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Jan 22, 2014 11:16 AM

How do you define a "fusion" restaurant?

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: 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.


                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:


                    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

                        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:


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