There are many amazing dishes produced in Asian countries that people in the West have taken to their hearts. Most large cities in the West have Chinatown’s of-sorts serving not only Chinese, with its various regions, but Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese etc. So when Westerners visit these parts of the world they assume that the food should be familiar; well they should never make assumptions.
Asian foods in Asia tends to focus on eating the entire animal rather than just the prime cuts; something that the West have stopped. Even when they did eat the offal, they didn’t eat them to the same extent as in the East.
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The Taiwanese are a nation that likes to eat the entire animal, from nose to tail – including the bits you don’t want to think about. In Taipei, you can find pretty much anything put on a stick and barbequed right in front of you in the street. Anyone for pork blood cake? Or what about chicken heads? Not something that you fancy, maybe a nice piece of pig’s cartilage to chew on? Welcome to the wonderful world of xiao chi (small eats) which you can find at the night markets all around Taiwan but especially in Taipei on Guangzhou Street.
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In Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, you would be hard pushed to find any dish, served on the street or in a restaurant, that doesn’t contain nuoc mam or mama tom; a brown block of dried and processed shrimp paste. Not only does it not look very appetising it smells horrendous. In fact, during the Vietnamese war the American soldiers apparently nicknamed it “viet cong tear gas” as it was so vile. But the Vietnamese add it to everything, from their national dish Pho to the dipping sauce for their Summer Rolls. The problem for the Western traveller is that shellfish allergies are most common of all allergies and you will struggle to find a dish without dried shrimp paste. Even their paté served in the traditional French baguettes have the addition of nuoc mam.
Chengdu, at the heart of the Sichuan region of China has been named the Unesco City of Gastronomy 2011 but their cuisine should not be taken lightly. The main ingredients are oil, garlic, chilli and Sichuan Pepper – a special spice that is actually a flower head with the ability to numb the mouth. There is one special dish that is a bit of an in-joke, Beef boiled in water.
Image credit: Augapfel
Due to its name, tourists often order it as a break from the mind-numbingly hot food of the region. Actually it’s one of the hottest dishes that you can get. In Fuchsia Dunlop’s Land of Plenty she has recreated this dish but has, rather helpfully, given it the slightly more truthful name of “Boiled Beef Slices in a Fiery Sauce”. In her recipe, for two people, she dictates a handful of dried chillies, 2 teaspoons of Sichuan pepper and 2 tablespoons of chilli bean paste. From her introduction “As they say in Sichuan, it’ll make you pour with sweat, even on the coldest day of the year.”
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