Iconic Asian Food You Have to Try
Iconic Asian Food You Have to Try
Asian cuisine is becoming more and more popular as the years go by. Dishes once considered rare and exotic can now be easily found either at restaurants and eateries in most major cities or Asian grocery stores in larger metropolitan areas.
Here’s an incomplete list of signature Asian dishes we believe every foodie must try at least once in their life.
Or maybe you’re already an experienced connoisseur when it comes to Asian food? Then you should check out Yummy Bazaar’s online Asian food store. You’ll find many signature gourmet ingredients used across the Asian continent to cook some of the most beautiful, authentically flavored dishes yourself.
Shoyu Ramen - Japan
Ramen, a Japanese noodle soup, is one of the most recognizable Asian dishes around the world. It’s characterized by deeply flavorful broth. Noodles most often used for ramen soups are Chinese-style thin and chewy wheat noodles.
Shoyu ramen, specifically, is one of the most popular ramen varieties. It’s typically meat (most often pork)-based broth, generously flavored with Japanese soy sauce Shoyu. This type of ramen has a very strong umami, savory flavor. Standard toppings include pork chashu, dried seaweed, boiled egg, and scallions.
Tip: if you’re trying to avoid carbs, try Shoyu ramen with shirataki noodles. This deeply flavorful broth is a good counterbalance for its comparatively bland flavor.
Bibimbap - South Korea
The name of this traditional South Korean food translates to “mixed rice.” It consists of a bowl of warm rice, topped with various sauteed vegetables, sliced beef, kimchi, a dollop of sauce like gochujang (spicy pepper paste) or doenjang (fermented soybean paste), and a raw or fried egg on top. The dish is mixed before consumption.
The great thing about bibimbap is that it can be made to anyone’s taste with various ingredients and is often tweaked according to the chef’s taste. For example, beef topping is often paired with oyster sauce, which is not a common ingredient in veggie or tofu bibimbap.
Char Siu - China
Char Siu is the signature Cantonese-style pork barbeque. It’s made by marinating pork in a blend of red miso paste, five-spice powder, soy sauce, ginger, rice wine vinegar, and hoisin sauce (a traditional glaze for meats).
Once properly marinated, the pork is roasted until the outside is crispy and slightly charred. It’s traditionally served with white rice, but other sides like Bock Choy and rice noodles have become popular over the years.
Curry - India
A signature dish of Indian cuisine, curry is a heavily spiced sauce made with vegetable or meat broth, coconut or dairy milk or cream, yogurt, oil or ghee, and various other ingredients.
Curry is a highly variable dish, with nigh every household, not to mention eating establishment, having their own signature recipe. It’s also highly versatile and served with meat, poultry, fish, lentils, vegetables, etc. Basically, anything can be served with curry and made better for it.
Curry powder, lending a curry-like taste to dishes, is a commercial blend of spices commonly used to flavor curry sauces, including turmeric, ginger, garlic, cardamom, fenugreek, coriander, cinnamon, cumin, and black pepper, along with some others.
Curry dishes are often served with pita bread and chutney, a thick sweet, and savory spread popular throughout the Indian subcontinent. Each Indian region has a list of its own signature chutneys.
Curry - Japan
Japanese curry is significantly different from traditional Indian food. It’s more of a gravy-like sauce. Japanese curry combines curry powder, oil, and flour into the roux and is then simmered with meat or vegetables. It’s served as a sauce over steamed rice (curry rice) or thick udon noodles (curry udon).
There’s a famous Japanese snack called curry bread, a savory pastry made by wrapping the dough around thick curry paste and deep-frying it until golden brown. Curry bread is a popular convenience store food.
Curry - Thailand
Another variation on the Indian classic, Thai curry is typically made with curry paste (as opposed to Japanese curry powder), coconut milk, herbs, and aromatic leaves (as opposed to India’s heavy use of spices). It’s often served with seafood, but meat and vegetables are also popular pairings.
Thai curry is made with either green, yellow, or red curry paste. The colors indicate the chili variety used, with green being the mildest and red being the spiciest. Other than classic Thai curry, there are two popular varieties that could be considered fusion dishes:
- Massaman Curry or Muslim Curry, a relatively mild yellow curry with beef or lamb. It’s flavored with herbs traditional to Persia, India, and the Malay Archipelago, like cinnamon, star anise, cloves, nutmeg, cumin, bay leaves, etc.
