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Trend Watch: Popular Asian cuisine offers growth vehicle for seafood
Menu trend meets consumer demand for fresh, light fare with bold flavors
By Lauren Kramer
December 01, 2006
Asian cuisine is proliferating in the United States and
moving far beyond the boundaries of traditional Asian-style
restaurants. Today, Asian-influenced menus can be found
everywhere, from white-tablecloth restaurants to casual
eateries. Seafood is often a main ingredient in this cuisine, a
familiar protein that's given an Asian twist by incorporating
flavors like wasabi, miso, Thai curry and rice wine
More Asian-influenced seafood items are appearing on
American restaurant menus these days, says Bernadette McGuane,
product manager at Technomic Informa-tion Services in
"Asian-influenced fish and shellfish entrées at the 475
restaurants we polled between January and June 2006 went up 24
percent from the same time last year," she says. "In general,
Asian-inspired items have increased over the past year, and so
has the popularity of seafood, so those two combined would
explain the 24 percent
"The flavor profiles we would characterize as Asian have
gone up about 5 percent over the last three years," says Linda
Smithson, editor of the online magazine FoodWatch Trends, which
examines restaurant menu trends. "There's a big push on Asian
flavors across many segments, driven by peoples' perception of
its freshness, intense flavor and light, healthful fare."
The influx of Asian flavors on American menus is due in part
to diners' growing familiarity with Asian cuisine as a whole,
says chef Robert Danhi, a consultant in El Segundo, Calif., who
works with educational institutes, manufacturers and restaurant
"Chinese and Japanese cuisine laid the foundation for
American diners' taste of Asian flavors," he says. "With
exposure to the Food Network and more travel between America
and Asia, consumers are becoming more accepting of an increased
variety of Asian flavors."
"The availability of ahi tuna has spurred the proliferation
of Asian-style seafood dishes," says Danhi.
"A seared tuna is
naturally going to be Asian-influenced, and ahi tuna is more
accessible these days than it has been in the past."
Given the important role seafood plays in Asian culture and
cuisine, this protein sees the most influence in preparations
in American restaurants.
"From mainstream A-merica to the upscale, the flavors of
Asia are comforting to a lot of people because there's
perception of healthfulness associated with it," says Roy
Yamaguchi, owner of Roy's Restaurant in Honolulu.
"When you think of Asia, you think of seafood first, because
it goes well with a lot of different flavors that tend toward
the Asian culture of cooking, from rich sauces to spicy and
sweet and sour. These types of flavors adhere well to
Raised in Japan, Yamaguchi says he's always added Asian
flavors to his cuisine, but lately he's been adding an
increased assortment of Asian flavors and bolder Asian
ingredients. "I believe we have a hard core of guests who
understand Asian flavors in our restaurants and come
specifically for it," he says.
Yamaguchi's style is to incorporate subtle Asian influences
in his Hawaiian Fusion cuisine, using French or Italian cooking
philosophies. "If you're in an Asian restaurant, you can't be
too Asian. But if you're coming to Roy's, you're getting
Hawaiian Fusion cuisine, not a traditional Asian dinner."
Roy's Hibachi Salmon, which is marinated in teriyaki and
then grilled, has been on the menu for 18 years, while his
misoyaki butterfish is another dish that has enjoyed tremendous
popularity. Among his bolder Asian offerings are a shellfish
stew with kisser leaf and curry broth, and a Vietnamese-style
lemon grass marinated fillet mignon with papaya salad.
For Brendan Cox, chef at Circle Bistro in Washington, D.C.,
it's all about knowing how to subtly incorporate Asian
influences into his fusion cuisine. "If you take an Asian
ingredient and put it together correctly, you can insert it
into an American dish without making it overtly Asian," he
says. "In my world, it's important to not cross that line,
because if you don't know how to use the Asian ingredients, you
can end up ruining a lot of good food."
Circle Bistro offers caramelized Maine diver scallops served
with braised leaks, lemon grass cream and a Maiitake mushroom
extract tempura. In the Pacific Northwest, Glowbal Restaurant
& Satay Bar in Vancouver offers seven-spice ahi tuna with a
wasabi potato spring roll. "It's our top-selling item across
the board," says restaurant owner Emad Yacoub.
Phillips' flagship restaurant in Baltimore is serving
Steamed Thai-style Mussels in a broth of red curry, lemon
grass, ginger and coconut milk, while R.J. Gator's Florida
Steam Bar & Grill is offering a seven-pepper seared ahi
tuna with Asian slaw and wasabi plum sauce.
Distinctive Asian sauces like the wasabi plum are a good way
for restaurant operators to meet the consumer demand for bold
flavors, says Eric Giandelone, editorial manager at Technomic
"The Asian accent of these flavors gives them exotic appeal,
and pairing them with seafood is a good choice because it is
able to incorporate different flavors more easily than other
proteins, like beef, chicken and pork," says Giandelone.
The rise of the Asian flavors is being spurred on by
in boldly and uniquely flavored foods. I think that
able to pick up these flavors
fairly well and
distinctly, giving consumers a more interesting
experience from a taste
Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer lives in British