Western food in Asia is often localised to the point of being hardly recognisable to Westerners, a situation analogous to Asian, in particular Chinese, cuisines in the West. This article aims to provide an overview of the unique variations on Western food that have developed in Asia that Western visitors might be interested to try.
Most major Asian cities and nearly all the high-class hotels have Western restaurants, and many expatriates run restaurants, mainly in tourist towns or beach resort areas, with authentic Western food. Those places are listed in the relevant destination articles, but this article does not include them. Instead it focuses on local adaptations of Western food.
Many Western fast food chains have locations in Asia, and most have partly adapted their menus to local preferences. Often there are also local fast food chains with partly Western menus. Some fast food is therefore covered in the country sections below.
Contact between Asian and Western cultures has existed since antiquity, with one of the most famous ancient routes connecting Asia and Europe being the Silk Road. Starting from the 15th century, Europeans started setting sail for distant lands, beginning a period known as the Age of Discovery, which established trade routes by sea between Asia and Europe. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to reach Asia by sea, and established the first European colony in Asia at Goa in 1510 and the first in East Asia at Macau in 1557. Many other colonizers, traders and missionaries followed.
This contact has led to the influx of Western culinary culture into Asia, which is often fused with traditional Asian ingredients and cooking techniques to give rise to distinctive styles of Western food that are noticeably different from what Westerners would be used to at home.
There is a whole subculture of budget travellers from the West that developed in the post-World War II period, resulting in the emergence of numerous local businesses catering to them, along routes we describe in the Hippie Trail and Banana Pancake Trail articles. Some foods, like the banana pancakes or the yoghurt-and-muesli breakfasts, are adaptations of foreign dishes, but these places tend to have quite eclectic menus. In Indonesia, for example, a restaurant might offer a menu composed mostly of local foods but with additions such as guacamole and milkshakes.
A number of Western ingredients are used in cuisines across Asia, with varying degrees of foreignness, but one New World ingredient that it's hard to imagine being without is chili peppers. Spanish conquistadores in the 16th century took a liking to them and brought them home to Europe and to their colonies in the Philippines, where they spread to East Asia, and the Portuguese similarly brought them to India. These new fruits, which provided a different kind of heat than earlier spices like black pepper, turmeric, or ginger, were a big hit and have become an indispensable part of Sichuan, Hunan, Korean, Thai, Indian, Malay and many other Asian cuisines.
A number of other foods originally from the New World are now common in various parts of Asia. Potatoes did not displace existing staple crops like wheat and rice, but did become a common fixture in South Asian cuisine. Tomatoes had success there as well, and are also widely used in the Philippines due to Spanish influence, but find fewer uses in other East Asian cuisines. Papayas are also commonly used in the Philippines, Indonesia, Laos, and Thailand, and guava is popular in a number of Asian countries. Corn (maize) is somewhat common in many Asian countries (and widely produced, although most of that is for animal feed). Cassava, sweet potatoes, peanuts, and many varieties of bean and squash have all found uses in Asian cuisines. Avocados are now grown in several Southeast Asian countries, but are generally not a common ingredient in local cuisine.
- See also: Chinese cuisine
The generic term for Western food in Chinese is 西餐 (xīcān), which can include anything from authentic carbon copies of French or Italian dishes to locally invented Western-style dishes that cannot be found in Western countries. The term also encompasses cuisine from countries that may not be considered "Western" from an American or Western European perspective, such as Russia. Many of the major American fast food chains like McDonald's, KFC, Pizza Hut and Burger King have a presence in China, though menus are often adapted to suit the Chinese palate. Some have also had to change their concept; instead of being a fast food chain, Pizza Hut is a sit down full service restaurant chain in China. Menus also often differ between regions to account for regional differences in Chinese palates.
Shanghai was home to numerous foreign concessions from 1846 to 1945, and developed a unique local style of Western food known as Haipai cuisine (海派西餐 hǎipài xīcān). These days, with the increasing internationalization of Shanghai and consequently, the increasing availability of authentic Western cuisines, Haipai cuisine is becoming harder to find, but remains available in a few old-school Western restaurants that are often patronized by older Shanghainese residents. Some of these restaurants include Red House Restaurant (红房子西菜馆 hóng fángzi xīcài guǎn), Swan Shanghai Pavillion Restaurant (天鹅申阁西菜社 tiān'é shēn gé xīcài shè), Deda Restaurant (德大西菜社 dédà xīcài shè), Thames Restaurant (泰晤士西餐社 tàiwùshì xīcān shè) and Richard Restaurant (新利查西餐馆 xīn lǐchá xīcān guǎn). Haipai cuisine was mainly inspired by French, German, Italian, Russian and British cuisines. A local variant of Worcestershire sauce (辣酱油 là jiàngyóu) is commonly used in Haipai cuisine, though it tends to lack the umami flavor of the English original. Typical Haipai dishes include:
- Shanghai-style borscht (罗宋汤 luósòng tāng)
- Fried pork chops (炸猪排 zhá zhūpái)
- Potato salad (土豆色拉 tǔdòu sèlā)
- Baked clams (烙蛤蜊 lào gélí)
- Napoleon cake (拿破仑 nápòlún)
Haipai cuisine also includes many Western-style cakes and pastries, though these are also increasingly hard to find. Several of the aforementioned restaurants, including Thames Restaurant, Red House Restaurant and Deda Restaurant also run their own bakeries, each with their own Haipai-style signature items. For instances, Thames is known for their curry puff (咖喱角 gālí jiǎo), kuai shuang (快爽 kuài shuǎng) and butter cake (牛油蛋糕 niúyóu dàn gāo), Red House is known for their seaweed pastry (海苔饼 hǎitái bǐng), and Deda is known for their lemon pie (柠檬派 níngméng pài). There are also several standalone Haipai-style bakeries including Picardie Bakery (衡山饼屋 héngshān bǐngwū), known for their ground chestnut cake (栗子粉蛋糕 lìzi fěn dàn gāo), Kaisiling (凯司令 kǎisīlìng), known for their crispy bread (别司忌 biésījì) and chocolate eclair (哈斗 hādòu), Dexing Fang (德兴坊西点 déxìng fáng xīdiǎn), known for their caramel nougat (焦糖牛轧 jiāotáng niúzhá), Shenshen Bakery (申申面包房 shēnshēn miànbāo fáng), known for their mini croissant (小羊角 xiǎo yángjiǎo), and White Magnolia Bakery (白玉兰面包房 bái yùlán miànbāo fáng), known for their soft bread roll (白脱小球 bái tuō xiǎo qiú). There is also the Jinchen Hotel (金辰大饭店 jīnchén dà fàndiàn), which is known for its distinctive Haipai-style gelato (冰糕 bīng gāo).
