Food tourism in Asia

Food provides tourists with a deeper insight into the places they are visiting, write Victoria University of Wellington's Dr Eerang Park and Associate Professor Ian Yeoman ahead of their Wellington on a Plate event.

Asian food stall

Food tourism has moved beyond the haggis of Scotland, frog legs from France or raggmunk from Sweden. Once dominated by the European countries of France, Spain and Italy, it is now becoming increasingly popular in Asia as western tourists seek more exotic holiday destinations.

There is a growing trend among tourists to seek authentic experiences, which includes experiencing the cuisine of a place. Food is tied to the culture, history and people of a nation and provides tourists with a deeper insight into the countries, cities and towns they are visiting. With this in mind, it is no surprise food tourism has grown to be the third most important reason for choosing a holiday destination.

Right at the heart of Asian cuisine, and therefore food tourism in Asia, are rice and noodles. When greeting, Asian people often ask “Have you eaten rice yet?” instead of “How are you?” This custom is shared across many Asian countries, where rice and noodles have a long history that reflects the social and cultural dynamics of a nation. For example, the famous Thai rice noodle, Pad Thai, was invented to promote rice consumption. Meanwhile, Japanese udon noodles made of flour, salt and water were the important daily meal for Buddhist monks in their modest dietary life.

The simple udon noodle, which is the oldest and most popular Japanese staple food, is increasingly popular with food tourists. Tourists appreciate the multisensory experience of udon noodles such as their glossy appearance and moderately chewy texture, as well as the olfactory, gustatory and visual amusement of dipping sauces and side dishes. Such a multisensory experience is fun, meaningful and memorable – providing a deeper insight into the local culture.

Asia’s street food, which heavily features noodles and rice, has become central to the Asian experience and is one of the main ways tourists experience local cuisine. From Michelin-starred hawker Liao Fan Hawker Chan in Singapore and vendors in Bangkok such as Fai’s Crab Omelette, Jay Oh’s Tom Yun Mama and Thip Samai Pad Thai, street food is a means by which tourists can immerse themselves in an authentic and real experience of Asia. A place where they can interact and experience ‘localness’ in a homogenous world of branded fast food.

Ultimately, a nation’s food creates a sense of place and identity found nowhere else. This is especially true for Asia and is one of the reasons food tourism in Asia has become as popular as it has.

Dr Eerang Park and Associate Professor Ian Yeoman from the Tourism Management programme in Victoria University of Wellington’s School of Management will be joined by Associate Professor Sangkyun Kim from Edith Cowan University in Australia for a free Wellington on a Plate event where you can taste the food of Asia while they discuss its historical, cultural and social aspects and meanings and launch their new co-edited book, Food Tourism in Asia. Saturday 17 August, 4–5pm, Room 3, Mezzanine, Rutherford House, 23 Lambton Quay, Wellington.