So I finished this show and the last episode about dumplings is fantastic. The guest appearance of Ali Wong at Din Tai Fung was hilarious.
But aside from craving fried chicken, asian dumplings, BBQ, fried rice, pizza and tacos (all of which Chang showcased as a thematic episode), there’s this underlying theme that Chang touches in every episode about “What is American food?”
My friends and I also had this discussion once during an overseas trip. We came up with only a few food dishes that seemed to be authentically American: Creole/Cajun, Barbeque, and hamburger. Most of these dishes were derived from other cuisines… but it’s been transformed to become uniquely American.
The show takes this question a step back. The chefs, food writers, and food critics on the show imply that America embraces these foreign cuisines like Italian, Chinese, French, etc… and then creates a cuisine that is not quite like the original. When America is talked about as the “melting pot” of the world, the food evolves as the immigrant community becomes assimilated into the ever changing American culture.
Creole/Cajun is a great example of what the show is saying. Creole food originates from the French settlers in New Orleans in 1690s. The settlers absorbed the food traditions of other immigrants (Italian, Spanish, African, to name a few) to become what it is today. Cajun food originates from the Acadian settlers who were transplanted from French Canada in the 1700s. Although there are differences between Creole and Cajun, the fact that these food cultures absorbed other food culture and traditions is exactly the “melting pot” metaphor of America. To add even more credence to this melting pot phenomenon, the term “Creole/Cajun” is even synonymous to the Louisiana food region despite their differences.
Perhaps I’m reading a bit too much into the show given the state of our charged political climate, but I think the show is saying that what makes America great is the cultural appropriation of immigrant culture. What evolves from this appropriation becomes uniquely American yet neither American nor the donating culture.