“I could definitely go for some Asian fusion tonight.” It’s a phrase you’ve undoubtedly heard while debating dinner options with your friends or colleagues. But what does “Asian fusion” mean? And what exactly is it that is being fused? Angela Garbes of the Seattle weekly newspaper The Stranger recently took a look at the history and meaning of the term as it relates to the city, concluding that it’s time for it to be retired.
First coined by renowned chef Norman Van Aken in the late 1980s, “fusion” has been used increasingly to group together various types of cooking — and no cuisine has been associated with fusion more than Asian. “It seems as if the phrase has become the catchall way to describe any restaurant using Asian ingredients that charges more than $20 per person,” writes Garbes. To expand on her point, we’d like to call it an imperfect term that lacks focus. It’s often thrown around to describe chefs’ mixing any number of global ingredients and techniques from multiple backgrounds, or to categorize a restaurant (commonly a “trendy” one) that serves dishes from several different countries around Asia. Unsure of a plate’s origin, or find it unconventional? Call it fusion, of course. It’s an umbrella term that’s evolved to being used almost entirely by default. And it’s downright ambiguous. Case in point: What are some of your favorite traditional Asian fusion dishes? Yeah, thought so.
Moreover, it’s somewhat unfair to chefs to classify their food as fusion. Each chef has his or her own story, his or her own vision. To lump together this ability to draw from a variety of personal and unique influences under a single clichéd expression (let alone one that can comprise any number of ingredients or techniques) is to sell these creative professionals short. We should let chefs’ out-of-the-box cooking speak for itself instead of needing to label everything.
Try these recipes considered “Asian fusion” on Food Republic: