Final Portfolio: Adaptation

Throughout this semester, we talked various topics related to food from identity to space. Corresponded to our class materials and topics, we did several different projects. When I looked back at my projects throughout the semester, I found them are all tied to one specific topic: food and adaptation. In the article “Of Hamburger and Social Space: Consuming McDonald’s in Beijing”, the author argues that when McDonald’s and KFC first entered China, they changed their strategies to transfer the fast food restaurant to a social space for Chinese customers. In order to adjust to a new cultural environment, adaptation is important. Also from the same article, I realized that such adaptation is needed not only for flavor, but also for other aspects related to food. I chose four of my projects during the semester to illustrate my argument that when food is introduced to a new place, adaptation is indispensable.

My first project is my creative project. My inspiration came from my life long obsession with Hot Pot, specifically ChungKing/Szechuan Style Hot Pot, which is super spicy. However, I didn’t give up any chance tasting different styles of Hot Pot. My other favorites are Mongolian style and Japanese style Sukiyaki. Therefore, I aimed to compare different styles of Hot Pot across East Asia. I created a collage with laying out all the different ingredients from ChungKing style, Mongolian style, and Japanese style hotpot. It is super obvious visually that although these are called Hot Pot, they are different. It is certain that hot pot was originated in China and was brought to different places. People who live in those places recreated it in order to meet their taste as well as living environment. For example, by looking at the ingredients on my collage, the Mongolian style has various traditional Chinese herbs such as dried tangerine peel and ginseng, and it also contains a variety of culinary herbs and spices. Because nomadic Mongolian people living on grasslands and moving back and forth require much more energy and a healthy body, they need such nutrition and cure. In addition, their main dish for hot hop is lamp, which also make sense because of their needs of energy. Same as hot pot adapted to people live in Mongolia, when hot pot spread into Japan, it also adjusted to what Japanese people think is best for their body. My creative project shows that when food is introduced to different region, it will develop and embrace the culture to be able to be adapted well.

My second project is our cooking project. Our group decided to recreate a Peruvian chifa dish – Lomo Saltado. Chifa is the name of Peruvian-Chinese cuisine, and Lomo Saltado is one of the representative dishes. When we were doing research and cooking, we noticed that it’s hard to categorize Lomo Saltado as either pure Chinese food or Peruvian food. It’s a combination. What intrigued me was that during the cooking process, I noticed that I cook Chinese food in the same way. That is to say, when Chinese food was introduced into Peru, they keep these techniques. At the same time, they made adaptations to meet the requirement by local people. For example, in this dish, people add fries on the top of rice with stirred beef. Just like the name of Peruvian-Chinese food, chifa, the dish looks like half Chinese half not, but keeps the traits of both Chinese and Peruvian cuisines at the same time.

My third project is my mapping project. I went to Trader Joe’s in Ardmore and found out food Trader Joe’s sells with East Asian origins. To my surprise, there were a great amount of East Asian food selling at Trader Joe’s. Some of them are Chinese/Japanese/Korean food: I found really good Cha Siu Bao and Japanese Sukiyaki there; some of them are American Chinese/Japanese/Korean food, such as Beef with Broccoli; the rest are something in between: it’s a combination of East Asian flavor and American form. I found a Korean Style BBQ Sausage, which you definitely can’t find one in Korea.The combination of exotic flavor and something that Americans are familiar with, sausage, is a good example of how do people introduce something new to people who are unfamiliar with. From the foods at Trader Joe’s, we found two ways of adaptations. One is American – East Asian food, adaptations are made once the food is introduced to the new place. The other is like Korean BBQ sausage, which keeps the original exotic flavor and make a new product as a way to help the exotic flavor to be quickly accepted by the American customers.

My last project is food stuffs project. Our group took a short trip to visit the Lucky Cookie Factory in Chinatown to explore the way the a fortune cookie is made. Before we go, we also did some research on fortune cookie, and surprisingly found that fortune cookie, which is served at any Chinese restaurants in America, is actually not invented by Chinese. We interviewed workers at the factory, and they all were not sure about the origin of fortune cookie. The only thing they know for sure is that now, fortune cookies is made by Chinese, and served at Chinese restaurants. I came to think that how did the role of fortune cookie change over time. Back to the beginning when Chinese started to open restaurants to start their business in a foreign country, they not only change the recipe a bit to try to adjust to what American would like. As we found out during our research, fortune cookie was actually invented by Japanese. However, during the process of adaptation to the American society, Chinese restaurant owners brought it and made it Chinese by inserting fortunes in it in order to look like something that is Chinese. Now, fortune cookie is considered as the completion of a meal at Chinese restaurants. When we look back, we now understand the importance of adaptation the people made to make it from Japanese to Chinese.

In the end, I also realized that my topic is also closely related to the idea of authenticity. As Tina wrote in her post, there is no authentic food. As food adapted to a new environment, it is not authentic anymore for people who live from the latest origin. However, it might be authentic to people who adopt it though.

Works Cited

Yunxiang, Yuan. “Of Hamburger and Social Space: Consuming McDonald’s in Beijing” In Food and Culture: A Reader Third Edition, 449-467. New York: Routledge, 2013.

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