Tropical Asian – A Symphony of Feisty Flavors from the Far East.

A cultural, culinary collision found in Malaysian and Filipino cuisines sees assertive and bright flavors on plates across America. 

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We took our tastebuds on a journey south and found ourselves in the Philippines and Malaysia. The popularity of the food culture, a yearning for travel abroad and a subsequent desire to taste these flavors back at home had our industry insiders at McCormick take wind of this and brings these spices, sauces and cooking techniques to chefs across the nation. 

Malaysian and Filipino cuisines are fascinating. As part of our Tropical Asian trend, they clearly exemplify the influence that other cultures can have on one’s development of a cuisine. We absorb ideas and flavors we like and infuse it into the beating heart of our cherished and long-held recipes. Both offer complex yet accessible flavor profiles simply because they appeal to our senses - touching on sweet, sour, salt, and spice. The masterful interplay of these profiles makes Malaysian and Filipino food unlike any other. The former is a collision of Malay, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian and ethnic Bornean (and at times, even dashes of Thai, British, Portuguese) cuisines; the latter sees its mixture through a combination of Indian, Chinese, Spanish and American influences. As a result, there is always a familiar “je ne sais quoi” element involved when enjoying dishes from these kitchens, even for those trying such tastes for the first time. The accessibility and comforting nature of Malaysian and Filipino foods is why we’ve come to crave and adore it in the last few years.

From coast to coast, here are 5 restaurants serving star dishes with Tropical Asian flair:

1.  Karilagan Fine Filipino Cuisine (San Francisco, California)

If you go onto any culinary chat forum, you’ll see this name pop up many times in threads as “best local Bay Area restaurant” for Filipino food. In fact, this family-run restaurant is a classic spot and those-in-the know frequent this eatery for comfort fare and generous portions. Here, you’ll find native Filipino dishes with contemporary twists. Best to order family style to dabble in a bit of everything, including their famed Crispy Pata Alajillo - the meaty pork legs are braised in aromatics and spices such as bay leavesgarlic, salt, and black peppercorns; it is then deep fried and served in a garlic sauce.

 2.  FBQ Filipino Barbecue (Webster, Texas)

Hilario Farcon Jr., the owner and chef, is not concerned about stiff competition - especially in the face of legendary Texan BBQ. In fact, Farcon Jr is leading the way in Webster with his Philippine BBQ. As a popular street food, Pinoy BBQ sees sliced pork marinated overnight in soy sauce, ketchup, black pepper, lemon, brown sugar and garlic. They’re speared onto bamboo skewers and grilled until glistening, tinged golden brown all over with the surface slightly charred. His dishes are a welcome contrast in flavor and presentation to traditional BBQ in the state.

 3.  Makan Malaysian Cafe (Denver, Colorado)

Chef and Owner Karen Wee Lin Beckman is bucking trends. The Denver Post cites that Chef Karen’s restaurant is a welcome addition to the neighborhood because the city is “awash in all other Asian cuisines (Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese, Chinese)” except Malaysian. The food here is vibrant, layered and earthy. For instance, Chef makes a steamy bowl of Laksa featuring homemade egg noodles in spicy coconut shrimp-based broth; it is topped with fish balls, tofu, bean sprouts and cilantro. 

4.  The Purple Patch (Washington, DC)

She’s charmed the likes of The Washington Post and Eater but if that’s not enough street cred, then how about the staff at the Philippine Embassy who happen to be regulars? You can be rest-assured that Chef Owner Patrice Cleary’s is doing something right in promoting Filipino familiar favorites as well as offering spins on American classics (bread pudding with ube ice cream, anyone?). But perhaps, it’s her Sisig that woos and wins over the most stomachs: the eye-catcher is a sizzling plate with pork belly and shoulder sautéed with onion, vinegar, lemon juice, birds eye chili; it’s topped with a fried egg and served with jasmine rice.

5.  Straits Kitchen (Portland, Oregon)

For Angie and Jessica, Straits Kitchen food cart is a passion project. There is a desire to bring the flavors of their childhood to the neighborhood and beyond - and their efforts have not gone unnoticed - in fact, they’ve been praised by The Oregonian as Best New and Best Overall Carts for 2016 and 2017. Their cooking is influenced by the tastes of the western coast of Malaysia. There’s the honoring of tradition, authenticity – but always a bit of a personal twist involved with their cooking. The Inche Kabin sees juicy chicken thigh bites coated in an 8-spice marinade. The nuggets are deep-fried and then tossed in soy-lime sauce, jalapeno, cilantro, and green onion. Served with shredded slaw, steamed jasmine rice, it’s a color-pop for the senses. 

With our Tropical Asian trend, we see marinades, glazes, and spices used on proteins, starches and vegetables with potent popularity. Furthermore, Filipino and Malaysian cuisines perfectly encapsulate the ideals of globalization: the exchange of ideas and culture. Then incorporating these insights into one’s way of life and in our case, culinary repertoire; such education and worldly knowledge allow all of us to reap such benefits via the diversity of meals we can enjoy today. Test drive these Tropical Asian flavors in your restaurant today.

Don’t miss which past Flavor Forecast trend we spotlight next.

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