Asian Food vs. European Food: Differences & Which Is Better?

asian food vs european food

When considering the many foods of the world, trying to determine what is the best or healthiest overall is no easy task. First, you have issues with how you define Europe and Asia. There are also subjective considerations, but what are the differences between Asian food and European food, and which is considered better?

Asian dishes usually combine fresh vegetables, noodles and a source of protein cooked in a healthy way. European food is great in its own way, providing more meat and animal fat. While Asian food mostly utilizes noodles and rice as the base, European food uses potato and pasta.

We’ll look at Asian and European foods and consider what these terms can include, as well as think about examples and demonstrations of different cooking styles and ingredients usage. We’ll look at the health aspects and popularity of both European and Asian food.

What Is Asian Food?

The term is very broad so it can be useful to think in terms of geographical sections. Major regional cuisines can be put into the categories of Central Asian, East Asian, North Asian, South Asian, Southeast Asian, and West Asian.

East and Southeast regions of the continent include meals that feature heavily with rice as well as additional ingredients like ginger, garlic, sesame seeds, chilies, dried onions, soy, and tofu. 

The dominant cooking methods include stir-frying, steaming, and deep-frying in oil.

Even rice itself varies widely, with basic categories including medium and long-grain, brown and white rice being featured.

When considering South Asia, Southeast Asia, and East Asia, one of the commonalities is curry. While this can be traced back to India, the many varieties including yogurt and coconut milk are spread up and down the Asian continent. 

A common theme throughout Asian cuisine is the influence of Chinese cooking. You’ll find fresh vegetables, particularly because of their perceived medicinal properties, being a staple of all types of dishes ranging from noodles, soups and everything else in between.

Expect such flavors stemming from lemongrass, basil and chilies in East and Southeast Asia. 

While some areas including central Asia are perhaps not as well known, many cuisines of this area rely on local stock, such as mountain goat and hearty vegetables like turnips and carrots. 

You will also find many varieties of bread, including flatbreads and roti.

On the western side of Asia, you’ll find nations like Turkey and Syria that feature lamb, rice and heavily seasoned meals with a robust flavor. A switch to olive oil as well as vegetables like eggplant, chickpeas, lemon, garlic and honey will be the big differences.

Temperature Considerations

Asia stretches from the equator up to the Russian border as well as Siberia, meaning you can get humid, sweltering climates to basically frozen minus temperatures.

This will influence the type of food that is both available to be grown as well as what can be kept.

What Is European Food?

Europe and other Western countries, including Russia, have a wide range of foods that could be referred to as European food. 

The term may sometimes be known as Continental cuisine, and encompasses the western half of the Eurasian landmass. The distinction where Asia becomes Europe and vice versa is fundamentally an arbitrary geographical convention.

However, it does span into some very cold, and mountainous regions while also including very warm climates like Spain.

In terms of ingredients, you can expect much more meat than Asian cooking. 

While many styles in Asia involve numerous small bowls of different foods, European food will tend to come on a single plate in a large serving size.

Sauces and seasoning are of course central to European cooking, and the basis of any good sauce will be animal fats. This means you tend to see a large usage of dairy products including milk, cheese, curds and many other parts.

The carbohydrate and starch sources in European food will tend to be potatoes and wheat. You may find some usage of other cereals, such as cornmeal, that are particularly popular in Italy and the Balkans.

Just like Asian cuisine, European food is influenced heavily by the animals and vegetables in the locale. The large coastlines and access to large fishing areas mean seafood is a major constituent of breakfast, lunch and dinner.

asian food vs european food

European Signature Dishes

It’s worth highlighting a few examples to illustrate European food.

Albania’s byrek is an example of filo pastry being used to make a pie, suitable for a large meal. Stuffing the filo pastry with spinach, creamy feta cheese and other vegetables can bring great balance to the meal.

Armenia has the dolma, a dish with unlimited variations based around cabbage or grape leaves that are wrapped around rice with minced meat, finished off by cooking in olive oil.

The world-famous Austrian strudel is another pastry that has been a staple of Austrian cuisine for centuries, including the traditional milk-cream strudel.

Pilaf or plov is a classic dish found in Azerbaijan that consists of saffron rice with a savory combination of dried fruits, prunes, onions, herbs and lamb or other meat.

A perfect illustration of the many combinations of potatoes is the classic potato pancake from Belarus.

Take grated potatoes, mix them with minced onion and beaten eggs, fry them up, and you have the delicious concoction. 

As we move down the letter B, Belgium introduces us to the waffle. While originally small and savory in flavor, the Americanized version the size of a dinner plate and covered in syrup is not what you’ll get on the streets of Belgium. 

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The innovations of butchers throughout Europe have seen some impressive creations in the realm of meat. Sausages from the United Kingdom, Germany, Poland and many other places across Europe contain a variety of meat, as well as strong spices

Bulgaria offers soups but not just the hearty soups laden with vegetables and meat, but also summer soups meant to help you cool down on a scorching hot day.

Halloumi cheese is commonly thought to come from the Middle East and Greece, but it’s believed halloumi cheese originated in Cyprus many centuries ago. To be expected this cheese uses milk, but it tends to be goat and sheep milk rather than cow milk.