- Panang Curry, a Malay-influenced dish. It’s moderately spicy, somewhat sweet, thick, and creamy red curry made with a generous amount of coconut cream and flavored with basil leaves, kaffir lime leaves, and fish sauce.
Fried Chicken - Taiwan
Asian countries are well-known for their chicken-frying techniques, with Japan and Korea leading the charge. But Taiwanese fried chicken is arguably the most interesting among them. It’s made similar to Korean fried chicken, fried twice to eliminate extra grease and create a thinner, crunchier outer shell. The significant signature aspect of Taiwanese fried chicken is the spice it’s tossed with - a flavorful blend of salt, several types of pepper (black, white, sometimes green, and red chilis), and allspice.
Tteokbokki - South Korea
Chewy cylindrical rice cakes simmered in a thick sauce. The more popular variety is made with spicy pepper paste gochujang, while the less spicy (and less popular) is made with soy sauce-based ganjang. Teokbokki is often served with eomuk (Korean fish cakes), boiled eggs, and noodles.
Tteokbokki is one of the best-known South Korean street foods, often found at food stalls in various markets.
Takoyaki - Japan
A popular Japanese street food, takoyaki is basically batter-coated and fried octopi chunks. The snack is ball-shaped, thanks to the special molded pan.
The frying batter for takoyaki is made with all-purpose wheat flour and eggs, often flavored with soy sauce. It renders a thick and chewy outer shell. The batter is poured over the generously greased pan, each hole topped with octopus chunks, and then more batter. When the bottom is done cooking, the ball is expertly flipped.
Takoyaki is typically topped with signature takoyaki sauce (a sweet Worcestershire sauce-based condiment), Japanese mayo, and dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi).
Chicken Tikka Masala - India (...sort of)
Chicken tikka masala is, according to anecdotal evidence, the creation of Great Britain’s Indian community. While its origins are only arguably Asian, its flavors undoubtedly have roots in traditional Indian cuisine.
Chicken tikka masala is made by covering chicken tikka (tikka refers to meat and vegetable chunks that have been marinated in spices and yogurt and cooked in a tandoor) in a creamy tomato sauce. The sauce is heavily spiced with masala mix (which has no standard recipe, but turmeric, paprika, garlic, and ginger are common ingredients).
Butter Chicken - India
Once we’ve mentioned tikka masala, we can’t skip its better-known brother, the iconic butter chicken. Butter chicken, also known by its Indian name murgh makhani, was created in 1950s Delhi by restaurant owners. The meat is marinated in various spices (red chili, ginger, garlic, garam masala spice mix) and yogurt. Marinated chicken is then cooked and served with a mild, thick curry-based sauce. The sauce is made with tomatoes, lots of butter, and is heavily spiced.
Yi Mein Noodles - China and Taiwan
One of the most iconic Chinese noodle dishes, Yi Mein noodles, are often served at birthdays, weddings, and Lunar New Year celebrations, as they’re supposed to symbolize long life/longevity. Traditional Chinese Yi Mein noodles are made with wheat flour, eggs, and soda water, making them slightly chewy and spongy. They’re traditionally 12+ inches long.
Yi Mein noodles are one of the dishes Taiwan adopted from mainland Chinese immigrants, but the Taiwanese recipe is less strict. Taiwanese Yi Mein noodles don’t necessarily contain eggs, for example.
Yi Mein noodles are often served plain, only slightly flavored with soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, and sometimes decorated with Chinese chives. But it can be used for soups and stir-fries as well.
Sushi - Japan
Ah, who doesn’t know sushi? Classic Japanese sushi is just a small clamp of vinegared white rice given an oblong shape and topped with various ingredients, most often seafood (often raw), but also tamagoyaki (Japanese omelet) and vegetables. This type of sushi is called nigiri or nigirizushi. It’s typically served with a side of soy sauce (sometimes Saishikomi shoyu), wasabi, and pickled ginger.
But sushi comes in various types. The lesser-known types (to Western consumers, at least) include:
- inarizushi - a fried tofu pouch filled with rice;
- Makizushi - cylinder-shaped sushi wrapped in a dried seaweed sheet;
- Chirashizushi - a bowl of rice topped with raw seafood and vegetables, similar to the famous poke.
Dim Sum - China
Small steamed or fried Chinese foods served at restaurants. Dim Sum traditionally consists of savory dishes: a variety of dumplings, buns, meats, seafood, rolls, and sweet desserts: puddings and cakes.
