When diasporas arrive in a country, they try to replicate their indigenous culture in their new country. Many aspects of their indigenous culture are not compatible with the culture of their new country. This is attributable to the loss of authenticity. For example, in most cases diasporas find that they cannot use their language widely because not many people will understand them. Instead, they have to learn the new language in order to fit in the new culture. Their way of dressing might also not be compatible with the climate of the new country. This means that they have to change their dressing also to suit the local culture. However, one way that they can preserve their culture is their cuisine. They can continue making their indigenous dishes in the new country without affecting anyone. Food is one way to preserve the culture of immigrants in a new land. However, they usually find it difficult to maintain the exact standards of the food. This can be due to a number of reasons that will be discussed below. In particular, the paper will examine the Chinese cuisine in ethnic restaurants in the United States.
Chinese cuisine is famous all over the world. However, it has changed much during its travels across the globe. For example, in America, Chinese cuisine is well known. However, it is actually American Chinese cuisine as it has been adapted to the American market and differs greatly to the traditional Chinese cuisine from which it is adopted. An example of a Chinese dish that can be used to expound on this point is chop suey, which literally means assorted pieces. It is an American cuisine dish that is usually made up of meat; mainly pork, beef, chicken, prawn or fish, mixed with eggs and cooked with a variety of vegetables such as cabbage, bean sprouts bound in a thick sauce. The dish is adopted from the traditional Chinese dish called tsap seui common in the Guangdong province of China. The traditional name means miscellaneous leftovers. It was common among farmers. After a day selling vegetables, they would cook the dish consisting of vegetables left over from the market, sometimes up to ten different types of vegetables in the same dish.
Why ethnic cuisine is adapted in a new country can be because of a number of reasons. The first reason is to adapt to local palates. Just as with language, the local population is already comfortable with their cuisine. They are therefore not going to willingly adapt a new cuisine, especially if it is fundamentally different from their own. American cuisine for example places an emphasis on meats while Chinese cuisine places an emphasis on vegetables. It is therefore difficult to convince Americans to leave their beloved meat for vegetables. If Chinese cuisine wants to make inroads into the American market, it must adopt the American love for meat in its cuisine. According to USA Today People should approach food both when they prepare it and when they dine out as an opportunity to learn about other cultures.
This is evident in chop suey the American Chinese dish, which mainly consists of chunks of meat and vegetables as garnish while the original Chinese dish it is based on is, consists mainly of assorted vegetables. This is an example of cultural influence on an ethnic dish forcing it to adapt to the culture of the new country. Cultural influences can also have other effects on ethnic cuisine. Some ingredients used in ethnic cuisine might be viewed differently in another country. For example, a plant that is used as a vegetable in one country can be seen as a weed in another country. People in the new country will not want to consume what they view as a weed. The dish will therefore have to replace the ingredient or completely do without it. According to Michelle Andrews of the US News and World report Certain "authentic" foods have a hard time finding a fan base, even among immigrants.
Social influences can also result in the changing of a dish. There are different aspects to consider in reference to ethnic dishes. For example, certain dishes were served during certain times and there was a way in which they were consumed. For example, most traditional Chinese dishes were eaten using chopsticks. Many people exposed to this culture knew how to use these chopsticks to eat. However, in the new country, most people will try to consume the dishes using methods they are used to such as using cutlery. The dishes will therefore be adopted so that they can easily be consumed using the methods commonly used in the new country.
Economic reasons can also lead to the adaptation of ethnic cuisine in the new country. Many ingredients used in a dish are usually readily available in the country of origin. Many dishes tend to use locally available ingredients. Therefore a dish that originated in a certain locality in china will likely use ingredients native to that locality. When the dish is exported to a foreign market, there is the likelihood that the ingredients used in the original dish are not readily available in the locality. These ingredients can be sourced from the original location but the cost of the food would then become too high and not many people would afford it. In order to avoid such a situation, locally available ingredients are used to substitute locally unavailable ingredients. Many ethnic dishes with fish as an ingredient use fresh fish. However, adaptations for the American Chinese cuisine tend to use processed fish, as this is what is readily available there.
The changes in ethnic dishes usually consist of ingredients. In order to keep costs down, locally available ingredients will be used. An example of ingredient substitution is the western onion, which is the bulb onion, which is used in American Chinese cuisine. Traditional Chinese cuisine will typically use the spring onion, which consists of green leaves. Since the spring onion is not widely available in the United States, it is replaced in Chinese cuisine with the western onion. Cooking processes are also adopted in the new markets. This is usually to adapt to the palates of the local people. For example, deep-frying is very common in the United States while it is not as common in China.
Adaptation of a certain food can lead to the loss of authenticity in the dish. For example, changing the ingredients of a certain dish from mainly vegetables to mainly meats will lead to another completely new dish. This is because the new dish and the authentic dish have fundamental differences. However, a dish can maintain its authenticity if the adaptations made to the dish do not alter the new dish fundamentally. For example, replacing one ingredient with a close alternative will result in the same fundamental dish. In my opinion, the degree of changes made to a dish will determine whether it retains its authenticity. However, a change in cooking processes despite maintaining the same ingredients will result in a dish losing its authenticity. For example, if an ethnic dish requires boiled beef, replacing the boiled beef with fried beef will result in a different dish. The cooking process brings out a certain flavor associated with the authentic dish which will be lost if the cooking process is changed.
American fast food has spread throughout the world and the same adaptations can be seen. For example, in the United States, Monosodium glutamate is a food additive that is not widely used. It has an umami taste that is favored in Asian cuisine. American fast foods tend to use MSG as an additive in their Asian outlets although it is not used in American outlets. This is an example of American fast food adapting for foreign markets.
99pi Pagodas and Dragon Gates Available at: http://99percentinvisible.org/episode/pagodas-dragon-gates/. Accessed: 15-03-2016
Kung Pao Kosher: Jewish Americans and Chinese Restaurants in New York. Haiming Liu, Article publication: Journal of Chinese Overseas, v6 n1 (2010): 80-101
Lori Grisham, USA Today Network: We are what we eat, and what we bring to the table is increasingly diverse, Available at: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2014/12/17/changing-face-food-diversity-gwinnett/70109312/. Accessed: 15-03-2016
Michelle Andrews, A Tasty Melting Pot, U.S. News & World Report: August 15, 2005 - August 22, 2005
The Sociological Quarterly: The Presentation of Ethnic Authenticity: Chinese Food as a Social Accomplishment, Shun Lu and Gary Alan Fine Wiley and Midwest Sociological Society in collaborating with JSTOR Vol. 36, No. 3 (Summer, 1995), pp. 535-553 http://www.jstor.org/stable/4120779 Accessed: 15-03-2016
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