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Asian Meats and Proteins

Asian Meats and Proteins
Asian Meats and Proteins

There are several meats, fish and proteins used in Asian cooking that are not common in the Western hemisphere. In particular, there are a variety of species of fishes and sea creatures used almost exclusively in Asia, as well as several utterly unique protein food items such as hundred year egg or bird’s nest. Here is a guide to the unique meats and proteins used in Asian cooking.


Water Buffalo – A popular meat in India and Malaysia, tougher than beef but with a similar taste. The key ingredient for rendang. Interestingly, the milk of the water buffalo is the classic ingredient for mozzarella cheese due to its high fat content.

Goat – A common meat ingredient in Indonesia, Pakistan and India. Used in curries, barbecues and stews, or eaten grilled. It is said to taste similar to lamb, mutton, veal or venison, so these can be good substitutions for goat.


    Fishes – Several variety of fishes are used almost exclusively in Asian cooking. Here are just a few examples of these unique fishes:
  • Cuttlefish – Ingredient in Malaysian and East Asian cooking. Cuttlefish are often dried, shredded and served alone as a snack.
  • Maldive Fish – Cured, dried tuna fish, a common ingredient in Sri Lankan and Maldivian cooking.
  • Eel – Used in sushi and sashimi, and in soups and stir fries throughout East Asia, especially in China and Japan. Both freshwater and ocean eels are used.
  • Gizzard Shad – A small shiny fish similar to herring or anchovies. Used in sushi and Chinese and Korean cooking. The caviar of the gizzard shad is highly valued.
  • Shark’s Fin – A highly valued luxurious food item that is considered a delicacy in China. It has a unique texture that is enjoyable, but it has very little flavor. Considered a controversial food item due to the mistreatment and declining populations of most shark species.
  • Fish Maw – The air bladder of a fish. The bladder of large sea fishes is considered a delicacy in China.

Jellyfish – The scyphozoan jellyfish is a common salad ingredient. Often eaten cured. It has a jello-like texture.

Sea Cucumber – A marine animal that is considered a delicacy in China, Japan and other East Asian countries. The intestines are considered a particularly valuable culinary ingredient.

There are many more sea animals that are used in Asian cooking. For example, Japanese sushi often contains octopus, exotic caviars or other seafood items that are rarely consumed in the United States outside of the sushi bar. »»Types of Sushi Fish and Seafood

Legumes, Beans, Nuts and Seeds

Douchi – (a.k.a. fermented black beans) Fermented soy beans, also known as “fermented black beans” because the fermentation process turns the soybeans black. These beans have a sharp, spicy flavor and are used to create Chinese black bean sauce.

Ginkgo – The nut of the maidenhair or ginkgo biloba tree. It has a subtle sweet taste and is usually cooked before eating. A common ingredient of Chinese congee and Buddha’s delight. Also eaten in Japan. Sometimes used to make tea or used as an herbal supplement.

Lotus Seeds – Sweet, juicy seeds of the lotus flower, or water lilly. Can be eaten fresh, or boiled with sugar and served as a dessert. When mashed, can be used to create a filling paste for mooncakes. Should be soaked for a day before consumption.

Mung Beans – Small, green-colored beans with a mild flavor that are popular in Chinese cuisine. Can be dried and ground to create a flour that is used to make mung bean noodles. Can also be sprouted. The sprouts are an integral ingredient in chop suey.

Tofu – Bean curds created from curdled soy milk that is pressed into blocks. A popular ingredient in China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and Indonesia. Tofu has very little flavor, but quickly takes on the flavor of other ingredients being cooked. Available fresh as soft, firm or ultra-firm tofu. Also available fried or fermented. Fermented tofu is also called “bean curd cheese” and is often served with congee – Asian rice porridge.

Dairy, Egg and Other Ingredients

Bird’s Nest –An ingredient in “bird’s nest soup,” a Chinese dish made from the saliva of the cave swift birds, who create their nests with the saliva. It has very little flavor, but is said to have a pleasant, gelatinous texture. It is considered a delicacy in China.

Ghee – A purified form of butter that is used in South Asian and Middle Eastern cooking. The butter is clarified by simmering until the milk proteins sink to the bottom of the butter. Using this method, some of the harmful cholesterol is removed from the butter, and the butter can also be used for sacred Hindi rituals.

Hundred Year Egg – (a.k.a. century egg, thousand-year egg, preserved egg) A duck, chicken or quail egg that is coated with a preservative, then buried and left in the ground – or covered with a mixture of rice hulls, clay, ash, salt and lime– for at least 100 days. This gives the egg a rich, cheesy flavor. The egg is then eaten raw. The egg is not actually a hundred or a thousand years old.

Paneer – A fresh farmer cheese used in Indian cooking. It is made by curdling milk with lemon juice, then straining and squeezing out the liquids using a cheese cloth. What’s left is the fresh Indian cheese paneer.

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