Asia's culinary history dates back 6,000 years to the Nomads in China who stopped wandering and settled down to grow rice and other agricultural products. It is a history rich in the influences of conquerors and the traditions of centuries of cooking. It encompasses a wide variety of food and the people who help shape the culinary arts of Asia. Here are just a few of the Asian culinary areas ACAI founder Phyllis Louise Harris and co-founder Raghavan Iyer have explored over the years.

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Asian Flavors

Look at a stalk of lemon grass and you see a weed. Break it in half and you will experience the wonderful lemony aroma and peppery flavor this "weed" can provide. Lemon grass is one of the essential herbs used in Southeast Asian cuisines and underused here. Actually, lemon grass is a perennial tall grass with sharp-edged leaves. It grows three to six feet high in tropical climates and is used extensively in the cuisines of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. It is now readily available in markets and can easily become a new favorite flavor in your cooking. More about lemon grass and a recipe for lemon grass soup.They came to the attention of American diners back in the 1950s when "exotic" foods were the latest food trend. Chinese and Japanese restaurants were mushrooming across the country and Americans looked for ways to use these foreign foods in their own cooking. Betty Crocker and Ann Pillsbury were teaching cooks how to use these new flavors including the water chestnut. Read more about water chestnuts and try the recipe for rumaki. Opening a bottle of fish sauce (nam bplah) for the first time may be a startling experience. The overwhelming smell of fermented fish is like nothing else. Yet this wonderful flavoring from Thailand is one of those secret ingredients that gives many dishes from Southeast Asia and the Philippines their distinctive tastes. More about fish sauce and a recipe for Nuoc Mam Cham.

Asia Pacific Rim

It isn't surprising that he chose the Whittier neighborhood, an area shaped by Minneapolis's early leaders - Washburn, Crosby, Pillsbury and more - and settled by their immigrant workers. Today the area is still filled with buildings erected by those first citizens and houses a new community of immigrants and their businesses. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Children's Theater and Minneapolis College of Art and Design all thrive here. As do more than 30 international food resources along that portion of Nicollet Avenue known as Eat Street. But Tom Pham's newest restaurant, AZIA, is like nothing the street has ever seen. More about AZIA.


There is nothing I would rather do than eat Asian food, cook it, teach it, read about it, talk about it, write about it, and generally help other people understand the amazing history, flavors and textures of these centuries-old classic cuisines. Dr. Jacqueline M. Newman not only does all of these things for Chinese cooking but is also Co-chairperson of The Institute for the Advancement of the Science & Art of Chinese Cuisine (ISACC). Get more information on Flavor and Fortune magazine and its editorial director Dr. Jacqueline M. Newman.

Leeann Chin once told me the part of her job she liked best was teaching Chinese cooking. For nearly 30 years she has taught hundreds of students in her cooking classes, hundreds more cooks in her restaurants, and 500,000 cooks throughout the world through "Betty Crocker's Chinese Cookbook" that she authored for General Mills. Now she is reaching new culinary students with her latest cookbook "Everyday Chinese Cooking: Quick and Delicious Recipes from the Leeann Chin Restaurants" co-authored with daughter Katie Chin. Learn more in Everyday Chinese Cooking.

Millie Chan is an exceptional cooking teacher and a creative cook so it is not surprising that Millie Chan is one of the experts Grace Young sought out when she wrote The Breath of the Wok. Susanna Foo, Martin Yan, Ken Hom, Ming Tsai and Florence Lin are a few more cooking experts she consulted. But Young went beyond well-known names in her search for the legends and lore created by 2000 years of wok cooking. The result is a textbook of Chinese food history and the mystique behind one of the world's most versatile utensils, the wok.Read about The Breath of the Wok.

In an area the size of Medina, Minnesota, nearly half-a-million people call two islands and a peninsula in the South China Sea home. Many of them trace their ancestry back to the 16th century when Portuguese traders established the first European settlement in the Far East, and they are the backbone of today's Macau. They are the Macanese - Portuguese/Chinese descendants of those early travelers - and they have created a very special cuisine. In "Taste of Macau: Portuguese Cuisine on the China Coast" author Annabel Jackson explores this fascinating fusion of European and Asian cooking, and the people who call Macau home. More on Taste of Macau.


Despite the nearly 60,000 Hmong in Minnesota, places to sample Hmong cooking are not easy to find. While many Hmong immigrated to the state following the Vietnam War and some became farmers, the few Hmong restaurants that were opened have not survived for long. One exception is Foodsmart at Kent and University Avenue in St. Paul that has been around for ten years offering a wide variety of Asian food along with Hmong specialties, and its adjoining restaurant and deli. More about Hmong cooking.

Indonesia - the Spice Islands

During the 15th Century Indonesia's more than13,000 islands were known to Europeans as the Spice Islands, the source of expensive, exotic flavorings imported by Spanish and Portuguese traders. It has been home to conquerors from China, Portugal, India, Holland and Great Britain. Today only half of Indonesia's islands are inhabited with enough people to make it the fifth most populated country in the world. Indonesia straddles the equator between Malaysia and Australia and is the birthplace of batik (dyed cloth), wayang kulit (shadow plays) and some intriguing cuisines blending the flavors of both the Old and New Worlds. Spruce up summer barbecues with Indonesian Flavors.


