Like the traders and adventurers before us, we’ve travelled all over East Asia to bring back our favourite dishes for you to try. We’ve recreated the flavours and aromas traditionally found at the eternally bustling street-markets of Bangkok and Hanoi, the hawker stalls of Singapore and the noodle vendors of Tokyo. And just like in kitchens across East Asia, we make our sauces and stocks here every day from the freshest market produce.
Japanese food is a treat for the eyes as well as the taste buds. Meals are beautifully presented and only the freshest ingredients are used. Japanese food contains few spices; instead the natural tastes of the individual ingredients are emphasised, and the characteristic flavour of Japanese food often comes from the sea in the form of seaweed, kelp and dried fish flakes, from rice wines such as mirin and sake, and from products made from soya beans such as miso, tofu and Japanese soy sauce.
The 200-year ban on foreigners from 1640 meant that food in Japan remained true to its origins, and exquisitely refined. The country’s strong Zen Buddhist faith is also reflected in the simplicity and restraint of its cuisine, as in other walks of life.
Vietnam shares its border with China, Laos and Cambodia. The influence of its neighbours can be seen in its cuisine, as Northern Vietnamese cuisine shares distinct similarities with Chinese cooking and in the South the food more closely resembles South-east Asian cuisine.
There is also a lightness of touch and sophistication developed during the years of French colonisation. Despite these influences, there are flavours strongly associated with Vietnam: the lush greenness of the country produces a wide range of vegetables and herbs that impart a fresh taste and fragrance to its cooking, such as zesty limes, lemongrass, Asian basil, star anise and chillies. Bunches of coriander and mint are scattered on steaming bowls of Pho, a noodle and meat soup that can be bought on every street corner.
Stretching over 8,000 kilometres, this lush tropical archipelago is made up of 13,000 islands. Numerous cultures have flourished here, from early Buddhist and Hindu empires to the rise of Islam. In the following centuries, Portuguese and British merchants also traded here but the Dutch had the strongest impact, occupying the islands for 250 years.
The Indonesian cuisine is equally rich and varied, reflecting its diverse cultural influences. It combines the sweetness of fresh coconut, palm sugar and peanuts with the sourness of limes, lemongrass and tamarind.
Separated by only a narrow strip of water, the peninsula of Malaysia and the island state of Singapore have many dishes in common. The Indian, Muslim and Chinese heritage of both countries can be seen in Indian-hot curries, Middle-Eastern inspired satays and Chinese noodles and stir-fries.
Also, the cultural and racial mixture of Malays and Chinese has created Nonya food an exciting blend of Chinese balance and Malay heat, examples of which are dishes like Laksa, a fiery curry of seafood, chicken and noodles simmered in coconut milk and Nonya Chicken & Lime Curry.
Thai food has an elegance and refinement that is all its own. Whilst Thai food shares with its neighbours many ingredients such as ginger, garlic, lemongrass, tangy lime leaves and handfuls of aromatic basil, coriander and mint, its blend of hot, salty, sour and sweet give the food its uniqueness.
Heat from red and green chillies, saltiness from fish sauce (nam pla), sourness from tamarind and sweetness from palm sugar and coconut milk are brought together in a wonderful cuisine, the key to which is balance and harmony.