The Thread that Binds Asia: Rice
Though each Asian country and region has its distinct flavors and cooking styles, almost all share one food in common—rice. But rice is not eaten in the same manner in each country. As a staple food central to survival, especially during times of famine , rice has acquired an almost sacred status in Asian society, and it is served in many ways. It is cooked as a significant part of each meal of the day, incorporated as a main ingredient in confections such as candy and cakes, fermented to make wine (Japanese sake) or beer, or sometimes given as an offering to the gods to ensure a good harvest. Rice is a potent culinary and spiritual staple in Asia.
The fruits of Asia are unlike those of any other part of the world. The tropical climate of South and Southeast Asia, and the mild climate of East Asia, create a hospitable environment for many different fruits to grow. Fruit is a significant part of the Asian diet and is usually eaten as a dessert with lunch or dinner. In East Asia, oranges, quince, dates, pears, strawberries, cherries, watermelon, peaches, and grapefruit are eaten widely. In South and Southeast Asia, there are unique fruits such as sweet mangoes (originally from India), which are eaten individually or made into ice cream or other confections, and green mangoes, which are used widely in Vietnam, the Philippines, and India, where they are made into chutneys or curries (which are used as a broth, stew, or dry seasoning).
Coconuts are popular in Southeast Asian cuisine. Coconut milk is used for curries in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, South India, Myanmar, and the Philippines. It is also a delicious beverage, and is often drunk straight from the coconut with a straw. Coconut meat is added to desserts and salads. Other tropical fruits found in Asia include guava, papaya, pawpaw, starfruit (carambola), mangosteen, sour sop, jackfruit, longan, rambutan, durian, pineapple, and lychee.
Other Common Ingredients Used across Asia
Nuts are popular in Asia, eaten plain as snacks or mashed into porridge and sauces. In Malaysia and Indonesia, satays (peanut-based sauces) flavor chicken and beef dishes. The Chinese bake almond cookies and make rice cream with almonds or hazelnuts. Steamed cakes with almonds or macadamias are also common, and rice puddings with fruit, raisins, almonds, walnuts, or hazelnuts are popular desserts in India. Both East and Southeast Asia boast stir-fry dishes with peanuts, while India flavors its rice with lemon and peanuts
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