Asian Cuisine – Its History and Role in Modern Culinary Arts

Go to any major city in the Western world and Australia, and you’re likely to find restaurants serving Asian cuisine. This has been the case for many years, and modern customers don’t know anything different. While Chinese and Indian are the two most popular options, you’ll also find restaurants specialising in Thai, Korean, and Japanese cuisine.

How did Asian cuisine become so popular in the modern world, and what role has it played during this time?


Between 1901 and 1973, the White Australian policy prevented people of Asian origins from immigrating to Australia. Therefore, Asian cuisine entered Australia later than in other countries. However, this policy was finally lifted, and new options emerged onto the Australian eatery scene.

For example, the number of Vietnamese refugees living in Sydney and Melbourne dramatically increased at this time. Similarly, Japanese food finally became popular even though the first restaurant serving Japanese food opened in 1953. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, more restaurants specialised in Asian cuisine both to serve incoming Asian immigrants and because the immigrants themselves opened businesses selling their favourite dishes.

Towards the end of the 1980s, Asian restaurants were a common sight in major cities across Australia. For example, Vietnamese communities commonly settled in Footscray, Richmond, Springvale, and other locations in Melbourne. Meanwhile, Thai and others came to the country.

You might have noticed that Chinese restaurants haven’t been mentioned, and this is because they grew in popularity even through the White Australia policy. With Chinese migrants helping during the 19th-century gold rushes, many chefs from China were exempt from the policy. Therefore, Chinese cuisine entered the country much earlier.

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Types of Asian Cuisine

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Asia is a vast continent, and it’s therefore not surprising that the food differs so much from one corner to another. Three main cuisine areas exist in Asia:

  • Northeast – Containing Japan, China, and Korea, curries are popular in the Northeast, and many meals start with coconut milk. What’s more, this region is also known for egg noodles and rice. Though curries are popular, this popularity pales in comparison compared to the next two regions.
  • Southeast – This region contains the most countries and includes Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Brunei, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. One of the biggest similarities between the Southeast and the Northeast is the use of coconut milk, egg noodles, and rice. However, there are small differences, including the fact that the Southeast uses fish sauce as opposed to soy sauce in the Northeast.
  • Southwest – This time, we’re looking towards India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Burma. Rather than coconut milk, curries use yoghurt as a foundation in the Southwest. Like the Southeast, curries are important in the Southwest and rice is a vital ingredient once again. Along with the Southeast, this region also values chillies.

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Elsewhere, all three cuisine areas use ginger and garlic but the use of oils in cooking is different. For instance, vegetable oils are used in the Northeast and Southeast while the Southwest relies more on ghee.

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Importance in the Modern World

There’s no real way to know the exact number of Asian restaurants in Australia but estimates suggest thousands across not only major cities but also small towns. Local spots like Mudbar offers asian fusion cuisine in Launceston and continues to shape our diets in the modern world. So much so that a new niche has developed over the years called Australian Chinese cuisine. Chinatowns and other Asian communities are important focal points of cities, and Asia is likely to play a large role in the development of Australian cuisine in the years ahead too!

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