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Food travels: Asia

If you’re looking to get out of a cooking rut and freshen up your Asian repertoire, read on for ideas, inspiration and some good takeaway options in Sheffield, if all else fails.

Tum yum soup unsplash

Tum yum soup, a Thai speciality.

Hanna Balan (Unsplash)

This article will take you on a journey across Asia, sharing regional dishes and showcasing delicious recipes from China, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, Korea and India. Hopefully you’ll find inspiration if you are looking to be more adventurous with your home cooking, but there’s also our selection of independent traders to try for takeaway, if you want to treat yourself.

We all enjoy food which we know will lift our spirits and there are plenty of comforting flavours and easy recipes to enjoy within Asian cuisine. And although there’s plenty of variety between Southeast Asian, South Asian, Central Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines, they do share some common features. This is helpful when stocking up your cupboard.

You can make a range of Asian cuisines with: vegetable oil, sesame oil, fish sauce, coconut milk, soy sauce, rice, noodles, garlic, fresh ginger, limes, fresh chillies, fresh mint and fresh coriander.

If you’re following a gluten-free diet you will find plenty of options with Asian food too: rice noodles, rice, tofu, all of the colourful vegetables and gluten-free soy sauce.

For a satisfying comfort food dish try a Chinese-style pork belly in the slow cooker. Just make a marinade with garlic, ginger, sherry, soy sauce, honey and five spice. Slow cook for 4-5 hours until the meat is tender. Serve with noodles and steamed greens. You can use any leftovers as a filling for dumplings, if you fancy some dim sum.

Stir-fries are quick and easy for a midweek meal and a good way to use up carrots, peppers, onions and green beans. Add chicken, prawns or tofu, fresh ginger, garlic, spring onions, fresh chilli and a shop-bought sauce if you want an easy version of your takeaway favourite.

Make vegetables and fresh herbs part of every dish to give texture and colour - think sweetcorn, sweet potato, broccoli and pak choi. Stock up on these and your fresh herbs at your local greengrocers or Asian supermarket. Mint and coriander are used in many Vietnamese, Indian and Thai recipes. Using fresh is essential for the right kick of flavour. To help them last longer, place them in a glass of water and store them in the door of your fridge.

Take a trip to Thailand with a hot and sour tum yum soup. The key to success here is striking a balance between the sweet, sour, salty and chilli flavours. You can adapt the quantities of soy, lime, tamarind, fish sauce and chilli to suit your taste buds. If you want a veggie version, you can use a selection of oyster, shiitake and chestnut mushrooms.

For one of the best, most colourful and most flavoursome sandwiches, go for a Vietnamese banh mi baguette, made with layers of pickled vegetables, sliced cucumber, shredded chicken, fresh coriander, mayo and a dash of soy. For a vegan version, check out this tofu and lemongrass recipe.

You can easily pickle carrot and mooli (or use standard radishes) by adding the shredded vegetables to a pickling liquor and leaving for an hour or a few days. Give this recipe a go.

For a brunch with a difference, try Japanese savory pancakes, known as okonomiyaki. They’re made with eggs, flour, soy, ginger, spring onions, shredded cabbage and sesame oil, topped with a drizzle of mayo and a sauce made with ketchup, Hendos or Worcestershire sauce, honey and soy. You can add extra toppings of dried seaweed and bonito flakes (dried smoked tuna) to get more of the authentic flavour.

Fancying something fried? Tempura is popular in Japan and usually consists of a battered, deep-fried seafood, meat and vegetables. The dish was introduced by the Portuguese in the 16th century. There’s an interesting episode about the origins on the Eat Drink Asia podcast.

In contrast to Japanese, Korean food has more intense savoury flavours. Popular dishes include bulgogi, which is made with thinly-sliced, marinated and barbecued beef, and bibimbap, a rice dish served with sauteed vegetables, greens, marinated meat and a sweet and spicy sauce, topped with a fried egg.

A staple of Korean cuisine is kimchi, made with fermented vegetables and seasoned with garlic, ginger and gochujang, a fermented red chili paste. Try making this warming kimchi stew.

Curry is one of Britain’s favourite dishes and maybe what many of us are missing is a trip out for beer and balti. Indian cuisine has many regional variations, from North Indian Kashmiri Rogan Josh and South Indian dosas to the mostly vegetarian Gujarati cuisine of West India.

All areas have a diverse use of spices and are used in various combinations to flavour daals, curries and biryanis. The most common are cumin, turmeric, cardamom, mustard seeds, fenugreek and coriander. Now is as good a time as any to get out your spice jars and try something new, like this simple Punjabi mutton and potato curry.

If you do want to let someone else do the cooking, there are some great independents cooking up a storm in Sheffield.

For an Indian selection you have Urban Choola, Ashoka and MaBa. You can get your dumpling fix from Dumpling City with handmade dumplings to cook at home or try plant-based Asian-inspired meals delivered in tiffin boxes from Dishi Drop.

We’ve only scratched the surface of what Asian cuisine has to offer and there are many more places to visit. Hopefully there’s sufficient here to inspire your food travel plans and home feasting. If you want to expand your Nepalese cooking skills, try this month's easy Aloo Karo Achar chutney recipe from Hungry Buddha.

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