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I love it when restaurants play "fast and loose" with regional cuisines but I know it doesn't sit well with some others.

I saw a thread this morning where someone was talking about a sushi restaurant that had Mexican cooks and they were adding some Mexican elements, i.e., hot peppers, to some of the food. He was praising that and I thought 'wow, how good that sounds.' Then there was another thread where a CH was very NOT admiring of a Tex-Mex restaurant that used feta in one of their dishes. REALLY not pleased. Recently we dined with two CHs in NYC. One resto was Itzocan on the UES which serves Mexican ingredients prepared with French techniques. It was terrific. We also had lunch at Momofuku Ssam with a CH where the sky's the limit with his combinations. Their "pork bun" is unlikely any I'd ever seen and I could have easily eaten several of them.

The above examples got me to thinking - always dangerous. I really love it when they start "mixin' things up." Sure, there are times I want a beef burger medium rare with mayo, Cheddar cheese and red onion on it. But I'll also gladly take a burger with foie gras in the center or the Mar-a-Lago turkey burger. In thinking about this, I guess the whole "fusion" thing from the past is simply part of a lot of the great cooking that's going on today. And I'm happy for it. I don't read the same books over and over; why would I want to eat the same food prepared the same way every time? I've really racked my brain trying to think of a single dish that I wouldn't like done in some alternative ways and am just not coming up with anything. Not every single time but plenty of times. But I crave adventures and change in my life.

So do others consider certain foods and preps sacrosanct or can they be fiddled with?

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  1. I wish more fusion restaurants were better. Alas, it almost always pales in comparison to 'straight-up' cuisine. In most cases, the savoriness, spiciness, and the uniqueness of a dish is 'bred' out of it when it is fused.

    However, the best papusa I've ever had was a pumpkin papusa served at an American seafood restaurant. Keep in mind that in many kitchens where I live, the food is prepped by Salvadorans no matter the nature of the restaurant.

    1. We appear to have similar tastes. Mix a few Indian spices in a pork burger, blitzed sauerkraut as a soup base, smoked chicken cordon blue, turnip cake with jam, deep fried battered tomatoes, avocado gravy, freedom fries with Vietnamese sweet spring roll dipping sauce. My cerviche and gazpacho usually involve Angostura bitters. I tried poaching chicken in Baileys the other day.

      Not all of my experiments are successful.

      I'm sorry, but no culinary tradition is sacred chez here in this centre for esculent blasphemy.

      1. There is a restaurant in Boston that we like quite alot. Myers and Chang serves up Asian food with often a real twist . It bills itself as leaning to Taiwanese and SE Asian street food but a couple of examples that are pure genius are " asian braised short rib taco" ( OMG) ,"sweet potato fritters with chinese sausage and spicy aioli" and last night they had grilled octopus over grilled corn on the cob with a cayenne spiked cheese sauce and spears of grilled scallion .. reminiscent of Mexican street corn...It was brilliant and their food is always alot of fun with bright fresh and surprising flavors...

        1. I think there's fiddling that puts a chef's spin on an identified regional dish - and there's fiddling that turns it into a travesty.

          1. Well gosh... I would not do honor to my moniker of "foodfuser" except to say "Yep."

            Evolution, in all things, is a universal imperative. It takes its form in the kitchen with a cook (home or resto) adding to and moving forward from his experience from the past, adding new ingredients from the now universal array of identified culturally traditions.

            Yet, any discipline of study, including the culinary, should respect the "traditional" roots, preserving the history of each regional cuisine. Fusion without preserving the availibility of tradtional recipes is not good evolution.

            In same vein, I also respect the right of any individual to defend the traditional dishes of their youth, as in my posts in adamant defense of mid 20th century Pimento Cheese.

            There is room for both the respect of the traditional cuisine and the forward fusion.

            1. Well, I had one Sonoran hot dog from the place that was supposed to be the epicenter of Sonoran dogs, and was grossly disappointed. Nifty bacon-wrapped hot dog, but the bun dissolved while I took it to the table, and the rest was asi-asi.

              But Janos' JBar restaurant here in Tucson has a take on the dish that sends (or sent) it clear through outer space into heaven. It wasn't less than $2, like the south side SDs, but it took he idea and ran with it to heaven, like I said. I sure hope they still serve it at Happy Hour.

              1. Regional cuisines are the result of inability to access a broader variety of ingredients - something that, other than cost, no longer limits cooks in the developed world. So I've never thought that incorporating far-flung ingredients deserved its own separate and somewhat precious designation...fushion shmusion! If you taste something you like, use it. Of course, if humans ever get serious about reducing global warming, we'll no longer be flying our foodstuffs all over the globe, so time's a-wasting for that beluga-topped huitlacoche and tikka masala crepe!