Besides Shanghai, another city famous among the Chinese for Western food is Harbin, a former Russian colony. The first wave of Russian immigration to Harbin took place from 1897–1905, when many people moved here to work on the Russian-built China Eastern Railway. The second wave came here following the communist victory in the Russian Revolution from 1917–1923, when many upper class Russians fled the new communist regime and settled in Harbin. These Russian immigrants brought their culinary traditions with them, and over the years incorporated flavors and techniques from the local Northeast Chinese cuisine to give rise to a distinctively local style of Russian cuisine known as Harbin Russian cuisine (哈尔滨俄式西餐 Hā'ěrbīn éshì xīcān). Among the local foodstuffs that show a clear Russian influence are Harbin-style smoked savory red sausage (哈尔滨红肠 Hā'ěrbīn hóngcháng) and a type of bread based on Russian rye bread known as dalieba (大列巴 dà liěba). There are several old-school restaurants that serve the local style of Russian cuisine, though many of these are now tourist traps that serve mediocre food. Nevertheless, two restaurants that have received good reviews from local diners are 92°C Russian Cuisine Restaurant (92°C俄式厨房 jiǔshíèr shèshìdù éshì chúfáng) and Jiangpan Restaurant (江畔餐厅 jiāngpàn cāntīng). Some signature Russian dishes from Harbin include:
- Borscht (红菜汤 hóngcài tāng)
- Deep fried meat buns (油炸包 yóuzhá bāo)
- Milk sauce fried beef patties (奶汁肉饼 nǎizhī ròubǐng)
- Beef gorshochki (罐焖牛肉 guàn mèn niúròu)
- Prawn gorshochki (罐虾 guàn xiā).
Harbin is also home to a famous ice cream shop named Modern (马迭尔 mǎdié'ěr), founded by Russian Jews in 1906, and known to locals for its milk popsicles (冰棍 bīng gùn).
Hong Kong was a British colony from 1841 to 1997, and has developed its own unique local style of Western food, often dubbed "soy sauce Western food" (豉油西餐). This style of cuisine largely originated in the 1950s, when more and more locals wanted to experience the cuisine of their colonial masters, but were largely too poor to afford to dine in restaurants serving the authentic stuff. As such, local chefs adapted many Western dishes for the local market, often using cheaper local ingredients instead of importing more expensive ingredients from the West in order to save costs. Today, these dishes are seen as an integral part of Hong Kong's culinary scene, and are the one of the main distinguishing factors between the cuisine of Hong Kong and that of the Cantonese-speaking parts of mainland China.
Hong Kong-style Western food is usually served in budget restaurants knowns as cha chaan teng (茶餐廳), though there are also some restaurants serving this cuisine at higher price points, the most famous being Tai Ping Koon Restaurant (太平館餐廳) with four locations throughout Hong Kong, which has been in business for over a century and is known for having invented Swiss chicken wings and the giant baked soufflé.
Some signature Western dishes from Hong Kong are:
- Sizzling plate meal (鐵板餐) — a common way to serve Western-style meat and fish dishes in Hong Kong, most commonly steak.
- "Swiss" chicken wings (瑞士雞翼) — chicken wings flavoured with a sweet soy sauce-based marinade.
- Baked pork chop rice (焗豬扒飯)
- Coffee with tea or Yuenyeung (鴛鴦)
- Borscht (羅宋湯) — the difference is that Hong Kong restaurants use tomato paste instead of beets for the soup
- Hong Kong-style French toast (西多士) — fried peanut butter sandwich immersed in egg batter, and served with butter and syrup
- Giant baked soufflé (梳乎厘) — meant for sharing among the entire party
- See also: South Asian cuisine
Pork is haram, forbidden to Muslims, and beef is taboo to Hindus and prohibited in many states, notable exceptions including West Bengal and Kerala. Additionally, nearly all Jains, and a significant portion of Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhist are vegetarian. Western dishes therefore often turn up either in vegetarian versions or with chicken, goat meat or less commonly mutton substituted for the usual meats. For example, you may find lamburgers in the Western-style air-conditioned restaurants that serve tourists and well-off Indians. Vegetarian patties tend to be made from potato, paneer cheese or a variety of beans and lentils. While pork (and its processed forms like ham and bacon) is available in the major metropolises in areas where the Muslim population is not significant and is a staple among the Christian community, it is not commonly eaten by Hindus who do eat meat.
