Asian Cooking in the West
Cooking is cleaning raw ingredients, cutting into appropriate sizes, combining them, heating to tenderize texture, heating to kill adverse microbes, generating attractive flavors and satisfying appetites at serving. Cooking can bring about palatability and nutrition better than eating raw as well as providing pleasure at the table. Time is needed for such a preparation or culinary process which is longer than eating raw directly into the mouth. As a matter of course, skill is required, often with patience. Cooking must be one of the key human behaviors to separate us from the rest of the creatures.
No extraordinary difference in the basics likely exists between Western and Asian cooking. But let’s see some variations visible at kitchen goods stores, food trade shows or TV cooking shows. They must be logical or convenient within each food culture due to the tradition and supply. Though, a chance of intermingling use may possibly come into our blending culinary world.
At kitchen goods stores, a wok sits next to frying pans or pots, appealing for easier stir frying. Actually a wok is almost only one almighty cooking pan in many Chinese kitchens. For steaming, frying in oil or boiling noodles, you can witness more by peeping through a kitchen door at a Chinese restaurant. A traditional real iron wok is hard to find these days. A thin iron sheet wok is alright to work with, though. Next is bamboo products like a bundle of bamboo skewer sticks or a bamboo spatula. Bamboo skewers are disposable and handy to make yakaitori, chicken BBQ skewers, over charcoal. Bamboo is a fast growing plant, which poses little worry about depleting this natural resource or unlikely competing with Giant Pandas, which consume bamboo as a staple. A bamboo spatula is light to hold for mashing or mixing boiled potatoes or vegetables. It may not make a squeaking sound or scratch on a metal or non-stick pan surface like a spoon or fork might.
At food trade shows like the Fancy Food Show, Natural Product Expo, International Food & Restaurant Show of NY and regional-local ones, exotic Asian traditional food-ingredients, cooking gadgets and their new innovations wait you. As both an exhibitor or attendee, I enjoyed exchanges of food cultures there. Many Asian governments are eager to participate in food expos for promoting the export of their products. You may see more traditional, unique things at their booths, often requiring good interpretations. Among them, a knife is a relatively new addition, particularly from Japan. It has a tradition of making elaborate samurai swords, which is applied to making a sharp, thin kitchen knife. A sashimi knife seems to function well to cut fish or seafood by pulling inward. A western knife may function as a butcher’s cutter by chopping, in my view.
Cooking shows are my favorite TV programs to watch. I do so not so much to get an idea of cooking a new meal, but rather to see traditions or innovations in cooking. They are all mouth-watering by forgetting calorie intake or cost. For Asian cooking, Marty Yen initiated, followed by the Iron Chef series and Ming-Tsai. Numerous culinary scenes of French, American, Italian, Mexican, BBQ, British, Scandinavian, Middle Eastern, Indian and Korean, all are joyful. Though, none is specialized for Japanese cooking on the screen yet. My noticeable difference between the West and the East is the use of chopsticks. Asians use chopsticks, usually long ones, in cooking for mixing or picking. I have seen almost none in cooking shows in Japan. Westerners, on the other hand, use a tongue for a similar function. A tongue is easier to pick up a large chunk of food. If you are skilled with chopsticks, try to use them for picking up a tiny thing in cooking - practice your chopsticks skills by picking up slippery beans one by one. Enjoy cooking in either way.