All Together Now
Food fusion’s most dramatic manifestation, as we all know, is the coming together of a dollop of peanut butter with a dollop of jam. Spread in a mélange on a slice of bread makes the bread taste better than if it were spread with just one or the other.
The coming together of conceptually far-apart foods and flavours can quite often be food triumphs. Ketchup with fries, chutney with a nice curry, mint sauce with lamb, spicy heat (not to mention creamy mayo) with just about anything. Each one’s a fusion of sorts.
But the bigger fusion thing is when foods of different cultures come together, which happens a lot — and keeps on happening, probably hastened by our shrinking world. It’s when good tastes and good ideas from distant lands arrive with the most recent 747 (or whatever) and get integrated into a new scene. Food cultures get together, the transported food culture often becoming a permanent part of the adopted culture. Tex-Mex? A cross-border natural. And we know that wraps of all kinds uniquely wrap the globe. They’re everywhere, neatly enclosing the myriad tastes and textures wherever a culinary “container” is required. This must’ve been some crossover somewhere.
On Canada’s West Coast, across the pond from Japan, is where the California roll was born, the creation of Vancouver meister Tojo. Don’t even begin to start adding up the miles involved in all of that. As with his BC roll, the California quickly became a staple. (And while we’re on the topic of Japan seamlessly blending in on the coast, who would have thought that Vancouver kids would one day snack on nori, i.e., seaweed, with all of its health benefits? In this case, Japan nicely aces out North American junk.)
And how about this? Vancouver restaurateur Andrew Wong was out for dinner at a swishy French place one recent night and observed with his serving of beef bourguignon some very Asian-oriented black beans. He didn’t steal the recipe for his two Wild Rice restaurants but noted that they fused quite well. (Wong specializes in “modern Chinese cuisine”; see a couple of his recipes below.)
Along the same lines, a new place called Caché, advertising that it “redefines classic French delights with a creative Asian twist,” has just opened in Vancouver’s Yaletown. Caché’s signature dishes include a black tea–smoked duck breast salad (using the traditional Zhangcha method) with arugula, lemon vinaigrette, onion jam, wine-soaked raisins and candied walnut; and on the other end, foie gras crème brûleé, topped with flying-fish caviar and served with a frisée salad and white truffle vinaigrette.
Wong of Wild Rice says that Vancouver is all fusion. It’s also a city where everything old is new again. The creative, innovative types seem to be going back to a time when everything was local. They’re making the most of what’s available right in the city’s backyard and discovering what can be done with it.
“Your neighbour had beef, goats — so that would be what you ate,” he said. “You couldn’t go out on Monday morning and get whatever you wanted. You got sturgeon at a certain point in the season. You had it fresh, then dried — nothing was wasted.”
He recalled a time when Saturday was the family shopping day, which meant a trip to Chinatown to get close to the best food and the people who produced it. He still sources his protein from farmers he knows.
Similarly, in her handsome, newly launched East Meets West book — the cover of which juxtaposes a loaded fork and a loaded pair of chopsticks — Stephanie Yuen (the Vancouver Asian food guru) writes, “East-meets-West happens when chefs reach over to another ethnic kitchen counter and/or a grocery store to grab unfamiliar ingredients and create brand new flavours/dishes with them.”
It would seem that just about anything goes. Certainly in Vancouver, the old days of always-the-same Cantonese tastes have often been replaced with foods that are much more exciting. Wong mused that yes, a cheese tray could very well end a meal of Asian fusions. And why not? The fusion fuse has been long ignited and will keep on burning.