My friend posted a mouthwatering photo of a Japanese restaurant's Udon Carbonara, and I was literally salivating looking at it. Carbonara is one of my husband's favorite dishes, so I quickly and excitedly showed him. But in his French purist way, he responded with aggressive disgust. What's ironic to me is a white person being purist about food, when there's been an expectation throughout history that Asian restaurants in western countries appeal to white palates. That's what so many Asian restaurants have had to do to survive, but without appreciation for their food and cultures. Not to mention, there are a lot of beloved foods around the world that actually find their origins in China.
Anyhow , this got me thinking about fusion foods and I want to know what you think, too...
I used to be a food purist, too. But that's because I used to think fusion was people's way of making Asian foods "palatable" to westerners. It made it feel like our foods weren't good enough as is, or that we had to adjust ourselves to be acceptable. There have even been chefs who have been called out for claiming to "improve" certain Asian dishes. That's just straight up colonization of food. You can be inspired by other cuisines and cultures, you can appreciate and honor other cuisines and cultures, but to claim to improve someone else's dish when really you are colonizing it, is simply not okay.
When I lived in Nashville, I remember frequently driving past a sign that red Thai food and Sushi. My initial reaction was, "You can't just throw all of us Asians together!" I never actually went into that restaurant, because of that, and maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the restaurant owners, like so many other Asian restaurant owners, just had to appeal to the crowd. Or maybe, the restaurant owner really just loves both Thai food and Sushi, and wanted to start a restaurant that sells both. But it's not an uncommon thing to see people throw together random Asian dishes that come from different parts of the diaspora and it feels inauthentic and like we're being washed away and blurred into one blob.
That being said, my general tune about fusion foods changed when I realized three things: 1) the difference between appreciation and appropriation, 2) that when you look at the history of different foods and dishes, there's so much cross-cultural history and evolution of dishes it's a beautiful thing, and 3) that because of my multicultural upbringing, my own kitchen is basically nothing but fusion.
So, while I don't know the chef or owner of the restaurant that makes this Udon Carbonara, my sense is that this dish was lovingly made with appreciation for pasta carbonara and udon--combining two great things to create one drool-worthy dish! Just imagine the perfect chew of udon, paired with the creaminess of carbonara. I think it sounds delicious.
Moreover, I looked up the restaurant's website, and they are a Japanese restaurant that prides themselves on sharing traditional Japanese dishes in an authentic way using quality ingredients. So, to add something like Udon Carbonara on their menu is something unique and special, likely done with much care. It's not like anyone is saying we've "improved" pasta carbonara with udon. It's more a sharing and appreciation of two cultural cuisines.
Thinking my husband was just being impossibly French, I decided to ask my Italian friend his thoughts. Knowing him, I hoped he would be more open-minded. But to my dismay, he likened it to pineapples on pizza...which I also enjoy. I totally get wanting to preserve something pure, and when I'm in Italy I love all the amazing and authentic pasta and pizza that lives wherever you go.
But I think my husband and my friend are missing something special. And that is the sharing and appreciation of different cultures, and creating new and unique tastes and experiences with that shared appreciation. Also, I don't think pineapple on pizza is a fair comparison here, because pineapple is a unique ingredient, whereas the Udon Carbonara simply uses a different type of pasta.
One more thing, when you live in a multicultural hub like we do in Los Angeles, cross-pollination of foods should be expected. Not only do we infuse what we love together, but we also do what we can with what we have. Of course, I love authentic dishes from any culture, but I also appreciate culinary creativity that is rooted in respect.
How do you feel about fusion foods? Are you a purist or do you love mixing it up?