversation, “How are you doing. ” Cooking is one of the oldest of human activities. When human evolution was at the hunter/gather 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 lives. Although many Asian cultures share the tradition of gathering the family or clan together to socialize or celebrate over a big meal, such as the Americans, the various cultures of Asia each develops 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). Also became a staple in this dietary culture.
Through the teachings of Hinduism, cows were used only for their milk and not for their meat. In addition to rice, chapatti made from wheat or barley are also a staple part of the diet and beans also play an important role in meals. 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 used for foods, 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. Finally, on the individual level, taken as a whole, Americans are generally very open to various elements of foreign culture, such as food (although many observers argue this openness to foreign culture does not automatically translate into equal openness to the actual foreigners themselves). As such, cultural elements like Asian cuisine are generally seen as ‘safe’ and ‘easy’ ways for Americans to demonstrate their cultural curiosity and openness.
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. From a historical point of view, as different Asian immigrants have come to the U. S. to begin their lives as Asian Americans, they have brought their cuisine and cooking traditions with them, along with century old traditions of bringing together family or large groups of friends and family to socialize over a large meal. As restaurants open to serve the early Chinese and Japanese immigrant communities in various cities in the U. S. westerners got their first taste of traditional Asian cuisine. But inevitably, assimilation as well as acculturation took place, not just in terms of the individual but also as applied to Asian food as well. Soon, Asian restaurants that wanted to broaden their appeal and customer base beyond their own ethnic patrons had to modify or invent new ‘ethnic’ food that would appeal more readily to the western palate. This eventually led to the creation of uniquely ‘Americanized’ Asian dishes such as chop suey, egg rolls, fortune cookies, and recently, ‘Asian-inspired’ fast food salads.
These days, traditional Asian cuisine is undergoing another transformation but instead of being combined with western tastes, the result comes from combining elements and styles from different Asian cultures into a new fusion style of pan-Asian dishes. Many of these early fusion dishes were synthesized from Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, and Chinese cuisines (along with a few French influences), although other Asian cultures are slowly being ‘mixed’ into the trend.
Many of these fusion restaurants also tend to be aimed at a slightly more upscale clientele and are concentrated mainly in the major metropolitan areas around the U. S. 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.