Asian Fusion and the Asian-American Identity

Western media hinders progress of acceptance of different foods by labeling them as “exotic” and treating them as a form of entertainment. One prominent example is Watchcut Video that urges ten-year-olds to imitate food connoisseurs who make blatantly honest and over-exaggerated reviews. One kid compared dim sum to poo at 1:53 in the video, “American Kids Try Food from Around the World.”

Their first impressions are raw and worth capturing, but, as evidenced by the comments section, many people are then deterred from giving authentic Chinese food a real chance themselves. Such images are deteriorating to foreign cultures as a whole, as people can and are easily deceived into thinking that all Chinese people eat dogs, even though there is only one instance when this happens: the Yulin Dog Meat Festival in China’s Guangxi Province. Nevertheless, animal rights activists have fought to have the government finally ban the sale of dog meat or face a $15,000 fine or time in prison according to this 2017 New York Times article.

As a second-generation Chinese-American, I’ve grown to love both Asian and Western foods alike. At school, I'm inclined to select a burger or chicken nuggets for the sake of convenience, but I always appreciate eating a home-cooked meal with a big bowl of rice. But when I try and order at a Chinese restaurant, I depend on my mom to choose my dish for me because the English is often a direct translation from the Chinese, and I don’t feel comfortable communicating to my server, who automatically assumes I can read and speak Chinese fluently.

I’ve seen ridiculous things like “Mermaid In Deep Sea” and “Six Roasted Husbands” on menus that completely confuse me. Because of the language barrier, it becomes harder to customize a dish to a person’s needs. For example, I have a nut allergy, and, if I try to communicate it in English, I’m often met with confused looks and jumbled English. My mom always comes to the rescue, like Superwoman, but what happens when she’s not with me at every meal anymore?

Asian Fusion is the mix of Asian and Western influences into almost anything. The concept of a blend of cultures is nothing new. Since the mid-1800s, when a boom of Chinese immigrants came to work on the Transcontinental Railroad, the clash of Chinese and American cultures formed businesses and interactions that challenged the beliefs and ideologies of both types of peoples. However, the end result was a hostile takeover by the natives, who instituted the Chinese Exclusion Act and discriminated against an entire race who just wanted to make a living.

In recent years, the idea of cultures merging and the acceptance of diversity as an asset has shifted the general perception towards Asian Fusion. My identity, shaped by both my Chinese roots and American upbringing, reflects through the potpourri of cultures. When I was younger, I couldn’t accept only marking Asian on my test sheets while describing myself as American to my relatives who ask me why my Chinese was so bad.

But I’ve found a general way to live with accepting my situation as is, by talking to other Asian Americans with similar experiences and discovering things that represent myself, like Asian Fusion restaurants. Food is such an essential and pleasurable part of my life, so finding a cuisine that fits my palate has helped me find my place in society.

Panda Express is often associated with the term, “fake asian food,” but in my opinion, Panda Express epitomizes the meaning of Asian-American food because it suits the taste buds of both cultures by taking Chinese inspired dishes and serving it to a different target audience. I feel comfortable eating Panda Express’s orange chicken and listening to the satisfying crack of their fortune cookies. Therefore, I respond to critics by saying that Panda Express isn’t Chinese food, but authentic Chinese-American food.

I believe that the level of “authenticity” is a matter that can be debated; however, I personally decide whether a restaurant is authentic or not by their demographics. Specific to restaurants in California, if the majority of customers are Asian themselves, and the staff speaks Asian languages, then the food will genuinely live up to its name. Also, some restaurants operate primarily true to their Asian counterparts, with dim sum on weekend mornings or banchan (Korean side dishes) with every meal. Little details like these signify a homage to traditional ways and therefore help a restaurant retain its customer base of immigrants wanting food from the homeland.

In large cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles, more and more Asian Fusion type restaurants are becoming common. It doesn’t seem as daunting to try an authentic Asian American restaurant like The House, whose grilled sea bass with a side of green beans and garlic noodles are topped with ginger soy sauce.

Sushiritto in Palo Alto(Jessica Zhang/YALA)

In Santa Monica, long-standing establishment Chinois On Main serves up a delicious Asian-French fusion Shanghai lobster with curry sauce and crispy spinach. A Japanese-Mexican restaurant called Sushiritto has gained online popularity for putting raw fishes and other sushi ingredients into a large burrito style presentation.

Asian Fusion has become one of my favorite types of restaurants to go to because, not only is it just simply delicious, I just think it’s a way for me to own my identity.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.