Do Asians Secretly Prefer Eating Western Over Asian Food?

These days it seems many people of Asian ethnicity all around the world have impeccably strong palates for Western foods.

McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut and various other Western restaurants are frequently packed during meal times in Asian countries. “Potato parties” have recently become a fad in Japan and South Korea, so-called parties where groups of young people order obscene amounts of fries and eat them all in one sitting at fast-food joints. Much love for fries.

Asian girl (me) extremely happy she gets to eat McDonalds. Photo: Sue C.

Asian girl (me) extremely happy she gets to eat McDonalds. Photo: Sue C.

Many Asian international students and Asian-Australians here in Australia also seem to possess Westernised palates. It is not uncommon to see them ordering fancy smoked salmon and poached eggs on multigrain toast or bircher muesli along with their coffee at upmarket cafes for Saturday brunch and kebabs for dinner later. What happened to having yum cha or sitting at round tables dining at Asian restaurants?

And not many have acknowledged this.

There are a number of not-so-ubiquitous cultural reasons that may explain why many Asians secretly love eating Western cuisine, or why many Asians are drawn towards consuming Western gastronomic delights more so than Asian dishes.

For starters, when we think about Asian food and cooking, images of hot bowls of boiling water served at tables for diners to wash oily restaurant cutlery prior to eating and open-aired roadside hawker stalls located beside the gutter where chefs toss noodles in woks with recycled oil often come to mind. In reality, that is dining etiquette and how countless Asian dishes are prepared in Asia. It can be said that at times, the stigma of consuming food which may not necessarily be safe to eat and feasting in unsanitary conditions is attached to eating Asian.

In contrast, a good deal of Western gastronomic fare is frequently prepared in enclosed kitchens where motor fumes barely kiss food packaging. Perhaps Asians who grew up eating hawker food in Asia hold the perception that Western kitchens tend be more hygienic and plate up A-grade safe dishes and so are more inclined to ingest Western chow.

Secondly, in the eyes of some Asians, the act of eating Western is a status symbol. Eat Western food and others will see you as a classy, sophisticated and even wealthy individual. Too many plates of well-done steaks, decent fish-and-chips and juicy gourmet pizzas literally burn holes in the average working person’s wallet. A filling meal at McDonalds can cost close to ten dollars.

Asian hawker fare is cheap in comparison, usually around six to seven dollars a meal in Asia. A bowl of noodles in an air-conditioned Asian restaurant can be relatively affordable too. Today, gorging on Western meals is known to be “a fashion for young Chinese people”, a hip activity among younger generation Asians. This is not surprising as impressing others, showing-off one’s “high-class, wealthy” status is highly but unfortunately admired in Asian cultures.

Perhaps yet another reason some of Asian ethnicity lust after Western food is their (unconscious) desire to distance themselves from their own culture. Western standards are perceived as grand and esteemed in numerous Asian countries; many Asians here strive to look as fair-skinned as Caucasians and shower much praise over Caucasians’ abilities to confidently speak in perfect English. It is almost as if they are embarrassed to be Asian. Eating Western food would be right up these Asians’ alley.

Or maybe some Asians resent their parents for force-feeding them Asian food they detest such as eggplant or Chinese cabbage while growing up. Like filial Asian children they obeyed their parents and resented this so much that these days they are intent on rebelling by eating as much Western food as possible.

A ray of sunlight falls over an egg tart. Who doesn't like a good, sweet egg tart? Photo: Sue C.

A ray of sunlight falls over an egg tart. Who doesn’t like a good, sweet egg tart? Photo: Sue C.

Non-cultural factors also arguably explain why Asians are drawn to consuming Western food. In a globalised, commodified world, Western fast-food franchises are popping up left, right and centre. The convenient locations of these eateries may very well entice Asians in Asian countries to eat Western all the time and so they do just that, naturally developing a taste for this cuisine.

Also, certain Western dishes are not readily available in Asia. Asian international students might simply be keen on trying gwei-lo cuisine when studying abroad in Western countries.

As one of my friends said to me while we were eating at McDonalds and I was smiling down at my fries, “It’s like they’re eating so much Western food to compensate for the lack of authentic Western food back home.” After she said this, I continued to smile at my fries. I like McDonalds. Always have, and always will.

Just like how I absolutely love egg tarts.

At the end of the day, there is the possibility some Asians simply prefer eating Western over Asian food because they simply prefer eating Western food. Their taste buds may simply prefer bread, potatoes and pasta over rice and noodles.

