For the love of food: cultural appropriation edition

Preparing Chinese food is a lengthy process that takes patience and impeccable skill. It takes a lot of gung fu, hard work and skill, to conjure up the richness of the flavours and teach them to dance. But somewhere along the way, the art of Chinese food has been discounted to “a genuine, authentic, Asian cuisine experience for $6.99 at your nearest Manchu Wok!!”

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It’s only authentic Chinese food if it comes in a box like this

I’m sure many Canadian immigrants can relate to the “staple dish syndrome”: Pad Thai from Thailand, pho from Vietnam, curry from India, spaghetti from Italy, and dim sum – with all the glory of fung zhao (chicken feet) and ngau pat yip (yes, you guessed correctly: tripe, aka a cow’s stomach chamber) – from China.

A recent article from The Washington Post by Ruth Tam looks at the cultural appropriation of food. What happens when the same dish that immigrant families were mocked for is sought after?

That’s exactly what Ruth asks: “How do you feel when white people shame your culture’s food – and then make it trendy?’ More than a last name, Ruth and I share similar musings as our cultural dishes shifted from “weird, smelly, and disgusting” to “authentic, genuine, and exotic”. Growing up in a predominantly Caucasian neighbourhood, I had my fair share of friends who would comment on the way I smell after

The best meals are more than the sum of their ingredients; their flavors tell the stories of the rich cultures that created them. When the same respect is afforded to immigrant food as traditional “American” food, eating it will sate us in more ways than one.

I urge you, travelers and foodies alike, to embrace the fullness of different cultures but don’t let it be defined by an “authentic experience”,  a “genuine temple”, or an” exotic food”. A lesson I will indefinitely carry in the next 8 months.

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