Miyoko Omori remembers her childhood New Year's (Oshogatsu) festivities in Japan as a time for family celebrations. "The women cooked enough food for the holiday," she recalls, "so that after midnight December 31, they had plenty of food for the next three days without cooking." Learn more about New Year foods and ways to Enjoy Oshogatsu Foods at Local Japanese Restaurants

When Koshiki Yonemura was growing up with her two brothers in Kyushu, Japan, the restaurant business was a family affair. Her father, grandmother and aunt ran the business. Today, she does. See Japanese Home Cooking at Tanpopo Noodle Shop

It is amazing that a grain of rice, a little mold, yeast, and water properly handled can produce saké. Japan's most famous alcoholic beverage is finding a growing market in the U. S. and, along with it, the need to understand this brewed concoction. John Gauntner's The Saké Companion provides an introduction to this ancient brew available in local restaurants and stores such as AZIA and France 44. Learn more about Saké.

If the Japanese expression "You eat with your eyes," is true then The Complete Book of Sushi is a glorious feast. This 240-page book is filled with 300 delicious color photos and nearly everything you ever wanted to know about making, eating, enjoying, and ordering, sushi. In fact, even if you don't like sushi, this book is a treasury of food art. Read more about The Complete Book of Sushi.


Of all the cuisines of Asia, Korean cooking is more like Midwestern fare than any of the others. Beef, cabbage, potatoes, hot dishes, barbecues and hearty soups are some of the mainstays of both cuisines. "Although the main meat of China is pork, and Japan's mainstay is fish, beef is Korea's favorite entrée," writes Karen Hulene Bartell in her newest cookbook The Best of Korean Cuisine published by Hippocrene Books, Inc. "Barbecued beef, short ribs, shish kabobs, ground beef, boiled beef, dried beef, beef organs, and chopped raw beef are all popular Korean dishes," she continues. But, Korean food has its own distinct qualities including the use of medicinal herbs in cooking. More on The Best of Korean Cuisine.

Fans of Korean cooking have a number of Twin City restaurants to satisfy their cravings including Shilla and Mirror of Korea in St. Paul, Hoban in Eagan and King's Fine Korean Cuisine in Fridley. For home chefs there are a limited number of Korean cookbooks that will successfully lead the cook through the amazing world of Koch'u Karu (hot red pepper powder), Kimchi (pickled vegetables and fruit) and Meju (fermented soybean paste block) so essential to Korean cooking. Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen is among the best of the cookbooks currently on the market. Read more about Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen.


Many things contribute to the creation of any country's cuisine, but there is probably no land with as many diversified influences as the 7,100-island nation of the Philippines. In the past 500 years, it has been governed by Spain, Mexico, and the U.S.; has been a major trading area for China, India, Malaysia, and Indonesia; and has an abundance of tropical foods, wild game, freshwater fish, and seafood. Each of these factors has made a culinary imprint on Filipino cooking resulting in a cuisine that is unique. Karen Hulene Bartell tackles this intriguing cuisine in her cookbook Fine Filipino Food published in 2003 by Hippocrene Books, Inc.. More about Fine Filipino Food.


Kin Lee, owner and chef of Singapore Chinese Restaurant in Maplewood, is planning another trip to his native Malaysia for the New Year in February. Last time he went home, he brought back a variety of Malaysian spices and created some new culinary treats including "Malaysian pepper sauce." A dark, smoky sauce with a peppery after-flavor, Lee says the ingredients include white, green and pink peppercorns. You won't find it on either Singapore's Malaysian or Chinese menus, but do ask for it. Learn more in Singapore's Pepper Sauce Worth the Trip to Maplewood


"Thai food is the most healthful and flavorful in the world," according to Supenn Harrison, founder of Sawatdee Thai restaurants. It is based on fresh vegetables and fruits, small portions of meat, lots of fish and a wide variety of heart- and body-helpful spices and herbs. More about Supenn Harrison


Some believe that the area now called Tibet was once covered by an ocean. Today it is home to the highest mountains in the world and people whose ancestors came from Mongolia, China and Burma. Their traditions are among the oldest on earth. More about Tibetan cuisine and recipe.


It isn't the jazziest spot in the Twin Cities. You can't order a cocktail or find fusion dishes on the menu, but it is one of the busiest new restaurants in town. It is the Quang Restaurant on Nicollet Avenue's Eat Street in Minneapolis's historic Whittier neighborhood. More at Vietnamese Cuisine and Submarines at Quang

There are not many Asian cuisines that can offer Crème Caramel, Steak Tartare, Satay, and Lemon Grass Soup as traditional foods on the same menu. Vietnamese is one, and it offers a great deal more. Located between Laos, Cambodia and China, Vietnamese cooking has been influenced by its neighbors, by its Chinese and French occupations and yet is distinctively its own. Fresh leaves are used to wrap cooked or raw mixtures. Fresh vegetables are added at the table to steaming bowls of hot noodle soup. Lemon grass and nuoc mam are more prevalent than soy sauce and cream. And French bread becomes a Vietnamese sandwich filled with a mixture of meat and pickled vegetables. It is easy to sample many of these dishes at local Vietnamese restaurants and nearly as easy to cook them at home. The Vietnamese Collection by Jackum Brown is one of several cookbooks available to help home chefs master the art of Vietnamese cooking. More about The Vietnamese Collection.

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