Pan-Asian cuisines Authentic Food Cultures of China, Korea, and Japan

a variety of asian food

Do you know your gochujang from your szechuan? Your kimchi from your tsukemono? Read on to find out more!

Pan-Asian cuisine has never been more in vogue. Rice and wheat noodlesfermented vegetables, and exotic herbs and spices have never been as easily accessible as they are in today’s modern supermarkets. Say, you were throwing an Eastern-inspired dinner party extraordinaire and you really wanted to be the host with the most, plying your guests with not only sumptuous Oriental fare but going one step further: entertaining them with your endless fountain of knowledge regarding the different countries that get our mouths watering so much. That’s where this handy guide comes in.

Japanese Cooking

pasta with sauce and vegetables in a red bowl
Curry Udon noodle photo by Ponyo Sakana on

The proud people of Japan will normally tuck in to a rice-bowl (go-han, pronounced guh-haan), a rich, salty miso broth (miso shiru, pronounced mee-so shih-ruh) made from soybean (dai-zu) paste, root vegetables fermented and preserved with salt (tsukemono, pronounced sook-eh-moh-no) and normally, unless your vegetarian, a protein consisting of grilled meat or fish.

Rice, as in most Asian cultures, dominates the carbohydrates scene, however noodles such as ra-men, u-don and so-ba may be readily available and enjoyed at lunch times.

Being a country surrounded by oceans, Japanese people are particularly keen on their fish and crustaceans. More exotic and unique additions to the seafood platter consist of squid, octopus, eel, and shellfish and can be served raw in su-shi rolls,

Photo by Rajesh TP on

pressed in circles of sticky rice and wrapped in seaweed called no-ri, or fried in light tempura batter, which consists of cornflour and carbonated soda water.

Residents of the Land of the Rising Sun can’t get enough of their soybeans (dai-zu) which come in many forms. Sho-yu is the process of fermenting soybeans to create soy sauce, while Nat-to creates a stir at Japanese tables. It is either liked or disliked as the fermented nature of these soybeans can be hard to appreciate due to their gloopy, fibrous texture and offending smell. To-fu takes the form of a pressed curd using soybean, and is a winning formula for alternative protein among vegetarians as well as vegans.

Korean Cooking

As with their Japanese and Chinese counterparts, rice is king. South Korean culinary culture stipulates rice as the dominating carbohydrate, and might be usually accompanied with grilled fish, vegetables and meat, offering a plethora of balance to their meals.

The rice in South Korea bears a striking resemblance to Northeastern Chinese rice, which has a lip-smackingly sticky consistency. You can steam it in a traditional cooker, create a hearty bowl of porridge with it, and fry it in a wok. Interestingly enough, buckwheat grain pasta can also appear on a South Korean’s dinner table.

Most delicacies of South Korea have a red-hot and punchy appearance, utilizing the vital properties of the humble chili pepper. Gochugaru (pronounced gosh-oo-gar-oo) are dried hot pepper flakes, sometimes ground into a powder or used as a paste, named gochujang (pronounced gosh-oo-yang). Chili can also be used raw to obtain optimum heat, along with paprika, ground black pepper (pronounced ho-chu) and Korean rock salt (so-gum).

Image of gochujang

Not only that, hungry Koreans are huge fans of garlic and ginger explosions on their palates. They believe that eating large amounts of garlic (manul, pronounced man-e-ool) helps contribute to boosting physical and mental strength.

Kimchi (kim-chee) bears some similarity with Japanese tsukemono in that they areboth side dishes of fermented vegetables, but that is where the differences end. Kimchi will nearly always be found on a Korean’s dinner table, and is namely pickled cabbage, red or white, and radish, that has been fermented for hours (and sometimes months!) with salt and hot, hot spices such as chili and black coarse-ground pepper.

Hollywood actress Gwyneth Paltrow revealed her health-conscious diet including traditional Korean food kimchi,  Known as a big fan of Korean cuisine, Paltrow has shared photos of bibimbap and kimchi pancakes on social media.

Image of Kimch with napa cabage

Ban-chan or ban-san is the word used to describe an array of small dishes that goalongside cooked rice (or bap, as it is known in Korean), not unlike tapas in Spain. They can range between the already established kimchi, served with gochujang, and jjigae (pronounced jig-ay-lee) which is a vegetable or proteinbroth very akin to a hot stew, to guk or tang, a slow-cooked soup with varying levels of wateriness.

bowl of food on gray tray
Korean Ban-chan Photo by Vicky Tran on

Chinese Cooking

Foods from the Sichuan (sitch-wan) province in the Southwestern region of China have the most likeness with Korean cuisine in that they utilise the most amount of spice in their cooking. Paste made with red pepper fried with hot oil provides the base for most dishes. Eggplant or aubergine spiced with fragrant chili peppers, pork that has been fried one or two times, beef flavoured with large amounts of garlic, Mapo tofu sitting in a sauce with spices, and Gong Bao chicken with peanuts and vegetables are classic hallmarks of this area of China. They all pack a hot punch and are a dream to taste.

Image from

Over in the Guangdong province, directly to the North of the China sea, we have the home of Cantonese cuisine, which has a generally milder menu to its Sichuan counterpart. Fresh vegetables and poultry are always highly expected by the Cantonese, and this is where the flavour focuses; on tenderness. Expectovercooked meat and veg to be sent straight back to the kitchen! Fresh roots, ginseng and tree barks can be utilised in locally made herbal soups, widelyreported to act as traditional medicine for ailing bodies.

Image from

The Huaiyang (said: wah-yang) style of eating, located on the eastern coast of China, is probably most akin to the Japanese in that freshwater fish and other aquatic creatures are mainly used as the base meat in their meals. Locally produced and world-famous Chinkiang vinegar lends a classically Chinese sweet and sour edge and is nearly always found on tables in the Jiangsu region.

Crab soup can typically be expected to be served at breakfast time, along with cakes that have a “thousand layers” and dumplings with vegetables that have been lightly steamed. An absolute must-have in classic Chinese cooking is the Bao (pronounced bough) bun, sweeter than dumplings as it utilises milk, sugarand oil along with baking powder and yeast to make a soft, sweet dough and pairs fantastically when filled with slow-cooked pork or deep fried fish.

How Good is Your Chopstick Game?

Diagram by Alhovik/Deposit Photos from

So Korean, Chinese and Japanese foods definitely have one thing in common – they all beg to be eaten with two chopsticks! In Japan, they are known as hashi or otemoto, and are normally the shortest with a tapered end. The Chinese standardly call theirs kuaizi, and are typically blunter. Koreans adorn the name jeotgarak, and tend to have the sharpest ends of the three.

Find yourself in the company of East Asians at dinner-time? Always make sure you know that in all three countries, it is disrespectful to:

  • Use your mouth to hold your chopsticks for you.
  • Gesture with your chopsticks or “point” at others around the table with them.
  • Use your chopsticks as a lever to push plates around.
  • Stick your chopsticks into food like a fork. Get a grip!

In China and Japan, it is perfectly acceptable to bring your bowl to your mouth and use the sticks to guide food in if you are struggling to take hold. In Korea however, this is seen as rude and you should use a side plate instead!

Through all the quirks and similarities of these three very different cuisines, one thing can be said for certain – a very delicious culinary adventure awaits us in all three!

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