Fusion and Authenticity

Before I begin, please thank @nim_ds. She’s the reason you all have access to this recipe, because she DM’d me and requested it. So just another reminder (shameless plug??), the recipes that make it onto Coco et Cocoa are a subset of the dishes I share on Instagram, and since neither IG nor C&C are my full time travail, I decide what makes it onto C&C based on:

  • how likely I’m going to want to make something again,
  • how likely I will not be able to remember how I made something, and
  • how much my lovely Cocobeans want to make something.

Yes, I just named my fandom. Now I’ll get on with it with today’s topic: fusion. Literally deleted and re-typed that f-word three times because of how triggering that word is for me. While I’d seen this word countless time on menus growing up in suburbia and during the occasional ventures into the city, my conscious awareness of this concept only began over a brunch of scrambled eggs, biscuits, and maple syrup in Portland with an old friend, Kevin Hsiu. Kevin’s an artist with a deceptively quiet demeanor under which brews an cacophonic melange of a jaded jester, cultural cactus, and fluffy cinnamon roll. His current muse appears to be Nike kicks (before that it was donuts), the irony of that being he was an Adidas designer for years.

Like me, he is Taiwanese Canadian. Unlike me, he lives in the US. I’d always known the line drawn between the US and Canada was more than the 49th parallel, but during that brunch, March 2021 hadn’t happened yet and whatever differences there were hadn’t exactly made it onto mainstream media. He handed me a chunk of breakfast sausage and asked “so what do you think of fusion?“.

I knew this wasn’t a lunch suggestion, it would’ve been easier had it been that.

The taste of the scrambled eggs, the biscuit, and the maple syrup I could tell you. The coffee I could tell you was on the acidic side. I can’t for the life of me recall what that bite of sausage tasted like. My mind was going into overdrive and I probably mumbled something about my disdain for sushi pizza. Fusion just was not something I’d ever contemplated with any level of seriousness. But I should have. It had everything to do with me. It had to do with me wanting to bring Gushers to to school and not pineapple cakes. It had to to with me calling lu rou fan confit pork belly rice. It had to do with me googling the word authentic when I saw it on the sign of my favourite Japanese restaurant in Coquitlam.

The prowess of my creativity and kitchen sorcery also was not yet at the level to be suspect of appropriation. Being in North America meant that a Taiwanese girl making white food was just a Taiwanese girl cooking. It was never questioned, it was the status quo. A few months later, a T&T opened near me and all of a sudden all of the flavours and textures I had no way of creating became accessible. Fast forward a couple years and all my cancelled flights and rainchecked travels were replaced with Youtube videos and Netflix series, almost all food related. I drew from the places I either missed the most or wanted to see the most. And Kevin’s question came back, “so what do you think of fusion?”

As alluded to before, it is impossible to talk about fusion without inevitably entangling it with authenticity. For the record, I think authenticity is overrated in almost every case. And I’m not the first to say this either. To say something is authentic is to be ignorant of history. Globalization has been happening before the conquistadors brought spuds from Peru to Europe, before Marco Polo supposedly snuck noodles into Italy, and most certainly before the first onion was traded between somewhere in the Middle East and China. In that sense, to say something is authentic is to confine it to a poorly researched, arbitrary definition. Authentic to what? One needs to be specific, for example “this beef noodle soup is authentic to what my grandmother makes“, or “the way they prepared this crab is authentic to how it was usually done in X town during Y time.” But who would say that? You might think that in your head, but it’s almost meaningless when you say this to a dining partner because the likelihood of them being having experienced your reference point is nil. On the flip side of the coin, to say something is fusion is to state the obvious. As David Chang tweeted on January 6, 2019, “If you cook with black pepper…you are making Asian fusion food“.

So what IS it that makes white diners flock to authentic restaurants, and people like me cringe at the word fusion if the former is false advertising and the latter is obsolete? The answer can be found all over the true world encyclopedia of Youtube: clickbait or might I say lickbait?? (but that sounds really inappropriate)

In North America, the word authentic is synonymous to quality and exoticism (God I loathe this word) while the word fusion is a little different. I have found that white people love it – for them it is like exotic food 2.0, new and improved, best of both worlds (think sushi pizza). They might as well come in ALL CAPS on flashing neon signs. I repeat, clickbait.

And what does clickbait usually precede? Mediocrity. If the best thing a chef can say about their food is that it’s authentic, then he/she has nothing to bring to the table. If the best thing a chef can say about their food is that it’s fusion, then that’s really not saying anything at all.

But remember how I mentioned that my favourite (now closed) Japanese restaurant had the word authentic on their sign? They were by no means mediocre, they were excellent and creative. I’ll bet if you asked them in Japanese how they would describe their food, it would be a whole slew of things and anything but authentic. But none of that would have meant anything to a dining public that had only a vocabulary of two words to describe a cuisine that was not white.

Anyways, all that is to say, it takes me years to answer a question so don’t be offended if I don’t text you back.

Restaurants in North America:

Authentic = not white at all, you are progressive if you dine here

Fusion = white enough that you won’t be offended

Ann Chen

Albacore Crudo

Albacore Crudo

  • 200g sashimi grade albacore tuna loin
  • 1 tbsp fine sea salt
  • 1 tbsp white sugar
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk, shaken
  • Salt, to taste
  • Fresh mint, for garnish
  • Fried shallots, for garnish (you can find these in almost any Asian grocery store)
  • Makrut oil, for garnish (see recipe below)
  • Pickled chilis, for garnish (see recipe below)
  • Squeeze of lime
  1. Mix together the 1 tbsp sea salt and 1 tbsp sugar. Coat the tuna on all sides generously with the curing mixture for 30 minutes or up to 8 hours in the fridge, unwrapped (preferably on a rack set over a plate so it doesn’t sit in its own fluids.
  2. Once the tuna is cured, rinse it in cold water until no more cure is visible on its surface. Dry thoroughly with kitchen towel.
  3. Torch the tuna on all sides until lightly charred (if you don’t have a kitchen torch, sear it in a non-stick pan (without oil) on high heat. Wrap tightly in cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes to rehydrate the surface.
  4. Using a sharp knife, slice the loin against the grain into 0.5 cm thick slices. Set aside
  5. Pour the coconut milk into a deep plate and season lightly with salt. Arrange the slices of seared albacore in the coconut milk.
  6. Garnish with the mint, fried shallots, makrut oil, pickled chilis, and a squeeze of lime.
  7. Serve with bread to mop up the coconut sauce.

For the pickled chilis, thinly slice 5 Thai chilis into tiny rounds and marinate in a mixture of 1 tsp fish sauce, 1 tsp sugar, and 1 tsp rice vinegar for at least 30 minutes but preferably over 2 hours.

For the makrut oil, blend a handful of frozen makrut lime leaves with 1 cup of neutral vegetable oil such as grape seed. Until as smooth as possible but without it heating up. Pour into a squeezy bottle and refrigerate until needed.

Thoughts? I'd love to hear them!

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