                1 Reply
                1. re: greygarious

                  You make a good point. However, you are ignoring the fact that, with such limited ingredients, many 'regional' cooks had a heck of a lot time to develop amazing recipes and techniques that have stood the test of time and have been passed down through generations. New World 'I can get my hands on anything' cooks have had only a relatively few short years to come up with something 'interesting' or 'different.'

                2. I find it disappointing when I see Bok Choy on my plate in a French restaurant. I'm Chinese so that brings down the dining experience when I see a dish my father can make better. Plus I'm in a french restaurant, if I wanted Bok Choy i would've just dine in a Chinese restaurant instead.

                  1. there never was a pure culture, untouched by others. the line that defines authentic is arbitrary. i know it's the oft used example so it seems trite, but it hits the point on the head - at some point in the 16th century the tomato was introduced to italy. all those sauces were "fusion food" in 1550, and i'm sure some purist was complaining about the new-fangled trendy tomatoes in his spaghetti sauce because it wasn't authentic, like how his grandmother made it

                    12 Replies
                    1. re: thew

                      "and i'm sure some purist was complaining about the new-fangled trendy tomatoes in his spaghetti sauce because it wasn't authentic, like how his grandmother made it"

                      Very funny because it is true. Kvetching, death and taxes - the 3 things we can always count on to be there.

                      1. re: thew

                        Are you really opening up the 'authentic' debate again?!?!?!?!

                        The subject is more like traditional vs non-traditional, IIUC. Pastrami tacos, cassava leaf kielbasa, hot dogs with ketchup.... If you seriously believe it is a lie to call something that has been around since 1550 traditional, then I guess we should all give up on Thanksgiving, Easter, Rosh Hashana, and Christmas. Fusion holidays!

                        1. re: Steve

                          Speaking of :) - the only way I've cooked turkey in about 20 years is from a Sunset Southwestern Christmas menu. Butterflied, grilled over indirect heat with oregano and lime juice. And the "stuffing" is Anaheim chilis stuffed with chorizo, jack and other great things. Fast and loose, for sure

                          1. re: Steve

                            ok, so i know your line is drawn somewhere closer than 400 years. how about something thats been around 40 years? 4 years? at what point does it become "traditional"? (btw i prefer the term "traditional" to "authentic" as it has less of an implicit value judgement, but i'm not really sure how changing the term changes what i'm saying)

                            thanksgiving is a great example. in my family we always have potato dumplings. i would be disappointed if they were not there. does that make my dinner more or less traditional?

                            i didn't say anything was a lie, i'm saying the whole "debate" is founded on a false premise, and as such, seems nonsensical to me.

                            1. re: thew

                              How about 'has gained wide acceptance as being representative of a particular culture.' So Thanksgiving Dinner featuring spaghetti may very well be traditional for Italian-Americans. But if in the case of the Anaheim chili stuffed turkey, if it hasn't gained wide acceptance, I would call that non-traditional for Thanksgiving. Does that sound fair?

                              1. re: Steve

                                It's as tricky to quantify "wide acceptance" as it is to define "authentic" or "traditional." An agreement must be reached (note my use of the wussy passive voice) as to how many people you need for wideness, or how many years you need for tradition. "Antique" is often - but not always - defined as 100+ years old. Maybe "traditional" could also refer to that century mark. Then again, I have traditions, and I'm not likely to live to 100.

                                1. re: small h

                                  What the heck, I'll take a stab at it: wide acceptance hovers nears 40% or more of a given population. If they would accept it is as being traditional, that's good enough for me.

                                  1. re: Steve

                                    if your grandmother and her sister both make the same dish, do the come out identically? of course not, and yet both may well be traditional.

                                    1. re: thew

                                      Yes, more than one thing can be traditional. Christmas and Hannukah are both traditional holidays. Yet they are not the same. Cue the Twilight Zone music.

                                      1. re: thew

                                        <if your grandmother and her sister both make the same dish, do the come out identically?>

                                        I can answer that, and the answer is no, because my grandmother was a pretty lousy cook (she was a wonderful woman in many other respects). She and her four sisters made the same dishes all the time. But some old ladies are more equal than others.

                                      2. re: Steve

                                        Ok, that sounds fine to me. Wide acceptance = 40%. If anyone asks, you heard it here first. Oh, and you're in charge of the questionnaires.

                                  2. re: thew

                                    How about saying it's traditional if it occurs in a cookbook called something like "Traditional recipes of the Solomon Isles"?

                                    And tradition changes. The food in the UK in the 1950s post WW2 depression is radically different to now. Times change.


