We were driving in San Francisco. A friend suddenly asks: “would you like to live in Berlin?”
- Why not?
- German food isn’t good.
- What about London?
- Same thing. British food isn’t good either.
Then my friend started chastising me about how I haven’t lived in those two cities to know, how they have wonderful restaurants of various cuisines, and how I should be open-minded to try new things. True. But for me, “London has many good restaurants of various cuisines” has nothing to do with “British food is good”. Another example. I like yakisoba, and I like some yakisoba in San Francisco, but that just means I would prefer any Japanese city to San Francisco in terms of yakisoba. In order to like a city, I have to like its culture, and its regional cuisine happens to be the least personal cultural thing that pops up in my mind.
Edit: with Cheryl’s comment below, I think I should clarify a few things here: there’s ethnic restaurant, and then there’s fusion restaurant, both types make up the culture of a city. So, in a sense (and in the future), a fusion Chinese restaurant in London is just as “authentic” as an ethnic Szechuan restaurant in London, because they both make up the authenticity of London, the vibe of a big city, but neither can ever be as “authentic” as a Szechuan restaurant in Chengdu. With the globalization in big cities, the lines blur quickly, every ethnic thing is blended into other ethnic things, every plate contains ingredients and flavor profiles adopted from everywhere around the globe. That’s the beauty of cuisines, they always grow, they adapt to their surroundings and incorporate their surroundings to spawn new cuisines. A one-minute search on Google maps returns a cocktail bar in Shoredictch that serves up tamarind and onion jam on flat bread, and a fine dining restaurant in Kreuzberg that incorporates langoustine with wasabi, Cantonese style (whatever that means). These are just two of numerous Asian-flavor-inspired restaurants that I would easily find in London and Berlin, that I would most likely enjoy, but if you ask me, do you like London food, I wouldn’t think of them. Because I don’t consider them London food.
In fact, I don’t know what to consider them. We want to make good food, that’s great. Good fusion food is good. It has its own beauty, and I’m not totally against it. But the fusion happens too fast and too much to become a cuisine and to last. That Cantonese style langoustine with wasabi is served at 1 restaurant, by 1 chef, and will unlikely last for more than a decade. No German will ever say it is a German dish, on the same caliber as sauerbraten. So instead of fusing things together, why can’t we improve regional cuisines using the same ingredients that people in the region have used for hundreds of years, but with better techniques and higher-quality ingredients? If the trend is to mix everything together, what will become of regional cuisines? I like that Asian flavors are gaining appreciation among the Western palates. I think it’s wonderful. But what’s even more wonderful would be the authentic dishes of each culture getting appreciated on their own, no mixing, no “influence”.
People tell me that my taste bud will change as I eat more fusion food. Yes, it does change, but not in the direction that they mean. The more fusion food I eat, the less I’m impressed by fusion, and the more I want “authenticity”. Nobody ever agrees on the definition of authenticity, it has too many factors: land, people, ingredients, techniques, etc. For me, sometimes I think of authentic food as “food with history”, sometimes “localness”, but mostly, I want something pure.