My younger self thought that the traditional preparation of a dish was the best; food using traditional ingredients and cooking methods as the original chef intended.
Present day me is not so sure anymore. I think using novel combinations of ingredients and cooking methods will lead more tasty food.
Why the change in thinking? I started to realize that what I thought was indigenous and native food to a region actually is not.
For example, Banh Mi (plus whatever filling you prefer) a.k.a Vietnamese Sandwiches are definitely Vietnamese fare but obviously the baguette for the delicious sub didn’t arrive to Vietnam until the French colonized the country in the 19thcentury.
Another item that is synonymous with a particular locale is Taco al Pastor from Mexico. The al Pastor filling actually has Lebanese origins since it was Lebanese immigrants in Mexico who created this yummy filling derived from the shawarma in the 1920s.
Also where would Japanese cuisine be with out Kewpie Mayo? The Kewpie brand is Japanese but Mayonnaise is definite not. Mayo’s popularity in Japan did not take off until after the 2nd World War.
More recently, within the last 15 years, cream cheese has found its way into fusion maki sushi and now a Philadelphia Roll is a standard item at most Sushi restaurants.
In past the introduction of new ingredients into any regions’ cuisine took time.
However as we increasingly become a global village, ingredients once only found in one part of the world can now be found in your local grocery store. In addition, chefs around the world have access to see what cooking methods other chefs are employing in making their culture’s signature meals.
This easy access to new ingredients and an awareness of using different cooking techniques has created new “fusion” food items on a large scale and rapid pace.
However if you get a hit new food item at what point does it just become the normal? When does a bastardized dish gain acceptance as apart of the evolution of a cuisine?
In our hyper informed society, bastardization is often singled out and criticized.
Restaurants are accused of just using unusual foreign ingredients in a traditional dish or executing a traditional dish in a new format as an attempt to differentiate them self and create a sense of novelty for their diners.
For some cuisine, the bastardization is more negatively denounced than others. Personally, I know Modern Chinese has had a struggle getting a foothold in Vancouver.
However if it’s tasty, what’s the harm? If we don’t allow chefs to continue to push the envelope with the expanding landscape of foodstuff, cooking approaches, presentation and follow people’s changing palate I think cuisine dies a little.
Clearly our ancestors had no issues incorporating new ingredients into their cooking.
So what is the hesitation to accept bastardization as the new normal if it is truly delicious and unique? Isn’t that what we are all doing when we go searching for a meal sometimes, something new to break the food ennui we all experience.
Perhaps it has less to do with the food itself but more with the positive memories and cultural bonds that food gives us. Nothing beats Grandma’s prepared meals (or meals that remind us of family and tradition); they give us comfort and sometimes make us understand who we are ethnically. Those are powerful connections we have with food.
I think in part that’s when my opinion began to change about traditional versus modern/fusion when I realized it was not about the food itself but what the food represented.
There will always be room for traditional since nobody can ever break those strong associations we make with food but it doesn’t mean fusion cannot also have a place too.
At some point the fusion or bastardize label gets removed and a dish just becomes another item in an area’s cuisine. It simply needs us eaters to love it for what it is (tasty and delicious) and build positive memories around it.
Maybe that’s how a bastardized dish becomes the new normal. Can you imagine a world without mayo in Japanese cooking, Banh Mi and Al Pastor tacos? I can’t.