This past week, I visited Ten Ren’s to do an ethnography. I mean, being at UMD I’ve been there many times, but this was the first time I was going to sit and really observe people eat, observe what kind of people they are, observe the food, etc. First thing I really noticed when starting my observation was that it was somewhat impossible to tell what kind of “Asian” the restaurant was or even food that it had. It sort of just felt like everything “Asian” is in the restaurant, or everything you perceive that to be is there. It’s as if even calling a restaurant or food , “Asian”, a stereotype is used. Everything is mixed together in that stereotype, so then how is it exactly for fusion foods? In this post, we will be exploring the idea of the “Asian” food stereotype and how much “fusion cooking” has f*cked up the meaning of ethnic Asian meals.
In Ten Ren’s, the walls contain many “Asian” looking things, like traditional Chinese (?) characters on the walls with pictures of tea, paper lanterns that you would see in Japan (I think), menus with those traditional Chinese (?) characters, etc. The people actually eating were mostly non-Asian, at least when I went this time around. All the waiters were Asian, and you could just tell there was an “Asian” feel. What was interesting though was that instead of saying a Thai restaurant or Chinese restaurant or Japanese, this is just an Asian restaurant. There is no where that I’ve seen that says what kind of food is being served. The menu itself contains a hodgepodge of different Asian ethnic dishes, but with no direction to the country of origin. And from this, I conclude that this restaurant is the prime example of meshing ever type of Asian culture food into one. Actually, this only contains foods of certain Asian countries, missing countries like India, the Philippines, Korea, and many many others. Actually, the menu contains food like chicken nuggets, but cooked in a fried Asian way, very different from Mcdonald’s. I feel like the combination of these Asian ethnic styles of food have ruined the name of “Asian” ethnic foods, stuffing them all into one individual category. That takes away from the special attributes that each ethnicity has to offer, and further over simplifies the idea of anything to do with Asians all into one simple category. If anything, the meals that are served at the restaurant are exactly the meals that any person would expect to get from an “Asian” restaurant, which is primarily rice, noodles, and meat. The fact that “Asians” are summed up into those simple foods shows an ignorance for what each individual culture has to offer, and ultimately has messed up what Asian food really is by combining those foods into one restaurant.
The trend for many cool new restaurants is fusion. Fusing Korean bulgogi with tacos to make bulgogi tacos, mixing sushi and burritos to make a sushirrito, All these different combinations are coming up all over the east and west. Although some do work very well, my question is what if we as a nation reach a point where things get too chaotic? I understand chefs are trying to create and innovate as much as possible with creations, but at what point do things stop making sense and do the fused styles lose their culture? As stated in Alien Encounters, these fusion foods are ultimate “white food”. Of course, many immigrant cooks make these exotic combinations in order to survive and be different in America, but the scare is that there will be a point that these combinations will just be a mess that cannot even be seen as Asian. These foods are no longer representations of the true origin of history of the food. Actually, many foods that already come to America undergo a transformation in order to fit the taste buds of most people. For instance, sushi. In traditional sushi, it takes on many different forms; there are bowls of sushi with a variety of raw fish, there are large cylindrical pieces within seaweed, fermented sushi, and even sushi in a wooden mold. Upon coming to America, the main forms for sushi or only the regular hand-roll and the seaweed on the outside and other forms not originating from Japan. In addition to the changed forms and limited shapes in America, “American” flavors were added, such as the Philadelphia roll, Alaska roll, California roll, and many many others. Chefs brought the original sushi to America, but had to manipulate it in order to please the public. It lost many of its roots, and the US public generally don’t have the idea of the original sushi. Now with the sushirrito, there is yet another new transformation that strays far from the original style. Of course yes, the reality for chefs is that they must adapt, but it is unfortunate that the tradeoff must be taken. My fears in continuously fusion f*cking Asian foods is that they lose their roots and the uniqueness of the ethnicities that they originate from.
Just so I make this clear, but I love the food that I eat, especially from Ten Ren’s. I in no way mean to bash it, but it is a prime example of “Asian” just being a category for many different ethnic foods to be stored in, losing the value of the style and culinary history. Fusion foods do the same thing, although they may taste delicious. All these foods are one step further from their origins, and just become another transformation. In the future, yes I do foresee more foods taking on an “Americanized” form, and therefore losing the original connection to their history. With restaurants like Ten Ren’s, they lack the specificity in what food is originally from what country. That restaurant too is a product of the “Americanization” of ethnic Asian food. Again, I love the food and new innovation because yes they are very delicious, but it scares me to think that the history of these foods will be lost from all the fusing, and it will just fall under the single category of “Asian”.