One of the biggest changes to Western foods in India is the flavour. Indians have embraced the texture of sandwiches, pizza and pasta but find the meals as eaten in the West too bland for their liking. Western meals outside of touristy hotspots are served for the Indian palate where spices are infused into the food and greater amounts of sauce are used.
Goa, which was ruled by Portugal for hundreds of years, has been particularly powerfully influenced by a European cuisine. The famous vindaloo is a local adaptation of the Portuguese dish, carne de vinha d'alhos (meat with wine and garlic), and is traditionally made with pork, but since wine is not common in India, vinegar is used, and a heavy dose of chili peppers and a masala of other Indian spices are added.
Anglo-Indian cuisine developed under British rule, as Indian cooks made dishes that appealed to the palates of their British employers and used locally available ingredients and techniques. Anglo-Indian-style chutneys, which have had a continuing presence in both Indian and British cuisines, are an example of a fusion of styles. They typically use tart fruits with sugar, spices, and vinegar—as opposed to mustard oil, which is used in traditional Indian pickling—in a fusion of traditional Indian and British pickling techniques, British preserves-making and sometimes Indian fruits such as mango.
- See also: Japanese cuisine
Indirect trade between Japan and the West began via Macau in the 16th century. Western influence became much stronger after 1854, when American commodore Matthew Perry used their far superior naval equipment to force Japan to open up to trade with the West after centuries of self-imposed isolation. This led to the downfall of the Tokugawa Shogunate, and power being returned to the Emperor Meiji in what is dubbed the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Subsequently, Japan launched itself into a headlong drive to modernize based on Western models, becoming the first non-Western country to industrialize, and the first to defeat a European power in the 1905 Russo-Japanese War. They also adopted many Western cultural influences including Western cuisine, albeit often modifying recipes to suit the local Japanese palate.
Yōshoku (洋食) is the Japanese word for "Western food", which covers anything from molecular-level carbon copies of famous French pastries to hardly recognizable Japan-ized dishes like corn-and-potato pizza and spaghetti with cod roe.
Curry (カレー karē) was introduced to Japan by the British in the 19th century, has been adapted, and is now quite common. It's quite different from Indian curry, and more similar to a Western stew, with meat and common stewing vegetables (onions, carrots, and potatoes) in a thick brown sauce that has very little heat. It's most commonly served as curry rice (カレーライス karē raisu), on a plate with half plain white rice and half curry and dressed with Japanese pickles, usually fukujinzuke (crunchy red daikon) or rakkyō (pearl onions). It can also be served with udon noodles, or stuffed into bread to make curry bread. Japanese curry, particularly curry rice, has becoming internationally popular in its own right and is even exported; for example, Shanghai has many restaurants offering Japanese-style curry.
Although rice remains the quintessential grain of Japanese cuisine, bread has been adapted to suit Japanese tastes. The Japanese don't usually care for rustic loaves with thick crispy crusts and chewy interiors; instead, the most common savory bread is their take on the common square white sandwich loaf known as shokupan (食パン "eating bread"). Unlike the colloquial meaning of "white bread", shokupan is anything but boring. Compared to Western milk bread, it's a bit sweeter and has a soft texture that almost falls apart like cotton. It's commonly used in Western-style breakfasts, where it's cut extremely thick — as much as 2.5-3 cm or 1 inch! — toasted and topped with butter or jam. It's also used for sandwiches, which include Japanese interpretations of the egg salad sandwich (lauded for its simple perfection of using not much more than hardboiled eggs and yolky Japanese mayo) and the pork or chicken cutlet sandwich, but also unique inventions like the fruit sandwich (whipped cream and strawberries or sometimes other fruit, always immaculately cut into triangles to present a cross-section of the fruit). Quite a few Japanese-invented breads and pastries fill the market, including anpan (あんパン, a sweet roll filled with paste made from adzuki beans or sometimes sesame, chestnuts, etc.) and melon bread (メロンパン meron pan, a sweet bun with a sugar cookie top styled to resemble a cantaloupe; best had as fresh as possible as the cookie topping doesn't keep well). Convenience stores and bakeries abound with other hybrids like curry bread (a deep-fried bun filled with curry sauce) and hot dog rolls filled with Japanese foods such as yakisoba (stir-fried noodles and veggies with a brown sauce; when served in a roll it's usually slathered in mayo) or chikuwa (fish paste sticks).
Mos Burger is a Japanese fast food chain that specialises in hamburgers. Some of the more unique items on their menu include their rice burgers (that use rice cakes instead of bread), and the fillings used in their burgers often have a distinctly Japanese twist. In addition to numerous branches throughout Japan, Mos Burger also has branches in other Asian countries and Australia. Many of the major American fast food chains also have a significant presence in Japan, often with menu items that are unique to Japan. A distinctly Japanese Christmas tradition is ordering fried chicken from KFC for dinner.
