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Jan 15, 2008 08:58 AM

Culinary fission?

Our attempt to keep the defining characteristics of various foods unique might be called culinary fission, as opposed to fusion.

Which fused foods would you like see go their separate ways?
Which ones would you like to keep fused?

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  1. Trouble is, almost everything is a fusion dish. Would I like spaghetti without a tomato-based sauce? Chicken teriyaki without soy sauce? Ice cream without sugar grown in the tropics? Chicken soup without jungle fowl? Turkey without sage dressing? Cinnamon rolls without cinnamon? Julia Child without her time in France? I dunno.

    1. Off the top of my head - (not saying these are good or bad!)

      currywurst and curry pies
      omuraisu with ketchup
      cream cheese wontons
      fusion burger with salsa


      Some insist on healthy and "proper" food combinations.
      Some list "taboo" combinations.
      Some even list "toxic" combinations.

      Is there something to be said about ingesting one food item at a time?
      Fusing cuisines would then become a formidable job indeed...

      1. Okay. Now you've done it. You've gone and pushed my button! I HATE fusion cooking! It wasn't so bad back in th '70s or '60s or whenever it was that fusion cooking began. At least back then fusion restaurants labeled themselves as such, giving you fair warning that you'd better expect some crazy mixed up food when you got there, because they were big-time speicalists in messing with tradition! The signs read, "FUSION RESTAURANT - EAT AT YOUR OWN RISK!"

        But today fusion cooking is insidious and ubiquitous! Hakim's falafal burritos. Juan's wasabi fish tacos. Luigi's curried maranara. Ivan's sashimi borscht. Chang's cream cheese wonton. Who needs it? I would just like to be able to get some Greek food in a Greek restaurant, some Japanese food in a Japanese restaurant, and some French food in a French restaurant. I don't like Fusion Stew!

        Thank you for reading this vent.

        1. I really think dairy and East Asian cooking do not mix. That is why the thread with the Chinese fried shrimp with that condensed milk sauce makes me shudder.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Miss Needle

            Fried shrimp and condensed milk sauce! My.
            Should teriyaki goat cheese pizza also disappear from this planet, altogether?

            Is it possible that food preference based on convention has a bigger say than whatever the unlikely combination actually tastes like?

            1. re: Miss Needle

              while i haven't read the thread regarding Chinese Fried Shrimp with Condensed Milk Sauce.. i can see where you're coming from with saying this. I've never really ever enjoyed a 'fusion meal' that was asian based with dairies.

            2. The bastardization of sushi in the US, especially the use of cream cheese (agreeing with Miss Needle)!

              33 Replies
              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                I have to agree, but I'll be downright honest with you. If it weren't for bastardized sushi as a stepping-stone, I would never have tried that first piece of nigiri years and years ago, even though it was adorned with a piece of cooked shrimp, and thusly branched off into other, more delicious kinds of sushi. "California Rolls" are quite the bastardization, but if they didn't exist, many people would never get over the proverbial "sushi hump."

                Recipes, Restaurant Reviews, Food News and More! -

                1. re: sirregular

                  That's a very good point. I think fusion is a great way to open up people's culinary them culinary training wheels.
                  I don't mind most fusion as long as it's not being passed off as an authentic form of whatver type(s) of cuisine the food is.

                  1. re: HungryRubia

                    "... authentic form of whatever types of cuisine..."

                    So, the key is in the name then?

                    A surprising new combination might be more likely to be accepted if they call it, say, New American or Californian, (or even molecular gastronomy!) but not any of the cuisines with more rigid traditional culinary guidelines.

                    Actually, I can think of plenty of strange fused creations which have been accepted over time, way before arriving in America.

                    1. re: grocerytrekker

                      Name can be key... look at Nuevo Latino! I am Dominican and at first I was a little put off by the updating of the foods my Mom and Grandma cooked for me. However, I ended up applauding the movement because it opened up the minds of many of my friends who were previously not so willing to head up to Washington Heights and eat with me. Now they were more willing to try regular old mofongo made with pork chicharrones after having been exposed to a more modern ritzier version made with say lobster and wild mushrooms or something.

                      1. re: HungryRubia

                        The great thing about something like nuevo latino is that it has much closer roots than mainstream Mexican restaurants. A lot of these attempts to reinvent classics are also a return to the classics, or at least the good attempts are.

                        1. re: HungryRubia

                          I wouldn't have as much of a problem with fusion if it all too often didn't replace the originals.

                          Breakfast Diner: I'd like a bowl of oatmeal.

