On Friday October 10th the Asian Culinary Forum kicked off with a sold out tasting event, The Six Asian Flavors. What made this program such a fantastic success was the opportunity to see, handle, smell and taste examples of the defining flavors of Asian cuisine that spans many countries.
Sour featured Sinigang na Baka a tangy soup made by Filipino chef Emmanuel Santos of Bistro Luneta and explanations from food writer Nancy Freeman. Fresh tamarind, limes, tomatoes, eggplants, green mangoes, long beans and taro root were all featured in their uncooked forms, as well as in the scrumptious and soothing soup.
Umami is possibly the least well known flavor. It is best described as "savory" and has a mouthwatering effect. It was represented by sake-braised shiitake and maitake mushrooms. On hand were also other examples of foods high in umami such as cheese, olives, miso and tomatoes. While this flavor is found just about every cuisine it is particularly important in Asian cuisine and was first identified in Japan.
Salty took the form of fish sauce provided by Viet Huong, producer of the Three Crabs and Flying Lion brands. While fish sauce is made with salt, not every style is very salty. Several bottles from a local producer were available and guides explained the differences and offered up rice paper rolls to dip in various sauces.
Spicy was a bit of a surprise, because it wasn't necessarily "hot." Thai Sriracha, Vietnamese chile salt and a Malaysian sambal were offered with a savory selection of bites including pork belly, cucumber and shrimp. Each offered a different twist on spiciness.
Bitter might be the toughest for Western tastes to accept, it is the opposite of sweet. Nutritionist Karen Diggs presented the health benefits of bitter including stimulating bile production, expelling "heat" from the liver, and toning digestive organs and the heart. A bitter tonic primed the palate for a stack of bitter melon, shiitake mushroom and a goji berry.
Sweet was presented last, much as it is in Western cuisine. Writer Robyn Eckhardt of Eating Asia presented various palm sugars and a sweet Malaysian dessert called onde onde, made from coconut, pandan, coconut palm sugar and glutinous rice. Each component was sweet and together they created a decadent and rich morsel.