Southeast Asia, a region rich in diverse cultures, boasts a culinary treasure trove shaped by the fusion of various cultural influences. In the program "Seasia Viewpoint: Elevating Southeast Asian Cuisine to Global Heights" with Bali-based Indonesian pastry chef Kadek Dwi Tjahyadi Putra, popularly known as Chef Kadek, on September 17, 2023, he shed light on the chef's perspective regarding the diversity, uniqueness, and culinary distinctions of Southeast Asia compared to other regions.
Chef Kadek highlighted Southeast Asia as a region abundant in flavors, attributing this richness to the profusion of spices available for various dishes. Despite commonalities in Southeast Asian culinary diversity, certain spices such as galangal, ginger, fish sauce, and kaffir lime leaves are widely used across the region. However, he emphasized that the same ingredients, when handled by different individuals with distinct backgrounds, result in vastly different dishes, encapsulated by the saying, "Different hands, different tastes."
Drawing from his experiences on Masterchef Indonesia S5, Chef Kadek shared instances where participants, using identical methods and ingredients, presented uniquely different dishes. He noted that cooking posed unique challenges compared to baking, requiring a higher level of difficulty.
Addressing what sets Southeast Asian cuisine apart from other regions, Chef Kadek highlighted the unique presentation of dishes, often served fresh to enhance the overall taste. Exceptions include long-lasting dishes like rendang, which become more flavorful with time. Chef Kadek observed that authentic Southeast Asian ingredients have a distinct taste compared to similar items outside the region, even when served fresh.
In presenting Southeast Asian cuisine, adjustments are required, particularly for those outside the region, especially Westerners unaccustomed to spicy or flavorful dishes. This adaptation underscores the unique palate of Southeast Asians accustomed to sambal, without feeling that the flavors of subsequent dishes are disrupted.
Promoting Southeast Asian cuisine globally presents a challenge in delivering authentic flavors, given the difficulty of obtaining region-specific spices outside Southeast Asia. While substitutions like using macadamia instead of pepper are possible, the exact replication of flavors remains elusive. Chef Kadek suggested that bringing typical Southeast Asian spices could be an option when presenting food outside the region.
For those outside Southeast Asia or newcomers eager to savor the flavors, Chef Kadek recommended trying iconic dishes such as nasi goreng, various Southeast Asian curries, and chicken satay. To experience authentic Southeast Asian flavors, he suggested attending local cooking classes and exploring local markets instead of larger supermarkets. Additionally, forming connections with locals is advised, as they are more acquainted with hidden local culinary gems tucked away in narrow alleys.