┇ Bon Appetit

Focused Fusion

The way to a New Yorker's heart is through her stomach.

By: Richard Kim
Tags: fusion cuisine, catering thoughts, good eats

There has been an explosion of Asian restaurants throughout the city, so it might be safe to say that culture from countries throughout East and Southeast Asia are finding their place in the mainstream beyond the corner store selling General Tso's chicken (which was originally made for Henry Kissinger, as the story goes). And in response to strong numbers of Asian tourists, it is no wonder that most menus now have at least one Asian-inspired appetizer or entrée.

However, in addition to the "authentic" restaurants that aim to emulate or reproduce an experience from their respective countries, we also find a spirit of cosmopolitanism in fusion restaurants like Sen Sakana, a culmination of a long-standing history of Japanese immigration in Peru (their 62nd President, Alberto Kenya Fujimori Fujimori, was of Japanese descent!).

Of course, this blog post isn't trying to take sides in the debate between multiculturalism and assimilation. However, fusion cuisine not only gives us a taste of food from afar, but introduces us to the approach that chefs take when they land in a foreign country. They have to survey their environment and find synergies between the cuisine of their homeland and the cuisine of their new home. And this creates a wonderful opportunity for creativity to flourish: for skirt steak to be prepared in a tandoor and for a menu item called Yaki Soba Saltado de Mariscos.

If you Google "fusion restaurants", you get many "Pan-Asian" or "Pan-Latin" restaurants, but sometimes these "fusion" restaurants just use the label as an excuse to fill their menu with buzzword like sushi and pho, or paella and guava. But there is real value in focused fusion--in calculated merging of ideas and concepts that explore the depths of two cultures instead of cherry picking from many. When it comes to depth vs. breadth, anyone who has watched someone prepare hand-pulled noodles or pull dozens of naan from an oven, will understand the beauty of almost ritualistic repetition and mastery.

When someone says that they can speak 5 languages, I always wonder how well they can truly speak each one. Does she just dabble in Spanish or is she reading and leading discussions at her local library about the novels of Gabriel Garcia Marquez? Sure, there must be linguistic genius polyglots who can speak 10 languages with native-like fluency. In the same way, there must be Pan-Asian or Pan-Latin restaurants that digest the many variations of East Asian or South American cuisine in exquisite fashion. But they are the exception, not the rule. When we see Korean-Polish, Irish-Eritrean, or North African-Mexican, our minds automatically conjure up images and ideas like a round of word association. And when chefs bring together flavors that were meant to be and surprise us within our preconceptions, we can enjoy a truly satisfying culinary experience.

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