Over the past decade, fusion food has gone from zero to hero in the culinary realm – while the term fusion used to hint at a confused mishmash of boundary-crossing cuisine, the concept has been reinvigorated by some of the world’s top chefs, and it’s now back centre stage.
Authenticity has been the focus of top restaurants over recent years, heavily revered as the mark of quality. The best chefs would travel to immerse themselves in a specific region’s flavours and techniques, then work in a top kitchen creating that cuisine before considering themselves aptly qualified to reproduce it. Arguably, on that front, nothing’s changed; it’s exactly these kinds of chefs who are transforming fusion food, inspired by their own diverse culinary backgrounds.
As David Chang commented in his interview with Splendid Table nearly eight years ago, shortly after the advent of his Momofuku chain, ‘Yes, I’m embracing the word “fusion”. I’ve been a strong advocate against it, but I’m now pro-fusion.’ Chang explains how he discovered his own fusion style organically, born out of a strange and varied childhood diet that borrowed from each side of the globe. Chopping and changing between Korean food at home and ‘Waffle House-like Southern things on the weekends’ during his younger years, he says, left ‘a big impression’ on him and the way he views food.
From hybrid cuisines such as Korexican (Mexican/Korean), Nikkei (Japanese/Peruvian) and all manner of combinations in between, fusion food offers some of the most exciting eating to be had right now – be it at street food or fine dining level. At the same time fusion is also moving on from simply being a cultural mashup to a blurring of the whole concept of authentic and inauthentic, where it’s not so much a fusion of cuisines but of techniques, ingredients and cooking styles.
This can be seen in the rise of food that’s rooted in authenticity but re-imagined through a local lens, where chefs are using top-notch, seasonal and regional ingredients and employing skilled cookery to elevate global cuisines and offer a new take on the otherwise familiar. London’s Soho offers up some of the best examples of this style of inauthentic yet authentic cooking – restaurants run by creative and forwards thinking chefs, where diners can experience global flavours with a local twist.
When in Soho we recommend trying:
Berenjak – Persian
Ceviche – Peruvian
Koya – Japanese
Bone Daddies & Shackfuyu – Japanese
Hoppers – Sri Lankan
Kiln – Thai
The Palomar – Israeli
Xu – Taiwanese
Kricket – Indian
Le Bab – Middle Eastern
Bao – Korean
Ikoyi – West African
Duck & Rice – Chinese
Breddos Tacos – Mexican
Temper – Mexican/Sth American
Although recently there’s been some accusations of inappropriate cultural appropriation levelled at certain high-profile chefs and food retailers and the way they have taken iconic cultural dishes and played fast and loose with the ingredients, fusion shouldn’t be seen as a dirty word. For as long as people have travelled they have been inspired by the dishes, ingredients, flavours and cooking techniques experienced on these travels. As such most of the world’s cuisines owe a direct debt to the process of global cross-pollination that has been going on for 100’s of years, and modern-day fusion food is simply an extension of this.
When the resulting food is not only creative and new, but also interesting and flavoursome then it begs the question why should we shun the inauthentic when it tastes so darn good? We’ve now moved on from mediocre in the fusion stakes, and found ways to mesh flavours and techniques that enhances the end product and make us wonder why we hadn’t done it sooner. With our increasingly multi-cultural cities and a new generation of adventurous diners and creative chefs coming through the ranks, the face of fusion looks set to continue to evolve.