An Indonesian food vendor holds a plate of chicken rendang at a restaurant in Pekanbaru on April 3, 2018. Indonesians and Malaysians have their feathers in a flap over MasterChef UK's decision to eliminate a contestant from the popular cooking show because her chicken rendang wasn't crispy. (WAHYUDI / AFP)
BEIJING — At a booth near the National Stadium in Beijing -- the iconic "Bird's Nest," Wan Visa was busy making tom yang soup.
In front of a long queue, she carefully pours the hot and sour soup into a pot, adds ingredients and then serves it in small bowls.
The 32-year-old Thai chef was among the cooks attending the week-long Asia Food Festival in Beijing, serving visitors a bite of Asia that demonstrates the continent's diverse culinary cultures.
More than 200 enterprises across Asia took part in the festival, which is a key event of the Conference on the Dialogue of Asian Civilizations that opened last week.
Indian restaurants, for example, grew nearly sevenfold from 2014 to 2018
Thousands of visitors are reveling in the food festival.
A Beijinger surnamed Li said that she had tried Korean, Thai and Singaporean food at one go.
"It's so great to enjoy food from different Asian countries at one place," Li said. "All taste fantastic."
Visa, the Thai chef, said she did not expect so many people but was excited to find out so many people in Beijing like Thai food.
Thailand is one of the most popular destinations for Chinese tourists. Last year, more than 10 million Chinese visited the country, often returning with a new-found penchant for the food.
Song Liju, one of the managers of Aroi Thai, said the restaurant opened in Beijing last year amid stiff market competition.
"There are already lots of Thai restaurants. But still, we want to have a try," Song said. "We make the authentic Thai dishes. The chefs are from Thailand. All the ingredients are from Thailand too."
In a photo taken on Feb 13, 2019, a creation is displayed during DPRK's national cooking competition in Pyongyang. (ED JONES / AFP)
Visa said she loved Chinese food as well. Beijing Duck and Sichuan hotpot are her favorites.
"Next time I will bring the hotpot flavoring back home to share it with my families," Visa said. "I bet they will love it because it is spicy too, like tom yang soup."
Over the past decades, as the Chinese grew richer, their appetite for foreign food increased. Asian cuisine is among the most successful in China's huge and ever-growing market.
Japanese food seems to be the most popular Asian food on the Meituan Dianping platform, the company said
According to Jonathan Toh, deputy general manager of JUMBO Seafood, the company had a humble beginning. But it was not long before it won a loyal following with dishes like Singapore Chili Crab and Black Pepper Crab.
The company opened its first franchise in Shanghai in 2013 and soon opened six more on the Chinese mainland.
"Our dishes have some similarities with Cantonese dishes, but with a Southeast Asian twist," Toh said. "They taste special."
"We are confident about the Chinese market, and will open even more franchises."
According to Meituan Dianping, a popular online food delivery platform, the number of Asian-style restaurants registered with it has quadrupled to 120,000 across the country over the past three years or so.
Japanese food seems to be the most popular Asian food on the Meituan Dianping platform, the company said.
This picture taken on Jan 18, 2019 shows sushi using whale meat being prepared at a whale meat restaurant in Tokyo. (KAZUHIRO NOGI / AFP)
However, restaurants serving food from South Asia, West Asia and Central Asia are rapidly catching up. Indian restaurants, for example, grew nearly sevenfold from 2014 to 2018.
In Toh's opinion, the dishes were an important way to show and introduce culture.
He said the exchange of Asian cuisines, a tradition that has been passed on from the ancient times, had served as a bridge of communication among Asian civilizations.
"We are now planning to open Chinese restaurants in Singapore, as the exchange should go both ways," Toh said.
HONG KONG NEWS