Ocean's Asian food journey: Macau temple

Ocean’s Asian Food Journey

An interview with Hans Neuner

Wednesday, Mar 20, 2024

For the past five years, Hans and the Ocean team have embarked on their own age of discovery, seeking insight into Portuguese gastronomy through a series of voyages into the past. Each trip would take them to a different part of the world explored during Portugal’s Era dos Descobrimentos.

From the 15th to the 17th century, ships set sail from the Algarve into the unknown, leading to the discovery of new lands, cultures, and, more importantly, new ingredients and cooking methods from the New World. This had a profound impact on European cuisine, transforming it in ways that are still evident today.

The sea route to India established by Vasco da Gama, the exploration of Africa, South America and Brazil…these incredible achievements would eventually lead to even further expeditions to Asia and the Far East.

The exotic spices and flavours they found there, including pepper, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, would bring new dimensions to European cooking. But the exchange of food and cooking methods was not just one-way. The Portuguese brought their own culinary traditions with them, forever influencing local cuisines and dishes.

Fittingly, for their final food journey of this five-year project, Hans travelled to Asia in search of the origins, influences, and flavours of the spice trade - and, of course, inspiration for his latest menu.


Ocean's Asian food journey: Markets in Bangkok
Hans, where did you begin your Asian journey?

Well, we started off in Bangkok. I’ve been there many, many times. I actually grew up with some Thai friends, so we visited Thailand a lot as kids. I feel at home there, but this time I was taking my chefs with me to help them get a real feel for the culture there.

It’s changed a lot since I was younger, but the food has stayed traditional, true to its roots. Thai cuisine is hundreds of years old, and the street food and markets keep those traditions alive. The colours, the produce…you can find anything there. From the smallest insects to grasshoppers, in Asia that's a part of the culture, they eat everything. In China they have a saying - everything with a back to the sun can be eaten!

I met up with some old friends, and some great chefs. We were shown around by Deepanker Khosla, the chef from Haoma, who has a great understanding of the food culture there. He's a lovely guy with an amazing story. He started off with a food truck, driving it around himself, he grew and grew, and now he has several restaurants. 

It's an impressive story. We met at Ocean a few years ago, and he invited us to meet up with him in Bangkok. Working with him there was a great experience - but exploring the city is even better. It’s a huge place, with so much to see and so much great food.

Ocean's Asian food journey: Bangkok market
Ocean's Asian food journey: Markets in Bangkok
Ocean's Asian food journey: Markets in Bangkok
Ocean's Asian food journey: Dinner with Deepanker Khosla.
Ocean's Asian food journey: Markets in Bangkok
Ocean's Asian food journey: Chef Hans Neuner and team.
Ocean's Asian food journey: Cooking with Chef Deepanker Khosla
The next stop was Macau?

We were there for another 4 days. There is a strong Portuguese connection here, it was a colony 100 years ago. You can still see the influences, even though there's been huge development there. The street names are still in Portuguese, and in the old town you can see the architectural language, so even though a lot of it has gone, you can still find traces of it.

Even in the food, you can still see Portugal, some places were almost like a Tasca in Lisbon - where we had some fantastic food. We found one dish that really inspired us, using Iberian pork in a 20-year aged orange sauce, really sweet, really sour. That was the best dish we tried, and it showed the cross-pollination that we want to achieve ourselves. Blending the Portuguese and Asian influences.

Ocean's Asian food journey: Macau's portuguese heritage.
Ocean's Asian food journey: Tea house in Macau.
Ocean's Asian food journey: Macau's Market
Ocean's Asian food journey: Macau
Following this you travelled to Seoul?

An amazing experience, I think you can learn a lot about gastronomy from lots of things, it’s about experiencing the culture, the music, the art. Our guide here was called Sunshine, a lovely guy who we relied on a lot - because communication was always a problem here. But that’s good too, it makes you use sign language and draw pictures, it's all part of the experience traveling.

It was a very modern city, with a lot of music, a lot of colours. They have these amazing barbeque restaurants, where you eat around a table with a grill inside, and you eat together, like a family. And then there was the kimchi. We went to the kimchi museum, and we must have tried hundreds of different kimchi - this was something we really wanted to understand for our menu.

Ocean's Asian food journey: Food market in Seoul
Ocean's Asian food journey: Markets in Korea.
Ocean's Asian food journey: Kimchi dish.
Ocean's Asian food journey: Food market in Seoul.
Ocean's Asian food journey: Seoul culture
Finally, you arrived in Japan.

Yes, and this was an interesting one for the Portuguese influences, because Portugal originally brought Tempura to Japan. The sailors used to use the technique to help conserve food for the expeditions, introducing corn flour there. This was a part of a trade route that lasted hundreds of years. When they returned, they carried nutmeg, tamarind, cinnamon, and all these new spices to Europe. We want to be able to recreate this in our menu.

The discipline of the chefs there was incredible. We met a tempura chef who worked for 46 years, he still wasn’t a master - in fact his master had been doing it for 60 years. Even after all that time, they still feel honoured to be part of the tradition. So even though Tokyo is this very modern city, it has these strong traditions. We saw sumo fights, Japanese theatre - all very ritualistic and beautiful. An amazing place! To me is part of growing as a chef, to always being open to learn new things.

Ocean's Asian food journey: Japan.
Ocean's Asian food journey: Ramen
Ocean's Asian food journey: Japan culture.
Ocean's Asian food journey: Sushi.
Ocean's Asian food journey: Hans Neuner and team
So now you’re back you need to work all these experiences into this year's menu at Ocean?

It's always an incredible experience going to these places, there’s always so much to see and learn from. Now that we’ve come to the last year of our age of discoveries, we can look back at everything we’ve learnt.

This trip we were in a completely different culture to anything before, and that's inspiring. It gives us the challenge of trying to recreate the experience, but also to make sure that we capture the history, the blending of Portuguese and Asian cultures, how they influenced each other's food and history…

It really was about trade, trading products, trading ideas, so we need to show that the coming together of these people changed food around the world forever. It’s an exciting time for us, and we’re looking forward to sharing our time in Asia with the rest of the rest of the world!