Cuisine Focus: Chinese

We investigate the rise in popularity of Asian cuisine.

The Royal Orchid Chinese & Thai Restaurant Abu Dhabi imports authentic ingredients for its food.
The Royal Orchid Chinese & Thai Restaurant Abu Dhabi imports authentic ingredients for its food.

Amanda Elisha hosted a roundtable of regional experts to discover why Chinese cuisine has become one of the region’s popular dining choices:

Our panelists were: 

Jeff Tan, executive chef, Yuan, Atlantis the Palm Dubai
Karan Thappa, Chinese sous chef, The Royal Orchid Chinese & Thai Restaurant Abu Dhabi
Lai Min Wei, chef de cuisine, Hakkasan Doha, St. Regis Doha
Eddie Sim Leong, chef de cuisine, Hong Loong, Sofitel the Palm Resort & Spa, Dubai
George Chee, Chinese executive chef, Long Yin, Le Meridien Dubai Hotel & Conference Centre

How popular is the concept of Chinese cuisine in the region?

Karan Thappa, Chinese sous chef, The Royal Orchid Chinese and Thai Restaurant Abu Dhabi: Chinese cuisine is one of the most popular ones in this region and this is clear with the growing number of restaurants opening across the cities. It is popular among Emiratis, Indians and Filipinos among many others.

Eddie Sim Leong, chef de cuisine, Hong Loong, Sofitel the Palm Resort & Spa: Generally speaking I think Chinese food is very popular in the world and with the number of Dubai expatriates, fine Chinese cuisine is always in demand.

Jeff Tan, executive chef, Yuan, Atlantis the Palm Dubai: Although Chinese cuisine has a history that spans back a thousand years, now in more recent years, it is emerging as a popular option in the region. People from all over the world are getting interested in it.

Lai Min Wei, chef de cuisine, Hakkasan Doha, St. Regis Doha: Chinese cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the Middle East following in the foodsteps of other Asian cuisines such as Japanese and Thai. We are also seeing restaurants striving to provide more authentic and regional tastes, swaying away from the popular ‘Westernisation’ of Chinese food.

George Chee, Chinese executive chef, Long Yin, Le Meridien Dubai Hotel & Conference Centre: Chinese food has become a staple cuisine in Dubai culture, and a huge part of the emirate’s restaurant life.

What is the competition between restaurants serving this cuisine like?

JT: There are more than 10 contemporary Chinese restaurants in Dubai, so we face fierce competition. What we are trying to do is to be different. First of all, there are valuable selections with different regional Chinese cuisine in the restaurant, such as Sichuan cuisine and Cantonese cuisine. Sichuan cuisine is extremely popular worldwide, but not commonly found in the UAE. Second, as we are still in a very new stage, we have the advantage to be able to experiment with our recipes, trying our best to find out the local taste preferences.

GC: The competition is healthy and encourages us to ensure that we have something new to offer to our guests. This was one of the reasons why Long Yin reopened its doors with an all new look in September 2012. Given that there is a large variety for consumers to choose from, Long Yin introduced a menu boasting all time favourites and a dedicated dim sum offering.

LMW: There is not a great competition of high-end Chinese restaurants in Doha, but the restaurant scene is growing quickly along with Qatar’s rapid tourism and hospitality development. Several other pan-Asian and multi-cuisine restaurants keep us on our toes.

ESL: There is competition between like-minded restaurants, but there are not many fine dining Chinese cuisine restaurants in the city and there are even fewer on The Palm, so the competition is not too great.

KT: With so many new Chinese and more so multi-cuisine dining options, there is very little scope for error. Guests expect the highest quality of food and service at competitive prices. Constant innovation is a must in order to be different, while at the same time ensuring that guests are able to choose their favourite comfort food.

What is the supply-stream like?

LMW: As our food at Hakkasan is very specialised, we are forced to import a large portion of our dry goods, sauces and spices. We try, of course, to use local produce such as seafood as much as we can but keeping a constant stream of products which match our quality requirements can be difficult.

KT: We have local and international suppliers to meet requirements of our innovative menu. Certain vegetables and flour are ordered from local suppliers to maintain the freshness and standard of food. We believe in the freshest of ingredients and great care is taken in choosing products from the best of suppliers. We also import some authentic Chinese ingredients to maintain the authenticity of the cuisine.

ESL: We source most of our ingredients from Singapore, China and Hong Kong. We want to keep the experience as authentic as possible and only use traditional ingredients.

GC: Chinese products are readily available at supermarkets and more complex products are sourced through specialised suppliers, unlike before when even soya sauce was hard to come by. In addition, some of the dishes that are there on the menu need to be ordered well in advance; for example with the Chilled Aloe Vera sweet dish, the tins need to be ordered two to three months in advance.

JT: We often need special ingredients which are not commonly found here. Our team spends a lot of time sourcing authentic items from China including spices and vegetables. We also import lobster from USA, duck from Thailand and a few other items from Hong Kong.

What challenges do you face?

GC: Challenges are in keeping up with Dubai's cosmopolitan flair as it consists of a diverse population. Given that guests are always on the look out to try something new and different, one of the challenges would be to ensure that we keep up with the ever changing trends and tastes and try to ensure that we find a perfect combination of flavours for everyone. Given that there are so many Chinese restaurants in the city, the other challenge we face is to get recognised.

ESL: Hong Loong serves Cantonese, Sichuan and Shanghai cuisine with local preferences. As Chinese food is served all over the world, people have very different experiences so there is the challenge of people having different ideas of what Chinese food tastes like.

KT: This region has a great variety of ethnicities, each of which is accustomed to different taste profiles. Understanding these palates and cooking Chinese food the way they like it is our biggest challenge, while trying not to stray too far away from the original recipe. Keeping in mind our guests taste buds, we try our best to serve the most authentic Chinese that will leave our guests satisfied and coming back for more.

JT: The most challenging thing for me is about the local ingredients. We do import most of the ingredients from other places, but we also use some of the local food in order to satisfy the local market. However, it is not that easy to fuse local ingredients into Chinese cuisine. I am always looking for a better way to create the best cooking style. It is more like a motivation for me.

LMW: Apart from the lack of product availability in the local market, we face very few challenges. The awareness of Chinese cuisine is growing and we are experiencing increasing demand and interest from both local and expat clientele.

What does the future for Chinese cuisine look like?

KT: The future of Chinese cuisine in this region is undoubtedly on an uphill trend. The market is opening up to new concepts, mostly international concepts, rather than home-grown, and guests are ready to experiment with food. This also gives chefs a platform to innovate and be creative. You cannot be happy with where you are at, or you will get left behind.

LMW: The future for Chinese cuisine is bright. With the increased influx of Chinese tourists, as well as the ever increasing cultural awareness of our discerning guests, the restaurant scene in the region will continue to bloom.

JT: The health of human beings has become a really serious topic nowadays. Chinese cuisine has always followed the order of diet balancing. Especially for soup — an important element in our diet — we can stew it with herbs for a few hours and all the benefits and nutrition will come out. It is really good for health and also extremely tasty.

GC: I feel the future is very bright, given that Chinese cuisine still remains one of the most popular choices among guests due to its tastes and flavours.

ESL: I think it will be more refined and more popular. The preparation and cooking method will remain authentic, however the presentation will be more international.

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