Striking the balance between what’s new and what’s familiar can be a challenge for operators—especially for satisfying consumer demand for global fare. Even if 100% authentic recipes don’t align with your menu concept, you can still get inspired by iconic dishes from different cities, regions and countries across Asia.
For example, consider the evolution of Japanese cuisine on US menus. Items like teriyaki sauce and sushi became popular in America in the 1960s1 and today are ubiquitous. Branch out from these staples by examining Japanese street food for flavors or techniques that carry mainstream appeal. Dishes from the Kansai region such as okonomiyaki (savory pancakes) and takoyaki (deep-fried octopus fritters) are gaining traction, with takoyaki up 60% on menus over the past four years.2
Or, start with a well-known dish and consider the differences in preparation or flavor across countries. Nasi goreng, an aromatic and smoky take on fried rice, is the national dish of Indonesia. Even if your customers aren’t familiar with Indonesian cuisine, seeing a dish that’s not too far from their comfort zones is a great way to test the waters. Another great example is lumpia, or Filipino egg rolls, which are showing 37% growth on menus.3 Don’t forget about breakfast—jianbing are a beloved street food in Chinese Shandong cuisine. Your customers will instantly recognize the similarities between them and stuffed crepes.
Sauces and condiments are great ways to introduce consumers to new flavors when combined with your signature menu items. Korean gochujang, Indian chutneys and Vietnamese nuoc cham can dress up burgers, sandwiches, pizza and fried chicken. When it comes to the nuances of Asian cuisines, there’s a rich culinary history to explore—with plenty of jumping-off points for menu innovation!
SWEET, SOUR, SALTY AND SPICY MALA CHICKEN
EIGHT CULINARY TRADITIONS OF CHINA
Historically, Chinese cuisine had been described in terms of the Four Great Traditions representing West, North, South and East China. Today, the definition has expanded to include eight regional cuisines.4
Anhui (notable dish: Bagongshan tofu)
Fujian (notable dish: “Buddha Jumps Over the Wall” shark fin soup)
Guangdong (notable dish: Cantonese-style fried rice)
Hunan (notable dish: Mao’s braised pork)
Jiangsu (notable dish: braised spare ribs)
Shandong (notable dish: sweet potato with caramelized sugar)
Sichuan (notable dish: Dandan noodles)
Zhejiang (notable dish: “A Hundred Birds Facing the Phoenix” chicken with steamed dumplings)
of consumers say they’re more likely to try a new international cuisine at a restaurant than from a grocery store.5
growth of mapo tofu
on US menus since 2020, demonstrating consumer interest in Sichuan cuisine.6
of consumers want to try
new foods in the second half
#RAMEN makes mouths water on Instagram, with over 10.7 million tagged photos. But a deeper dive into the hashtag reveals the unique regional differences of this Japanese dish—from rich, buttery Sapporo-style miso ramen with thick noodles to Hakodate shio ramen, characterized by its light, clear broth and inclusion of seafood.8
VEGAN CURRIED CARROT SOUP
VIETNAMESE-STYLE PHO BROTH BOWL
KOREAN-STYLE TONKATSU BOWL
SESAME-CRUSTED AHI WITH BLISTERED SHISHITO PEPPERS
FRESH VEGETABLE SPRING ROLLS
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Chef Richard Reilly celebrates the menu opportunities presented by the exceptional flavors, ingredients and diversity of Asian cuisines in his latest blog post. Get inspired by the Korean, Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese dishes that are coming to the forefront, with ideas for pushing the envelope to create unforgettable restaurant experiences.
1Leah Bhabha, “The History of Sushi in the U.S.,” Food52, November 29, 2013.
2,3,6Datassential MenuTrends, U.S. menu penetration growth 2016-2020.
4Wikipedia, “Chinese regional cuisine” accessed July 2021.
5Mintel, “Regional and International Flavors and Ingredients: Incl Impact of COVID-19 – US,” November 2020.
7Patricia Cobe, “Doordash reveals the top food trends of 2021,” Restaurant Business, June 9, 2021.
8Instagram, #ramen accessed July 2, 2021.
9J. Kenji López-Alt, “Guide to Ramen Varieties,” Serious Eats, April 18, 2019.