And why can’t this be so? Each and every person is their own individual.

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13 thoughts on “Do Asians Secretly Prefer Eating Western Over Asian Food?

  1. Interesting… I dated a guy in Hong Kong who loved certain items at KFC and McDonald’s and whose favorite restaurants were Western. He still at a lot of local food—cheaper, and he liked the taste—but when he was going to treat himself, it was always western food. There’s definitely some status involved. If you’re poor (in HK, anyway), you probably can’t afford to eat at Western restaurants aimed at tourists. But it’s more than that, too. I think you’re right—there’s a desire to put a little distance between yourself and tradition: Prove to Grandma you don’t *have* to eat only noodles and egg tarts (or whatever) to survive. But I really think a lot of people just like having more options… “What do I feel like tonight?” (I agree that there is too much oil used in much of Asian cooking, though! I used to be sad when my vegetables were so limp!)

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    • Thanks for sharing Jess. I also agree that for some Asians, there is some underlying desire to prove to the elder generation that they don’t just have to stick with tradition and eat traditional Asian food. Eating Western food is probably also a way for the younger Asian generation to show that they are ‘growing’ and becoming ‘more open-minded’ in modern progressive society today.

      And yes, I do think people like to have options, especially with food. I don’t know how it’s like over there in the States, but here in Melbourne/Oz, many Asians seem to jump at every opportunity to eat Korean BBQ nowadays (especially for celebratory purposes), which can be quite pricey but the portions are big, preferring to eat this cuisine over Western cuisine. It seems like the in-thing 🙂

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      • Korean BBQ is pretty popular here, too, although my circle of Asian friends here is small, so it’d be hard for me to say what they do… The Asian friends I have here were all raised in the States so they don’t really count. 😛

        Thanks for your lovely response!

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  2. For me myself, I enjoy both Western and Asian food, though I’m not sure which I like better 🙂 For me, choosing which type of food depends on my mood. Sometimes I’ll crave pasta, sometimes I’ll want to have some noodles. Asian foods tend to be heavier, in my opinion, and sometimes I’ll feel not in the mood for anything heavy or too spicy. During my primary school and high school years, all I did was eat meat pies and salad rolls from the school canteen, so Western food has grown on me, I guess. Living in Australia also means that sometimes Asian food isn’t always convenient or available. For example, sometimes I wanted some food quick – which would lead me to get a sausage roll or other type of Western food which doesn’t need cooking time. For me, it’s not so much that I prefer one over the other or I’m eating Western food to prove something, but both these cuisines feel like they are a part of me 🙂

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    • “Asian foods tend to be heavier” – this is a very interesting suggestion from you. I’ve always thought that Western food was heavier, what with the dairy products (which are filling foods) like cheese, cream and butter infused in them. But then again, Asian foods typically consist of rice and noodles, carbohydrates which can be filling as well. I guess some of us digest carbohydrates faster than others 🙂

      Have to agree with you there that sometimes on-the-go, ready-to-eat takeaway Asian food isn’t always readily available. There are more and more Vietnamese rolls being sold in food courts here in Melbourne, but they do come in sizeable portions. Good for a full meal, but not a snack. Also, meat pies and sausage rolls are convenient to eat – you can eat them out of a paper bag anywhere, anytime. Apart from Vietnamese rolls and Breadtop buns, I’m not sure if there are other convenient Asian snack foods available in Australia.

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  3. I think it a a universal thing for young people when venturing out into the world to want to break away from their cultural upbringing. And food choices is one way to do that. As an American white male, I was brought up with a traditional meat-and-potatoes kind of diet. It was not until after grad school when I moved away from my family and went Houston, Texas, that I was exposed to ethic cuisines (other than Italian and Polish…mmmmm, pierogies!). It was then for the first time that I had sushi, Thai, Chinese, Indian, even authentic Texas BBQ! (I would love to try Korean BBQ, btw.) It was wonderful, the best thing about Houston was the diversity–and the restaurants! I began to look down at my parents–and I guess even my “culture”. It’s, funny, never really thought of my “culture” as culture until recently. It was just the way things were.

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    • Definitely agree with you there about exploring other cultures through food. Food is so easily accessible today and many of us don’t even mind hunting down ingredients and whipping up dishes ourselves at home. Specialty food grocery stores (think Asian stores, Mediterranean outlets etc.) Seems like you had a great fun and tasty time sampling so many different cuisines when you moved away from home. Korean BBQ is becoming very popular all over the world these days, so I don’t think you’ll have any trouble finding a Korean restaurant. I guess the food we typically eat, our customs and the way we behave at home usually come to the fore and make us stop for a second when we come across and experience a whole new other culture, just like you did.

