No one can deny the restaurant field is crowded these days and the competition to get diners in the door is fierce. To stand out from the crowd, chefs are searching the world over for inspiration from far-reaching cuisines and influences.
Asia has been a great source for chefs looking for something new with fusion dishes paying nods to Japanese ramen, Vietnamese pho, and pad Thai showing up in places where you might not expect it. The dining world moves fast, though, and what was hot and unusual one day is oversaturated the next. Diners move on with an eye for the next trend coming around the corner. One trend that looks to be bubbling to the top now is Pacific Rim cooking—an array of flavors and traditional dishes from the Philippines to the Hawaiian, often influenced by clean California sensibility and utilizing some familiar Asian tastes in new and exciting ways.
Arguably the most famous of Filipino foods, lumpia hits both the Pacific Rim and street food trends. These thin, cigar-like rolls are filled with pork and vegetables then typically served with a sweet chili sauce to pack a rich and savory punch of. It makes the perfect small plate or bar snack.
This purple yam can be mashed to use for everything from puddings to soups while being both Paleo and low carb Keto-friendly. Ube is also trending heavily on Instagram, especially in its flour form, as chefs make striking purple noodles, pancakes or even cupcakes. The pancakes are a must-have menu special for brunch service.
This Japanese seasoning has long been popular all over the Pacific. Low in sodium, it relies on hints of kelp, bonito flakes, and sometimes even a little matcha green tea to add flavor. Traditionally, it has been used for rice but is now often used to add a little spark to fish or vegetables without covering their flavor. It’s perfect sprinkled over crispy fries for an exotic twist—serve it up as a side or bar snack.
Speaking of bar snacks…Peel and slice lotus root before letting it enjoy a sit in water with a bit of vinegar—or any other flavor you might want to infuse. Pat dry and deep fry. Lightly sprinkle with salt or furikake and watch them quickly be devoured.
If your restaurant is snout to tail, this must be added to your culinary wheelhouse. Sisig is the meat from a pig’s head, from the cheeks to the ears, slowly braised until it’s tender and then fried. Add a little calamansi, a Filipino fruit similar to lime, plus chili peppers and you’re good to go. How to serve it? Add a little mayo and you have an amazing sandwich. Toss it with some rice and you have a deeply rich entree. The most amazing application, though, might be for breakfast, served up with a couple of soft eggs to ooze over the pork.
Yep, that’s Spam. But not just Spam, this is sliced and grilled before being placed on sticky rice, wrapped in nori, and pressed—essentially the Hawaiian version of Japanese onigiri. Sure, the Spam is traditional and will stand out on the menu, but the variations can be endless. A little rectangle of griddled ground beef and cheese for a cheeseburger musubi. Maybe a piece of chicken fried with panko and pickle for your own Pacific version of a southern fried chicken sandwich. You could even do one with a hot dog.
Soft eggs are an inexpensive, yet elegant, way to elevate a dish—plus the free advertising every time a diner pierces the egg and Instagrams it as the yolk oozes out onto the dish. Cooking an onsen egg is simple, it takes 30-40 minutes in a 160°F bath. For a little extra flavor, after de-shelling, let it rest for a moment in a bath of Mirin and soy sauce. It’s the perfect addition for the sisig.
Despite the name, it’s not just crab fat. It’s mostly crab roe, sourced from a tiny river crab called Talangka. What it lacks in size it makes up for in taste—a level of crab flavor that is difficult to achieve even with whole crab. Use it like a butter, to finish a dish to preserve and let the flavor shine. Where? Soft scrambled eggs. Fried rice. Even tossed into linguine or spread on toast.
Treat it about the same as you would the crab fat. Crushed into a paste, the uni not the shell, it can add a delicious wallop of flavor to seafood and egg dishes - as well as being lovely on toast. Add it to pasta and pancetta for a new take on carbonara.
Noodles are constantly popular dish that are sure to sell. Pancit is typically a thin vermicelli noodle seasoned lightly with soy and fish sauce before being tossed with fresh vegetable and a protein—fresh seafood really shines here. If you’re looking for a more powerful flavor, consider XO Sauce, a heady fermented mix of conpoy, shrimp and peppers that is a far cry from sweeter oyster sauces that can overwhelm a dish.
There are dozens more base dishes and ingredients that you can add to your existing repertoire or use as the basis for entirely new dishes—from lechon to kokoda. Pacific Rim cooking isn’t a single set of rules or flavors, other than fresh and clean, and can be a great jumping off point to keep your menu the talk of the town.