Between China, Japan, Thailand and South Korea – food is not just a source of sustenance, it speaks to their identities as diverse and culturally rich nations.
Most people list “Asian” as a type of food. It turns out that all of these Asian countries have very different cuisines and traditions that go in to making them. That’s not to say they don’t all enjoy some similarities, but the difference in flavors you’d find between them is also nothing to scoff at.
For example, take the common staple foods for each of these countries.
In China, the use of wheat and millet is highly prominent, especially among lower-economic households. Millet is a key ingredient in Chinese porridge. The wheat, of course, is used in noodles and flatbreads. And, it’s always white wheat because whole wheat is seen as lower class. By contrast, India only uses whole wheat.
You can’t talk about staples without talking about rice. Rice is unique to virtually every culture, and Asian nations are no exception. China and the Southeastern nations use long-grain rice like jasmine, whereas Japan and Korea use short-grained rice.
For noodles, almost every country is different. China uses flour and water based noodles that are usually thick and cooked with soy sauce. Southeastern nations, like Vietnam, utilize rice noodles in their famous dishes like Phad Thai. They also enjoy mixing their noodles with sweetness, whereas the Chinese prefer their noodles along with broth.
The Japanese are similar to China in that regard as well. Their main staple, ramen noodles, actually originated in China. The practice of using baking soda to make soft, yellow noodles was passed on to Japan before World War II and quickly proliferated amongst the working class. In the end, ramen exploded in Japan but China stuck to its roots.
A similar phenomenon occurred in Vietnam with their main noodle dish, Pho. Pho soup didn’t actually originate in Vietnam, but rather the concept was birthed in France and blended with Vietnamese noodle culture during the country’s occupation. In France, the practice of making stew with marrow-filled bones is the same practice used to give pho the hearty taste it is famous for today.
Koreans use sweet potato-rich starch for their dangmyeon (which translates to Chinese Noodles) which are more chewy and rich than their Asian counterparts. The noodle is actually very close to Italy’s vermicelli pasta. Most other Asian countries utilize mung bean starch, which is more spongey.
Finally, one of the biggest differences in the taste/feel of dishes between all of these regions is the level of spiciness. Here, the Vietnamese tower above the rest with their sweet and spicy noodle dishes. Korean barbeque comes in at second, with China’s Sichuan and Hunan dishes following up. Japan uses very little spicy flavoring in their dishes, choosing instead to rely on the natural flavoring of their noodles and meats.
Speaking of meat, the carnivores among us will be much better served at Korean and Vietnamese establishments, which incorporate meat (especially beef) in virtually all of their dishes. China does win out on their use of pork, however, and you’d be hard-pressed to find any beef among their ranks. Chicken is used frequently throughout China as well, but Japan reigns supreme in their use of seafood – can’t forget about sushi, too!