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There’s not much that Americans find foreign about Asian food these days. Chinese dishes are as popular as any other ethnic food served at U.S. restaurants, while Japanese and Thai menu items have become commonplace across the country. And cuisine from other Asian nations is increasingly finding its way to American menus.
“The food tends to be a little more interesting, especially for the growing number of consumers tired of the same old thing—burgers and deep fried,” says Arnold Shain, founder of Costa Mesa, California–based consultant Restaurant Group Inc. “People perceive Asian cuisine as a better way of eating and [as] more healthful, because it has less red meat and more noodles, rice, and vegetables.”
Asian flavors also encompass a wide array of herbs and spices, such as ginger, coriander, and star anise, as well as pastes and sauces made with chiles, soybeans, sesame seeds, rice, fish, and more. Sometimes the ingredients are fermented. “It’s very difficult to say what Asian flavor is, exactly, because Asia is really diverse,” says Mary Chapman, director of product innovation at Technomic Inc., a Chicago-based restaurant research and consulting firm. “It almost doesn’t belong all in one category.”
Some of the country’s biggest quick serves have offered teriyaki items on their menus for some time. Subway began selling its Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki sub in 2002. Carl’s Jr. launched a Teriyaki Burger in 2007 and added a turkey burger version last year. Other Asian flavors are captured in salads at dozens of quick-service and fast-casual restaurants. These feature Asian-style dressings and toppings such as mandarin oranges, crispy noodles, almonds or other nuts, edamame, sesame seeds, and snow peas.