Article: Taste of Southeast Asia -- August 2008
The countries of Thailand, Malaysia, Burma, Laos, The Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore and Indonesia are located in Southeast Asia. These countries have similar cooking techniques and ingredient usage. On the other hand, there are some basic differences, when the cultures are examined. For example, the majority of the people in Indonesia and Malaysia follow Islam practices, which means pork and alcohol are not consumed. For many years, the French occupied Vietnam. Today, Vietnamese cooking is influenced by French cooking. It is not uncommon to find street vendors in small towns and large cities throughout Vietnam selling freshly baked French bread, brioche, croissants and golden rice tartlets called gateaux de riz (or rice pudding).
The Philippines were once occupied by Spain. Chili peppers, tomato sauce and the cooking technique of sautéing a combination of onions and garlic, are staples of Filipino cooking--all brought over by the Spaniards.
Street FoodStreet food is considered more important in Southeast Asia than fine-dining restaurants and grocery markets. This kind of food is considered fast food to the locals. Vendors sell food and beverage items that are indigenous to the local region of each town, city and province. Breakfast, lunch and dinner can be purchased from street vendors every day of the week throughout the region. In Malaysia, Singapore and Cambodia, putu mayam (a cold coconut and rice noodle dish) is eaten for breakfast. In Indonesia, the streets are filled with hawkers peddling their food and beverage products on bicycles and push-carts. Popular items include fried rice, soups, satay and small cakes.
Street food sold in Thailand includes a variety of Pad Thai, including vegetarian, meat, seafood and poultry versions. Trader Joe’s produces a Vegan Pad Thai product (11oz bowl). It is made with noodles, peanut sauce, tofu, carrots and scallions--and is similar to the vegetarian version of Pad Thai sold on Thailand’s streets.
There is also a Thai version of fried rice called Khao Pad (cooked, short-grain white rice, stir-fried with chopped onions, garlic, vegetable oil, mushrooms, eggs, red bell peppers, basil leaves, fish sauce, chili sauce and scallions). Ajinomoto Frozen Foods USA was one of the first manufacturers to produce a restaurant-quality, frozen rice for the U.S. retail market. The company’s signature flavor is the Asian-style, pork-fried rice (16oz) made with cooked, short-grain white rice, cooked teriyaki pork, sake starch, grilled flavors, scrambled eggs, carrots, green peas, onions, soy sauce, pork fat, bamboo shoots, MSG, salt and spices.
Noodle Bowls to Egg RollsAnnie Chun’s manufactures a product called Thai Tom Yum Soup FreshPak Noodle Bowl (classic Thai soup with ginger and chili lime, 5.4oz). It is made with noodles, fish sauce, fish chili pepper, evaporated cane juice, onions, lime juice concentrate, salt, pressed canola oil, dehydrated ginger, maltodextrin, mushroom extract, tamarind, yeast extract, garlic shrimp extract, green onions, bok choy, deep fried tofu, dehydrated red peppers, dehydrated shiitake mushrooms and guar gum.
For over 20 years, Amy’s has been producing natural and organic foods with international flavors. The company produces 88 frozen meals, including pizza, pocket sandwiches, pot pies, entrées, snacks and bowl meals. There is also a grocery line of canned soups--beans and chili--and jarred pasta sauces. One of the popular retail items is the Asian noodle stir-fry, made with rice noodles. It is gluten-free, containing no dairy, no cholesterol and no added MSG. The ingredients are broccoli, onions, red bell peppers, carrots, mushrooms, cabbage, green beans and tofu.
In the Philippines, fish balls and squid balls are very popular street foods. They are usually served with some type of chili dipping sauce. Barbecued pork parts; deep fried chicken and quail eggs; fried pork rolls; and pork and shrimp rolls are also enjoyed throughout this country.
Kahiki Foods recently launched a line of microwavable egg rolls, packaged in individual, innovative, easy-crisp pouches. There is a pork and shrimp flavor that captures the flavors of Southeast Asia. The microwavable egg roll requires 2.5 minutes of heating time vs. the traditional 20 minutes in the oven. There are three (3oz) egg rolls packed in a retail box, along with three (1oz) packets of sweet and sour sauce. “We are bringing to the market the first-ever egg roll that’s designed to be microwaved. This is a value-added proposition for the consumer. They get the crunch of an oven-baked product, with the portability and convenience of a microwaveable product,” says Tim Tsao, vice president of sales and marketing, Kahiki Foods. The egg rolls contain no trans fat, MSG or artificial additives. Kahiki Foods has another Southeast Asia-inspired appetizer product called the Lemongrass Chicken Stix, made from a crispy crepe filled with sweet, herb-flavored chicken.
Vietnamese FoodIn Vietnam, there is pho bo (beef and noodle soup), which is considered a national institution. It is made with rice noodles, thinly sliced sirloin (or round) steak, scallions, cilantro, red onion and beef stock. This soup is usually garnished with lime wedges, fresh mint, bean sprouts and chili sauce.
The avocado shake is a well-liked beverage sold on the streets of Vietnam and is made with fresh avocado, condensed milk, sugar and ice. Filipino street vendors also make this shake, and Indonesian street vendors like to add coffee or chocolate syrup to their version.
Desserts are not popular in Southeast Asia. However, fresh fruit and flavored ice creams usually satisfy the palate. Ice cream flavors such as coconut, avocado, cheese and yam are very common in this region of the world.