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How do you define a "fusion" restaurant?

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How do you define it? Is it based on ingredients? Techniques? Percentage of dishes using "non-traditional" ingredients or techniques?

Three examples:
1. Hong Kong-style cafes have both Western and Chinese dishes (e.g spaghetti, chow fun).

2. A Cantonese restaurant serves Shandong dishes (e.g. scallion pancakes)

3. An American restaurant uses Sichaun peppercorn for one of their otherwise traditional beef dishes.

4. Any European, Asian, or African restaurant using tomatoes or potatoes.

Do they qualify as fusion restaurants?

At what point does such an ingredient stop being considered exotic and becomes an integral part of the cuisine?

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  1. More on technique, but ingredients matter too. The restaurant also should like fusion restaurant too.

    In your examples, none of the four would be a fusion restaurant for me. (3) may come the closest, but not enough.

    1. The thing about Hong Kong style cafes is that they originated from high end expensive western style restaurants that serve cuisine suited for the tastebuds of locals, but similarly at the same time that once served some expats...and these were expensive eating options at one point for many in Hong Kong (and even to this day, e.g. Tai Ping Koon which a history spanning 100+ years). The café then evolved through time and merged with offerings from noodle shops, dai pai dong, and "ice houses" (that served a purpose of serving drinks, cold drinks like red bean ice, pineapple ice, with very simple baked pastry options like egg tarts, pineapple buns, and very simplified easy items like spaghetti with Campbell soup). Now they are just seen like Denny's, like a one stop shop for quick/fast/cheap and exported as a cultural food icon where restaurants are cashing in on the trend.

      So to call HK café "fusion" is a little bit misplaced from a historical perspective viewed with current set of eyes. Cha chaan teng/HK café is definitely part of HK food culture.

      For Hong Kong...."fusion" from say the Tai Ping Koon perspective would be to take their signature sweet soy sauce and herbs marinade that they use for soy sauce chicken wings, and use that to stir fry beef chow fun ("Swiss" sauce chow fun).

      In Hong Kong you can find many restaurants going the route of upscale, which can be mistaken as fusion. Like take a typical Cantonese dish and substitute local beef with Japanese beef, or the current rage of selling high end turnip cake using daikon from Kyoto and very high end dried mushrooms and conpoy made from Hokkaido scallops. There are "new" versions of Chinese sausage (lap cheung) using crazy stuff like black truffles, Sichuan peppercorn, and other out of box ingredients (not all at once). And for seafood, the latest craze is to import everything from overseas...e.g. deep sea life from off the coast of Borneo, or Alaskan King Crab steamed with shaoxing wine and egg white.

      A great example of fusion would be some of the really high end Japanese French restaurants in Japan (e.g. Narizawa), where technique and elements from kaiseki and French cooking are combined, using high end local ingredients.

      Yoshoku (Japanese style western: hamburg steak, curry rice, croquette/korroke etc) is part of Japanese cuisine. From afar, it seems like fusion.

      1. None of the OP's examples tick the "fusion" box for me - although I see the OP has fused four examples into a mention of "three examples" so you gotta give credit there for making me chuckle.

        For me, it's about a bringing together of both ingredients and cooking styles from two distinct cuisines. I'm looking at the menu of restaurant of a well known fusion chef and the dish reads - "Crispy polenta, chilli pickled heritage carrots, coriander & bok choy". Yep, that says fusion to me. And, just to be clear, I'm not a big fan of fusion at all - it always sounds confused to me and I like my food much more straighforward.

        9 Replies
        1. re: Harters

          I think you used the right word for the early stages of mixing traditional food cultures - CONFUSION.

          1. re: Harters

            <one of the OP's examples tick the "fusion" box for me>

            Same here. Original poster probably is interested how our minds work.

            <has fused four examples into a mention of "three examples">

            :) I was smiling about that as well, but you put it so well.

            <Yep, that says fusion to me. >

            Here is the thing, and probably what the original poster was getting at. You can fuse two distinctively different cuisines in a very subtle way, or a very "in your face".

            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              True, but when you and I hear fusion, we think of that elusive atomic collision, the same way we think of blue and red as designators of heat and cold is opposite from most others.

              1. re: Veggo

                <we think of that elusive atomic collision>

                I agree. Absolutely.

            2. re: Harters

              I agree with Harters. For me the classic example of a--successful--fusion cuisine is Indian Chinese. A restaurant specializing in ICC would qualify as a fusion restaurant by my lights. It would also get my dollar. ;)

              1. re: Harters

                Fingers type faster than the mind thinks.... :-) "Four examples"

                1. re: raytamsgv

                  A: too late to change your answer now!

