A true fact about the world today: go to any major city — Hong Kong, Dubai, Caracas or Brussels – and you will find food. International food. Chinese take-out, Thai favorites, counters serving sushi. These are just some of the Asian dining experiences that have grown in popularity against the backdrop of local cuisines, leaving room for a lot of creativity and experimentation to take hold in cities around the world.
Certainly East has met West in cities like New York, Vancouver and London, but in the rapidly changing environments of Asia, the question remains. How receptive are the Chinese to Western wines or French fine dining? Likewise, what are the social perceptions in South Korea to Western influences in food and cooking? In what is a three-part podcast, AsianTalks spoke to food and wine experts Jeannie Cho Lee of Asian Palate and Joe McPherson of ZenKimchi about emerging trends, as well as their own personal experiences of visiting other parts of Asia outside their respective hometowns. Their responses were surprising, varied, and indicative of just how quickly dining trends do take hold in the vibrant metropolises of Asia today.
AsianTalks: Let’s start off by talking about Asian cross-pollination in the culinary world, beginning with any observations you have both made. Jeannie, has Korean food grown in popularity in Hong Kong? Conversely, Joe, is there a decent place in Seoul to get dim sum?
Jeannie: About Korean restaurants in Hong Kong, I wouldn’t say it’s been the kind of the popular growth I’ve seen in Japanese cuisine. When I first arrived and settled here 18 years ago, there weren’t really that many great Japanese restaurants, and now really over the last ten years you find from yakitori to Izakaya style pub food to kaiseki, sushi, sashimi, all of that. You get the whole range of Japanese cuisine in Hong Kong. But Korean food actually really hasn’t grown that much.
But there’s always been a pretty strong Korean community here in Hong Kong.
Joe: I’m actually always scouring the Internet for news on Korean food popping up, and I have not seen much happening in Hong Kong.
As far as Asian cross-pollination goes, trends pop up here really quickly overnight. A few years ago there was the Vietnamese pho trend, and two years ago North Indian cuisine got really popular.
Jeannie: And Joe, do those trendy restaurants survive, or do they come and go and change after a couple of years?
Joe: It becomes part of the cuisine. Now you can get Pho kits and curry kits at supermarkets, which you couldn’t before. So now it’s part of the everyday cuisine. It has been localized. The pho does not use coriander. It doesn’t use the herbs real Vietnamese pho does. And the Indian curry is a little sweeter. But it’s still incorporated into the daily life here.
AsianTalks: It’s interesting, particularly with regards to what Jeannie has said about Korean food in Hong Kong. Because my guess was — with the increasing popularity of Korean entertainment outside Korea, there would be renewed interest in Korean food.
Joe: I do see Korean food popping up where the Korean wave is catching on. In Southeast Asia, I’m seeing a lot more articles about Korean food from the Philippines. But in places like Western Europe, it really hasn’t caught on much as in North America.
It usually has been in places where Korean pop culture has coincided with the popularity of Korean food. But we’d have to explore that a little bit more.
Up next: A survey of wine trends in Asia!