Sponsored by: Blount Fine Foods
From Korean tacos to Vietnamese bahn mi to Japanese ramen bowls, Americans are embracing a new wave of Asian-influenced dishes which are appearing throughout the foodservice spectrum.
“In terms of Asian food, it’s as exciting a time in the United States as there’s ever been, from our perspective,” says Michael Parlapiano, creative director at The Culinary Edge, a consulting firm based in San Francisco.
Korean flavors and ingredients in particular have surged in popularity, he says.
“We’re seeing the use of Korean ingredients everywhere,” says Parlapiano. “There is an appeal to Korean food specifically. It’s sweet; it’s salty; it’s spicy — it hits all those flavor notes that people who grew up eating Chinese food have come to know and love. I think that’s why Korean food is seeing such a popular resurgence right now.”
Increased consumer interest in Asian flavors has inspired operators to take a fresh look at a range of Asian dishes, recast them with fresh, high-quality ingredients and put their own spin on them.
Customizing Asian flavors
Joshua Harmon, executive chef and partner at Junction Craft + Kitchen in Dallas, has embraced the concept of adapting Asian dishes, flavors and ingredients for American consumers. His menu fuses Southern cuisine with a variety of Asian cuisines, from Korean to Japanese, Vietnamese, Chinese and Thai.
Dishes such as his signature family-style Miso Pork Belly and his Korean Sticky Duck Leg reflect the restaurant’s ability to bridge the culinary traditions of the Deep South with those of the Far East. Certain commonalities, such as the use of pickled ingredients, help to make some Asian dishes more approachable for his Texas clientele, Harmon says.
“We make our kimchee in-house four to five times a week, and our customers are loving it,” says Harmon. “I pickle and ferment a lot, and that’s something that people in the South have been doing for a long time, just as they have in Asian countries.”
His Asian-inspired Brussels sprouts dish, for example, includes fish sauce caramel, pickled pecan, burnt lime mayo and bonito, and is one the most popular items on the menu, he says.
More operators join in
Chain restaurants, from quick-service to casual, also have been swept up in the Asian flavor tsunami. At Calabasas, California-based Cheesecake Factory, several of the chain’s newest dishes reflect an Asian inspiration, including Korean Fried Cauliflower; Thai Coconut Lime Chicken; Crispy Pineapple Chicken and Shrimp; and Chicken, Mango and Avocado Salad.
Meanwhile, Panera Bread has enjoyed success with several Asian-inspired dishes. The St. Louis, Missouri-based bakery-café chain in 2015 began rolling out Broth Bowls — available with soba noodles, soy-miso and edamame — combined with some more familiar local ingredients, such as spinach and broccoli.
“The line is thoroughly Asian-inspired, though ultimately American, offering just enough excitement to entice customers without risking a serious shift in Panera’s positioning,” Elizabeth Friend, senior foodservice analyst at Euromonitor, wrote in a blog post.
“Asian flavors are growing increasingly popular all over the world, due in part to rapid growth in Asian markets, but also to rising interest in bold, spicy flavors and exciting new foodservice experiences,” she says.
Add with care
Nevertheless, operators thinking about adding Asian flavors and ingredients to their menus need to carefully consider their approach, says Parlapiano of The Culinary Edge. He suggests using familiar forms such as tacos, sandwiches, salads and bowls, and working closely with ingredient suppliers to procure the right recipe components.
“Manufacturers are recognizing these trends and providing products that allow restaurant operators to get some of these flavors and forms in front of consumers in a way that is authentic,” he says.
Better-For-You Asian dishes
Blount Fine Foods, which provides a range of broths, soups, entrées, sides and other dishes for the foodservice industry, is one example of a supplier which is providing operators with high-quality Asian dishes. The company’s Chicken Ramen and Hibachi Chicken & Rice, for example, are made with fresh, antibiotic-free chicken, and have clean ingredient labels, says Bob Sewall, executive vice president of sales and marketing, Blount Fine Foods.
In both cases, the starch — ramen noodles and brown rice, respectively — are supplied separately from the other ingredient, so that they can be added to the dish just before serving to optimize product quality.
“When the dish comes out, the noodles are cooked to perfection,” says Sewall. “It really looks like a homemade Asian noodle bowl.”
Antibiotic-free chicken and clean Asian ingredients such as organic soy sauce and shiitake mushrooms imbue the Blount dishes with a better-for-you halo. In addition, the Hibachi Chicken with Brown Rice is a gluten-free dish.
“Our goal is not only to give you a clean ingredient deck, but to give you the starch component, whether it be rice or or noodles, separately, so you get a better eating experience,” says Sewall. “We are allowing restaurants to capitalize on consumers’ desire for healthy, better-for-you foods, and allowing them to provide the Asian-flavored dishes their customers are craving.”