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Maximizing kitchen space: what can U.S. operators learn from their Asian counterparts

Asian food culture dictates a different approach to restaurant operations than what is seen stateside; however, understanding the practices abroad may help provide U.S operators with some new inspiration.

We asked our Asian distribution partners to share the challenges and needs required to overcome them in the typical Asian kitchen. We’ve broken down the responses into three regional categories: Chinese, South Asian (Indonesian and Malaysian) and Japanese. These kitchen types are all slightly different, but each provides an idea or two on how to create an efficient kitchen in a limited space — insights that could be beneficial for American operations to consider.

Chinese Kitchens
On average, Chinese kitchens are going to be smaller than your typical American kitchen, which places an emphasis on efficiency. Because of this need, and because of the type of cuisine, there are generally just four major pieces of equipment that are needed in most Chinese kitchens:

  • A wok range is not only a must in nearly every kitchen but is prized for its versatility. It can be used to stir fry as well as deep fry since wok casseroles can contain enough oil to submerge foods.
  • Steamers, whether it is a steamer cabinet or dim sum steamer, can be used as a stock or soup burner or to prepare just about any wet or humid food. Moist foods allow for better flavor transfer from food to the taste receptors, which places significant demand for foods with higher moisture levels. Steaming using a steaming cabinet for both proteins and vegetables is typical, although in some cases a combi oven can provide a suitable replacement.
  • Rice cookers may be the most prevalent piece of equipment in Chinese kitchens. Steamer cabinets can also be used for rice since they can provide more volume, although this comes as the expense of quality. Combi ovens are also sometimes utilized for rice but result in less volume and less quality.
  • A generic cooker or stove can support Chinese-style cooking, so they too are often present in the back-of-house. Though a versatile piece of equipment, the production output for these is typically small compared to the previously mentioned pieces of equipment.

South Asian (Indonesian and Malaysian) Kitchens
Kitchens here are faced with similar size constraint challenges to those in China and operate with very basic and minimal food and beverage technology. Therefore, kitchens in the South Asian region not only operate with minimal equipment but also use more traditional methods. A major difference from their Chinese counterparts is the lack of a steamer or steamer cabinet based on typical menu needs.

  • Generic cookers, such as stoves, are the main piece of equipment in these kitchens, yet some employ griddles and/or deep fryers on occasion. South Asian kitchens, which are modernizing at the fastest rate of these three regions, are slowly beginning to introduce combi ovens. It’s anticipated that speed and space saving will soon become important factors, especially in Indonesian restaurants. As this piece of equipment becomes more widely adopted, deep fryer presence will rise as well because menus are heavily reliant on deep fried foods, but the consistency cannot be created in a combi.
  • Wok ranges for stir frying or deep frying are very popular in South Asian kitchens due to the demand for fried foods. However, even these are sometimes not present as a simple stove or griddle can easily replace the wok range.

Japanese Kitchens
Again, with limited size and space, Japanese kitchens use as little equipment as possible, making efficiency and versatility major points of emphasis. With high average salaries for labor, equipment is also relied on heavily to maintain low overhead. Coupling the wage issue with the employment of highly educated chefs creates a culture of chefs utilizing high end, premium equipment.

  • Combi ovens execute on the need for versatility and operate on the idea of simplicity. These ovens allow operators to cut back on operations and enables them to invest heavily in just one piece of equipment that can accomplish quite a lot in Japanese cuisine.
  • Rice cookers are a must here as well. Again, in order to meet the demand for quality rice, there is little that can substitute for this piece of equipment.
  • Other specialty equipment for Japanese kitchens such as a yakitori grill, ramen/noodle maker, boiler or tempura fryer can all be found throughout Japanese restaurants depending on a restaurant’s niche. Because of the advancement and development of the food and beverage industry in Japan, one operational tool that can be found here and not in other Asian regions is a cook-chill system.

It’s no surprise that cuisines, tastes and cooking methods are regional, but what is consistent is how different Asian kitchens can do so much with so little — seen with their use of combi ovens and other highly versatile pieces of equipment. As U.S. operators are continuously tasked with doing more with less, the answers to efficiency may just be an ocean away.

Looking for equipment that can help you with efficiency? Check out our complete line of combi ovens or contact your local Henny Penny distributor who can explain the versatility advantages of a combi oven today.

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