For generations, Asian American lives — much like those of most minorities — evolved in siloes throughout the country. Chinese Americans lived in this community, Japanese Americans lived in that community, Filipino Americans lived over here. You get the point.
And with that, Asian American cuisine followed suit. Honestly, up until the 1980s, most non-Asian Americans considered “Asian” food to-be Chinese. All of it! And if you did want, say, authentic Vietnamese food, you’d have to seek it out. But don’t expect anything on the menu to be anything other than Vietnamese. Such was the same for all Asian cuisine in the United States.
Well, you could probably expect a fortune cookie with your bill — a strange, but obviously perfect non-Asian addition to an authentic Asian meal.
But something important happened in the 1970s. No, not just the rise and fall of disco, or Billie Jean King’s pummelling of Bobby Riggs. A worldwide trend of culture-mixing hit the United States, causing a unique “fusion” of style, political thought, cultural awareness, and most importantly for us chefs, the cuisine.
As people began to appreciate and incorporate other cultures, it was reflected in their cooking styles. Hardened, generational divides between people, especially amongst the Asian American community, began to subside as general acceptance of others increased.
As we know throughout history, food is usually the first step in the process of blurred cultural lines.
In the United States, “Mexican food” quickly evolved into “Tex-Mex,” or “Sonoran Style,” or a number of other regional styles. Italian food in the United States? Yeah, you don’t find cheese-stuffed pizza crusts, Alfredo sauce, or ham and pineapple toppings in the “old country.”
But there has been no other more celebrated “fusion” of cuisine than in Asian American cooking. With increased Asian immigration brought new styles of cooking, unique spices and ingredients, and never-before-tasted combinations. One of the most heralded moments in Asian American cuisine occurred in Oakland, Calif. when Victor Bergeron opened Trader Vic’s in 1937. It is considered the first time that multiple Asian styles were pulled together on a menu, offering an all-encompassing style of cooking.
Among his offerings: rumaki, bacon-wrapped chicken livers and water chestnuts; Kahlua Pork, a sweet and salty throwback to a Hawaiian Lu Lau; crab rangoon, crab and cream cheese in deep-fried wontons.
The original Trader Vic’s closed it’s doors in the 1970s, but had inadvertently ushered in new expectations for Asian cuisine in the United States. As Asian immigration continued to increase, chefs began to incorporate other Asian styles and American tastes.
The 1970s saw the most obvious, celebrated, and at times, mocked example of this with the California Roll, a Japanese maki roll with one major difference — avocado replaced the raw tuna. And what did sweet-toothed Americans want to dip it in? Teriyaki sauce! This soy-based glaze was beefed up with sugar instead of mirin, and with it, Americans had a new addiction.
Japanese sushi boomed in the 1980s. It was the food of Hollywood actors, Wall Street execs, and baby-boomer suburbanites and counter-culture liberal college students. Japanese businessmen were also in the forefront economically during the 1980s as they found new opportunities for business in the United States.
And with all things American, the melting pot of cultures soon began to influence sushi and other Japanesque cooking. Most notably, Korean sushi chefs became prominent in the industry. While the Japanese and Koreans have had deep, longstanding differences in opinions of each each other, it did not necessarily overlap into their food.
Korean sushi chefs, originally trained in the early 1900s when Japan annexed the country, began incorporating their own styles and methods after World War II. In the United States, they were widely accepted in the sushi world in the 1990s. As the cultural divisiveness of generations past began to fall with the previous generation, Japanese and Korean sushi soon became ubiquitous within the United States.
The basic standards of sushi have remained, regardless of who is making it though — excellent cuts of fish, fresh, high-quality rices, and beautiful presentation. With this as its base, sushi chefs have incorporated ingredients from other countries.
For instance, you will find Korean standard kimchi styles in both bowls and sushi. Poke, an uber-popular Hawaiian sashimi salad dish, is quickly becoming as popular as Ramen on menus.
At MiAn, we take Asian fusion into a variety of directions. Given our chefs’ vast experience training under some of the country’s most prominent chefs and coupled with their immense desire to blend creativity with tradition, we have built a menu unlike any other.
You will find elements from Japanese, Korean, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Southeast Asian cuisine. Sometimes as stand-alone dishes, sometimes as a melody within a roll, we turn our love of the craft into a unique explosion of flavors and textures that will meet a variety of people’s palates.
While our menu is anything but standard, our chefs spend much of their time exploring new flavor combinations and textures. Our off-the-menu specials are a labor of love, pitting a vast knowledge of complex ingredients with the delicacy necessary to serve properly some of the most difficult items to cook.
And to be honest, the term “fusion” is losing its meaning in the United States and worldwide. Why? Because chefs like ours at MiAn and others throughout the world are now producing menus where cultural dishes are no longer unique — they are omnipresent.
It’s like a melting pot — on a roll!