China in your hand

Related tags Curry Thai cuisine Olympics

Traditionally, pub customers have only eaten Chinese food in the takeaway once time has been called. So publicans might be forgiven for taking some...

Traditionally, pub customers have only eaten Chinese food in the takeaway once time has been called.

So publicans might be forgiven for taking some of the more ambitious claims being made by suppliers regarding the profit boosting potential of the Beijing Olympics with a pinch of salt - taking care to ensure that said pinch is well below the Food Standards Agency's recommended daily guidelines for sodium intake, naturally.

Given that the Chinese capital is seven hours ahead of us, the chances of customers dragging themselves out of bed and into their local for an early breakfast to watch the heats of the flatwater kayaking or mixed eventing are about as remote as the Tibet tourist information office.

Even the beach volleyball and rhythmic gymnastics, normally guaranteed seat-fillers, might be a little hard to take before the first cuppa of the day and a bowl of cornflakes.

However, all is not lost. Evening events in Beijing will be conveniently timed for the lunchtime crowd, and as ever there will be TV highlights packages at more civilised times BST-wise, so the nation can catch up with the progress of our plucky Olympians.

Whatever the level of interest from customers, it has to be admitted that Chinese food itself has never set the pub market on fire. The survey of the trade carried out for The Publican Food Report 2007 found that just eight per cent of pubs sold Chinese dishes. Most consumers appear to make a clear distinction between the pub and the takeaway.

However, most of the dishes we think of as Chinese cuisine tend to be from the area around Hong Kong. Like much of the Indian food served in this country, they are as much about adapting local ingredients to the palates of Western settlers as reflecting genuine local tastes.

Taking the region more widely, there are other Asian styles which adapt themselves well to the pub market. Thai is the most obvious example. Rufus Hall, managing director of Orchid Group, which is one of the UK's leading employers of Thai chefs thanks to its Dragon pubs, says: "I've no idea why Thai food goes so well with British beer - but it does."

Pubs looking to turn the Olympics into a profit builder will find no shortage of ideas from food suppliers. Sharwood's Foods is relaunching its entire ethnic range, which includes Indian as well as South East Asian and Chinese varieties.

Extending the South East Asian range are two new sauces, Malaysian Rendang, a medium-spiced sauce made with coconut, aromatic spices and cloves, and Yellow Curry, a fragrant sauce made with coconut milk and infused with Thai herbs. There are also improved recipes for the Thai Red Curry and Thai Green Curry varieties.

Also expanded is the Knorr Oriental Sauces range from Unilever Foodsolutions. Two new flavours have been added - Sweet Chilli Dipping Sauce and Hoi Sin & Plum Sauce.

Laurence Smith, category marketing director of Unilever Foodsolutions, believes the focus on the Beijing Olympics will increase consumer interest in traditional Asian cuisine. "By using the reformulated Knorr Oriental range, pubs can easily maximise on this popular sporting event by offering Chinese-themed menu options," he says.

"The sauces are so versatile that they can be used to create a host of authentic-looking Oriental meals and are ideal for giving dishes an Eastern twist.

"Try cooking duck and mixed peppers with Hoi Sin & Plum Sauce and serve with fresh green leaves and cherries for a quick salad with a hint of flavour from the Orient."

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