This article first appeared on Bizcommunity.com and is entitled “How Migrant Cooking has Revolutionised Westernised Food”. Here I’ve adapted my original post slightly in order to make it blog-relevant.
What is the new definition of Westernised food in a world as ethnically interwoven as ours? No longer solely the space for butter and bouquet garni, the concept of Westernised food in a modern world goes beyond borders, embracing previously unknown flavours and intermarrying them with conventional dishes to create an entirely conceptual way of cooking.
That being said, the New Westernised way is not one of fine dining. Devoid of frippery and flavoured foams, these recipes are unpretentious without being plain, enticing without intimidating and succeed in introducing the diner to a new world of taste. The New Westernized way of cooking is about food that tells a story – about where the chef (or mother or brother or street vendor or home cook or writer or hungry person) learned to make the dish, and what inspired each original tweak.
Deeply personal, migrant or New Westernised cooking is about the people that make the food more so than the food itself. The sense of identity that comes from cooking a dish passed down from your grandparents to your parents to you – and acknowledging that while they may have made it using the tradition of the generations before them, the diaspora that brought you to this new place, this foreign country, these strange flavours, have all contributed in giving the dish it’s own reinvented identity.
Still paying homage to the past is a strong factor, and traditional ingredients play a vital role – perhaps it is the method that has changed; perhaps the way of eating – generally the flavour is the soul of the dish. Generations of preparation, education and skill go into each recipe, some of which are later customized by family members wanting to add their own twist.
Comfort food takes precedence, often with recipes developing from the simple desire to eat something quick and easy that tastes of home.
The Migrant Kitchen, a five part docu-series produced by Life & Thyme, highlights ethnic cuisines that have become part of life in Los Angeles and how those cooking it and those eating it have contributed to making the city what it currently is. Basing the entire series on where the food comes from, what inspired it and how it relates to American tastes, The Migrant Kitchen explores the notions of soul food, fusing flavours and what it means to be an immigrant living in the Western world. Television shows like Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods America not only explore the new flavours being brought to the table but exactly how they arrive in the States. Illegal restaurants in New York serve up comfort food to fellow immigrants and curious Westerners, showing how many foreigners have turned to food to make a living, even if they have never been cooks in their native countries. Food offers opportunity, sociological improvement and a steady salary – provided of course the food on offer is a hit.
The foods and flavour profiles remembered from childhood have since been seasoned with experience, displacement, homesickness, bittersweet happiness and ultimately success.
Hong Kong-based blogger Mandy Lee of Lady & Pups showcases her love of Asian fusion cuisine through her beautifully moody imagery and unbiased food commentary. Expertly aggregating the flavours of East and West, she talks of porchetta from Chinatown, beef short-rib burgers with Harissa tomato sauce, Korean clam chowder and jerked Sriracha pork tacos with kiwi salsa verde. Hers is a passion both for authenticity and for freshness. Taking in the sights, smells and sounds during her extensive travels as well as when she is exploring her neighbourhood, Mandy is adept at recognizing complimentary flavours and unifying them in one distinctive dish.
Closer to home, the New Westernised cuisine can be found in Durban’s bunny chow, the African-American comfort food of Chicken Shop or the culinary melting pot of Cape Town’s Mojo Market or Eastern Food Bazaar. It can be found in the new Ramen restaurants and noodle bars opening all around South Africa and in the inclusion of items such as sriracha, miso paste, togarishi, berbere, pomelo, burrata, turmeric, tahini, Za’ater and sea urchin on market shelves.
Uncharacteristic of any one culture, the New Westernised cuisine has global appeal, a multifaceted ethnicity and is mindful of the histories and origins of not only each ingredient, but also those that prepare them.