                  2: you may not live this down
                  iii: to answer your original question, I generally define a fusion restaurant as pretentious.

                  1. re: Chatsworth

                    Re iii, why?

                    1. re: c oliver

                      I'm sorry, should have clarified. I just see "fusion" as having become a buzzword/trend. As others have pointed out, much of the food we eat, whether good or bad, whatever country we're in, is fusion. Between the menu and the waiter one should be able to work out the flavours of the dish and what influences it has.

              2. Can I explain by giving an example? Mission Chinese Food, now in NYC as well as SF, will definitely qualify as perhaps the ultimate in fusion. Some hate it, some love it. We love it.

                http://missionchinesefood.com/sf/

                1. Fusion>>>
                  The local Chinese restaurant that has a Sushi (Japanese) menu prepared by Mexican chefs.............

                  If I see the word Fusion in a restaurant neme or menu I avpid it like the plague.

                  Fusion means they can't do one cuisine well enough to make a go of it, and instead do multiple cuisines mediocre at best

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: bagelman01

                    Sorry, that's not what it means at all. Wiki explains it well:

                    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fusion_c...

                    1. re: c oliver

                      But it is what exists in the real world.

                      We have a plethora of recently (post 2010) opened Asian Fusion Restaurants in our area that operate on the first model I posted

                      1. re: bagelman01

                        Well, in cities like LA, SF, CHI, etc. (I believe that's the real eating world :) ) it's as described in the link I provided. I'm sure your area just isn't quite there yet.

                        1. re: c oliver

                          I don't agree that Suburban NYC hasn't gotten there yet, just that the word is used by different people to describe different things..........

                          We NY centric folks don't think much of the left copast or the SECOND city....................<VBG>

                        2. re: bagelman01

                          http://theoatmeal.com/comics/asian_food

                          This is *not* fusion.

                      2. re: bagelman01

                        <Fusion>>>
                        The local Chinese restaurant that has a Sushi (Japanese) menu prepared by Mexican chefs.............>

                        :D No, that is just bad food. In short, people who try to be authentic but failed. Fusion food is about people try the opposite from authentic.

                        Anyway, I went to Feastro and ordered a tuna taco. Little did I know that it is more or less a fusion taco with Japanese influence:

                        http://s3.amazonaws.com/foodspotting-...

                        Food roe and seaweed as toppings (not my photo, but same idea).

                      3. Annisa in NYC would be a good example: a chef that (successfully) combines Asian ingredients with French technique.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: linguafood

                          OMG!

                          'Seared Foie Gras with Soup Dumplings and Jicama"

                          If that ain't mouthwatering fusion, I don't know what is. We're going to be in NYC in a couple of weeks. Maybe.

                          1. re: c oliver

                            I had an anniversary dinner there a couple of years ago upon the suggestion of buttertart. I had never even heard of it before, and it was really fantastic.

                            The chicken is incredible. Scratch that -- it is awe-mazing '-)

                            1. re: linguafood

                              Don't you mean amaze-balls (does it have a hyphen?!?)?????

                              And that really is the best example of fusion. Foie Gras (French) with soup dumpling (Shanghainese) with jicama (Mexican). Not a place that serves snails from one column, chow mein from a second column and tacos from a third.

                          2. re: linguafood

                            Would American-style Chinese food be considered fusion because it combines American ingredients with Chinese techniques (e.g. broccoli beef, chop suey, etc.)?

                            1. re: raytamsgv

                              I think it would qualify theoretically, but is likely too 'familiar' - or rather, has become such a cuisine of its own that people wouldn't think of it as fusion food.

                              Of course, many people think C-A *is* Chinese food :-)

                          3. I don't consider restaurants to be "fusion". I consider the cuisine to be "fusion".

                            For example, Indo-Chinese food is fusion food. Same with Korean-Mexican food, a la Kogi. If a restaurant served both Greek and Portugese food, as one restaurant does here, I wouldn't consider that to be a fusion restaurant, but just a restaurant that services food from 2 different countries.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: boogiebaby

                              I think that's a fair distinction. I doubt that any restaurant has every item as fusion.

                            2. How do you define a "fusion" restaurant?
                              ______________

                              I don't.

                              They don't pay me enough.

                              1. Ii will make a tortured nu-cu-ler physics analogy. There is fission and there is fusion. People often don't know the difference.

