Fusion cuisine is one of those coined terms in the culinary world that stirs up a lot of controversy. Despite the fact that chefs like Wolfgang Puck have made their mark through creating inventive and inspired food pairing, there's a large group of people who find food fusion to be rather abrasive.
No matter how you feel about fusion food or what kind of combos suit your palate, the fusing of cuisines is historically and culturally significant.
Here are five instances where two or more distinct cultures successfully merged to create a popular dish:
1. French/Vietnamese Cuisine: The Banh Mí
Banh mís have been all over the news lately thanks to the recent New York times piece and the subsequent controversy that arose in trying to define what makes a good banh mí sandwich. I have no intention of trying to define what makes one delicious or authentic, but simply to remind people that this sandwich is a combination of a French countryside "salad sandwich" which consists of lettuces, tomatoes, vegetables, and dressing served on a baguette. The sandwich is a product of French colonialism in Indochina in the 1850’s, combining ingredients from the French (baguettes, pâté and mayonnaise) with certain native Vietnamese ingredients like cilantro, hot peppers, fish sauce and pickled carrots.
2. Tex Mex: Nachos
Clearly nachos are not the only menu item to fall into the Tex-Mex category. Chili con carne, chili gravy, and fajitas are other common Tex-Mex items that Americans consume fairly regularly. In the mission era, Spanish cuisine and Mexican cuisine were combined in Texas as in other parts of the Northern Frontier of New Spain. However, the cuisine that would come to be called Tex-Mex actually originated with Tejanos (Texans of Mexican descent) as a mix of native Mexican and Spanish foods when Texas was part of New Spain and later Mexico.
3. Creole: Jambalaya
Creole cuisine (not to be confused with Cajun!) originated in the Louisiana area, and is a combination of French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Greek, Asian India, African and Native American influences to name a few. Louisiana Creole originated with the settling of European immigrants around 1690, mostly of upper class aristocracy. The food reflected sophisticated European tastes mixed with local ingredients. Native Americans introduced the use of local grown vegetables like corn, ground sassafras, and bay leaves, while the introduction of African slaves in the 1700s with the Louisiana Purchase introduced ingredients like okra. Jambalaya is a good example of Creole fusion in action.
4. Chinese/Australian: Chiko Roll
Many people don’t know a whole lot about typical Australian cuisine, but there are lots of interesting dishes down under that are a fusion of various local cultures. The Chiko Roll is an Australian savory snack that pays reference to Chinese egg rolls. It consists of beef, celery, cabbage, barley, carrot, onion, green beans, and spices in a tube of egg, flour and dough which is then deep-fried. The roll was designed in 1950, by Frank McEncroe. Frank saw a competitor selling Chinese chop suey rolls outside Richmond Cricket Ground and decided to add a similar product to his own line. The wrap was designed to be unusually thick so it would survive handling at football matches.
5. Brazilian/Portuguese: Feijoada
Myth states that the Brazilian feijoada was a "luxury" dish of African slaves on Brazilian colonial farms because it was prepared with relatively cheap ingredients (beans, rice, collard greens, farofa) and leftovers from salted pork and meat production. What began as a popular dish among lower classes evolved into the "national dish" of Brazil, offered by even the finest restaurants. This dish is an authentic combination of French, African, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, and local Brazilian ingredients, to name a few.
Photos by Flickr user Autumn Sweater