Last updated: 05:00 AM ET, Tue August 25 2015

New Approaches to Southeast Asian Food

Destination & Tourism | James Ruggia | August 25, 2015

New Approaches to Southeast Asian Food

PHOTO: The Evason Hua Hin has long been associated with quality food and wine, now a new school on the grounds will pioneer food health. (Courtesy of The Evason Hua Hin)

The appreciation of Southeast Asian food is reaching new levels of sophistication as travelers (and others) are well on their way to acquiring a much more nuanced understanding of regional cuisine throughout Asia. The benefits of this new sophistication for travelers come in the form of more authentic regional foods in hotels; a more food-oriented set of experiences in the region; innovations in culinary fusion; more integration of cuisine outside the region even as traditional cooking styles are preserved; and a greater appreciation in the region for healthier ingredients.

These developments will be on display in Bangkok this September in two events that should bring plenty of foodies to town. The Anantara Siam Bangkok will be hosting the 16th World Gourmet Festival from Sept. 7 to 13 attracting some of the world’s best chefs, winemakers and food experts. This festival brings outside influences to the forefront.

This year, seven master chefs, including Michelin-starred chefs and chefs from the world’s top-rated restaurants of France, Spain, Switzerland, Australia, and Hong Kong will join this seven-day event and create some of the world’s finest food creations including Spain’s Francesc Rovira and Francesc Gimeno Manduley, Jean-François Bérard and Patrick Raingeard from France, Pierre Crépaud from Switzerland, Australia’s Sean Connolly and Hong Kong’s Hirofumi Imamura.

This year they will be sake tasting and pairing with Thai dishes presented by the sake master Keith Norum, an American working with the Miyasaka Brewing Company in Japan.

Another new activity is the High Tea event by Mariage Freres, the French world-class tea master. The proceeds and 600 Baht entry ticket sold will go to Thai Princess Soamsawali Kitiyakara’s ‘Save a Child’s Life from AIDS Project’ under the auspices of the Thai Red Cross Society, which provides medicine for pregnant mothers who are afflicted with AIDS.

From Sept. 9 to 11, one of the region’s most important annual foodie shows, the 20th Food ingredients (Fi) Asia & Natural ingredients (Ni), will take place in Bangkok, displaying the best of what Asian food and beverage producers are pioneering in natural foods. Fi Asia is expecting more than 15,000 attendees and some 650 local and international exhibitors. Over the last four years the show has grown at an annual rate of about 25 percent.

The foods of India and China have long been appreciated in the U.S., and the popularity of Thai restaurants opened the door to a broader appreciation of Southeast Asian food culture with its inherent flexibility to fuse from different cuisines. The ASEAN region, with a population of 560 million consumers with rapidly evolving tastes, promises to be among the most influential regions in the world in food over the next few decades.

The ASEAN region is an innovative region in everything from high tech to hotel services. Its innate cultural flexibility has consistently made it an innovator in food for centuries. Last month, the Evason Hua Hin in Pranburi, Thailand took the innovation in a new direction when it opened a culinary academy in partnership with Matthew Kenney Cuisine, an American integrated lifestyle brand interested in living foods and the art of raw food preparation.

Offering Asia’s first classically structured plant-based culinary academy, the new academic facility is surrounded by 20 acres of rich, manicured tropical gardens, lotus ponds and access to the best plant-based produce Thailand grows. The new culinary academy will be introducing month-long courses, as well as weekday and weekend workshops later in the year.

The curriculum focuses on the “Fundamentals of Raw Cuisine” and offers students comprehensive training in the principles in the art of raw food, as well as cooked plant-based cuisine classes that further the modern, creative approach to preparing nutritious foods.

The Evason Hua Hin recently underwent a major enhancement program, refurbishing all 196 guest rooms, suites and pool villas. The resort complements the Matthew Kenney Culinary approach to holistic living with its Six Senses Spa, featuring popular wellness programs including Discover Yoga, Yogic Detox and Yogic Sleep and a dedication to sustainable practices including water use reduction, waste management, sustainable purchasing and carbon emission reductions.

Thai, Malaysian and Vietnamese cuisine are all well-established in the U.S., but Destination Asia is giving travelers a chance to learn about Cambodia’s Khmer kitchen. The company offers a private Khmer cooking class at the Knai Bang Chat resort in a beautiful seafront restaurant where chefs create menus featuring Khmer cuisine, a cuisine known for its combinations of fresh spices, contrasting flavors and textures.      

The course commences with a visit with a chef to the Crab Market where ingredients are introduced. Back in the kitchen, guests learn to make three to four traditional Khmer dishes as well as gain a thorough understanding of traditional cooking techniques and the importance of seasonality in Khmer cooking. Another program the company runs explores the street foods of Penang. The tour is designed to teach participants about traditional Malaysian cuisine, a hybrid of Malay, Chinese and Indian cooking. It also finds these street diners on old city streets where many heritage sites of both culinary and historic interest can be seen including Penang's oldest Chinese coffee shops.

Access Trips’ nine-day cultural tour from Saigon to Hanoi, from $2,990 per person double, allows travelers to learn how to cook Vietnamese cuisine and provides an insider’s look at the country’s culture. Guests learn Vietnamese cuisine in interactive cooking classes taught by high-profile Vietnamese chefs, Nguyen Doan Cam Van and Duck Tran who are local "food celebrities.” They also have private dinners in a colonial mansion and a street food tour through Saigon on a vintage Vespa. The tour interacts with village families, street food and market vendors, traditional and modern chefs, artists and descendants of the royal family. The last departure of this tour in 2015 is on Nov. 17.

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