Western desserts, particularly cakes and pastries, are also adapted and adored for their exquisite presentation, but most are not substantially different. The most common alteration is the use of Japanese ingredients, such as using matcha (bitter green tea powder) in place of chocolate and coffee in things like tiramisu or mille-feuille (not to mention Kit Kat bars), macarons flavored with yuzu (a Japanese citrus) or ume (Japanese plum, actually closer to an apricot), and many unexpected flavors of ice cream including black sesame, green tea, sweet potato, and soy sauce. Chocolate (チョコレート chokorēto) was also introduced to Japan by Europeans during the Meiji era, where it has been localized into various unique forms. Japanese chocolate often comes in many unique flavors like matcha, black sesame, and sakura, while there is also a type of Japanese chocolate known as nama chocolate (生チョコレート nama-chokorēto) that has a unique texture somewhat like a truffle, most famously made by Sapporo-based Royce'. Japan has also has its own version of the parfait (パフェ pafe), which unlike the French original tends to be made of fresh cream and ice cream instead of custard, and also regularly incorporates seasonal Japanese fruit. Parfait is largely considered to be a feminine dessert in Japan, and while you will not be denied service, you may get strange looks when trying one if you are male. The Harajuku area of Tokyo is famous for its crêpes (クレープ kurēpu). Japanese crêpes are generally sold as street food targeted at students, and often rolled into a cone shape. The crêpes themselves do not differ much from French crêpes, but the fillings often make use of local Japanese ingredients as well.
There are many restaurants that specialise in yōshoku in Japan's major cities, some of which have been in business for decades, if not over a century. Some examples include Grill Hokutosei (グリル 北斗星) and Meijiken (明治軒) in Osaka, Rengatei (煉瓦亭) and Taimeiken (たいめいけん) in Tokyo. The Shiseido Parlor (資生堂パーラー) is perhaps the best known restaurant for Japanese-style Western fine dining.
Japan has created some of its own Western-style dishes:
- hambāgu (ハンバーグ) — a version of Hamburg steak: a standalone hamburger patty with gravy and toppings (somewhat like Hawaiian loco moco)
- omuraisu (オムライス) — "omelette rice", fried rice wrapped in a French-style omelette with a dollop of ketchup
- wafū sutēki (和風ステーキ) — steak served Japanese-style with soy sauce
- wafū pasta (和風パスタ) — Japanese-style pasta, using Japanese instead of traditional Italian ingredients. One of the more popular variants is mentaiko pasta (明太子パスタ), which comprises pasta, usually spaghetti, mixed with cream and spicy cod roe.
- korokke (コロッケ) — based on the French croquette, but uses mashed potato instead of cheese
- katsu (カツ) — short for katsuretsu (カツレツ, "cutlet"), this the Japanese version of cutlet, escalope, or schnitzel: a thin slice of meat breaded and deep fried. Tonkatsu (豚カツ), the version that uses pork loin, is the most common, though other meats such as chicken or beef can sometimes be used. As a main dish, it's usually served it's usually served with a thick brown sauce and shredded cabbage. It can be served over a bowl of rice and covered in an egg and sauce mixture to make katsudon (カツ丼), one of several popular varieties of donburi (rice bowl). It's also commonly served together with Japanese curry rice, in which case in the dish is known as katsu karē (カツカレー).
- Japanese soufflé cheesecake (スフレチーズケーキ) — local variation on an American classic, it is softer and less rich than authentic American cheesecakes, thus making it more suited to East Asian palates. Also popular in other East and Southeast Asian countries.
Macau was colonised by the Portuguese from 1557 to 1999. This long colonial history has resulted in a unique localised Portuguese-inspired cuisine known as Macanese cuisine (澳門土生葡菜), which fuses Portuguese and Cantonese culinary traditions, as well as those from other parts of the Portuguese colonial empire. Most restaurants advertising "Portuguese food" in Macau are in fact serving Macanese cuisine, particularly at the lower to mid-range price points. Some signature Macanese dishes include:
- Egg tarts (蛋撻) — Based on the Portuguese pasteis de nata, the local variant of the dish has a custard that has been adjusted for the Cantonese palate, and hence has a different consistency from the original Portuguese version.
- Galinha à portuguesa (葡國雞) — Literally "Portuguese chicken", a dish consisting of pieces of chicken cooked in a curry-based sauce.
- Galinha à africana (非洲雞) — Literally "African chicken", this dish consists of barbecued chicken in piri piri sauce, as well as Asian ingredients such as coconut milk
- Pato de cabidela (血鴨飯) — Local version of the Portuguese dish cabidela that uses duck instead of chicken, and served with rice.
- Minchee (免治) — A dish of rice topped with minced beef or pork flavoured with molasses and soy sauce.
- Pork chop bin (豬扒包) — A classic simple local dish in Macau, consisting of a Chinese-style fried pork chop in a Portuguese-style bread role.
Malaysia is home to a unique local take on the hamburger known as the Ramly burger. This variation uses halal meat patties made by local Malaysian food company Ramly, which are wrapped in a fried egg, and topped off with margarine, Worcestershire sauce, mayonnaise and instant noodle seasoning. You can find Ramly burgers being sold at street food stalls throughout Malaysia.
