In Asia, food is a big thing. In many cultures people ask if you’ve eaten instead of greeting you with a ‘Hello’. Food is also sacred in many of these cultures and is often offered in prayer before the community partakes in the feast. Street fare is common and you’ll always find a stall offering hot food in the wee hours of the morning. Here are some of the best foods from Asia that have left an indelible mark on the ‘edible’ world!
Words: Efi Hafizah Hamzah
Origin: China, Hong Kong
The words dim and sum have gone through a variety of translations – ‘to touch your heart’, ‘a little bit of heart’ etc. as the literal translation in Mandarin of dim means ‘point’ and sum means ‘heart’. Together, they evoke images of dainty deliciousness. In reality, it couldn’t be simpler as the words in Cantonese mean ‘small snack’ or ‘small dishes of food’.
Dim sum has made its way to menus worldwide with ease because of its taste and simplicity. It began as a tradition that complements the yum cha (drink tea) tradition in olden day China, inadvertently turning the polite and staid tradition to a lively and often raucous event.
Since the 10th century, more than 2,000 varieties of dim sum dishes have been created, with up to 100 types of savouries and sweets offered by bigger restaurants today, including steamed, boiled, fried, baked and chilled varieties.
DIM SUM MUST-TRYS
• HAR KAU shrimp dumplings – steamed
• SHAO MAII dumplings with prawn and *meat, topped with crab roe – steamed
• LOH MAI GAII glutinous rice with *meat wrapped in lotus leaf – steamed
• FU PEI GUEN *meat wrapped in crispy beancurd skin – fried
• DAAN TAAT sweet egg tart – baked
• MAA TUAN sweet red bean paste wrapped in a crispy pancake – fried
* Meat used is usually pork, but chicken is used for the halal versions.
TRY IT HERE…
HONG KONG Islamic Centre Canteen, Wan Chai (halal) +852 2834 8211
KUALA LUMPUR Maju Palace, Maju Junction, Kuala Lumpur (Pork-free) +603 2691 8822
SINGAPORE Asia Grand Restaurant, North Bridge Road, Odeon Towers (non-halal) +65 6887 0010
BANGKOK China Place, 114 Setsiri Road +02 619 87013
JAKARTA May Star (halal) LG Central Park Mall +62 21 5698 5422
Fugu, which means ‘river pig’ in Japanese refers to the puffer fish that has become one of the deadliest things you can put into your mouth. The liver of the puffer fish is considered a delicacy but was banned in Japan in 1984 due to a high number of accidental deaths.
To be a fugu chef, junior cooks undergo rigorous training with their qualification strictly controlled by government authorities.
Fugu has been a highly sought after delicacy in Japan for centuries, from the Jõmon period that date back more than 2,300 years ago. In the early 1600’s right up to 1868, the Tokugawa shogunate prohibited fugu consumption in Edo and other areas, but as the shogunate weakened, fugu became common again. Despite fugu being more common nowadays, be prepared to pay top dollar for the fish.
• SASHIMI The most popular dish is fugu sashimi. Knives with exceptionally thin blades are used for cutting the fish into translucent slices, a technique known as usuzukuri.
• FUGU NO SHIRAKO The soft roe (shirako) of the fish is a highly prized food item in Japan. One of the most popular kinds of soft roe, it is usually grilled and served with salt.
• FUGU KARAAGE Deep fried fugu.
• HIRE-ZAKE Fins of the fish are completely dried out, baked and served in hot sake.
• FUGU-CHIRI Fugu stewed with vegetables, also called tetchiri.
• YUBIKI The skin can be eaten too as long as the spikes are removed.
• A fugu chef is given certifi cation only if he samples what he serves, before handing it over to a customer.
• Fugu is the only food that the Emperor of Japan is forbidden from eating for his own safety.
• Some professional fugu chefs leave behind a tiny bit of poison (as allowed) in the meat; leaving a prickly feeling and numbness on the tongue and lips.
• In Japan, lanterns can be made from preserved fugu, and hung outside restaurants.
• Its poison, tetrodotoxin, is 1,200 times more potent than cyanide.
TRY IT HERE…
TOKYO, JAPAN Tsukiji Yamamoto Restaurant, Chuo-ku; near the Tsukiji station +81 3 3541 7730
SINGAPORE Nogawa Restaurant, Concorde Hotel Orchard Road +65 6732 2911
PENANG, MALAYSIA Miraku Japanese Restaurant, G Hotel, Gurney Drive +604 229 8702