Hackney is increasingly becoming a hub for Asian cuisine. Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese restaurants are popping up on every corner, as the number of Asian migrants moving to the area continues to rise. And yet, the differences between these cultures are not always mirrored in the restaurant kitchens.
Of the 20 most popular Chinese restaurants in Hackney on takeaway website, Just Eat, 18 also served food from another Asian country, the most popular combination being Chinese and Thai food.
Ken Hom, celebrity chef and presenter of BBC’s “Ken Hom’s Chinese Cookery”, said: “I think that because London is so open to Asian restaurants of all sorts and many Asian chefs are looking for new venues, it is not surprising to see a Vietnamese restaurant serving Thai food or a Chinese restaurant serving Japanese food.”
Hom continued: “Although it may be different from their native cuisines, it is still within the Asian sphere of food. We have English chefs cooking French and Italian food, so why not Asian chefs doing the same within their sphere! It all makes sense.”
This is becoming an increasingly common phenomenon in Hackney, where the Asian community is on the rise. In 1991, there were 210 Chinese-born migrants living in the borough. The most recent census in 2011 showed that this number had risen to 1003. Alongside this increase, the restaurant sector has evolved. There are now 144 Asian restaurants registered in Hackney, compared to only eight African.
But May Chong from the Grazing Asia Supper Club does not see this as a trend which is limited to Hackney. “A common reason is that most of the clientele don’t know much about other cuisines – especially outside Central London,” she said.
“To supplement the more authentic dishes on a Malaysian or Thai menu they would add something Chinese, or the more common Japanese dishes that customers would recognise. Some people still tend to lump all of Far Eastern cuisine together in one basket with no distinction between them.”
“In order for a restaurant to stay afloat, they need to serve the customers what they want. This is the same reason why Indian restaurants serve chips with curry.”