We love both Western and Asian foods for their extreme flavor varieties. Western food includes everything from European to American meals – robust, hearty, and, not to forget, greasy. Asian food, or Eastern cuisine, is completely different. Often spicier, Asian cuisine, which includes such varieties as Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Siberian, and many more, focuses less on big portions and more on big flavor.

Asian cuisine presents a wide range and a sheer variety of flavors. In the diverse regions of Asia, common ingredients such as seafood, rice, garlic, sesame seeds, onions, soy, and chilies are cooked in varied methods such as stir-frying, steaming, and deep-frying, depending on the specific cultural preference.

As cuisine is influenced by the cooking practices and traditions of a specific culture, Asian foods and Western foods have naturally evolved distinctly different in many ways.

Western cuisine, including North American and Western European foods, on the other hand, is characterized by the prominence of meat and poultry products. Similar to Asian cooking, however, Western food also favors the use of condiments and seasonings.

kimchi
Asian or Western cuisine - take your pick in healthy eating. | Source: Jakub Kapusnak on Unsplash

An international research study, led by Yong-Yeol Ahn and Sebastian Ahnert analyzed 381 ingredients used around the world and 1,021 flavor compounds found in those ingredients. The researchers linked them according to the ‘flavors’ each ingredient shared. They compared the information with 56,498 recipes from different international food sites to determine which cultures paired flavor compounds that ‘matched’ each other most frequently.

The comparative study revealed that Western cuisines tend to include ingredients with similar flavor molecules together in one recipe, while Asian cuisines tend not to. In other words, in Asian cooking, the more flavors two ingredients share, the less likely they would be paired together. This is the reason why Asian recipes tend to produce distinctive flavors with ingredients that bristle or even contrast each other, while ingredients in Western recipes overlap and deepen each others’ constituent flavors.

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Essential Difference Between Eastern and Western Cooking

Apart from the comparatively hot nature of Asian foods, especially Indian Asian fusion food, the abundant use of soy sauce in Asian cuisines, as opposed to olive oil in Western cuisines, let's take a deeper look at the fundamental differences between Asian and Western cooking styles.

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Portions

The first noticeable feature of Western dishes is the quantity of the serving. Compared with traditional Asian foods, the serving size of Western dishes is essentially bigger. What is considered “jumbo” or supersize in Asian dishes is, generally considered, only a regular size in Western cuisine.

From Americans to Australians, consumers of Western foods love their big portions. Serving sizes in these countries are usually pretty hefty. They’re definitely enough to fill your stomach, but you’ll want to go back for more because of the flavor. In Asian countries, though, the servings are smaller. If you’re used to a small or medium in Western food lingo, you might want to ask for a large portion in Asian countries serving Korean food, Thai, or Japanese.

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western meal
Meat is the focus of most Western dishes. | Source: Daniel Friesenecker on Pixabay

Focus on Meat

Western meals almost always revolve around particular meats - beef, lamb, turkey, chicken - or any other variety of meat being served. For example, if you’re having a beefsteak for dinner, your sides and your drink will be based on what pairs well with the cut of beef steak you have chosen. Asian meals, on the other hand, focus on rice as the main dish. The rice served is cultivated as the main course, seasoned and cooked with passion and relish. A meal in Asian countries, be it Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, or Korean is not complete without rice of some sort, or noodles at a minimum.

Asian diet is low in fat, whereas Western diet is abundant in it, by only using many times deep frying, the West introduces even more fat into its ingredients.

In Western cooking, meat is also used in huge proportions. In Asian cooking, meat can be considered only a part of the meal, while, in Western cooking, meat is the main attraction. Steaks, for example, are thick slabs of meat and form the main meal. Of course, it is accompanied by other elements such as mashed potato and steamed vegetables, but the meat is the only reason why the plate is readied in the first place.
The use of rice is an important distinguishing feature between Eastern and Western cooking. In Western cuisine, rice is rarely served and is only treated as a side dish. In fact, rice is treated similarly to steamed greens, steamed vegetables, mashed potatoes, fries, and corn on the cob, in Western dishes. In contrast, Asian meal is not complete without rice. It is a staple. Noodles can, sometimes, replace rice although both rice and noodles can be presented in a meal at the same time.

Fast Food

In Western food culture, fast food restaurants like McDonald's and Subway are on almost every corner of the big cities. Even small, quiet towns have at least one fast-food restaurant in them. But in many Asian countries, the Western concept of fast food hasn't caught on that well. Yes, you can find your favorite big chain in big malls, but home-cooked cuisine in which the chef spends time making the meal “just right” is still preferred.

Flavors 

In case you are fond of food tastes that tend to revolve around sweet or salty, you are probably a lover of Western cuisine. Western dishes focus less on spice and more on robust flavors. In contrast, in Asian food, one can't think of cooking without adding bitter and spicy flavors, regularly interchanged to create vivid, flavorful meals full of fire. The hotter the better for many people.

Many Asian dishes are bold and aromatic in flavor. Ingredients such as vinegar, five-spice powder, cooking wine, hoisin sauce, and soy sauce are the staple of Asian cooking. Ginger and garlic are staple ingredients in many Chinese and Indian dishes. Moreover, there’s usually the option of added chili too. Compared to Asian cooking, Western cuisine might come across as bland. Chilli isn’t served with every meal and many chili dishes in Western cuisine aren’t as spicy as dishes in Asia.

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Asian spices
The varied use of condiments is a characteristic feature common to both Asian and Western cuisines. | Source: Nat Aggiato on Pixabay

Condiments

Connoisseurs of Western cuisines prefer ketchup, mustard, salt, and vinegar with their meals, depending on what they are eating. In Asian cuisine, however, one is likelier to be served soy sauce or chili sauce with chicken or wasabi with sushi. And, ginger is added to almost every dish in Asian cuisines!

Western cooking emphasizes the use of seasonings and condiments, including ketchup, gravy, and mustard. Processed sauces seemed to be served more with Western food. Tomato sauce, mustard, mayonnaise, barbecue sauce are some popular sauces that accompany American, European, and Australian cuisine.

Eastern or Asian food also makes use of seasoning, including basil, cinnamon, cilantro, coriander, cloves, lemongrass, garlic, and ginger, among others, not to mention the use of many sweet sauces, like soy sauce, in a lot of dishes.

Dessert

Fruits, such as watermelon, papaya, and rockmelon, are a popular dessert option in Asian cuisine. Some popular Asian desserts include sweet sticky rice pudding, peanut soup, egg tarts, and lotus seed paste balls. On the other hand, ice cream is always a popular dessert option at the end of a Western meal, along with the choice of brownie and cake.

Globalization has opened the doors to a confluence of cultural orientations that have affected dining habits as well. It is now possible for Westerners to find Asian cooking satisfying and for Asians to find Western food a big treat. Food has now become the quintessential cultural melting pot, wherever east meets west!

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Shreyanjana

Shreyanjana is an archaeologist who ironically finds the written word to be the most powerful means of storytelling. A travel buff and a photography enthusiast, she has been writing and sharing stories of all sorts ever since she can remember.