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The cuisine of the Pacific and Southeast Asia is a fascinating melange of raw ingredients, methods, and dishes with a strong influence of the Chinese cuisine. The most important ingredients to tie together this vast area are the coconut, which is used in every one of these countries; rice, which is the basic food everywhere except in the Philippines; and native spices and herbs, especially the omnipresent ginger and chili. The skilful use of condiments and relishes by its inventive cooks makes each of these countries a gastronomically individual entity.

A Hawaiian staple is the taro bulb, which is the main ingredient for many dishes of the famous luau feasts. Taro may be chopped and steamed alone, or mixed with other ingredients, often wrapped in ti leaves. Poi is made by peeling and cooking the taro root and then mashing it into a paste.

Another famous delicacy is lomi lomi, a fresh salmon that is massaged by hand to break down its tissues and remove the salt. Chunks of the fish are mixed with onion and tomatoes. Besides the stone-baked pig, which is always a part of the luau, and several other local specialties, the Hawaiians adapted a number of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Indian dishes, together with a great many standard U.S. dishes.

Indonesia consists of several thousand islands, yet its cuisine is almost unified by the use of coconut. It is employed as a vegetable, main course, ingredient, cooking fat, relish, fruit, and even beverage in the popular tjendol throughout the islands. Although 300 years of Dutch occupation, a sizable Chinese population, and Portuguese merchants had a very strong influence on the islands' cooking style, Indonesia still can boast of a unique cuisine. Because rice (nasi) is the most important part of the meal, all other preparations are actually served to surround and enhance the rice itself. The Dutch themselves created rijsttafel (literally, “rice table”), which formalized into an almost endless procession of beautifully arranged, carefully organized dishes, ranging from sweet to sour, from mild to very spicy, from cold to hot.

Each guest was given two plates and was served a long succession of excellent dishes. On one plate a meat or fish preparation would be served, and the other would be filled with rice. The entire meal, with all its courses, took from two to three hours. Since Indonesia gained independence, the rijsttafel has been replaced by the prasmanan, a lengthy, buffet-style meal also featuring scores of dishes. Rijsttafel became popular in The Netherlands, however, and could be ordered in many restaurants, particularly in Amsterdam.

One of the nationally popular preparations is nasi goreng, which originates in China's fried-rice concept. In the Indonesian version, however, most of the meats, vegetables, and garnishes surround the pile of fried rice and only the diner mixes them while eating it, allowing many fascinating taste and texture combinations.

Although many dishes are common to all areas, each region has its own specialties and style of cooking. The West Javanese cooking is rather mild and tends to be much simpler than that of Central Java, which favours very hot, rich, and sweet flavours. East Java, on the other hand, is the place where the spicing becomes very complex and subtle, and the Balinese enjoy many of the dishes forbidden to the Muslim population. For instance, the Bali Hindu religion allows the eating of pork, and saté babi, the little skewers of charcoal-grilled pork bits, is one of the more interesting of their preparations.

One of the most essential elements of an Indonesian meal is the sambals. These are spicy-hot condiments that are served separately to be mixed with the various foods to make them as “fiery” as the individual desires. Krupuk, the deep-fried shrimp wafers, also originated in Indonesia before turning up in other nations' cuisines. Few Indonesian meals are served without gado-gado, an interesting melange of cooked and raw vegetables and bean cake with a sauce made of peanuts, coconut, and spices. Sumatra and Malaysia absorbed much of the Arab and Indian culinary influences. Rendang, for instance, is a beef stew that absorbs a large amount of coconut milk, using the same technique as some of the so-called dry curries of India. Gulai is this area's favourite version of liquid-type curry so common in India.

The Philippine food is much simpler than many of the other Pacific and Southeast Asian cuisines. Although the four centuries of Spanish domination brought considerable influence to this part of the world, Philippine cuisine does have some specialties that can be called its own. Perhaps most typical of these is the fish paste called bagoong and the liquid flavouring sauce patis. Both are based on fermented seafood and, depending on the area or the household, their variety is almost limitless. Generally speaking, a sour-salty taste is the single most characteristic taste of the Philippines.

Perhaps the strongest Chinese influence can be detected in Vietnam, which was dominated or ruled by China through most of the 1st millennium AD. The degree of influence is discernible even in the manner of eating. For instance, this is the only country in the entire area of the Pacific and Southeast Asia where the food is eaten with chopsticks. Nuoc mam, a flavouring sauce, is used in many dishes, and, although it is related to the Philippine patis, it really is a specifically Vietnamese flavour, based again on fermented salted fish and spices. Almost every nation's southern inhabitants prefer their food spicier than those in the northern region, and Vietnam is no exception. The tie-in perhaps between the two regions of Vietnam is the use of fish, which is the most important part of the daily diet. The French occupation in Vietnam mostly contributed to the level of the gastronomy of the upper classes, without influencing very much of the average housewife's cooking.

One of the most complex and structured cuisines of the entire area is the cuisine of Thailand. The fact that the Thai lived for much of their history in comparative peace and political independence had beneficial influence on their gastronomy, together with the fact that, just as in China and France, the ruling classes were actively interested in gastronomy. Because the Thai have basically the same ingredients to work with as the Indonesians, Malaysians, or Indians, the categories of the Thai cooking repertoire are not dissimilar, but the subtleties and complexities of flavour and texture are often superior. For instance, nam prik, the spicy Thai condiment, has even more varieties than the Indonesian sambals do, with many more ideas employed in their combinations. Kaeng is a liquid stew (or perhaps soup-stew) to be mixed with rice. It is very strongly related to the liquid curries, but again the repertoire of kaengs is infinitely larger than almost any other food family in Southeast Asia. Within the formalized gastronomy, the Chinese and Indian influences blend in with such artistry that the emerging cuisine of Thailand is truly its own.

Vietnamese food
Japanese food