I’m having an incredibly conflicted moment. I know it’s no longer OK to admire "fusion cuisine" — it’s so 1990s, and the whole Asian-cultural-appropriation thing is so insensitive. Still, I happen really to like dishes made with ginger, sesame, and green onions, and I don’t feel a need for them to come from any one specific geographic source.
Quite the contrary, in fact. I think that white people who are obsessed with finding and replicating the most precise authentic traditions from other ethnicities are kind of pretentious. (They’re also ignoring the reality that cultures are fluid and dynamic, changing and appropriating one another all the time, and that’s a good thing.) I’m not saying I’m pro-exploitation or pro-boiling things down to the lowest common denominator. But I am pro-cultural evolution.
And whether you call it “pan-Asian cooking” or “fusion cuisine,” it’s an authentic American cultural strain in its own right, albeit one that originated in hotel restaurants and American housewife magazines, not in anybody’s grandmother’s kitchen in the Old Country.
Just because something is cheesy and modern doesn’t mean it isn’t culture, in the most basic sense of the word. (And just because someone somewhere thinks he’s honoring an ethnic tradition the way it is “supposed” to be doesn’t mean his cooking is going to be authentic or necessarily even good. I’m talking to you, wannabe Jewish delis with crap chicken soup.)
I have a certain nostalgic fondness for fusion. Partly, I think, because I came of age in the 1990s. But mostly it’s because, as tacky as the trend seems now, it emphasized bright, flavorful ingredients and often healthy preparations, in contrast to the heavy, European-influenced, meat-focused cooking that’s popular right now. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, either. I dig a good slab of cured pork fat as much as the next lardo lover.)
So I’m not going to apologize for having recently rediscovered one of my favorite salads: “Cultural Mongrel Cabbage Slaw.” It has vaguely Asian ingredients, like sesame and rice vinegar. It has no discernible national heritage, other than perhaps the Internet, whence I have adapted it. And you know what? It’s really good.
More about this slaw: It’s really good to bring to a potluck because (a) it travels well, (b) it’s vegan, so everybody can eat it, and (c) it’s not fattening. Everybody will be happy with it, as long as you don’t call it Asian slaw.
It also keeps well for a few days and is really good with spicy garbanzo beans on the side, and maybe a fried egg and maybe some roasted broccoli. So bring on the 1990s. It’s so Portland, after all.
Related recipe: Cultural Mongrel Cabbage Slaw
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