Natalie Howe | Tuesday, October 10, 2017
Fusion cuisine is something of its own nature, where two cultures collide to create some tasty dish vaguely reminiscing something authentic, but not quite. They use traditional flavors, change the presentation that incorporate local customs and, in some cases, have become a staple for countries around the world. In America, Hispanic foods have some of the most popular variants, as the huge and still growing Latino population is integrating its food with American staples.
But some questions still remain — at what point is something considered authentic or culturally insensitive to do? In regards to food from Latin America, which has arguably had one of the largest impacts in the U.S., there is a lot of flexibility in authenticity. National chains like Rubio’s and Taco Bell are nothing close to Latino except for the occasional Spanish name on the menu, but they aren’t quite fusion cuisine, either. They are their own entity of deliciously unhealthy, inauthentic food transcending cultural foods.
The mixing of so-called “ethnic” foods is in no way a new concept. Italian cuisine didn’t incorporate tomatoes until the discovery of the New World, as they are native to the Americas. Tex-Mex has its own flavors that emphasizes southern staples like cheese and meat with traditional Mexican dishes like beans, corn and salsa. More modern creations include Korean tacos, commonly sold from food trucks in Southern California. The diversity of Hispanic food that spans two continents has lent itself to easily fuse with foods of other cultures. Even many of the Latino foods that we consider fundamental to a particular country or culture came from a combination of native foods with those of other cultures. Tacos al pastor, one of the most traditional styles of tacos in Mexico, have their origins from Arab immigrants in the 1930s. The meat is based off the Lebanese shawarma, a variation of the Turkish doner kebab, which Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation eloquently described as a “hot spinning cone of meat.” Dairy products were introduced by Europeans, who brought along cattle and horses when colonizing the Americas. While chocolate comes from Mesoamerica, it wasn’t turned into the sweet dessert we are familiar with now until the Europeans came. The nostalgic bars of Chocolate Abuelita or Don Gustavo, depending on your preference, are now a staple in many Latino households, used to make a traditional milk-based hot chocolate.
While I’m inclined to say that the mixing of two cultures through food is a good thing — I personally like my chocolate to taste sweet — it is important to remember that for many foods, there is a story that can’t be ignored, and in some cases, is representative of a bloody history of genocide. It’s not the case for everything, though, because some great things can happen; those Korean tacos sound pretty tasty, and tacos al pastor are now standard street food. But gentrification of foods that stems from cultural ignorance does raise questions as to whether charging $8 and marketing it as something “hipster” is an insult. In no way am I advocating for gatekeeping of foods; they are one of the best ways to share our culture with others, as meals emphasize community and discussion. But the appreciation of the food experience could be enhanced with a bit of that cultural background, and adding our own flair to it can, indeed, make it more personal. Maybe next time we look up how to make a modernized Pinterest version of champurrado or morir soñando, we take a moment to look up the history and meaning of the foods.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.