                              2. There are good innovations, like the tomato sauce thew cites above, but as in everything in life, there are also bad ideas, failures of execution and taste, failures which may also be subjective. Sushi purists might want to savor the flavor of each slice of fish, but I love hot peppers on anything and would gladly take a jalapeƱo on my mackerel. On the other hand, the sound of feta on Tex-Mex doesn't appeal to me. Too much salt overwhelming the other flavors of the dish.

                                I am happy to add chipotles to my CFS, slather red curry on my steak, but I don't think of myself as an innovator so much as a cook who cannot help but be influenced by the flavors around him. Of course if someone else innovates by subbing carob for chocolate in a cake, that doesn't mean my thoughts will be so generous.

                                1. I like different takes on regional cuisine. When I was living abroad, I had a Jamaican coworker who was unable to find a lot of the ingredients used in Jamaican dishes. She'd make her own versions from what she could find in regular grocery stores and they were absolutely delicious. I think cuisine often involves that way. Someone wants to make something that's like home cooking but doesn't necessarily have the right ingredients to do it- be it that day or just generally. I wonder how many dishes we have today came about as some fusion because certain ingredients weren't available?

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: queencru

                                    That's the theory behind the Italian-American long-cooking tomato meat sauce....poor immigrants could only afford cheap, tough cuts of meat which required low, slow cooking.

                                  2. If a chef creates a new dish based on an old dish, the new dish should be more delicious (otherwise, what's the point?). Dishes come and go, deliciousness is sacrosanct.

                                    9 Replies
                                    1. re: limster

                                      Could the new dish be JUST as delish as the old dish? Or 87.3% as good??? I'm not talking about one dish replacing something else but just different riffs. Multiple deliciousness is good - right? :)

                                      1. re: c oliver

                                        If it's just as delicious, sure, why not. But 87.3% as good as the original, no way, I want 100%. Chefs should maintain or make improvements to dishes, not reduce their deliciousness.

                                        1. re: limster

                                          "Chefs should maintain or make improvements to dishes, not reduce their deliciousness."

                                          Limster, I normally agree with your statements, but I do have an issue with this one, only because "deliciousness" is such a vague relative term. It is impossible to get concensus on the exact definition of deliciousness, as there are so many different tastes out there.

                                          There are many who feel adding cream cheese to maki improves the deliciousness, but I personally find it abhorrent, and there are those who agree with me. So who is right? Did the chef maintain or improve the original by adding cream cheese? Or did they reduce deliciousness? Good luck finding an absolute answer on that one.

                                          And what is 87.3% as good as the original? I must admit, I never understand how one can apply percentages to something as vague as taste.

                                          Some people like riffs and variations, others like tried and true (or what they think is tried and true). Some people like a mix of both, like myself. I am all in favour of trying new riffs in an attempt to make something more delicious in my eyes, but then there are times like last night, when I want a roast chicken dinner, and it has to be exactly like how I always make roast chicken dinner, or it will fail to meet my expectations.

                                          But everything is relative, deliciousness included. I find it hard to make sweeping generalizations like "sushi was significantly improved when cream cheese was added to maki rolls" (I'm gagging as I type BTW). You can say that you think this to be true for your tastes, but as for the grand statements, please spare me.

                                          1. re: moh

                                            The implicit assumption is that everyone is going to have different definitions of deliciousness, that's the standard small print that applies to everything here.

                                            Make a change only if it's an improvement to deliciousness, and decide if it's an improvement based on the person who's getting the food. If a chef wants to add mayo to maki, make sure that the person getting it is going to like it more than the original.

                                            (Some small print: Implicit in this is that the customer has to communicate their likes and dislikes to the chef and the chef has to learn about his/her customer's likes and dislikes -- it's all part of chowhounding.)

                                            >>And what is 87.3% as good as the original? I must admit, I never understand how one can apply percentages to something as vague as taste.

                                            No one understands it. I assumed that 87.3% was a joke from c oliver and just perpetuated it.

                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                Ooops, joke, yes, I've heard of that... Sorry, what can I say, I've heard people put numbers to the oddest things. Like wine for instance...

                                                Is the 40% thing also a joke?

                                                  1. re: moh

                                                    .I was deadly serious about the 40%. 39.9% just doesn't make it as traditional in my book.

                                                    1. re: Steve

                                                      Sometimes variations are great. Near to my house, one of the local Chinese resturaunts, looking for something intersting to add to the appetizer menu, came up with an incredible idea. He took a steamed pork crepe (the shredded pork in a bean curd skin roll you can find on a a lot of dim sum menus) froze it (I assume given that the other steps would be hard to do with an open ended item with semi-liquid filling) batter dipped it and fried it. is it tradional. probably not, is it as good or better than the original YOU BET! Plus its a heck of a lot easier to eat (you can just pick it up and bite rather that trying to place you chopsticks in a place where all of the insides won't go squirting out of the open ends and forming a large fragrant and boiling hot puddle on your shirt.)