Beef Noodle Soup - Taiwan
Traditional Taiwanese beef noodle soup, or Niu Rou Mian, is one of the signature Taiwanese dishes. It’s a combination of flavorful, heavily spiced soup (over a dozen spices can be used, but Sichuan peppercorns, black cardamom, ginger, coriander, and fennel seeds are traditional), braised beef slices, and thin, chewy wheat noodles.
Japchae - South Korea
Japchae is a stir-fry dish made with glass noodles (transparent sweet potato starch noodles), various meats and vegetables, and traditionally flavored with soy sauce and sesame oil.
Japchae can be served either hot or cold.
Hot Pot - China (but honestly, various)
A traditional Chinese dish, the hot pot calls for a pot of broth or stock to be kept over the direct heat source to keep simmering. The pot is accompanied by various meats, seafood, and vegetables that are boiled right at the table.
While the dish originates in Mainland China, many Asian countries have put their own twist on it. Japanese Nabemono is flavored with dashi, mirin, and soy sauce, Cambodian Yao Hon uses coconut milk as a soup base, while Taiwanese hot pot is served alongside dipping sauce made with Shacha and raw egg yolk.
Palak Paneer - India
Palak paneer is a thick Indian stew made with grilled Indian cottage cheese (Paneer) and pureed boiled spinach (Palak). Pureed spinach is often mixed with cooked tomatoes and onions, with paneer added as the last step. The stew is flavored with garlic, ginger, and various spices like garam masala, turmeric, chili pepper, etc.
Ma Po Doufu - China
Ma Po Doufu, also known as Mapo Tofu, is a Sichuan-style Chinese dish. Tofu is braised alongside beef slices in a signature thin spicy sauce made with Doubanjiang (spicy fermented broad bean paste), Douchi (fermented black beans), garlic, ginger, and chili oil.
Okonomiyaki - Japan
Another iconic Japanese street food, okonomiyaki, is often called “Japanese pizza.” It’s a savory pancake made with shredded cabbage and thin wheat flour batter, cooked on a griddle. Common additions include layers of meat or seafood, eggs, and noodles (depending on the region either udon or yakisoba). But cooks can tweak a recipe according to their taste and add ingredients like cheese, mung bean sprouts, etc.
Okonomiyaki is traditionally topped with signature brown sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, katsuobushi, and dried nori flakes.
Bubble Tea - Taiwan
Few know that the iconic bubble tea was born in Taiwan. But yes, if you hear someone talk about Taiwanese milk tea, they usually mean bubble tea (though bubble tea can be made without milk as well). The base is either black, green, or oolong tea, and it can be additionally sweetened with flavored syrups, condensed milk, or sugar. The bubbles traditionally mean black tapioca pearls (brown sugar Boba), but these days it’s often swapped for flavored jelly.
Bubble tea is traditionally served iced.
Jajangmyeon - South Korea
While not as popular as bibimbap or tteokbokki, there’s no doubt jajangmyeon is one of the most iconic Korean foods. The star of the dish is Jajang (literally means “fried sauce”), made by frying Chunjang, a sweet bean paste similar to Chinese Tianmian Sauce, with either soy or oyster sauce (or both), ginger, garlic, onions, meat or seafood, vegetables, stock, and starch.
The resulting thick black sauce is served over thick wheat noodles (i.e., the myeon part of the dish). Jajangmyeon is frequently garnished with fried or hard-boiled eggs, thinly sliced cucumbers, and stir-fried bamboo shoots.
Pineapple Cake - Taiwan
Taiwanese pineapple cake is one of the most famous Taiwanese foods. It constantly ranks as the most famous Taiwanese dessert and is a popular souvenir item among tourists.
Taiwanese pineapple cake is a sweet, buttery sponge cake, either filled with pineapple jam or with whole pineapple slices baked into it. It’s easily found at most bakeries throughout the country.
Mochi - Japan
A traditional Japanese confection made with glutinous rice. To make mochi, the rice is pounded into a smooth paste and then molded into shapes, usually a ball. Modern mochi comes in various flavors, from classic strawberry, chocolate, and vanilla to unique matcha, black sesame, and red beans (Anko). The latter is a prevalent flavor for daifuku, a variety of mochi stuffed with a sweet paste, and sometimes fruit slices.Another popular mochi-based dessert is ice cream mochi, with an outer shell of chewy glutinous rice wrapped around ice cream.