Authenticity of Asian Food in America

Asian food can be defined so broadly with different ethnicities and cultures involved. The migration of Asian food from Asia to the United States has also been greatly altered and affected by culture. Even within the United States, Asian food can greatly differ based on location. For this week, I completed an ethnography on a Chinese Japanese restaurant, Seven Seas, in Rockville, Maryland.

Food can be seen as the universal way to communicate. There are many pleasures of food, the satiating feeling of finishing a meal and the fulfillment of cravings. The aesthetic nature of food can also be appealing with many restaurants focusing on presentation and plating of food since “we eat with our eyes first”. The economics of food very greatly, food can range from cost effective fast food to expensive fine dining. Food can also be seen on the hierarchy of culture with grassroots food such as lesser known underground eats while mass culture can be food that is advertised or more readily known. The use of social media and television has really affected the mass culture of food in our nation. High food can be seen as expensive, hard to reach dining experiences such as restaurants that may require reservations months in advance. Within the past few centuries, Asian food has developed greatly due to the immigration of Asians to America. Since then, Asian food has continued to evolve and has increasingly become a staple for Americans.

Seven Seas is a Chinese Japanese restaurant that offers a variety of cuisines. The owner of the restaurant is Taiwanese and immigrated to the United States in the 1970s. The restaurant has red walls, which is a sign of good fortune and luck in Asian culture. There are also red lanterns hung all throughout the restaurant and Chinese pottery and art displayed within the restaurant. The restaurant has private rooms to hold private parties and banquets for birthday parties, wedding receptions, and business functions. Many of the dishes that are for parties or wedding receptions are heavily decorated with food art which the owner prides himself in because he believes that food should be aesthetically pleasing. Seven Seas also caters to weddings and is involved with the Asian American community in the Washington DC area. After studying the restaurant, I determined that the customers of the restaurant are a mix of Asians and non-Asians, which speaks to the diversity of the restaurant. Chinese as well as other Asian languages could be heard while English and Spanish were also prominently heard in the restaurant. The owner attempts to keep authentic Chinese food on the menu in order to appeal to Chinese customers who want the “authentic” experience. However, he has increasing pressure to give into the demands of American culture and put “Americanized Chinese ” food on the menu to appeal to the mass culture. For example, items such as egg rolls, orange chicken and crab rangoons are some of the Americanized items that are featured on the menu. The owner believes that if he solely offers authentic Chinese food he would not be able to appeal to the American crowd.

The decreasing authenticity of Asian food in the United States can be seen as a threat to maintaining our Asian culture in terms of food. Much of the food that is featured on Chinese menus is nonexistent in China. They were instead created in America by Chinese immigrants based on their needs. For example, it is rumored that chop suey, which consists of leftovers, was created by a Chinese cook during the 1860s in order to feed drunk miners. Also, one of the most important finishes to a Chinese meal, the fortune cookie, was created in America and does not exist in China or Asia. While it can be argued that this has developed the Asian American food culture, the roots of the Asian food culture are starting to diminish. The fusion of Asian food with other types of cuisines has also diminished our Asian food culture. For example, the fusion of Asian cuisine and Mexican cuisine has become more prominent; with sushi burritos becoming more popular. While the exposure to Asian food has increased in recent years, with the craze of Japanese ramen and Chinese soup buns, this exposure is also adding to the diminishing authenticity of Asian food. With an increasing American interest in Asian food, restaurants and chefs are attempting to meet the American taste by altering and changing ingredients in order to be a better fit for Americans. It will be interesting to see how long this interest in Asian food will last and how Asian food will further be changed in the coming years.

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The two dishes above are examples of incorporating aesthetically pleasing food art into their dishes.

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