      Thanks for sharing, Clshome. Apologies for the late response. I just saw your comment. Better late than never 🙂

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  4. “McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut and various other Western restaurants are frequently packed during meal times in Asian countries.” The names you cite are not “western restaurants”. They are fast food chains that have appeared in the last 50 years, companies that have systematically modified tastes to suit their products. Many, perhaps most people in the “western” world began eating and became accustomed to these foods not long before people in Asia did.

    France, Italy, Germany, and Spain are all unquestionably western countries. There was and still is much resistance in these places to the appearance of commercial fast food chains. Perhaps more surprisingly for people in the rest of the world, a similar resistance existed in the United States where the brands you mention originated. I grew up in the midwest of the United States, and we rarely or never ate any of the things you describe here. Based on recent conversations with my compatriots, mine was a very common experience: fast food was perceived as an unacceptable and somehow “foreign” thing that appeared during the 1980s.

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    • That is a good point. McDonalds, KFC etc. are all fast-food chains and yeah, most likely they originated in the Western world. Though majority of them serve what we deem western food such as burgers, fries and pizza. You’re definitely right about how fast food chains modify their taste and menu to suite their customers. At one point for a limited time, McDonalds Singapore served nasi lemak (coconut rice with dried fish piece and nuts), a traditional Asian dish popular with locals. I ate it a few times, it tasted great. Don’t know why they didn’t make it a permanent menu item.

      It’s interesting to hear that you rarely ate some of the things I’ve mentioned in my post. I guess it depends where you come from, where you’ve lived and what you’ve been exposed to that determines your tastes and perspectives in life.

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      • My main point was that what people in Asia usually call “western food” (what they serve at a “western food” stand in a hawker centre, burgers, fries and pizza) has never been traditional everyday food for the vast majority of the western world.

        My secondary point was that “the west” is an enormous area with only a few unifying characteristics, and when we get into details like food preferences there’s arguably no such thing as western culture. In western Europe you only need to travel a short distance to find completely different food that people may never have eaten or heard of in a neighboring country. In the same way, Asia is immense and there’s no unifying detail that makes for “Asian food”.

        I have noticed that in some places (Singapore and India come to mind) there’s a tendency to use “western” to refer to the culture of England and certain specific parts of the former British empire as seen through the lens of advertisements and TV. Anglo-American culture can be very different than the typical way of life in say Italy or Germany, and even within those countries people can be extremely different than one another. And don’t forget that TV and advertisements have almost nothing to do with real life for many people. The image you make of “the west” is heavily influenced by the fact that you speak English.

        So I’d say the observations in your article are more about people’s preferences for traditional meals versus mass-produced commercial junk food. This exact same opposition exists in western countries. I don’t think it’s an “Asia versus the West” thing. Here are some examples of foods I think of as everyday staples or memorable items from growing up in southern Ohio, a state that doesn’t make a lot of TV shows about itself but does have 11 million people. The examples are of course local, and this list wouldn’t be the same for someone from a different region. They are influenced by immigration patterns, which foods grow well locally, and a preference for fresh over industrial/fast foods.

        Cabbage rolls:
        http://cookingweekends.blogspot.be/2011/11/cabbage-rolls.html

        Green beans and ham:
        http://www.food.com/recipe/new-potatoes-green-beans-and-ham-51948

        Zucchini and corn:
        http://www.barefeetinthekitchen.com/2012/05/corn-tomato-and-zucchini-skillet.html

        Cornbread:
        http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/1899/quick-chilli-cornbread

        Leek soup:
        http://mydinnertoday.com/2010/03/21/chunky-leek-and-potato-soup/

        Pickled beets:
        http://www.wholelifeeating.com/2011/05/pickled-beets-eggs-and-onions/

        Stuffed peppers:
        http://cookingweekends.blogspot.be/2013/09/stuffed-bell-peppers.html

        I hope this helps to enlarge your idea of what people from “the west” might eat!

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  5. Pingback: Food: A Trip Around the Globe | EUROKULTURE

  6. I have the same experience myself. But recently I begin to pity westerners as they didn’t take enough vegetables. Think about a hamburger, there is just a little vegetables in there. It seems like westerners don’t know how to cook vegetables. They just eat them directly with some salad. And this is why they don’t take enough vegetables because uncooked vegetables don’t have a good taste. 🙂

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