What Would Buddha Do?

I love food. That’s clearly not a surprise given my larger than normal demeanor, but I can’t really think of foods I don’t really like. If I had to choose, my favorite dishes would probably be Thai Green Curry and Vietnamese Pho. Even though these are foods not a part of my own Indian Culture, they have similarities, but differ enough to give me a new experience. This differing has been a heated topic and one of the main ones we focused on this week. The differing, also know as authentic or unauthentic, are what we as people attribute to an outsider’s food. My analysis is about a small restaurant and bar in Bowie, MD called Ichiban Sushi. I have frequented this place for a few years now, and would call it one of my favorite restaurants.

Ichiban Sushi literally translates into ‘number one sushi’, and though this restaurant is primarily a sushi place it also specializes in teriyaki, thai curry pots, fried rice, and various other Asian foods, not necessarily only Japanese related. When walking in there is a brief foyer area where the entire wall is a large water fountain, a statue of Buddha stands off to the side in front of many bamboo shoots. So, before even entering the restaurant you have a very calming and zen experience that is most notably Asian.

After walking into the restaurant you are faced between the formal dining area and sushi bar to the left and a more informal bar and happy hour section to the right. Though Ichiban is decked out in modern style you can see a notable difference between the Asian modern themed formal space and the more American modern bar area. This type of separation is mostly filled by what clientele are going to which space and what setting they would like more. So, not only to create authenticity of Asian culture, but the restaurant provides space for you to choose if authenticity in visual culture is something you want.

Generally when I go to eat there I sit on the dining side, but this last time I decided to go to the bar side and got a much different experience than before. Usually, on the dining side all the waiters and waitresses are of Asian descent and have a medium to heavy accent. I find myself more reserved and playing the part of good customer when on the dining side since I have someone actually waiting on me. However, on the bar side it’s usually a white male bartender who is extremely informal about what is going on, which I think is okay. The weird thing with this though, is just the juxtaposition of either side of the restaurant. They are within 10 steps of each other, but boast different atmospheres. From this, we get into the realm of authenticity and how many places put on a show to make profit.
I have nothing against smaller businesses doing what they can to make money, but are Chinese/Taiwanese owners allowed to capitalize upon both Japanese and Thai cuisine? Especially when most of the cooks are also Chinese, Taiwanese, or Hispanic? This then leads me to believe that my favorite dish there, a Thai Curry, really isn’t Thai Curry. Can people or places claim authenticity when they only, and sometimes effectively, just have a facade going for them?
In one of the readings this week, “Cooking up the Senses” by Manalansan, we are confronted with the idea of fusion cooking. One of the most interesting finds from the survey of Asian participants was their own connections to the food they already cook at home. Many had admitted to taking shortcuts and replacing authentic ingredients with store bought, or more common American substitutions. When admitting this fact, none of them seemed to believe that their cooking became less authentic, or that the food they were consuming was less of the genre they were intending to cook. But, their fusions whether intentional or not were something that they were fine with and had no complaints about.
If they can live with that, I am pretty sure many can live with fusion cooking, and I can live with my Thai Curry being made by a Chinese or Hispanic man. Just some food for thought.

**All images taken from (http://www.ichiban-sushi.com/) and are accurate with current day decor.

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