                                Two or more distinct cuisines are aimed at each other and released. They smash together sending plates crashing but separate and distinct particles are released. Nothing is combined, but massive amounts of the things are expelled so that you get sushi with tacos next to the lasagna on a menu. This is fission cuisine. Fission is a slow random process in nature and when you accelerate it, you get a detonation that is ugly and feared by all. Fission is a dangerous process and man can seldom expect to control the outcome. Products of fission are unstable and breakdown over time.

                                Elements of two or more cuisines are inexorably drawn together by gravitational forces and fused into a new elemental dish that is distinct from what was fused. It has its own form and shape and can survive on its own outside of a laboratory. This is fusion. The process by which the sun creates light and heat and warms all our tummies. It is seldom successfully done in a lab (restaurant) environment, but when it is, it can release a small short lived but explosive burst of energy that burns bright and leaves no harmful residue.

                                So 1-3 are fission.

                                4 could be examples of long ago fusion projects. E.g. adaptation of new world tomatoes into Italian cooking. Potatoes are in some ways the most successful example of fusion cuisine. A new world ingredient that seems to now have become an ingredient in almost every cuisine so that its not even viewed as anything but native.

                                Apologies for the tortured analogy and for reawakening high school physics anxiety.

                                1. For me, it's when they take ingredients, techniques or flavor profiles that are recognizably from one cuisine and meld them with the same from others.

                                  1. Does a Baskin&Robbins serving Italian ices qualify as a "cold fusion" restaurant?

                                    21 Replies
                                    1. re: DonShirer

                                      That qualifies as a "mistake".

                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                        My definition: A restaurant owned managed by some one who is not able to focus and therefore assumes his potential patrons have the same fragmented personality. This restaurant was not able to survive offering one type of cuisine so why not offer more than one right?
                                        That's the 'shotgun' approach that rarely really works in the long haul. This restaurant is very likely to already be on 'life-support' from some one's bank account.
                                        Social demographics visa vi restaurant guests prove they overwhelmingly want to experience a specific type of cuisine when they are laying down hard cash.
                                        There's a well established small privately owned 'ma and pa' Italian restaurant over there and a 'start up 'Kimshi-Tex-Mex' across the street. Which one will you take your visiting in-laws to? (Chances are you won't get descent 'Kimchi or Tex-Mex but you'll get pretty tasty home made ravioli.) IMO
                                        I forgot to define what "Closing Soon" means on the sign above the door but you can figure it out.

                                        1. re: Puffin3

                                          But "fusion" doesn't offer two or more separate cuisines as you describe. As she says below:

                                          " inaplasticcup Jan 22, 2014 10:02 PM
                                          For me, it's when they take ingredients, techniques or flavor profiles that are recognizably from one cuisine and meld them with the same from others."

                                          I suspect if one hasn't eaten any fusion food, then it's logical to think what you think.

                                          1. re: c oliver

                                            OK. So why not give some examples of 'fusion' cuisine' that has proven over time to 'transcend' the originals?
                                            Tex-Mex hardly qualifies.
                                            Japanese-Chinese? Cajun-West Coast?
                                            Kimchi-Italian?

                                            1. re: Puffin3

                                              I think this is a good explanation:

                                              http://www.wisegeek.org/what-is-fusio...

                                              If someone here said "transcend the originals," I would want to modify that to say that it's possible to do that but it's not the point.

                                              Here's something written about Le Bernardin in NYC:

                                              http://nymag.com/urban/guides/bestofn...

                                              And from Annisa (thanks, linguafood) there's this:

                                              'Seared Foie Gras with Soup Dumplings and Jicama"

                                              And from SF, the wildly popular Mission Chinese Food which I've eaten and loved.

                                              http://missionchinesefood.com/sf/

                                              And *I've* not said that this will be a type of eating that will last forever but, at least in Asian cuisines, it's been going on for a long, long time. If you're interested in more info regarding various regional fusion foods, the wiki link will get you started.

                                              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fusion_c...

                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                I guess I've been thinking of 'fusion' food as coming from very different parts of the world.
                                                I never thought of Vietnamese ingredients and Japanese ingredients as being that much different. But I'm sure they are in some ways.
                                                Anyway. I personally like cuisines that are more original. Old age I guess.
                                                Or maybe I'm reminded of the hundreds of times I used to think I was such a great cook I could pretty much throw every herb/spice ingredient into the pot and it had would taste great. Never did.
                                                That's when a kind soul gave me the Joy of Cooking and I started turning out edible dishes. LOL

                                                1. re: Puffin3

                                                  LOL indeed! When people say they never use recipes I frequently wonder if the results are as good as they think they are :)

                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                    They're good to *them*, which is really all that matters.