Western fast food chains in Malaysia often have unique offerings that cannot be found in their respective home countries. KFC in Malaysia is particularly well regarded, with a spicy option that is also significantly crispier than the options available in Western countries.
Malacca was colonised by the Portuguese from 1511 to 1641, when they were defeated by the Dutch. During this period, many Portuguese people settled in Malacca and married the local Malays, giving rise to the Eurasian community. Subsequently, the area was colonised by the Dutch, followed by the British, resulting in Dutch and British influences entering the Eurasian community, and a significant number of Eurasians today being of Dutch or British descent. Today, the Portuguese-Eurasian community retains a strong presence in what is known as the Portuguese Settlement, where some continue to speak a Portuguese-based creole, and you can sample some of their distinctive cuisine, though the restaurants in the settlement are rather touristy, and the quality can be a hit or miss. However, Eurasian restaurants also exist elsewhere in Malacca, as well as in other Malaysian cities and in neighbouring Singapore, where they tend to be less touristy and hence, serve better quality food. Some examples of Eurasian cuisine include pang susi, an adaptation of Portuguese bread rolls that uses sweet potato instead of wheat, and is stuffed with a savoury minced pork filling, sugee cake, a localised version of the European semolina cake, shepherd's pie, a localised version of the British classic, and devil's curry, a distinctive dish that is traditionally eaten for Christmas and considered to be the signature dish of the community.
Kathmandu has many pie shops. The first was Aunt Jane's, started around 1970 on "Freak Street" by the wife of an American Peace Corps administrator. It was a huge success; travellers who had been in India for some time, and in many cases had followed the Hippie Trail overland route to get there, were more than ready for some good Western food. Also, many were sampling Nepalese hashish — which is extremely high quality — and like all cannabis products, that stimulates the appetite.
Aunt Jane's had a full menu with burgers and other meals, but the authentic American-style baked goods were most popular. There are fine apples in the Himalayas, and apple pie was a specialty. Her coffee cake was also excellent.
There were soon many imitators, most offering only the desserts. There was even a street known as "Pie Alley". Half a century later, many pie shops are still in business; their menus are still recognisably American-based, but the recipes have drifted somewhat over the years.
- See also: Filipino cuisine
The Philippines was a Spanish colony 1562-1898 and an American one 1898–1946, and it has been trading with China for at least a thousand years. There is plenty of food based on dishes from all those countries, but by now much of it has acquired a unique Filipino twist.
Much Filipino food seems horribly sweet to a Western palate. Items like ketchup, mayonnaise, spaghetti sauce and peanut butter are loaded with sugar. Some of the larger supermarkets offer both Filipino style and original-recipe versions of ketchup and spaghetti sauce. There are also adapted foods like banana ketchup, which is surprisingly good.
Some adapted foods are quite common. Siopao resembles Chinese barbeque pork buns but has pork asado instead of the Chinese barbecue pork. Spaghetti is common, usually with a tomato-based sauce, but the Filipino variants may be distinctly odd to Westerners; not only are they quite sweet, but meats such as hot dogs or corned beef are often used. Lechon (roast suckling pig) is common at festivals or major social events such as weddings or birthday parties; it was originally a Spanish dish, but there are now several Filipino variants. Curries are common, but the local style is much milder than Indian or Thai curry. Chicken lauriat is a local version of fried chicken, and chicken inasal the local BBQ chicken. An adapted version of shawarma is also common.
One corporation owns four fast food chains with locations in almost every town and most of the major malls; all are quite popular. Two — Chowking for Chinese food and Greenwich (which most Filipinos pronounce as it is spelt) for pizza — have quite authentic foreign food. The other two show fairly heavy adaption to local tastes:
- Jollibee is mainly a hamburger joint, the Philippines' answer to McDonald's, relatively low quality but cheap. Their menu includes plenty of rice-based offerings, the spaghetti is Filipino style, and the local dessert halo-halo is available.
- Mang Inasal offers BBQ chicken and a few other Filipino dishes.
Both Jollibee and Chow King are expanding outside the Philippines; as of mid-2020 both have locations in several other Southeast Asian countries, plus a few in the Middle East and the U.S.
Singapore was a British colony from 1819 to 1963. While authentic Western cuisines are now available in Singapore, particularly at higher price points, due to its status as an international financial hub, there is also a distinctive local style of Western food known as Hainanese Western food. Due to the fact that the Hainanese were relatively late arrivals in Singapore, most of the other jobs had already been taken up by other Chinese dialect groups, so many of the Hainanese immigrants ended up working as cooks for British employers. Due to the fact that many traditional European ingredients were not available in Singapore, these Hainanese cooks often had to improvise and use locally-available ingredients as substitutes. Moreover, some new dishes were created by these Hainanese cooks from modifying traditional Asian recipes to suit the palates of their British employers. Following independence, many of these Hainanese cooks made use of their culinary skills to set up food stalls and restaurants serving Western food, albeit modified to make use of local Asian ingredients and cooking techniques as well, thus giving rise to a unique fusion style. The "Western food" you can find at hawker centres is usually Hainanese Western food, though there are also numerous old-school mid-range restaurants serving this cuisine too. Examples of such restaurants include Shashlik Restaurant, Mariners' Corner Restaurant and British Hainan. Local-style Western food is often served with a salad and baked beans in ketchup on the side.
