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To you, is there a difference between the terms " -influenced" versus " -fusion"?

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What is the difference for you between, for example, "Japanese-influenced" and "Japanese-fusion" when used to describe a dish or restaurant?

Is one more Japanese-y than the other? If so, which one?

Is one less cringe-worthy and hackneyed than the other?

Staying with the Japanese example, would a BBQ pulled pork sandwich with teriyaki sauce and bonito flakes be Japanese-influenced or Japanese-fusion?

All thoughts appreciated.

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  1. Wow. Interesting question.
    None is cringe worthy to me. I say I cook fusion all the time because I love to play with food and be creative. I think when you have a wide variety of cooking repertoire ...fusion or mixed cuisine comes natural.
    I think I use the term fusion when there are two distinct cuisines present in the dish. I use inspired, when there is just a touch of a different flavor profile involved in the dish that wouldn't normally be there.

    5 Replies
    1. re: sedimental

      I think I use the term fusion when there are two distinct cuisines present in the dish. I use inspired, when there is just a touch of a different flavor profile involved in the dish that wouldn't normally be there.
      ______________________

      Ok, fair enough.

      Can you give me an example, using your definition, of each?

      Would Chinese fried rice made with chorizo be Chinese-Spanish fusion or Chinese fried rice that's Spanish-influenced?

      Not trying to be argumentative at all (so hopefully it doesn't come off that way), just really curious.

      Thanks.

      1. re: ipsedixit

        I would call that Spanish inspired fried rice! Because it only has a bit of Spanish flavor in the profile or dish.

        If I make egg rolls with black beans, corn and rice..I would call them Spanish Asian fusion egg rolls.

        1. re: sedimental

          Corn and Black Beans, Spanish?
          Perhaps Mexican.

          1. re: chefj

            Yeah, I was just responding to ipse's example with Spanish chorizo. Could be mexican, southwest, etc. depending on the other ingredients.

            My point was by using several ingredients from one culture to make a dish typical of another culture, I would consider that fusion.

        2. re: ipsedixit

          "Would Chinese fried rice made with chorizo be Chinese-Spanish fusion or Chinese fried rice that's Spanish-influenced?"

          I'd call that Filipino.

          According to my wholly personalized usage guide, if a dish is "influenced," I take that to mean it is inspired by a certain technique or cuisine. To a certain extent, the chef is honoring a tradition by allowing its influences to flow into him and his cooking. Fusion, however, is creative. It is generative. It is not honoring and idea, but taking two disparate ideas to make one, unique whole. Again, just my wholly subjective two cents.

      2. In theory, I find none cringe worthy - but fusion I think is at greater risk to ridicule .

        The quick ones that come to mind are the "turf" sushi rolls, and particularly those found at places that have reputations like Guy Fieri's restaurants. I'm not saying that a steak maki roll might not be very tasty, but I do find that fusion usually has itself open to becoming cringe worthy.

        For me, I use the term fusion to describe the marriage of two different techniques and ingredients. So in our steak sushi, you have the Japanese preparation of sushi rice with a non-traditional filling ingredient prepared in a style that is not traditional for sushi.

        However, various vegetable sushi that include veggies not typically found in Japan or classically used in Japan in sushi, I would see as being influenced sushi as long as that vegetable is prepared within the cannon of how vegetable sushi would traditionally be prepared. Similarly, a common food show phrase I hear is "taking classic Japanese (or French) techniques and using it to highlight the produce of country that is not Japan (or France)."

        I think fusion gets attacked the most though because the end result can be more out of people's comfort zone. For those very invested in the history and culture of sushi, seeing a roll filled with pulled pork may inspire a "never going in my mouth" reaction - so not matter how tasty, it's not getting tried. And if tried and liked, statements emerge of "I wish they called this something other than sushi".

        Or if you were to server a tortilla filled with rice, beans, sauerkraut, and bratwurst - cries of 'this isn't a burrito this is just a wrap!' I know personally, when I see something called "black bean hummus" - I have the knee jerk reaction of 'hummus needs chickpeas to be hummus'. So I'm definitely guilty of this too.

        5 Replies
        1. re: cresyd

          Interesting.

          Thanks for your thoughts.

          I would almost think that "influenced" would get attacked more than "fusion" because with fusion you're at least (based on your definition it seems) directly acknowledging that you're going to essentially bastardize this dish. Whereas with "influenced" there's a bit of subterfuge involved, me thinks.

          1. re: ipsedixit

            Agree with your premise. A semantic argument, it is but how about this: fusion implies a confluence of two distinct dishes into one. Best example I can think of is our local Philadelphia Chinese chef and James Beard Award winner, Joe Poon, whose restaurant featured Peking Duck Tacos - Peking duck, crispy skin shards, scallions, mild chili and hoisin in taco shells. These were worth the 35-mile trip into the city. Influence calls for one ingredient of another cultural origin included the standard recipe to add more of a distinct accent than a confluence.
            I agree that fusion can enter the realm of gustatory blasphemy and that stretching the nomenclature on influence can cause more confusion and disappointment than enjoyment.
            CP

            1. re: Chefpaulo

              Kind of like when you are too tired and uninspired to cook on a Tuesday night and you pass off a chicken breast with sesame seeds and green onions as Chinese influenced chicken....haha.

              I really like to create a truly fusion dish though. I think they are fun and can really have you to stretch with flavors and technique. I use the book The Flavor Bible sometimes for ideas when creating fusion dishes. After visiting Jose Andres China Poblano in vegas, I was inspired to try my hand at those two cuisines and I really love that fusion combo.

            2. re: ipsedixit

              I think you're right about the fear of bastardization but, I would guess that a lot of it comes down to how it's presented.

              While the steak/bbq sushis, I find to be often ridiculed now - you also have older items like tacos al pastor (marriage of Mexican taco with Lebanese shwarma) that become their own entity and are valued. I think that at times fusion has been trendy, but I also think that people are prone to being defensive about vocabulary.

              I do agree with you that the element of subterfuge definitely works against "influenced" food. Italian American cuisine (Italian food influenced by the ingredients present in the US), definitely gets the short stick on respect as not being real or authentic. And instead of allowing it to be its own thing, it just is labeled as "not real Italian". That being said, in the US, I think that part of Italian American food's PR problem is that it has often referred to itself as 'authentic Italian' or 'Italian like mama used to make'. So when diners only familiar with that style of Italian, went to Italy and realized they had become nearly two different cuisines - there was a feeling of being duped.

              I think so much of how either term is perceived is in how it's conveyed to the diner (and if the food is ultimately good). If you see Philadelphia roll or California roll on a menu, there's a bit of a hint to the diner that perhaps this roll was developed with the US in mind. So as long as that hint or blatant message to the diner is present, I think people are prepared to be a bit more open.

              1. re: cresyd

                I saw this today - and this review I think captures my opinion on how fusion can end up being portrayed as "cringe worthy". Basically the language used to describe "Asian stoner food" plus "fat on fat" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/20/din...).

                The review has some very technical critiques about the menu not being optimally designed for a proper meal, but a lot of the language is a mix of "wow, how fun" plus "I'm not taking this very seriously".

          2. influenced = fusion % 2 minus 1/2.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Veggo

              I haven't graduated to fractions yet.

              Much less fractions *and* percentages at the same time ...

            2. To me, it's just marketing. There's no solid definition of either term when it comes to cooking, so people use those terms however way they wish.