                          Wait Person: Oh, we don't make that anymore. But I'm sure you'll love our confit of oats with gorgonzola ranchero ahi!

                          Breakfast Diner: <sigh> Do you still make toast?

                    2. re: sirregular

                      My case is the obverse. I grew up eating sushi and sashimi. I recently tried some kind of fushion "sushi" with cream cheese. I about vomited. One person's stepping stone could be another's jungle path punji stick filled leaf-covered deep hole.

                    3. re: Sam Fujisaka

                      Sam, there is (has been) a sushi in Minnesota called the Minnesotan: Creamed cheese and roast chicken, with assorted "other things." Ugh. I've spent 20 years looking for good sushi in this state but things (fusions ick) persist.

                      Have found good sushi, though...still too mush wimpy fusion around. Should this thread persist, I will gab on and on about fusion.


                      1. re: cayjohan

                        whoa. i've never seen that. where is it sold?

                        1. re: soupkitten

                          soupkitten, I last saw it the last time I was at Kikugawa, about 3.5 years ago. Can't vouch for taste, as I couldn't even consider it.


                          1. re: cayjohan

                            blech! i'll be sure to avoid! thanks.

                      2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                        dunno about the problem with cream cheese in sushi. my first response was YUCK. but then i do love bagels with lox and cream cheese, maybe some capers. Not to be rude, but what's the difference Sam? And I have to agree with the comment about California rolls (even popular in Japan I'm told).

                        1. re: KaimukiMan

                          I love bagles with lox, cream cheese, capers, and onion. But I have no idea why cream cheese in sushi was revolting--it just was. Kind of like butter on hot gohan, I guess: hypothetically not as bad as it is to me.

                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                            I also love bagels/cream cheese/lox etc. For me, it is the combination of the cream cheese with rice that throws me for a loop. I am not a bg fan of rice and cheese at the best of times. I tolerate it when there is a rice dish next to an enchilada with cheese, but I don't crave it.

                            It may the the whole dairy/East Asian mix that Miss Needle commented on. Interestingly (although this is a small sample size and may be purely anecdotal) all 3 people who have commented on this combination are Asian (I think). There may be a cultural dis-association between rice and dairy products that we are dealing with.

                            1. re: moh

                              Moh, you may me on to something. However, I'm not that bothered by risotto served made with cheese. But I don't go out of my way to eat it.

                              And, yes, the cream cheese with the rice and seaweed can kind skeeves me out.

                              1. re: Miss Needle

                                oops, forgot about risotto! Of course, that has to have cheese. And I love it. But I don't think of risotto as rice (as I know it). Risotto is its own category. It is different than the bowl of rice I need when I eat Asian food. Maybe I am being hypocritical? But I can't imagine enjoying Parmegiano Reggiano sprinkled on my short grain rice.

                              2. re: moh

                                Okay, I'm breaking my silence over this one, but I am still sooooo pissed off over the amount of outright censorship that went on in the thread I started over table settings. As a some-times professional writer, censorship just bugs the hell out of me so I'm still debating with myself as to whether this is the forum for me. But anyway...

                                I am not Asian, but "fusion" in general, and cream cheese (and now salsa!) creeping into both traditional Japanese and Chinese cuisine just irks the daylights out of me. WHY do they do it! These are great cuisines that have been refined over thousands of years, and some swaggering guy who thinks he is a sushi chef starts tossing in cream cheese, salsa, and fake crab. What's next? Nutella?

                                I do like tradition. I also like modern creations. Now, if sushi bars, for example, would take up the practice of dividing themselves into traditional sushi bars, where people like me could go and get "the real thing," and fusion sushi bars, where people who adore cream cheese and KRAB can go and fill up with what they love, that would be a major step in the right direction. Maybe divide them into sushi bars and fushi bars?

                                Way back in the 50's, I took a course in college that was listed in the catalog as "Asian Philosophy." It turned out to be a class in Japanese history, culture, and traditions. We were even taught to do proper chanoyu. Oh, and ikebana. The fact that there were no cheeses or dairy products evident in the cuisine didn't escape my attention. When I asked the instructor about it, he just shrugged.

                                Years later, as a returning student majoring in archaology and cultural anthropology, I learned that the majority of Asians are lactose intolerant. Aha! No dairy!

                                Now, I will say that the Japanese (in Japan) of today have become a very adventurous people more than willing to fling tradition to the wind. They are willing to pay obscene prices for a glass of million year old water melted from an iceberg they have sent trawlers to drag to Japan from the Arctic circle. And they pay equally ridiculous prices for exotic cheeses, which leads me to believe Japan must be a nation of closet Lactaid users.