While these are a dying breed, there are several traditional family-run bakeries in Singapore's residential neighbourhoods that make various Western-style breads, cakes and pastries. While they are similar to Western bakery items, look out for unique local variations like durian cakes and puffs, pineapple tarts and butter cake, and their breads also tend to be softer than the ones commonly found in supermarkets. Due to the higher prevalence of lactose intolerance in East Asian populations, cakes in Singapore tend to be lighter and less rich than those in the West. Fancier bakeries can also be found in shopping centres across the country, albeit also at a higher price points. Bread Talk is one of the best known of these newer bakeries, having expanded beyond Singapore to other Asian countries as well, with their signature item being bread rolls with pork floss. While ice cream in Singapore differs little from that in the West, look out for unique local flavours such as red bean and durian. A unique way to eat ice cream in Singapore is to have it wrapped in a slice of bread.
Typical Western dishes you can find in Singapore include:
- Chicken cutlet — Similar to Australia's chicken schnitzel, except that thigh meat is usually used instead of breast meat to suit Asian preferences, and the meat is often seasoned with Asian ingredients like soy sauce and sesame oil as well.
- Fish and chips — Local take on the classic British dish. However, one thing peculiar to Singapore is the local preference for chilli sauce as a condiment.
- Chicken chops — Marinated and pan-fried chicken thighs, usually topped off with an Asian-style gravy.
- Lamb chops — Western-style lamb ribs, but often marinated in Asian ingredients.
- Steak — As expected, it is a piece of meat that has been seared. However, a local preference is for it to be served on a hotplate, and seasoned with Asian ingredients such as sesame oil, and served with ketchup.
- Hainanese oxtail stew — Local take on the classic British dish oxtail soup, albeit making heavy use of local ingredients due to the unavailability of traditional British ingredients during the colonial era.
- Hainanese pork chops — Western style deep fried pork chops, coated in the crumbs of locally-made biscuits, and seasoned with Asian ingredients such as soy sauce and sesame oil. Usually served with a thick sauce made of ketchup and Worcestershire sauce, among other ingredients.
- Hainanese curry — A non-spicy variant of curry that was adapted from Indian curries to suit Western palates, usually served with rice and other dishes.
- Kaya toast — The quintessential Singaporean breakfast dish, consisting of bread slices with butter and a coconut and egg-based jam-like paste known as kaya. Usually served with runny half-boiled eggs on the side, and some milk tea or coffee.
- Roti john — A fried omelette open sandwich that uses French-style baguettes, eggs, minced meat and onion, with a tomato-chilli sauce. A speciality of the Malay community, legend has it that it was invented by a local Malay hawker as a substitute for hamburgers to satisfy the craving of an English customer.
- See also: Korean cuisine
Korean food maintains its strong, spicy flavors, even quite often when it's served in restaurants abroad. However, the presence of U.S. troops since the Korean War (1950–53) has introduced some new ingredients, such as spam and hot dogs, that have been popular ever since and were integrated seamlessly into Korean cuisine, and even new cooking techniques. One of the most popular dishes using spam and hot dogs in South Korea is budae jjigae (부대찌개), literally "military unit soup", which originated in the city of Uijeongbu near Seoul.
Korean fried chicken (치킨 chikin) is the local adaption of the classic Southern U.S. fried chicken. While versions that stick fairly closely to the American original exist, Korean versions often glaze the fried chicken in various sauces after frying. The most common variants are yangnyeom-chikin (양념 치킨), which is coated in a sweet and spicy gochujang-based glaze, and ganjang-chikin (간장 치킨), which is coated in a sweet and savory soy sauce-based glaze. Korean fried chicken is often served with beer, and this combination is known as chikin-maekju (치킨맥주), or chimaek (치맥) in short. The popularity of Korean fried chicken spread beyond South Korea to other Asian countries after being featured prominently in a popular South Korean drama series, and has even spread to the United States, where it is widely available in cities with large Korean-American communities.
South Korea is also home to numerous local Western-style bakery chains, serving unique variations of Western cakes, breads and other pastries. Tous les Jours (뚜레쥬르) and Paris Baguette (파리바게뜨) are the largest of these chains, both of which have expanded overseas, with branches in other Asian countries and the United States.
Following the Chinese Civil War and the retreat of the Kuomintang to Taiwan in 1949, American influences would lead to the adoption of various Western cooking techniques in Taiwan and today, some Western-style dishes are a staple at Taiwanese night markets. Some of the most popular Taiwanese night market dishes include deep-fried chicken fillet (炸雞排 zhá jīpái) and popcorn chicken (鹽酥雞 yánsūjī), both of which were inspired by the U.S. classic, Southern fried chicken.
Taiwan has also developed its own version of the nougat (牛軋糖 niúzhátáng), though unlike the original French version, the Taiwanese version uses milk as one of its ingredients. In addition, Taiwanese nougats often also incorporate local ingredients that are difficult to find in Europe, giving it a unique flavour that distinguishes it from its Western counterparts.
In East Asia, wheat was historically used mainly for noodles and filled dumplings, but in Vietnam due to French colonization it's also used for bread and sandwiches. Bánh mì are French-Vietnamese fusion sandwiches on a crispy short baguette filled with cold cuts like French pâté and Vietnamese chả lụa (pork sausage). They're topped with common Vietnamese ingredients including cilantro (coriander), cucumber, pickled carrots, and pickled daikon, but also can be dressed with Western condiments like chilli sauce and mayonnaise.
