Ethnic cuisine – herbs and spices

10 May 2013 by
Ethnic cuisine – herbs and spices

Asian dishes have become ubiquitous on modern menus. But do you know where all your ingredients originate? Lisa Jenkins rounds up the flavours from around the continent

Indian The most wide-ranging of the Asian cuisines now present in the UK in more than 10,000 restaurants and takeaways. Dishes from Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh all feature under this hat, best known throughout the UK as ‘Indian' cuisine.

India has had many influences over the centuries, mostly from the West and the North West, but also from the Chinese Hakka, the Sichuan and the Moguls.

Typical herbs and spices cardamom, cumin, turmeric, ginger, cayenne pepper, garam masala.

Chinese Chinas cuisine is often described along geographical lines (North, South, East and West) with climate and landscape influencing the type of produce, ingredients and spices in the various provinces.

Styles can range from hearty stuffed buns and steamed dumplings to the delicately flavoured Cantonese cooking, using fish and shellfish.

Typical herbs and spices ginger, nutmeg, paprika, star anise.

Thai Thai cuisine is a blend of several south east Asian cuisines (Burmese, Chinese, Laos, Vietnamese, Cambodian and Malaysian). Dishes tend to be lightly prepared and aromatic, and combine sour, sweet, salty and bitter flavours.

Like the cuisine of China and India, there are regional differences, with southern Thai curry containing coconut milk and turmeric, and north eastern Thai dishes incorporating lime juice.

Typical herbs and spices turmeric, galangal, coriander, cumin, lemon grass.

Japanese A cuisine that is nutritionally balanced and healthy. Rice is one of the most important ingredients, as well as fish and seafood and many ingredients are served raw.

Typical herbs and spices karashi mustard, shiso, wasabi, ginger, shichimi pepper.


Typical herbs and spices pandan leaves, kaffir lime leaves, star anise, cumin, laksa leaves.

Indonesian Most Indonesian dishes are spicy and strongly flavoured, with ample use of coconut milk. The cuisine has been influenced by various styles including the Chinese nasi goreng (fried rice with vegetables).

Typical herbs and spices: cumin, turmeric, coconut, palm sugar, peanut sauces.

Vietnamese is an elegant cuisine with elements of Chinese, French and Japanese flavours and styles.

Rice is a principal component, as are noodles and soups, including the increasingly popular pho and steamboat.

Typical herbs and spices: mint, basil, perilla, nutmeg, coriander.

Asian junior Chefs ChallengeEven before the introduction of the migration cap, UK operators struggled to attract chefs with the right skills to create ethnic cuisine. Now with even tighter controls on overseas staff, chefs are coming up with creative ways to ensure their kitchens can deliver.

One chef tacking the issue head on is 
Cyrus Todiwala, chef-patron at Café Spice Namaste. He has created the Asian Junior Chefs Challenge, a competition that is designed to root out the young stars in Asian cuisine to ensure the craft in the UK has a sustainable future.

"Over the past 12 years or so the Home Office and the Department for Work and Pensions have been trying to identify the various categories within the various kitchen structures with no conclusions," Todiwala says.

"Then, the migration advisory committee made several recommendations and one that stood out strongly was the sheer lack of initiative within the Asian food sector to train adequately and develop a skills base."

This competition, in conjunction with the Master Chefs of Great Britain, aims to kickstart the development of a sustainable skill base. It is open to college students who are UK residents, with no age limit, and will require a team of three to produce a four-course authentic meal based on the cuisine of pan-Asian countries.

The winning team and their lecturer - which will be announced at an awards dinner at Hilton London Heathrow Terminal 5 on 
20 October 2013 - will spend a week in Delhi courtesy of Carlson Rezidor. They will receive full training and meals during their stay. The runners-up will be invited to a demonstration and lunch at Café Spice

Namaste before going on to eat at one of London's top pan-Asian restaurants.

The closing date for entries is 12 June. For 
full details, contact Sue McGeever at

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