                                                    1. re: linguafood

                                                      And I'm sure their friends and family suffer silently :)

                                                      1. re: c oliver

                                                        I don't know why you would be sure about that. I barely ever use recipes in my cooking (as you know) and people get pretty excited about dinner invitations to our house.

                                                        In fact, we're having 10 very eager folks over tonight for my highly popular smoked pork butt, potatoes au gratin & cole slaw. The only recipe I followed (very loosely) was for the pork rub. Everything else is so straightforward it would be ludicrous for me to bother with a recipe.

                                                        Our guests are pretty vocal about their enjoyment of the food we prepare, so I honestly have no reason to doubt their pleasure.

                                                        1. re: linguafood

                                                          I meant no offense. Truly. But aren't you talking about some things that you've cooked so many times that you no longer need to actually follow the recipes cause it's hardwired into you. Along with changes you've made which are now part of the recipe? But I think this got discussed somewhere else recently, didn't it??? :)

                                                          1. re: c oliver

                                                            None taken.

                                                            As for your other question, not necessarily or always.

                                                            For instance, I *never* measure things (which is why I don't bake), but instead add spices, herbs and other aromatics intuitively.

                                                            If it's a dish I've never made before, I will look at a few recipes on the interwebs to check on the ingredients & perhaps overall cooking/prep time, but then I generally end up doing my own thing. With results that almost always make me happy :-)

                                                            I can count the actual recipes I follow on one hand - the pork rub being one of them, the NYT Trini-Chinese chicken is another that comes to mind.

                                                            But then I also don't tend to cook super-elaborate, multi-course meals for people. It's all fairly low-key.

                                                            1. re: linguafood

                                                              I remember now that we discussed that I'm a recipe follower and you're not. I think we'd both enjoy each other's foods :) Speaking of, I REALLY need to make that Trini-Chinese chicken again. One of my faves.

                                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                                Yep. Can't wait for this arctic bullshit to be over -- it's the perfect spring/summer food, best enjoyed on the patio.

                                                                1. re: linguafood

                                                                  Come to the west where we're in a once every 500 years drought :( And they are a PERFECT example of fusion food, aren't they?

                                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                                    They are da shiz.

                                                          2. re: linguafood

                                                            No offense but are you saying you learned how to make potatoes au gratin by not initially following someone's recipe?
                                                            IMO often the very best dishes are made with very few seasonings very carefully added to achieve the best results. Cassoulet comes to mind.
                                                            I used to laugh at old K. Floyd shows b/c I thought what he was cooking was so easy. Now I watch them and see how good a basic 'home cook' can make something look so easy and simple but get great results.

                                                            1. re: Puffin3

                                                              No. I learned to make potatoes au gratin by watching my mother. It's not rocket surgery.

                                                              You slice potatoes, layer them in a buttered dish, pour seasoned cream over it, throw grated cheese on top and a few more dabs of cold butter and then bake it until it's golden brown on top.

                                                              Pretty damn straightforward.

                                                              1. re: linguafood

                                                                Thanks for making my point.
                                                                You "learned" how to make the dish from some source. Whether by direct instruction or from a cook book. You still had a learning source.
                                                                BTW, the french classic 'Gratin de Pommes de Terre a la Dauphinoise' uses creme fraiche, nutmeg and garlic and gruyere cheese......with respect.

                                                                1. re: Puffin3

                                                                  You make an excellent point, as always.

                                                                  Of course, there's a myriad of ways to make gratin that use all kinds of other ingredients. With respect.

                                                    2. re: Puffin3

                                                      To an outsider, ingredients for different cuisines may seem very similar. For example, many Asians may consider Italian, French, Greek, and German ingredients to be almost identical. They are all European, after all.

                                        2. I practice, "fusion" often means a restaurant that can't get either cuisine quite right.

                                          To me fusion means mixing 2 different cuisines in the same dish.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: hal2010

                                            ""fusion" often means a restaurant that can't get either cuisine quite right."

                                            I'm guessing that place wouldn't be able to make a non-fusion dish well either. But it does certainly take a lot of finesse to do it right.

                                          2. By how many hyphens are in the menu text...

                                            1. I saw an Afghan-Thai place in Jamaica (Queens, NYC) today. Should've wandered in to check out the menu.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: BuildingMyBento

                                                The place is called "Wild Spice."