- See also: Coffee
Coffee originated in the Horn of Africa and reached Europe via the Arabs, who may also have brought it to other parts of Asia. In the colonial period, Europeans started extensive coffee cultivation in many tropical highland areas. Indonesia under the Dutch became such an important source that coffee is sometimes called "java", and other areas such as Sri Lanka, Hainan, Yunnan, Vietnam and the Philippines have local variants that many visitors enjoy.
- In Vietnam, coffee is drunk with a lot of sugar. A popular drink is cà phê sữa đá: a single serving of coarse ground dark coffee is drip-filtered into a cup (similar to Turkish coffee, but not as bracingly strong) over sweetened condensed milk, and is then mixed and poured over ice. It can also be served hot, in which case it is called cà phê sữa nóng.
- Japan took a shine to coffee very quickly, and much could be said about the beverage's cultural role compared to the nation's traditional drink, tea. The Japanese love the ritual and precision of brewing a perfect cup, and have pioneered or perfected many ways of preparing coffee; some like cold brew have become internationally known, while others like canned coffee in vending machines remain fairly unique.
Some parts of the Philippines grow a type of coffee called kapeng barako which is rare elsewhere, and which many visitors find quite good. It is not arabica or robusta, but a separate species, Coffea liberica, which grows on a tree rather than a bush. As the large trees are difficult to grow and harvest, it's expensive and is endangered due to lack of production and demand.
Kopi luwak or civet coffee is an extremely expensive coffee, originally from Indonesia but now produced in other parts of Southeast Asia. It gets its unique properties by passing through the digestive tract of Asian palm civets, members of a family of cat-like carnivores. The civets eat coffee cherries, digest the fruit, and expel the actual beans, somewhat altered by digestive enzymes. Opinions are divided on whether it's surprisingly good coffee, smoother and less bitter than unaltered beans, or just a surprisingly good gimmick to sell mediocre coffee. Buying it may be risky; some vendors cannot resist the temptation to put a kopi luwak label on coffee that has never been near a civet, since that lets them hugely increase the price. It may also be unethical, since some civet farms have been accused of mistreating the animals.
Actual civet coffee is also available in Vietnam where it's called cà phê Chồn, but the large coffee house chain Trung Nguyen have an alternative. They brought in a group of German chemists as consultants to devise a process that could do in the lab what civets do in their gut. They now offer two coffees called Legendee treated with that process, which are available at similar prices to normal coffee.
- See also: Tea
Tea originated in China (see Chinese cuisine#Tea) and was traded along the Silk Road for centuries before the European powers began trade and colonisation, when it became a hugely important trade item. The British started plantations in India and Sri Lanka, and today most of the tea in Western countries comes from those areas.
Some popular tourist areas attract visitors partly because they have remarkably fine tea. Examples include Hangzhou and Wuyi Mountain in China, Darjeeling in India, Cameron Highlands in Malaysia and Kandy in Sri Lanka.
Tibetans have been making butter tea with cow or yak butter since the 7th century, but most of Asia historically drank its tea neat (with neither milk nor sugar), which is still the preferred way to enjoy traditional Chinese, Japanese and Korean teas. Adding milk to tea was thus a Western innovation, but milk tea is now quite common in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Myanmar, albeit significantly localised, and is often available in mainland China as well.
The Indian subcontinent has its own variants; there is some plain milk tea, and masala chai (tea with milk and a mix of spices) is ubiquitous. Either may be served as pulled tea, hot milk tea which is poured back and forth repeatedly between two metal vessels as the two are pulled apart, giving it a thick frothy top. Some vendors can turn this into quite a show, repeatedly having all of the tea in the air between the containers at once, yet not spilling a drop. Pulled tea is more common in Southern India. A similar type of spiced milk tea known as shahi haleeb is popular in Yemen.
- In Thailand, milk tea is often mixed with artificial food colouring that gives it a bright orange colour and distinct flavour. Thai iced tea (ชาเย็น cha yen) is a popular drink in Thai restaurants around the world, and commonly sold at local markets in Thailand. Thai hot tea (ชาร้อน cha rorn) is the hot version of the same drink, and is also ubiquitous at local markets.
- In Malaysia and Singapore, Indian-style pulled tea is known as teh tarik, and is a speciality of the Indian Muslim community. Unlike in India, masala chai is not common in Malaysia and Singapore, and teh tarik typically uses condensed milk, or evaporated milk and sugar instead of Indian spices. As teh tarik was originally made using low-quality tea leaves that had been discarded by the British (who only bought the high-quality leaves that most Asians were too poor to afford), the tea leaves were ground into an almost powdery form, and boiled multiple times for many hours to better extract the flavours, giving it a much stronger flavour and darker brown colour than typical milk teas in Britain. Regular milk tea is also widely available from drink stalls at local markets, but the local preference is to use evaporated milk and/or condensed milk, instead of fresh milk as in Britain.
