Fusion Confusion

My boyfriend is a good person.  He helps little old ladies across the street, rescues kittens out of trees, and is not afraid to get busy in the kitchen!  His parents did a good job in raising a conscientious, kind, generous person.  So understand that my next  statement has no bearing on his overall goodness…

What evil fusion is he conjuring up?!

“I question his thinking that combining kimchi with cream cheese for a dip is a good idea.”  There, I said it.

The recipe in question here is for kimchi and cream cheese dip (gag reflexes mobilized).  What kind of person puts cream cheese in kimchi?!  I will tell you what kind of person does that, a person who grew up in the Midwest and landed in California where he picked up the idea that fusion food is okay.

Your cream cheese is in my kimchi! Your kimchi is in my cream cheese!

The Boyfriend has this to say of his kimchi and cream cheese dip:

This simple recipe came from a tiki party pupu/appetizer book of 60s vintage, and it seems at least credible that such a fusion of American and Korean tastes would have originated somewhere over in Hawaii.  At any party I have ever served it at, a whole lot disappears pretty quickly, I think because the combination of the spiciness and tang of the kimchi and the subtle sweetness and creaminess of the cheese is kind of like a sour cream and onion dip on steroids–people can’t stop eating it.

“Hawaiian” Kimchi & Cream Cheese Dip

2 cups kimchi, sliced and roughly chopped (be sure to keep the juice)

2 cups cream cheese

Stir together in a bowl until well-mixed, creamy and orange. Serve with wheat or rice crackers, or tortilla or potato chips in a pinch.

Hmm. It’s true, my mind is already made up on this issue as I do take issue with fusing just for the sake of fusing. Korean food  should not be treated like the bride of Frankenstein, made to follow and serve the food cycle of “what’s next?”  Yes, I know there are good mutations out there like kimchi spaghetti (which is just kimchi and spaghetti sans tomato sauce), but I draw the line when people start talking about pairing dairy products with kimchi. For reals.

But here’s a reasonably objective and intelligent take from chef Edward Lee (WSJ online), who has a restaurant in Kentucky:

Korean immigrants tend to be protective of recipes and resistant to tweaks, he    says, in contrast to Korean-Americans who feel more free to play with flavors. “It takes that kind of confluence of culture for ideas to start sparking,” he adds. “A lot of other Korean chefs are saying, ‘We have this incredible culinary history. Let’s take advantage of it.'”

Er, I guess you can find me somewhere in between the Korean immigrant and Korean-American when it comes to my protectiveness level.

Certain combos riding the wave of über trendiness e.g. taco and kimchi or Korean BBQ make some sense: Mexican chilis are complementary in making kimchi and bulgogi as a taco meat is elementary (unlike some Frankenstein combos I can think of…). And good news for the wave of food entrepreneurs like Roy Choi of  the Kogi food truck fame and some others (WSJ):

Says Sang Yoon, a French-trained chef who owns the Father’s Office gastropubs in the Los Angeles area: “I think everyone’s sort of gone through Japanese and Chinese and Vietnamese,” he says. “I think we’re next.”

But stop for just a moment there, Sang Yoon. What do you mean when you say “we’re next?”  I didn’t know we were on line. I balk at this kind of now-it’s-our-turn mentality and caution the following: 1) fads are over before you can fry an egg and 2) cubby-holing cuisines into being represented by one or two dishes is lame. Exhibit A: Mexican = tacos & burritos; Exhibit B: Korean =  BBQ & BBQ. For reals.

Korean cuisine does have an incredible culinary history, and that’s because the Korean people have such respect for it, having cherished and nurtured it for all these centuries.   No holding our breath to become “next”, just letting the food speak for itself.  Hey, either it suits you or it doesn’t.  And if it doesn’t, no worries, because the world is your taco.

Cream cheese need not apply


5 thoughts on “Fusion Confusion

  1. Pingback: Kimchi, the New App 2 | DIY Korean Food

  2. I get the defensiveness and your feelings about mixing cuisines. Some even feel that way about mixing genes…’white’ and ‘yellow’ (so to speak) then there is that cultural appropriation stigma on the dominant western culture. Jeez. So many social landmines, eh?

    Years from now people will be more mature about this whole business of mixing cuisines. But maybe the Hermit Kingdom has at least one thing right…keeping Koreans ‘Korean’. Or something.

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