                                But I, as a non-Asian of English extraction, who grew up in Southern California, eating "real" sushi with my Japanese friends, really truly wish there were some traditions that were allowed to remain in their pure and pristine state. I'm almost grateful my arthritic and cartilege-free knees will no longer allow me to even think of chanoyu. Based on today's fusion reality, my greatest fear is, "My God, what if the host uses Lipton Tea Bags!"

                                1. re: Caroline1

                                  Caroline, I hate to say it, but the very first thought that crept into my mind while reading your post was, "hey... I wonder what slightly crisped unagi and nutella would taste like?"

                                  And I bet they'd really go well on a simple olive oil crostini. Perhaps topped with some kiwi.

                                  I think I'm ready for TFC now!

                                  Btw, now you know how us old-timers from the NY/New Haven area feel about things like pineapple and BBQ chicken on pizza ;-)

                                  1. re: Caroline1

                                    Don't despair, Caroline. There are people who respect cultural traditions and the foods that are part of them. They can't control what outsiders, who don't understand those traditions and therefore can't and don't respect them, do with their culture or their foods. They carry on.
                                    The greatest effect this has on me personally is that I have to endure too many meals at restaurants I don't enjoy.

                                    What I hate the most is trend-driven, anything-goes fusion by chefs who have little regard for the "why" of food, changing things only for the sake of innovation or to make it easier or cheaper to sell. I think a lot of home cooks and food writers are guilty of the same thing. They like a couple of tastes and techniques, and throw them all together, ending up with a mishmash. They get bored and look for the next fad. None of these is ever long-lived and the food world races on. There are new magazines to sell, new restaurant to promote.
                                    The people who engage in it never seem to understand why they are perpetually unsatisfied. Restaurants don't last long, the menus constantly change to attract people looking for new stimuli and they decree things to be "oh, so over." I'm starting to ignore this hamster cage.

                                    Maybe American don't know nearly as much about food as they think they do. For all of the emphasis we place on "diversity," I think that Americans by and large remain a culturally insensitive group, unwilling to yield their anything-goes philosophy out of respect for others, including food traditions. Food is one way to begin to know a culture because people eat a certain way for a reason. If you never take the time to learn "why" before moving on, have you really eaten their food?

                                    1. re: MakingSense

                                      If we promise not to use cream cheese in sushi, will the Japanese promise not to make 'beef and potatoes' and 'chicken fried steak'? Can we convince them not to batter fry our pumpkin and sweet potato? Why can't they respect the 'why' of our Thanksgiving pumpkin pie tradition, not to mention our sacred sweet potatoes with marshmallows?


                                      1. re: paulj

                                        Funny, when I offer to cook Japanese food I slightly resent people asking for tempura. I'll do it, but it is, to me, not very Japanese.

                                        1. re: paulj

                                          You know, if they batter fry the pumpkin and try to pass it off as Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, I'll be happy to support your cause. Same re: sweet potato. Until then, I'm afraid I can't be so sympathetic. Please don't assume that you have some kind of monopoly on food items like a type of vegetable.

                                          1. re: moh

                                            what kind of food items do I have monopoly on? Does anyone else have a monopoly on certain food items or dishes?

                                            1. re: paulj

                                              Merely pointing out that you are comparing apples and oranges. Sushi is not an ingredient, it is a dish. Pumpkin is an ingredient, and is not limited to use in Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. So if an Asian (or any) person takes that ingredient and batters it and deep fries it, they are not disrespecting your tradition. If they then say, "this is my version of Thanksgiving pumpkin pie", then fine, they are disrespecting your tradition, and I'll be happy to agree with you.

                                              1. re: paulj

                                                Ooops, brain must not be functioning, joke center must be turned off. Smiles noted!!!

                                                (just ate, all blood rushing to gut. Now I have a craving for sweet potato)

                                          2. re: paulj

                                            Well, I suppose there is some room for a trade-off. American "fushi" bars can open in Japan featuring cream cheese, avacado, and krab sushi in exchange for the Japanese pizza entrepreneurs opening their chains in this country featuring pizzas topped with tater tots, mayonnaise, squid, corn, and eggs.

