Food is a universal language: a way to experience, celebrate, and enjoy life. So it’s no coincidence that, although Asian cuisine spans continents and countries, its richness in culture, diversity, and flavor truly brings people together—beyond geographical borders. A dish can speak a thousand words with its ingredients, cooking style, and plating. This Asian Heritage Month, let us learn more about each other through food.
To celebrate, here are five recipes from Vancouver chefs and restaurateurs. These only scratch the surface of the depth of Asian cuisines, but they offer a delicious starting point.
Coconut rice and nasi lemak sambal by Justin Cheung, chef-owner of Potluck Hawker Eatery
Malaysian food is a vibrant melting pot of cuisines influenced from an array of various multi-ethnic cultures, including Chinese, Malays, and Indians. The result is a boastful, pungent, and humble array of dishes commonly mastered by individual hawkers honing their craft on certain dishes, such as Hainanese chicken rice, satay, char kway teow, mee goreng, nasi lemak, and so much more.
At Potluck, we continue to celebrate this multi-ethnic, diverse Asian heritage, cross-utilizing ancient techniques that are grounded with local products and farmers. Integrating and introducing a Malaysian shrimp paste in a dish that uses a Filipino shrimp paste, or adding freshness and brightness of Malaysian and Filipino dishes with Thai and Cambodian sensibilities, is all part of Potluck's philosophy. You can taste this through our cooking and training. The dishes we choose to showcase highlight what I grew up eating at home, often cooked by my mother, who has long been an inspiration to me.
As the quintessential national dish of Malaysia, nasi lemak is a common meal and can be as simple or as extravagant as you want it to be. The word “nasi” translates to rice, and “lemak” is the essence and fragrance of coconut. When mixed with our slightly sweet, savory, and umami-packed chili paste, it further brings out the flavor of the coconut. Malays like to eat it with sliced cucumbers, roasted peanuts, ikan bilis (fried baby anchovy), and boiled egg. At Potluck, we kick it up with our coconut-milk-fried chicken and other Southeast Asian-influenced or seasonal dishes such as la-ing (Filipino coconut and shrimp-paste-braised greens) with confit duck leg, or sambal stir-fried Haida Gwaii halibut cheeks.
- 1 piece lemongrass, smashed
- 1 knot pandan (screw pine leaves)
- 2 cups jasmine rice, rinsed and dried
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 2 cups water
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon white sugar
- Rinse the rice just as you would when making regular steamed rice.
- After allowing the rice to dry in a strainer, add it to a rice cooker with the coconut milk and water. Add the seasoning and mix.
- On top, add the screw pine leaves and a knob of lemongrass. Start the rice cooker.
- When the rice has finished cooking, allow additional five to 10 minutes for it to rest before opening the lid. This will allow rice to evenly steam and the flavors to distribute.
- Pop the lid open and fluff the rice. Close the lid and set aside.
Nasi lemak sambal
- 2 cloves garlic
- 4 shallots, whole
- 5 fresh Thai chilis
- 10 dried bird’s eye chili, soaked overnight
- 1 teaspoon dried shrimp
- 1 teaspoon belacan shrimp paste
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons palm sugar, grated
- 1 tablespoon tamarind juice
- Pound the garlic, shallots, chili, and shrimp products together with salt in a mortar and pestle until it creates a fine paste. Alternatively, you can use any household blender or small food processor.
- Starting with one ounce of vegetable oil, fry the paste until it’s slightly caramelized (three to five minutes) on medium-low heat. Dissolve the sugar and allow the mixture to caramelize further. You’ll notice the sambal paste will become a deeper color, and more concentrated in aroma and flavor. You can adjust with sugar or salt depending on your preferences.
- Add the tamarind juice. Cook for another minute, and then allow the mixture to cool to room temperature before eating.
- Serve with steamed coconut rice, fried anchovy, roasted peanuts, cucumber slices, and boiled egg. For a larger meal, enjoy it with your favorite fried chicken or other protein.
Home-style ume maguro chazuke by Kazuya Matsuoka, executive chef at Aburi Restaurants Canada
Ochazuke is a staple dish in Japanese households. My first recipe for this came from my mom. After a night of drinking with friends, it’s what I usually craved; we called it the best hangover food for working adults (I work at Aburi Restaurants Canada). Not much cooking is involved, so it’s simple but delicious: an umami-packed Japanese traditional “lazy meal.” I usually use whatever ingredients I have in the fridge, such as sashimi and steamed rice. I reheat the steamed rice in the microwave, make a quick dashi, and serve.
