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COOK•EAT: Asia

Climate and Food

Asia is not all in one. Asians are not entirely characterized by slant-eyes but some have hazelnut eyes. Generally speaking, however, Asians are round faced with the color of skin mixed by red and blue, who have lived for many thousand years in the eastern Asian continent and adjacent regions. Some of them came to America as contract laborers who worked in pineapple-sugar plantations in Hawaii, transcontinental railroad constructions, agriculture or other labor-intensive works in the west. Firstly, Chinese and Filipinos, followed by Japanese and others. They settled down here instead of returning to their homelands after the contracts ended. They have three distinct characteristics in common. First, a Mongolian spot. Most Asian babies have dark or amber spots on the back or thigh or arm at birth, which the Caucasians do not show. Second, flushing when consuming alcohol. Asians have lower activity of an alcohol breaking down enzyme in their liver. A flushed red face is a little bit embarrassing when drinking a bottle of beer at lunch. Third, lactose intolerance. Most Asians show an allergic reaction to regular cow milk because of lower activity of milk sugar (lactose) breaking down enzymes in digestive organs. These factors would deprive them of assimilation or blending with other ethnicities. 

When it comes to food culture, the Chinese civilization has a strong influence at every corner of this area. Every Asian food has a trace back to the Chinese culinary, almost. Asian food has been in our eating soon after Asians came ashore. They cooked not only for themselves but also for others as kitchen hands. Chinese food was a first Asian food, followed by additional Asian foods brought by returnees or newcomers after WWII, Korean War and Vietnam War. They have added exoticism and diversification to our eating as well as business. In this new series, cooking/eating in an Asian-Japanese style here is for our further understanding of Asian foods. Division is not but fusion and mutual respect is my goal through characterizing Asian food cultures, comparing to the west. 

So as at everywhere, food cultures are shaped by the climate to grow or produce or eat. Most of the area belongs to tropical, sub-tropical, temperate climate zones where water is available abundantly. It enables to grow rice-other grains and various fruits-vegetables. Particularly rice, which is the highest yield per acreage grain, requiring abundant water, can sustain a large population, leading to a high density of population. Abundant water comes from the sky by the Monsoon or Typhoons. Access to abundant water at seashores, rivers, lakes or rice paddy fields brings marine and fresh water creatures including fish, crustaceans and snails. Aquatic creatures are indispensable parts of their diet and often preserved by drying, salting, pickling or fermentation.

Legumes or beans-peas provide good protein to add to rice nutrients for healthy eating. Here soybean curd, soy sauce, Natto–Tempe (only in Japan and Indonesia) are key plant protein sources for appetite and palate in addition to nutrition. Damp environment promotes fermentation by bacteria, mold or yeast, yielding soy sauce, vinegar, miso and other flavoring materials besides preservation. 

Land animals are not excluded from Asian eating. Wild animals were hunted for meat. Chinese eat anything with four legs except for a table. Two legged chicken are eaten including legs. Under influence of the Zen sect Buddhism, meat eating was discouraged because animals may suffer from slaughtering. It is well practiced in agricultural regions but not much in dairy & live-stock regions where grains are hard to cultivate at high altitudes or acrid landscape. Asia is thus diversified.

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