If there’s a word to describe the dining culture in Southeast Asia, it would be “busy”. With so little time on everyone’s hands, eating out is now becoming a norm amongst diners. Different guests dine out for different reasons and occasions, so understanding and knowing them lets you plan ahead. You can also tailor-fit your offerings to these occasions and provide variety in your menu for guests.
While most Southeast Asian diners still prefer their local cuisine, Western and Japanese cuisines are gaining in popularity and influencing diners’ decisions — they are getting more knowledgeable and willing to try food outside of their comfort zones.
With so many factors playing a role in the diners’ decision making when eating out, we asked local chefs from around the region to share their insights on current dining trends in their countries.
Eating is a national pastime for us. With so many different races and cultures living in one place, our dining culture is very diverse. Diners here know their food and have the spending power to back up their desire to try new food. We like to experiment, but expect quality and good value.
Even though we have a wide variety of cuisines available to us, Chinese and the different types of Chinese cuisine (e.g. Sze Chuan, Cantonese) are still amongst the most popular here. As a group, Chinese cuisine has a wide appeal — like dimsum, it’s very popular amongst families. Other Asian cuisines (e.g Japanese) are catching up too.
The local dining palate is distinctively spicier. We love our spicy food but also like the sweet, sour and bitter flavours too. Our diet has more carbohydrates than protein. Rice is a staple here. There’s also an interest in organic food and diners are starting to be aware of where their food is from.
Our local cuisine is still most popular here. Thai cuisine makes up a big part of the market because our diners like the strong and spicy flavours. Chinese food is also catching up because of similar flavour palettes. The middle class population makes up most of our dining market.
With over 6000 branches of 7-11 in Thailand, we value convenience and tend to frequent family marts more than restaurants. We want to spend less time on food and that’s why convenience stores are popular here. The diners who have the time and money to spend on sophisticated food only make up a small portion.
However, more organic restaurants and shops are popping up in Bangkok as the trend for organic food becomes more popular. We are starting to eat healthily. Providing our diners with healthier meal options and using fresh local produce can help keep attract more customers.
The top three things that our diners look out for when eating out are the ambience and location, the type of cuisine and price. The older diners make up a small portion of the market. Majority of the diners are young and impressionable college students and fresh graduates.
Ambience and location are high consideration points for this young group of diners. They frequent local eateries, street food, fast food joints and cafes. What they want is a place to hang out with their friends and a place to be and be seen. The young diners are becoming more aware of the different cuisines out there.
Whilst Halal cuisine is still favoured because it appeals to more diners, Fusion, Western, Italian and Japanese cuisines are slowly gaining popularity too. Our young diners are looking for variety in food choices and they are dictating the type of cuisines coming into Malaysia.
Our choice for local cuisine is strong because the majority of us are from the low and middle-income groups. We prefer dining at local restaurants, fast food outlets and street stalls. The low income diners here look for good food and they care about hygiene. The high income diners go to hotels for dining options they serve quality, healthy food.
Vietnamese cuisine is still the most popular here but other cuisines are slowly gaining popularity too. Chinese cuisine and its preparation methods, stir-fry in particular, is influencing the way traditional Vietnamese dishes are served. Thai cuisine like Tom Yam in particular, is well liked here because the spicy taste goes well with the style of Vietnamese food.
The taste preferences of Vietnamese diners vary between two regions. For the north, they prefer their food to be salty and full of flavour. In the South and Central Coast of Vietnam, diners prefer having a variety of sweet, sour and spicy flavours in their food.
There are three dominant cuisines in our dining market now — Middle Eastern, Chinese and Indonesian. Indonesian food is still the favourite amongst local diners because of the strong flavours of Bumbu, a mix of spices, used in our dishes. We have a strong preference for tasty food and the strong flavours of Bumbu are synonymous with our local cuisine.
The lower and medium income diners favour the Ruma Makans — a local eatery between street food and casual dining restaurants that serves a mix of western and local cuisine. The high income diners prefer to go to premium restaurants. There are very little local premium restaurants; the majority of them are Western and Japanese found in hotels and big office buildings.
Eating healthily is becoming a trend amongst our diners. Even though the majority still like tasty food that may be unhealthy, a growing number of diners is becoming aware of healthy eating. Offering healthier dishes that still pack a punch of flavour would play well with us.
Our dining market has been exposed to many different cultures and is very diverse but we all look for a mix of good food and ambience when dining out. Filipinos equate good food with good prices. The lower and middle income diners frequent local eateries, cafes and restaurants while the high income diners prefer going to upscale restaurants.
Even though our local cuisine is still favoured, new cuisines (Korean, Greek and Chinese) are popular too. We are more adventurous now and there’s a growing interest for hole-in-the-wall restaurants with unique and creative menus. Destination restaurants are also becoming more popular because they serve quality food at reasonable prices.
Food service operators can work with bloggers and social media to capture the diners’ attention. With newspaper advertising becoming more expensive, marketing through word-of-mouth is more effective. Offering affordable and personal menu can help attract new diners.