Invented in Taiwan in the 1980s, bubble tea (or pearl milk tea or boba, 珍珠奶茶 zhēnzhū nǎichá in Chinese) is now found throughout Asia and has spread to cities throughout the United States, Canada and Australia. The original version consisted of chewy tapioca balls served in hot black tea with milk and sugar; it's drunk with a wide straw to suck up the tapioca balls. There are two rival claimants in Taiwan to having invented the drink; Chun Shui Tang (春水堂 chūn shuǐ táng) in Taichung and Hanlin Tea House (翰林茶館 hànlín cháguǎn) in Tainan. Today it's more often served cold, and available with a huge range of flavored beverages (black, green, or oolong teas, coffee, smoothies, etc.) and a variety of toppings including multiple types of tapioca pearls, many flavors of jelly (made from gelatin or agar), and popping boba that burst to release a juice filling.
Bottled iced tea, usually sweetened and often with lemon, is also common.
- See also: Alcoholic beverages
Europeans introduced beer to India in the 16th century and East Asia in the 19th, and it is now ubiquitous. Most Asian countries have local breweries, and there are plenty of fine Asian beers. The vast majority are pilsners or similar types of pale lager, which pair well with the many flavors of Asian cuisines without overpowering them but are decidedly light on flavor. They are, however, very refreshing, particularly in the hot tropical countries where they may be served with ice. While strong beers with higher alcohol content are popular in India and a few dark lagers can be found in East Asia, flavor-rich ales, IPAs, and stouts are difficult to find. (IPA may stand for "India Pale Ale", but good luck finding one in India! The style was actually invented and popularized in Britain, as the heavy dose of hops acts as a preservative, helping it survive the trip to India better than other styles of the time.) A few exceptions are ABC Extra Stout from Singapore, Lion Stout from Sri Lanka, and Angkor Extra Stout and Black Panther from Cambodia.
Some beers are a bit unusual, and may be worth sampling. For example, pineapple-based beer is fairly common in Hainan and sometimes found elsewhere. Some beers use rice as an adjunct to replace some of the barley; this usually results in a watered down beer without much flavor, but the Laotians did such a good job that Beerlao is exported to other Southeast Asian countries and to China. The Japanese island of Hokkaido is famous for beer brewed using spring water, as is the city of Qingdao in China. Craft beers, brew pubs, and microbreweries are nowhere near as widespread as they are in North America and Europe, but particularly since the 2010s they have begun to gain a foothold.
Whisky has been popular in Japan for over 150 years. Japanese whisky began almost a century ago as a fairly exacting recreation of the style of Scotch whiskies. It's often drunk diluted with 2 parts water and ice; the light flavor and easy drinkability (particularly in hot, muggy summers) suits Japanese palates and is very traditional. Distilleries' modern efforts to broaden their range of styles without compromising quality have won Japanese whisky numerous international awards. Taiwan has taken up the torch, and a few distilleries opened since 2006 have similarly won prestigious awards. Whisky is also very popular in India, where they prefer it over beer for the higher alcohol content and better price. Most Indian "whisky" is distilled from molasses (making it essentially a type of rum) and blended with around 10% malt whisky, but since 2004 there are a couple of single malt whiskies being produced, and these too have picked up some international awards.
Rum is common in most countries where sugar cane is a major crop. The commonest Philippine rums are under ₱100 for a 750-ml bottle, and the major brands both also offer higher grade rums around ₱250. In many bars a double rum-and-coke is priced below a single because the booze costs the establishment less than the mixer. There is a premium brand, Don Papa, started by a Rémy Cointreau executive, that produces aged rums that sell for ₱1500-2000 in the country and are exported.
Shakes are now common in most of Asia, but sometimes quite unlike Western ones. They rarely contain ice cream and may not contain milk; sometimes other dairy products such as yoghurt or condensed milk are used. They often use local fruits, such as mango or papaya, which might be rare and expensive back home, and rarely offer temperate-zone fruits, such as blueberries, which are common elsewhere. Strawberries, however, are fairly common, and are also grown at higher elevations in the tropics.
Some travellers may wish to try a durian milkshake. Durian is a fruit that is quite common in Southeast Asia; it smells terrible but tastes quite good. Some people will travel across their city to get good durian, and some will cross a busy street to avoid walking past a durian vendor and encountering the smell. Ordering a durian shake will let you try the flavour without having to deal with the smell.
The subcontinent has its own variant on milkshakes, called lassi. Traditionally, this is made with yoghurt and buttermilk, and the only additives are either sugar or salt. In tourist areas, however, fruit is often added; the commonest flavours are mango or banana.
Although you can usually expect that Western food will come with forks, spoons, and knives, this may not be universal. You may occasionally have to enjoy your Italian meal using chopsticks (which isn't a big deal if it's spaghetti, but would probably be torturous for something chunky like fusilli).
At the same time, expect that some of the country's local eating habits will carry over, and some Western table manners may not be known or followed. Diners might begin eating as soon as food arrives rather than waiting for everyone to be served, bowls might be picked up for easier eating, and you may be expected to pour others' drinks but not your own. In much of Southeast Asia, cutlery is reversed compared to the Western custom: you eat using the spoon in your dominant hand, and the fork is for pushing food onto the spoon.
When eating finger food, local custom will probably prevail. The Chinese will pick up fried chicken with chopsticks and nibble it, touching it as little as possible, or you may be given plastic gloves to wear. In some countries like India, the Philippines and Malaysia, you may be expected to eat with only your right hand even when eating a sandwich.