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Three core elements make a great dish in Asian cuisines: flavour, aroma, and looks. Given time and patience, anyone can cook up a dish with the right ingredients according to the recipe. But with a little extra care, you too, can make even your simplest home-cook dishes into stunning delicacies that entice, thrill, and accentuate their flavoursome enjoyment. Not to mention the beautiful, yummy photos you’ll get to snap and share!
Choose the right plate/bowl
Think of your dish like a painting: the plate or bowl is your blank canvas, and your cooked foods are your colours. Thus, your plate or bowl should be clean and pristine to bring out the vibrancy of your dish’s ingredients. But that doesn’t always mean a pure white plate or bowl.
Some delicacies with paler colours may look more stunning with a coloured plate; while a bowl with traditional design can enhance the authentic feel of your dish. Colourful foods such as stir-fries, salads and desserts can look more brilliant on a plate or bowl of contrast colour. A wooden plate or bowl may give your yummy creation a tropical, earthy or natural touch, depending on your dish.
The right-sized plate or bowl is also crucial. Too deep or large a plate and your dish may look unimpressive and not filling. Too small, and it’d be too cluttered and overwhelming. What you want is balance: a plate or bowl that gives an enticing impression of the serving, and just enough for the flavourful colours to shine.
The Colour of Flavour
Asian dishes often feature a mix of colours. The trick is to show the most enticing and flavoursome ingredients. For example: delicious reds and vermillion in seafood dishes like salmon, prawns and crabs. Vibrant greens in stir-fried veggie delights. Crispy golden of your deep-fried treats. Bright fruits in desserts. Crimson carrots and tomatoes in salads. Succulent meaty colours in barbies, braised, baked and grilled dishes. Fiery reds and creamy yellows of curries, laksa and Tom Yum.
Pick out the main flavour in your dish, and arrange for the ingredients to be the centre of attention. If in doubt, go for the main proteins.
Entice with textures
As with the main colours of your dish, the ingredient’s tasty textures should also stand out. Arrange for your main meat, seafood, veggie or fruit to look supple, juicy, succulent, and simply demand to be tasted.
Garnish to Balance
If your dish colour is monotonous, use simple natural toppings and garnishes that gives an extra touch of colour. For example: diced spring-onions on a curry adds a fragrant, slightly cooling colour to balance out the spicy reds. A few tiny rings of cut chilli brings a light, zesty feel to a savoury dish. The key is to use garnish ingredients such as herbs and greens that add and balance with the flavours of your dish, but also enhance its overall colours.
Less is more
You don’t have to clutter your dish with extras for more colours or textures. Instead, focus on the core flavours and ingredients, and put them upfront in your dish.
Odd numbers for single serves
Single-serving foods such as sushi, dumplings or spring-rolls are easier to arrange for an enticing look. Besides a cultural symbol of auspiciousness in Asian cuisines, studies show that our weird human brains simply view odd numbers as more pleasing. So always serve your treats and snacks in triples, fives or sevens.
Shape it up
The simplest common dishes in unique ‘shapes’ can instantly draw intrigue, attention and even elevate its ‘class’. It’s why gourmet restaurants twirl their pasta in a plump bunch or serve grilled meat fillets in small stacks. Apply the same principle to your home-cooked Asian dish: cup your fried rice in a small bowl to make a tasty dome on a plate. Twirl your stir-fried noodles in a bunch. Surround your main meat with the veggie condiments of your recipe. Top your desserts with the main fruit. Get creative, and try fresh, tasty arrangements for your dish.
Sauce for taste
Sauces too can be a decoration and taste enhancer. For meat and seafood dishes, spread the seasoning sauce so that it doesn’t look ‘drowned’; but instead accentuates the colour and texture, and hints at more savoury flavours when the sauce and meat come together in your mouth. Similarly, make sure your salads aren’t ‘soaked’ in sauce, but tastefully seasoned. For stir-fry condiments like chilli or tomato sauce, made artful lines or drips that adds a dash of colour and taste. For dip sauces, be sure to always use a dip-plate that pairs well with your dish’s arrangement.
Set to shine
For an even more pleasing enjoyment, and your delicious photo, be sure to also consider your table setting as part of your canvas. A bright-lit dining area makes for a tastier ambience and allows your dish’s colour to truly shine. If in doubt, just remember: your food is the masterpiece, and your plate, bowl and table-setting are the background that enhances it.