Same but Different: Asian Dishes that Share Common Threads

We’re blessed with an abundance of food choices in Asia. At the Meatmen, we get to explore a whole diversity of Asian cuisines and dishes, and something we’ve discovered is that our favourite local dishes actually have so much in common with our neighbours’ signature recipes. It could be the style of cooking, ingredients used or the flavour profiles — either way, there’s a sense of comfort and homeliness in dishes from faraway places like Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia. 

Learning from these different cultures, we appreciate and recreate some familiar favourites. Here are some of our top picks: 

1. Braised Pork Belly 

Adobo

Image Credit: @maryjanevicentekato

When you mention Adobo to anyone who grew up in the Philippines, chances are that their eyes would light up as they recall this family-favourite dish. Crowned as one of the most recognisable national dishes of the Philippines, the magic lies in the preparation of this simple yet hearty stew.

The word adobo comes from the Spanish word ‘adobar’, which translates to marinade. The dish is usually made from pork belly or chicken, while spices such as vinegar and soy sauce form the marinade. There are numerous variations of the recipe that differ depending on who you ask, but typical variations include extra spices like star anise, bay leaves, garlic and more.

 

Thit Kho

Image Credit: @wokandkin

Thit means “meat” and Kho is a braised cooking technique, forming the two essentials of this Vietnamise dish of braised meat with eggs. Commonly served during the Vietnamese New Year, Thit Kho features a saucy stew with one protein plus the aroma of various spices. 

That said, there’s one big difference, which is the use of fresh coconut water! The main hero of this recipe is thick chunks of pork belly infused with coconut water during the simmering process. It’s a natural sweetener to the dish, and you can substitute with mild-tasting sodas if your pantry is devoid of coconut water. Either way, the salty sweet combination of flavours are bound to satisfy your tastebuds! 

 

Tau Yu Bak (Braised Pork Belly in Soy Sauce)

If this dish doesn’t sound familiar to you, maybe this picture will jolt your memory:

Image Credit: The Meatmen

Feel at home yet? Tau Yu Bak is said to have originated from the Hokkien Fujian region in China and was adopted by Singapore and Malaysia. Holding a similar base to both Thit Kho and Adobo, it starts with a rich soy sauce base, slowly topped with proteins and other aromatics. The main hero is none other that the fried beancurd (tau pok), which absorbs the savoury liquids of the stew and provides a chewy texture.

 

2. Spring Rolls

Lumpia

Image Credit: @lumpia.sulawesi

Spring rolls are a little hand-held delicacy in Asia with a BIG following! For example, these Lumpia spring rolls originate from the Philippines. The main ingredients are minced pork and cabbage, wrapped in a skin made from rice flour and deep fried in oil. We’ll have five now, please! 

 

Popiah

In Singapore and Malaysia, our spring roll representative is none other than Popiah. This dish uses turnip as the main star, with complementary ingredients such as finely sliced carrots, omelette and peanut bits. And what really brings the flavors together in popiah are the sauces —  sweet hoisin sauce, chili sauce for some heat, and a sprinkle of crushed peanuts for added crunch. 

 

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

Image Credit: @bitesandpieces.my

The wrapper of this iconic Vietnamese Spring Roll is delicate and translucent, with the skin made from a thin layer rice paste. Encased within are fresh prawns and herbs, including mint leaves, cilantro and thai basil. With the addition of veges like cucumber and carrots for the crunch, it’s no wonder this widely known as the healthier alternative compared to its deep fried counterparts.

Don’t forget the dipping sauce, it ranges from sweet chilli, fish sauce and even a hoisin sauce to kick up a notch. Whichever of these 3 rolls you prefer, they’re all super tantalising as an appetizer or snack for all ages.

 

3. Stir Fried Noodles

Pancit Bihon and Xing Zhou Mi Fen

For noodles, stir frying is one of the easiest cooking methods to bring out the flavour and texture. Here, we see this in two cultures — the Filipino dish Pancit Bihon, and Chinese Xing Zhou Mi Fen

Both dishes use vermicelli noodles or thin noodles, plus soy sauce for the base. That said, if you want to change things up, you could use seafood over commonly used proteins like chicken and pork. In any case, these dishes are a popular method to make use of leftover or minced ingredients. Easy to make, bookmark this recipe for your next event or party!

 

4. Sour soups

Tom Yum Soup 

When we think of soups, we tend to think of savoury or sweet herbal soups, but let’s not forget our delicious sour soups that are both refreshing and appetising. The acidity of flavours makes an excellent palate cleanser across cultures. 

Sour, spicy, sweet and everything nice. Tom Yum originates from Thailand and perfectly pairs with steamed rice. To reach the level of aroma that gives Tom Yum its signature flavour, you’ll need at least lemongrass, galangal and lime leaves with thai chillies. Top with your protein and vegetables of choice for a warm, hearty soup. 

 

Sinigang

Perhaps less well-known, but equally flavourful is Sinigang, one of our favourite dishes from the Philippines. The term “sinigang” comes from the verb “sigang” which means “to stew” – therefore, Sinigang means “stewed”. That’s super apt for a dish with such rich broth. 

Seafood lovers can try this tangy soup with with squid, fish and shrimp, but you could stick with chicken or pork as well. Either way, the tamarind base, along with vegetables, fish sauce and onions make this dish a must-try. 

 

5. Fermented Veggies 

Kimchi 

No introduction is needed for Kimchi, and we’ve got a whole range of recipes making use of its distinct flavour. There’s the brining of cabbage, with other vegetables such as carrot, scallions, radish or turnip are added into the mix. The spicy flavour profile comes from Korean chilli flakes (Gochugaru), seeping into the vegetables through the fermentation process that takes a few days. 

 

Achar

Achar has many variations, but did you know the earliest origins are from India? The refreshing dish uses a medley of vegetables ranging from a mixture of pineapple, cucumber, cabbage, carrots, fermented with rice vinegar and salt. This, plus a spice mix or masala made of various spices such as mustard seeds, cumin seeds and turmeric powder goes into pickling mode for up to 2 weeks, afterwhich you can store it for months at a time. 

 

Asian food recipes

The American anthropologist, Margaret Mead, has a quote that resonates with us: “Food is for gifting”. We can’t agree more! After all, we bond and connect to others through the gift of sharing food and experiences — especially when we find that we have similar food items across different cultures and countries. 

The act of preparation of a meal with family and friends builds camaraderie. During this activity, it’s all hands-on deck and lasting memories are formed, rooting us in our culture and sense of shared memories. 

In our everyday life, we’re privileged to experience an abundance of different foods and cultures. Let’s not lose the spark to explore different Asian dishes to share the love, stay grounded and have an open heart to appreciate our similarities and celebrate our differences!

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More of what you might like: 

P.S. We’ve got recipes for all your Singaporean and Asian favourites on our Youtube channel. Subscribe and share with your friends!

P.P.S. Can’t find a recipe you like? Drop us a comment or ping us on our socials. 

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