Authentically Unauthentic

Food has always played a major role in many people’s lives.  Every society in the world has their own unique food culture.  However with the increasing interconnectedness of the world, some of that uniqueness is beginning to disappear.  There is a concerning trend of hybridization where a food’s taste and the practices of eating, especially those from Asia, take on properties of American food culture, warping it into something that is neither Asian nor American.  While the globalization of the world can be seen as a positive force, allowing different cultures to intermingle and share ideas, in terms of food culture, this hybridization has done more harm than good in preserving Asian identity.

One of the aspects that separates one culture’s cuisine from another is the use of certain ingredients when it comes to preparing food.  In terms of what ingredients goes into the food, Asian foods tend to use much more spice than American food.  Take for example the food from the Szechuan province of China; Ma and la, which are the Chinese words for numb and spicy respectively, are the predominant flavors, both of which are fairly uncommon in American cuisine.  In fact, some of the ma la aspects of Szechuan food are so strong that often times people have to take breaks in between bites to allow their tongue to recover.  This is heavily contrasted to America where flavors are milder and easier on the palate.

Another aspect that leads to uniqueness are the practices that are associated with eating.  In Picturing the Past, Timothy August draws attention to the social aspect of food when it comes to Asian food culture.  On pages 172-173, we can clearly see that food does not only provide sustenance for the body, but also provides sustenance for the soul.  The crowded layout of the word bubbles,the liberal use of sound effects, and the sheer number of people present in the comic give readers the sense that eating is a practice that is heavily tied in with family, togetherness, and boisterousness.  Every meal is an opportunity for the family to get together and share their experiences.  This is what makes Asian food culture unique.

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However, with the world becoming more interconnected due to technology and the use of social media, uniqueness is something that is becoming harder to preserve.  Food blogs are ways in which the hybridization of different cultures begins.  With the internet being so easily accessible, people have found ways of introducing their food culture to others quickly and easily.  While this may seem like a good thing in that people are exposing others to their culture and creating a sense of global connectedness, ultimately this creates a problem.  In Asian American Food Blogging as Racial Branding, Lopez speaks on how bloggers have an almost toxic obsession with authenticity and how they go out of their way to label food as being “authentic” without even considering that it means for something to be authentic.

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Governor’s Chicken

Labelled as “Pan-Asian cuisine,” Joy Yee is a prime example of how globalization has weakened Asian authenticity.  When I went to Joy Yee and ordered Governor’s Chicken, I realized that what I was eating was not quite Asian.  While the dish was advertised as being spicy, it was not spicy at all but rather was far too sweet.  In Asian food culture, food is more often savory than sweet and spiciness is a quintessential part of that flavor.  Here in America, there is definitely a preference towards sweet tasting food as well as a distaste towards spicy food.  Furthermore the dish was comprised of chicken that had been breaded and deep fried, which is a technique that is not favored by Asians but rather by Americans.  In order to make the dish more appealing to Americans, the chefs have taken elements of American cuisine, such as sweet flavors and being deep fried, and infused it into an Asian dish, thus creating a dish that appeals more to Americans but is no longer authentically Asian.

Along with the ingredients themselves, the way that the restaurant is set up is more characteristic of American identity rather than Asian identity.  Going back to August’s Picturing the Past, one major aspect of Asian identity is the sense of community when people eat together.  This is why many authentic Asian restaurants favor larger circular tables because they allow for more convenient sharing of the food for bigger parties of people while American restaurants tend to favor smaller tables for smaller parties.  Joy Yee uses very small rectangular tables that are designed for one to two people.  Even though it is possible to push the tables together, the fact that there are only small tables in Joy Yee shows that there is less importance placed on community and more importance placed upon the individual.

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From the moment you walk into Joy Yee until the moment you walk out, it will be an entirely American experience, and the only vestiges of Asian-ness are the gaudy Asian decorations.  Joy Yee is a byproduct of the globalization of the world.  It is a US based restaurant that serves food from different parts of Asia.  However, the food they serve there cannot be called Asian because the flavors and the practices that make a restaurant Asian are suppressed in order to appeal to a larger variety of people.  Ultimately, globalization and the hybridization that follows as a result of globalization has done more harm than good to Asian identity.  If restaurants want to preserve and celebrate Asian identity, they must not be afraid of using traditional Chinese ingredients and practices even if that means being less appealing to Americans.

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