Why Authenticity Shouldn’t Matter

Last week I decided to go to my favorite sushi restaurant in the area: Wasabi. Although not as many people seem to know about it, it has gotten the local award as best sushi restaurant in the college park area for two years. I’ve constantly recommended it to my friends; however, when they hear how much I enjoy the place, they are always surprised when they realize it’s owned by a Chinese family. Maybe they thought it was owned by a Japanese family because of the electronic bamboo waterfall or the drapes with Ukiyo-e art. I’m not very sure.

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If a restaurant had this hanging on the walls, would you immediately assume it was owned by a Japanese family?

The concept of Authenticity, especially when it comes to food, has always confused me. When thinking of authentic, most people would imagine something like a Japanese person making traditional Japanese food with traditional Japanese ingredients. However, it would probably surprise them to hear that most sushi restaurants I have been to are Chinese or Korean owned. Additionally, a good portion of Thai restaurants are also owned/managed by Vietnamese and Khmer families. And ironically, my favorite Khmer restaurant is managed by Latinos. Which brings me to the topic of Asian Fusion.

This week’s reading discussed the new Asian food trends. Such as food trucks, fusion and use of social media. I particularly want to focus on the fusion aspect that was mentioned. While the idea of sushi burritos frightens me, Korean tacos are probably one of the most enjoyable fun foods out there. Some argue that fusion is an awkward miss-match or ruins the image of Asian food. I look at it as a way to introduce other people to cuisines they would never have considered trying. For example, Vietnamese sandwiches (or banh mi). I’ve been eating banh mi since I can remember. However, a lot of my friends from school were turned off by the pickled carrots/radishes and the smell of the meat. Today, banh mi is extremely popular because of the Nom Nom food truck and the Asian Fusion craze. While many people would think Vietnamese sandwiches are a fusion, they actually originated during the French colonial period.

Adding avocado and eel sauce to sushi is definitely not authentic, and may even be considered fusion, but it’s still delicious!

However, how does the Asian Fusion scene effect Asian Americans? I believe that it can bring benefits to the community as it introduces new food to a maybe not so open minded group of people. While they may not be eating the ingredients in their “traditional” manner, the flavors are still there. Although I can also see how people are taking advantage of Orientalism and the wonders of “exotic” foods in order to grab more attention. I can also see Fusion giving the harmful impression that all Asian food is the same. However, America has been butchering food for centuries. For example, you’ll never get spaghetti and meatballs in Italy just as how you will never find General Tso’s chicken in China. Additionally, many people understand that Fusion is not authentic, which is why it is called a fusion. The point of fusion is to introduce the flavors or concepts of the dish and change opinions of the culture. A good example is sushi. In Japan, you’re never going to find a California Roll or Rainbow Roll. However, if you are feeling dangerous, you will be eating raw fish. The idea of consuming raw fish terrifies most people, even other Asians, but now people don’t seem to matter as much. As a result, the general impression that Japanese sushi is scary and foreign is slowly dying out…because now everyone is eating raw fish!

Overall, I believe that food should be food. As long as it’s good, we shouldn’t care about who made it, how it was made, and its origin. Authenticity is a difficult concept to grasp because when we’re living in a country made up almost entirely of immigrants, nothing can really match the definition of authentic. Instead, we should see Asian Fusion as a gateway to breaking Orientalism. While it may not make a person immediately understand the difference between Korean and Japanese, there is an obvious difference in the cuisines. One of the best ways to learn a culture is through its food. And we can see that the higher demand for more Asian food (such as Korean BBQ, Vietnamese sandwiches, and sushi) not only make the cuisines less foreign but also the people.

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