Note: many Japanese ingredients can be found at Japanese grocery stores.
- 1/2 cup hot steamed rice
- 3 ounces maguro (red tuna), sliced
- 8 ounces dashi broth (recipe below)
- 1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds
- 1 tablespoon green onion, chopped
- 1/2 tablespoon nori (dried seaweed), chopped
- 1/2 tablespoon ume (Japanese pickled plum), chopped
- Crushed arare (rice crackers)
- 6 cups cold water
- 1 ounce konbu (dried kelp)
- 1/2 ounce katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes), to taste
- Prepare the cold water in the pot, and place the konbu inside.
- Bring to a boil with high heat.
- Remove the konbu from the pot, and remove the water from the stove.
- Sprinkle the katsuobushi into the broth; stir.
- Let it sit for three to five minutes.
- Filter the katsuobushi out using a sieve.
- Pour the dashi broth into another bowl.
- Prepare your hot steamed rice or reheat some steamed rice from your fridge. Scoop into a bowl.
- Pour the dashi broth over the rice. Add the maguro.
- Sprinkle sesame seeds, green onion, nori, and chopped ume on top.
- Sprinkl arare to finish.
Enjoy it hot!
Bibingka espesyal by Racel Lomotan, owner of Leavenly Goods
Our most celebrated holiday in the Philippines is Christmas. I chose to share our family recipe to hopefully take our fellow immigrant Filipinos back home to the Philippines, and to introduce the new generation to Filipino culture through food. Bibingka espesyal is a popular rice cake in the Philippines, which is normally eaten during breakfast in the Christmas season. This rice cake plays on the flavor of both sweet and savory, combined with the aroma of banana leaf.
After working in the corporate industry for many years, I decided to take a chance on my passion and opened up my own bakery, called Leavenly Goods. My goal is to showcase the most popular Filipino classic pastries in the hopes of sharing a little glimpse of home.
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 cup rice flour
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 400 millilitres coconut milk
- 4 eggs
- 2 duck eggs, cooked and salted
- 1/2 cup coconut, shredded
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated
- Preheat the oven between 350 degrees Fahrenheit to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (depending on your oven).
- In a stand mixer, cream the butter, sugar, and salt.
- In a medium bowl, mix together the rice flour, all-purpose flour, and baking powder. Set aside.
- Mix the coconut milk and eggs into the creamed butter.
- Gradually add in your flour mixture and mix until the flour is fully combined. (It will have the consistency of a pancake mixture.) Set aside.
- Slice one salted duck egg into cubes and set it aside.
- In a small bowl, mix the shredded coconut and grated cheddar cheese. Set aside.
- Prepare an eight-inch round pan and line it with banana leaf. Place something that has a bit of weight on top of the leaf (like a pie weight or another round pan) and place this in the preheated oven for five to seven minutes.
- Remove the weights and pour in the batter. Top with the cubed duck eggs and shredded coconut and cheese mixture.
- Bake for 15 minutes.
- Slice the second salted duck egg in half lengthwise, and slice into two-millimetre pieces.
- Remove the bibingka and top it with the egg. Place it back in the oven for another 15 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
- Let it cool in the pan for five minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack before eating.
Pork & Napa cabbage dumplings by Dickson Li, cofounder of Dicky’s Dumps
Dumplings connect us to our roots, heritage, and culture. As the children of Chinese immigrants, we’ve been making dumplings our whole lives, sitting around the kitchen table with multiple generations of family, pleating row upon row. For us, they are a delicious symbol of nostalgia, family, and love, and we’ll be making them—at home and at Dicky’s Dumps—for years and years to come.
- 1 pack dumpling wrappers (approximately 40 pieces). Note: look for round dumpling wrappers labeled ‘餃子’ (Jiaozi). Be careful not to buy wonton wrappers, as they are much thinner and do not serve well for this recipe.
