What We’ve Learned from Asia This Year


Asian foods are hardly new to the American market.

Well, that is to say, that we’ve known about Chinese food for a long time, and Thai has been the darling of haute-cuisine for the past decade. But, we’re learning a lot about Asian foods at the moment – in part because people (especially Millennials) are interested in hotter flavors and new taste sensations.

We’re seeing more Asian-inspired menu items across the globe and a burst of specialties emerging from other countries in this region, such as the Philippines, Japan, and Malaysia. And, we’ll continue to see more.

Extreme Growth in Asian Foods Worldwide

In the United States, growth in Asian fast foods has been extraordinary for more than a decade. Accompanied by the desire for sriracha, sales at Asian fast food establishments have grown 135% since 1999. That’s huge considering the competition. The $2 billion in sales at Panda Express last year is just the beginning. We’re sure to see additional growth, especially as Chipotle rolls out more Shophouse Thai noodle bars.

Take a look at just about any restaurant menu and you’ll spot at least one item firmly rooted in Asia, even if it’s chicken slathered in sriracha.

It’s the same worldwide, perhaps even more dramatic. Since 1999, Asian fast food restaurant sales have grown by nearly 500%. That’s the greatest increase in any fast food segment. Indeed, if you were to add the next four categories together (that’s Middle Eastern, chicken, pizza, and Latin fast-food restaurants), you’d see about the same amount of growth during this time.

Foodies are clearly obsessed with Asia. And, as new flavors make their way into American (and global) markets, we’ll see more rapid changes than we’ve experienced in the past decade and a half.

What’s Changing in Asian Foods in 2015?

Over the past few years, we’ve seen ramen taking off. No, not those 2-minute noodles you make at home. We mean the gourmet, order it as an expensive menu item, sort of ramen. Taking over where sushi left off, ramen propelled our interest in Asian foods (along with sriracha).

But, we’re not going to stop there. At the moment, we’re moving onto Asian oysters and kimchi. The latter is a fermented Korean cabbage that you’ll soon see everywhere. We’ll also see more adobo from the Philippines and Taiwanese street foods (like gua boa buns filled with slow-roasted meats) hitting our shores before the end of the year.

Additionally, and this is quite interesting, we’ll see more hot sauce flavors inspired by Asian classics. New-to-Americans chilies may also be hitting our shelves, competing with our south-of-the-border favorites. And, of course, we see no signs of the Asian inspiration slowing over the next couple of years.

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