"Cooking is universal, even if individual dishes are not."by Wendell Steavenson / July 14, 2016 / Leave a comment
This spring I was in Beirut for several weeks and one Saturday morning I went to the farmers’ market. It was the season of artichokes, fresh almonds and those hard unripe plums that are so good stewed with lamb. But for some reason I was taken by a bouquet of long-stemmed, leafy broccoli. It made me think of an Italian pasta dish called orchiette di crema di rapa, which calls for the brassica to be wilted down in a pot with fresh salsicce. I had my bitter green and it was not hard to find pasta shells which would work as well as orchiette, but I could not find Italian sausage. I stared at the chilled meat cabinet in one of the swankier supermarkets: American bacon, ground beef, a nasty pink lump of processed ham; none quite right. Then I noticed a tray of sujuk, fiery Armenian sausages made with fenugreek, cumin, sumac and red pepper. Sujuk, it occured to me, might just be the right sort of heat and funk to accompany the broccoli.
It was. It was really, weirdly good.
After dinner I went to bed with a full stomach and clicked on Netflix to watch the excellent series, The Mind of a Chef, which follows one chef over several episodes as he discusses foodie stuff with other chef friends, cooks and experiments. It turned out to be an episode introducing Edward Lee, an American chef I had never heard of, the son of Korean immigrants who had grown up in Brooklyn and then moved to Kentucky. He was talking about how he had evolved as a chef, how he had managed to merge his culinary influences from all over the world. I watched him combine collard greens with spicy fermented kimchi. He said he did not like the word “fusion.” “It’s American cooking,” he said. Borrowing, adapting, adding: this was how food in America has evolved.
Happily—and often with delicious consequences—any place where there are immigrants, food gets played with. Currywurst, chicken tikka masala, spaghetti bolognese, the California roll. When Japanese immigrants went to Peru they poured spicy ceviche dressing on their sashimi and created a new “Nikkei” cuisine. Was pizza invented or re-invented in Connecticut? Was a hamburger ever made in Hamburg? Italian and Armenian grandmothers may fiercely protect family recipes, but the…