If you have had the pleasure of exploring DC restaurant scene you would know that it is the melting pot for different types of food cuisines. It’s not strange to hear about a different restaurant opening up every other week, which prompts you to add another restaurant on your list that you want to visit. I visited Zengo last week, which is a Latin American, Asian fusion restaurant located in Chinatown. It is however important to note that Chinatown is now defined as the area rather than the people who live there because of the fact that Asians are not the majority in that area. Fusion restaurants are becoming increasingly more popular because consumers are demanding more exoticism from the restaurants they dine at. The fact that Zengo is a fusion restaurant that reflects DC social and cultural mixture by integrating both Latin American and Asian flavors into one dish makes it more successful as an Asian restaurant.
Zengo does an excellent job mixing both cultures in the decoration scheme. The aesthetic for Zengo is a mixture of modern and traditional Asian decoration with a slight Latin American influence. On the second floor the ceiling is doomed with red Chinese lanterns, and wooden benches, which was once a common piece of furniture in Chinese’s restaurants.The lanterns added a traditional touch without affecting the upscale feel of the place, which makes a lot of fusion restaurants appealing and popular. Zengo is a good example of neoliberal
ism because it is a commodification of the Asian identity of food and the discourse of individuality in terms of the variety of non-cliché Asian food offered there. In terms of political economy for Zengo, Richard Sandoval owns Zengo who is a renowned chef. He owns several of the popular restaurants in DC such as Masa 14(which serves excellent food), Toro Toro, etc. His specialty is Latin American food, hence why it isn’t surprising that he choose to make Zengo a fusion restaurant between Latin American and Asian.
When I visited Zengo it was quite busy for a Wednesday night.After having a conversation with the bartender I founded out that the volcano roll was the most popular item on the menu. Per the bartender recommendation I had the volcano roll (which is spicy salmon), kung pao chicken wings and bok choy kimchee(which is ancho chilli rubbed chicken breast). They had universal food options that people associate with Asian such as sushi and each dish that I had was influenced by Asian spices. Asian restaurants are usually associated with specific food items, which diminish the possibility of being considered a melting pot. But the fact that Zengo is a fusion restaurant makes it a melting pot. The restaurant does an excellent job in promoting exchanges between diverse cultural groups and tradition. It was able to bring people from different nationality/ethnicities such as myself who is Jamaican and allowed me the opportunity to explore and be delighted by their food. The restaurant is acting as an agency because it is in some sense changing the narrative that Asians/ Asians restaurants are simplistic. It provides visibility to the complexity and the variety of Asian food besides the stereotypical types such as sushi, even though that’s exactly what I had. In my defense I must say that the volcano roll was the best sushi I have ever tasted and this is coming from someone who isn’t a sushi lover.
To conclude, I am big fan of the fusion restaurant trend that is taking place. I also believe that much of Zengo success is accredited to the fact that it is a Latin American and Asian fusion restaurant, which provides the consumer with something more exotic to eat. One of the notable characteristics of fusion restaurants is the fact that they take into account the diversity of the population. But according to the article Eating Asian America: A Food Studies Reader, danger lies in the fact that it may obscures the ways in which that aesthetic representation is not an analogue for the material positions, means/resources of those population. So while it is good that fusion restaurants offer these different representations, it is important to question whether they take away from the authenticity of the culture and their food.