                                            1. re: paulj

                                              Cream cheese in "sushi" is a very good example of what I meant by abusing the concept of fusion to "make it easier to make and sell." Cream cheese keeps the "sushi" from getting soggy in the grocery cases so it keeps for a few days. It does the same things for "wraps," which get soggy quickly with normal makings. So "sushi"-lovers can pick up sushi at a convenience store or grocery on their way home - and maybe never really know what the real thing tastes like.
                                              Totally different from a basic ingredient - say, pumpkin - being used in another way such as being battered and fried. Why would Americans think that you can only make pie with pumpkin? Or that sweet potatoes have to have marshmallows?

                                              1. re: MakingSense

                                                Is it ok to put butter on sandwiches? Doesn't that serve to keep the bread from getting soggy?

                                                I'm still having trouble seeing the big difference between cream cheese in sushi, and using pumpkin in tempura. I'm not arguing that cream cheese is a good ingredient for sushi, but I think the criteria should be whether it tastes good or not, not whether it is respectful of some tradition.

                                                If I recall Iron Chef (Japan) correctly, there was an on going 'battle' between the innovators and upholders of tradition. I think there was battle in which the challenger was an expert in 17th century Tokyo (Ito?) style sushi. I may have the century and place wrong, but it is clear that even among highly trained Japanese chefs, there differences between 20th century dishes, and earlier centuries, and differences between culinary centers.


                                                1. re: paulj

                                                  Butter on a sandwich? Sure. Hell, I personally don't care if you do peanut butter "sushi." As long as I don't have to eat it. Some of the recipes I read, even on CH, not to mention the names people attach to them, give me the heebiejeebies. No respect for tradition. The problem comes, as I see it, when a generation of diners and cooks loses sight of the real thing and begin to think that all sushi is like that "sushi" because the crap has become the new accepted standard.

                                                  Periodically, someone laments that they can't wait for some "trend" like crème brulée to be over. How can that be a "fad?" Other than it became "hot" for awhile, was overdone to death, often poorly riffed on, and then everyone got tired of it. Some are actually surprised that things like this are traditional recipes. So the abuse stops and good crème brulée returns. It's disappointing when someone says, "Oh, this isn't like real crème brulée..." because all they've ever had is the crap.

                                                  Tradition provides a standard for quality. It's a means of educating yourself.
                                                  You think the criteria is simply tasting good? Millions of Wonder Bread consumers agree. It tastes good to them.

                                                  1. re: MakingSense

                                                    So what is the tradition behind sushi? One account claims the form that we see now appeared about 1820 in street stalls of Tokyo (Edo). This was the Nigiri-sushi style. With fresh fish placed on top of rice, the skill in selecting and cutting the fish is important.

                                                    However cream cheese is used in the Philly Roll, a Maki style.
                                                    I haven't seen anything about the origin of maki-sushi. I suspect there is more room for innovation in this style.

                                                    Considering that cream cheese and smoke salmon are considered a natural pairing with bagels, I'm not surprised to see them used in a sushi roll. I don't recall every having one myself, but it sounds reasonable.

                                                    From the premier Japanese grocery in Seattle, Uwajimaya, you can get the 'Seattle Roll'
                                                    which I think is the same thing, possibly different in the choice of smoked salmon.

                                                    Is smoked salmon used in another way in sushi? Is there, for example, such a thing as a Vancouver Roll?


                                                    1. re: MakingSense

                                                      Further search on Vancouver turns up this bio item about Tojo. Looks like he may be guy to blame for many of these sushi innovations.

                                                      "Vancouver in the early 1970s had only four Japanese restaurants, and Tojo's first original dishes were aimed at helping locals learn how to appreciate the world of Japanese cuisine. His Tojo tuna (maguro ai) and Tojo-maki (inside-out version of what would become known as "California roll") created a bridge. His dishes enabled locals unfamiliar with sushi and sashimi to enter a new world. Increasingly, fresh local ingredients unknown or very rare in Japan found pride of place in his new recipes: Gindara (broiled black cod, now known as sablefish), baked local oysters, local albacore tuna, asparagus, and, famously, salmon. Tojo's barbecued salmon-skin roll, first created in 1974, can today be found in virtually every Japanese restaurant on the West Coast, under the name of "BC roll". He was also the first to introduce smoked salmon into Japanese cuisine."

                                                      1. re: paulj

                                                        It is possible Tojo may be to blame. I will say that this restaurant does great sushi and sashimi. So I'll happily eat there, but I will avoid Cream cheese/rice combinations. (Blechhh.)

                                    2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                      OK, I admit... I was buying sushi yesterday evening... and I just couldn't bring myself to get the Philadelphia Roll, the cream cheese just looked so wrong in there. Now the spicy tuna roll, the inside out california roll, and the crunch shrimp roll.... anyhow