- Small bowl of water for wrapping
- 1 pound regular ground pork
- 1½ cup Napa cabbage, finely chopped
- 1 green onion, chopped
- 1.5 teaspoons Shaoxing wine or rice wine
- 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
Dipping sauce ingredients
- Chinkiang black vinegar
- Soy sauce
- Chili oil
- Mix all the dumpling filling ingredients in a bowl and combine well.
- With a dumpling wrapper in the palm of your hand, place one rounded teaspoon of filling in the middle of the wrapper. Dip your finger into the small bowl of water and wet the edges of the wrapper.
- Fold the dumpling over to form a half-moon shape. You may pleat the edges as you seal, or simply press the edges together, ensuring a tight seal. (To make the Chinese ingot, also known as the Dicky’s Dumps signature shape, take the two ends and bring them together. Use another dab of water to press and seal.)
- Place the dumplings on a floured baking sheet, spaced apart to prevent sticking. Repeat until all the wrapping and filling is used. Pop the sheet into the freezer until the dumplings are firmly frozen; then you can place the dumplings in a bag for storage in the freezer until you want to eat them.
- To serve: carefully drop the dumplings into a pot of boiling water. Cover. After about eight to 10 minutes, the dumplings will float, meaning they are cooked. Remove them from the water and serve with dipping sauce.
- To make the dipping sauce, use about a 2:1:1 ratio of vinegar to soy and chili oil. For a non-spicy version, you can swap out chili oil with roasted sesame oil or sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds.
Sauteed kale and onions with spicy plant-based ground “meat” by Meeru Dhalwala, chef and co-owner of Vij’s
For the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was buying a lot of food from grocery stores (I wasn’t hoarding, but didn’t like the long lines so I made way fewer trips). At the same time, I had been making huge efforts to avoid any food waste—which includes no food going into the compost. This recipe comes from a last-minute realization that I had two bunches of kale in the fridge that would last maybe another day, and some ground Beyond Meat that was a week beyond is best-by date (best-by does not mean expiry, though). The result was a surprise and delight. While Vij’s is all Indian, at home I enjoy combining Indian spices with all sorts of different cuisines.
Although this recipe has different layers, it’s not difficult to make. If you don’t like too much kale, you can use just one bunch. I always keep onions, garlic, canned tomatoes, awesome frozen bread from a bakery, and some sort of creamy spread as my staples. This time around I had some leftover feta-basil spread. My personal health balance is this: eat vegan a few times a week, eat real meat once a week, and go vegetarian the rest of the time. If you’d like, you can use real ground meat or poultry in place of a plant-based substitute.
- 1/3 cup cooking oil (I use grapeseed)
- 1 medium to large onion, sliced thin
- 2 bunches kale, washed and roughly chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon crushed cayenne chili flakes
- In a large pot, heat the cooking oil on medium-high for one minute and then add the onions.
- Saute the onions for four to six minutes, until they are golden brown. Add the kale, salt, and cayenne. Stir well.
- Reduce the heat to medium. While stirring, cook the kale for five minutes—this relaxes it while retaining its texture. Cook it longer if you prefer softer kale.
- Turn off the heat and set aside.
Plant-based ground “meat” ingredients
- 1/4 cup cooking oil (I use grapeseed)
- 1 can diced tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1.5 teaspoons ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon crushed cayenne chili flakes
- 1 teaspoon non-smoked paprika (optional)
- 16 ounces (454 grams) ground “meat”
Plant-based ground “meat” method
- Add the cooking oil to a pot just the right size for the ground plant-based “meat.” Turn the heat on medium-high and add the canned tomatoes, turmeric, cumin, coriander, salt, cayenne, and paprika.
- Stir well and saute for two to four minutes, until you see the oil glistening on the tomatoes. If you don’t see the oil glistening after four minutes, don’t worry: you’re cooking comfort food at home. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
- Stir in the ground “meat.” Heat until the mixture is nice and hot, about two or three minutes. (If you’re using real meat, make sure it is thoroughly cooked, which will take longer.)
- 250 grams cream cheese, feta cheese, or fromage frais with herbs
- Buns of your favorite bread, cut in half
- Toast your bread. This is necessary, otherwise the bread quickly becomes soggy with the weight of everything.
- Serve one bun per person, cut in half. Spread equal amounts of cheese on each bun.
- Top with equal amounts of kale and then top the kale with equal amounts of the spiced plant-based ground “meat.”
- Serve with any salad on the side, or enjoy on its own.