Estonia boasts rye bread, another option available to the vast amount of territory that is collectively referred to as Europe. With a history stretching back 1000 years, the bread is often served after being warmed and a slice of Baltic herring and butter.

The unique Karelian pies from Finland feature some of the main European ingredients of potatoes, rice, carrots and a rye flour crust. 

With variations including egg butter toppings, these are sure to get you through a cold winter and perfectly encapsulate the caloric needs of food in Europe.

When bringing up French cuisine, most people could probably name a few French dishes. But the theme of Europe is often told through where the carbohydrates come from; and you can’t go past French bread.

Variations on bread often involve softer pastries or dumplings filled with meat and vegetables. One classic example is the Khinkali from Georgian cooking.

It’s hard to find a place in the world that doesn’t sell gyros, and they do go by many names all over the planet. But this basic combination of flatbread, rotisserie-grilled meat and sauce goes down a treat, courtesy of Greece.

Hungarian goulash is known worldwide, and is another example of a hearty soup that contains many important sources of micro and macronutrients.

When considering what Europe is, some prefer to include Russia and some don’t. Even without Russia, Europe has an absolutely massive range of foods to choose from. Russia has everything from soups and pastries to Beef Stroganoff. 

Asian FoodEuropean Food
Often involves riceOften involves cereals
Spices and chilies feature heavilySavory and sweet 
Focus on vegetablesFocus on meat
Heavy Chinese influenceRange of winter and dessert foods

Asian Food Vs. European Food: Which Is Healthier?

Trying to pick something better or healthier is always going to prompt the question: healthier or better than what?

If the preceding discussion on what the differences are between Asian food and European food hasn’t made it clear enough, there is a huge amount of variety even between neighboring countries in this region, let alone cuisines separated by thousands of miles.

On top of that, human health and influences on it from the environment are so hard to keep track of that it can be difficult to know whether a food is good for your health or not. You can’t just eat the food that Japanese people eat and hope to be healthy like them.

But there are still some comments to be made about healthier habits, ingredients and cooking methods that may be more prevalent in certain types of cooking.

So in terms of broad strokes, the higher amounts of fresh vegetables served in Asian food do make it look healthier. [1]

The meat will often not exceed 20 percent of the total calories in many traditional Asian diets, and they tend to be cooked and used in cooking so that maximal nutrition is gained from their consumption. 

Furthermore, cooking methods will go a long way to determining how healthy the food is that you eat. For example, Asian cooking, particularly in the East, typically embraces low-fat techniques such as stir-frying or steaming. 

How Can One Tell That This Food Is Asian or European?

To further ease the burden on vital organs like the heart, Asian cooking tends to use salt-free seasonings such as ginger, garlic, fresh herbs and chilies. Very little oil gets used in many common recipes, resulting in dishes that retain more nutrients.

Refined carbohydrates are found in white bread, pastries, cakes, crackers and many other packaged snacks. While these may have a certain amount of calories, they are almost completely lacking in micronutrients like vitamins and minerals, and very low in protein.

Unfortunately, our food and hunger receptors are not enabled to deal with the taste explosion that is modern food, and it is very easy to overindulge on sugar and other related foods. These ingredients were just not available in large quantities in the ancient world.

Another common sight in many parts of Eastern Asia is the widespread drinking of plain tea, either ocha or green tea. These teas are drunk without milk or sugar, and are available at restaurants and people’s homes, and will be the only drink available with meals.

However, Asian food is not perfect and European food has plenty of advantages.

The heavy featuring of red meat in many European dishes means a great source of proteins, animal fat, and vital nutrients like iron.

These dishes formed the centerpiece and helped particularly the northern European nations survive unforgiving winters by providing the energy needed to survive in such places.

This weather also helped Europeans develop a wide range of food preservation methods, which can even be seen by the seafaring nations that needed to provision a ship with weeks or months worth of food.

Asian Food Vs. European Food: Which Is More Popular?

While determining what cultures produce the healthiest foods might be fraught with danger, going further and saying what the most popular foods are is sure to irk some people.

It’s going to be deceiving to try and look at total numbers, because massive countries like China, India and other nations have so many mouths that must be fed. It’s not logical to take the jump from there to say that, therefore, Chinese and Indian food is the most popular.

A similar data point, which also suffers from a similar type of bias issue, is that even restaurants or fast food places can skew the numbers.

A business is trying to make money, and if a type of food is too hard to make or the ingredients too expensive, then it’s hard to survive. So one reason you may see certain restaurant types all over the world, is that the product is easy to make anywhere.

Other foods may be better in any number of ways, but if they’re not practical to make in most situations, it’s less likely a business will be successful doing so.

Particularly in the case of European foods but also in Asian foods, you also have this constant mixing and influence from other dishes. It can be hard to know what the true or original dish is, therefore something may be popular but is actually a mixture of many foods.

While it’s easy to see all the hamburger places around and declare Germany the winner, can it really be said definitively that the hamburger was invented in Germany? 

Even some of the classic examples examined from different European nations had their origins in some other neighboring areas.

  • Laura is the owner of Julie's Cafe Bakery. She started this blog with her grandma Julie who introduced her to the amazing world of cooking. She likes to experiment with different flavors, and her favorite flavors combo is chicken with coconut milk, curry and peanuts!