Let's Bitch About It: Fusion food

Monday, February 5, 2018 - 6:50pm

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Emily Koffsky

 

You can’t scroll through Facebook without encountering the latest Insider video highlighting some trendy restaurant with some weird food. The latest trends fall into several categories: lots of cheese, extra desserts, colorful combinations and fusion food.

Now that millennials are killing chain restaurants, a successful business is all about avoiding uniformity, and with that has come a wave of ethnic cuisines mutilated by whitewashed fusion food.

When done right, combining different cultural influences in food can lead to fantastic new dishes. Some of the best cuisines developed over years of mixing cultures in experimental dishes (Vietnamese food famously combines French and Asian influences).

But I’m not here to talk about culinary exploration. I’m here to bitch about a new explosion of “trendy” fusion food, which all too often whitewashes a beautiful cuisine to make it more appealing and cool for the hipster crowd.

Leave My Dumplings Alone

Dumplings (or jiaozi) are an honored tradition in my house. They are made for every special occasion: Chinese New Year? Dumplings. Mid-Autumn Festival? Dumplings. Birthday? Dumplings. Family reunion? Dumplings!

My mother taught me how to make them from scratch, which she learned from her mother. Dumplings are more than a food — they are a bonding activity with cultural importance. My Chinese family makes fun of my cousin for her lack of dumpling making skills, teasing she will never be able to find a husband if she can’t make a decent dumpling.

Dumplings are simple, delicious and carry sentimental and traditional importance for my family and culture.

Then white hipsters found them:

Pho Dumplings.

French Onion Soup Dumplings.

Reuben and Pastrami Bao.

Hamburger Dumplings.

NUTELLA DUMPLINGS.

Each combination more disturbing than the last. In some cases, it is a Chinese restaurateur creating the food, but the market is always hipster millennials for whom regular “ethnic food” is so 2005. It’s 2018 — if your food isn’t one of a kind or including avocado, how can you expect to draw the right crowd?

Gone is appreciating simple, well-prepared food made with fresh ingredients. Gone is my mother’s and grandmother’s kitchens smelling of noodles and stir-fry. Instead, you take my food, put a cheap chocolate spread inside and call it revolutionary.

That’s Not A Burrito

Mexican or other Latin American cuisine is far from my cultural area of expertise. I know that the Chipotle concept of a burrito is nowhere near what a real burrito is like, and we have taken the idea of a burrito and turned it into something different entirely.

It started with the breakfast burrito and has since evolved into burger burritos, cheesy Turkish street food burritos, pho burritos, ramen burritos, Korean barbeque burritos, orange chicken burritos, chicken parmesan burritos, Indian curry burritos and, of course, the sushi burrito.

Why are people obsessed with putting a perfectly nice dish inside of a tortilla and calling it a burrito? Do you want to eat with your hands that badly? Did you at least wash them first?

None of these things are burritos, and you are just ruining good food by eating it this way. Why do you want to eat a burrito full of noodles? Are you just embarrassed because you can’t use chopsticks? Tortillas (especially the Americanized wheat-flour kind) don’t add much flavor so what are you adding to the food by eating it this way?

Stop trying to be trendy and just go support a local restaurant of your desired cuisine run by people actually from that region.

Stop Ruining Sushi

While I am not Japanese, I do have a deep appreciation of sushi. Outside of dumplings, there has been nothing more disappointing than watching all the variations of sushi, each more elaborate and difficult to eat.

It started with the sushi burrito, which was my first real experience with this type of trendy fusion food. It was the summer of 2016 and I was in Philadelphia when I encountered a food truck catering the sushi burrito that I had seen plastered all over my social media. So I tried it.

This triggered my hatred of fusion food.

Sushi, in its purest form, is all about the fresh fish on its own or with a simple bed of rice. With the sushirrito, I was faced with a giant lump of rice, aggressively average salmon and some vegetables all shoved in soggy seaweed, which was difficult to bite through.

Sushi is already bite size — why do you have to make it more difficult to eat? It is a convenient and delicious meal that fits perfectly between your chopsticks and in your mouth.  

Since I have seen a wave of new types of “sushi:” sushi donuts, cheesy sushi, sushi cake, sushi pizza, fried sushi topped with potatoes, flaming hot Cheetos sushi burrito, just to name a few.

Sushi is a perfect food and does not deserve this perversion.

*****

The larger issue here is not just the destruction of delicious foods, but the connotations they carry.

My sisters and I used to complain when my mom sent us Chinese food for school lunch, because we wanted to fit in. In middle school, I laughed along with my friends at the Korean girl eating what we called a meat Popsicle. Meanwhile, at home, my mom prepared dishes like chicken feet or “stinky” tofu.

Then Chinese food became trendy, but only if it was prepared in a way geared towards affluent white people. The crowd at P.F. Chang's is very different than my family’s favorite hole-in-the-wall noodle joint. Mapo dofu and hot pot become orange chicken and lo mein. How are lettuce wraps and miso salmon supposed to be Chinese? Foods from minority groups are stigmatized as exotic until rich hipsters decide they are mainstream.

This Americanized food has now taken on a new shape in the fad fusion food industry in an attempt to capture the younger audience who is bored of chain restaurants yet still craves their trendy, inauthentic “ethnic” food.

Culinary innovation is a good thing, but telling a group that their food is inferior for years to then pervert its original form into something flashy and disgusting does no favors to the culinary world.