Fusion Cuisine Preserves Culture

I love Bryant Terry. I bought his cookbook, Vegan Soul Kitchen, and it helped me restore my energy for cooking and new recipes. Sometimes I feel like ethnic authenticity and my food needs as a Jewish vegetarian are at war, and Terry’s approach to both cuisines and food ethics are a breath of fresh air. He calls it “remixing.”

Terry and his partner, Jidan Koon, whose family is Chinese, decided to make a dish that combines Asian and African diaspora elements, and they chose jung, a kind of rice dumpling steamed in bamboo leaves. It required finding someone’s mom to show them the method. Then they blended the two cultures by using African-American ingredients, like peanuts and black-eyed peas, that they thought went with the Chinese dish–and they made it vegan. They published an article about the recipe in Hyphen Magazine. You can also watch a video with a more detailed method.

As you probably know, Jewish cuisines are completely and totally fusion cuisines. If I hadn’t realized it before, I know it now from writing the Jewish Food Cheat Sheet for this site. Many of the classic Ashkenazi foods–pastrami, borscht, babka–have non-Jewish versions, many of which are not kosher. (Pastrami made from pork? Shocking but true.)  Adapting the surrounding culture’s foods to your own dietary system is one of our oldest cultural traditions–and it’s one of the reasons we think Jewish food is so great. Immigration+kashrut X your bubbe’s ingenuity=fusion cuisine.

One of the obvious bonuses of bringing other cultures into the Jewish community through intermarriage and conversion has been the food blending. Make non-Jewish foods kosher? Yes. Interview the grandmothers to preserve the tradition? Yes. Good stuff–and it’s good for us. Like a remix, it brings freshness to an old song.

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