The sun is coming out and it looks like another foggy bay area morning. I’m drinking my coffee and reading a book on food, one of my favorite ways to spend the extra minutes I have in the day. The book comes with me as much as my car keys or my cell phone. Like all babies, Siena has about a 50/50 chance of falling asleep in the car and I can’t bear to wake her most times, so I end up parking in a shady spot so she can enjoy her nap uninterrupted.
It’s been awhile since I’ve written. Mostly because I had to take a breather from balancing my full-time job, school and mommy duties. Plus I’ve decided not to work this summer, instead choosing to wake up with my daughter every morning, have her “cook” me breakfast, and spend the day playing, cuddling and napping. Having a child has brought me a feeling of satisfaction and contentment I’ve never known before. My heart feels a very solid and true love.
I have also been contributing weekly to Metroactive Newspaper, an alternative weekly based in downtown San Jose. I’ve been doing restaurant reviews for the last few weeks. If you’re in the area, new issues are out Wednesday or you can check them out on the web here: http://www.metroactive.com.
I thought I’d introduce this new part of FilipinoFoodProject.com, a discussion of food quotes on Tuesday. I love food quotes and collect them with each new book. Right now I am reading Consuming Geographies by David Bell and Gill Valentine, and they discuss a point that immediately got me thinking about Filipino Food.
When discussing community, Bell and Valentine discuss the evolution of food and its entry into the mainstream:
Susan Kalcik (1984) has described the process as ‘acculturation and hybridization’:
1) Ethnic cuisine is altered to fit host cuisine (ingredients, ways of cooking, etc.)
2) Ethic cuisine gradually incorporates more of the host cuisine– at the same time – a ‘watering down’ of the cuisine begins, and members of the ‘host’ community begin to try the ethnic food.
3) Host community gets used to its presence and begins to enjoy it.
All of this, Kalcik argues demands a ‘cultural entrepreneurship’ in which culture and its food are constantly recast.
What do you think of this perspective on the incorporation of ethnic food?
My mind immediately darted to Panda Express, a fast food chain for Chinese food. I have to be completely honest – I love Panda Express. I wouldn’t say that it’s my favorite Chinese restaurant (because that’s a BIG no-no) but on a busy weekday night I wouldn’t turn down some orange chicken or eggplant with tofu. I know it’s not particularly authentic or distinctive but it offers elements I love:
- It’s clean
- It uses ‘clean’ cuts: chicken breast meat, meat that is devoid of fat.
- The foundational flavors are there. Nothing spectacular but it’s darn good ‘desperation’ Chinese food.
- It has habituated the American public to the Chinese palate.
- Portions are huge.
Then I’ve classified those elements: aesthetics, ingredients, familiarity, regional/national popularity and portions.
What I think is most interesting about this breakdown is that essentially, there are no surprises with Panda Express. The food has to be completely malleable to reign in success, in other words, it has to be easily molded and translated to the American palate with a few, ethnic core ingredients.
Some would say that chain restaurants are the death of ethnic cuisine, with some calling it the ‘bastardization’ of food. I’m also interested in the timeline of acculturation and how it pertains to Filipino food. Is it true that no one has unlocked that ‘secret’ to bring Filipino food to the mainstream? What needs to be done to our food to make it more approachable to the American public? Thoughts?