Off The Grid, Fort Mason Center: Americanizing The Exotic

You’re left dazzled and lost in the organicfreerangelocavorism of it all.

Off the grid
PHOTO LUCAS SIN

There I am, in the middle of Fort Mason, smacked in the face by the smell of charred pork. Oof!  An uppercut by the waft of caramelising sugar over strawberry Nutella creme brûlée.  Blam! The Vietnamese tamarind shrimp drives a sharp one into your gut.  Smack! As you fall, dizzy to the spin of San Francisco foodies shuffling towards the multifarious trucks, the shouting colors swirl out of perspective, you’re left dazzled and lost in the organicfreerangelocavorism of it all.

Off the Grid: Fort Mason Center in San Francisco, is nothing less than a carnival of food.  While the assembly of food trucks is reminiscent of Taipei’s Shilin Night Market, something about it drips ‘USA.’ Perhaps it’s the brilliance of Americanized exoticism, mashed into the clamor of food fads – the bastardization of foreign cuisines in the cultural melting pot that is America. You know, fusion, and the pursuit of it that follows. Crispy pork buns and pickled daikon on pillowy Chinese baos. Dulce de leche and goat’s milk creme brûlée.  Sogalbi cubes sandwiched between japonica rice patties. It must be a haven, if not a heaven, of gastronomic cultural mash-ups.

off the grid
PHOTO LUCAS SIN

These fusion dishes are evidence of the process of Americanization becoming routine. When new flavors land in the United States, they are filtered. Bizarre flavors are made more palatable (or taken away all together); characteristic ones are made stereotypes. What’s left – the saturated flavors that define the foreign cuisine – is then thrown into a colorful hodge-podge of foreign flavors. Thus fusion cuisine is born. Just as Hunanese cuisine was reduced to General Tso’s Chicken and Levantine cuisine to lamb shawarma, most exotic flavors go through the same process.  Indeed, when foreign foods arrive in America, they scarcely slip into the American diet unnoticed. Rather, they crash. Gastronomes then salvage the debris, and derive something fresh and comfortably exotic.

off the grid
PHOTO LUCAS SIN

Of course, the appeal of Americanized foreign cuisines is its accessibility; exciting, not alienating, and curious. Indeed, combing through the food trucks was fascinating.  This was unchartered territory. Though I used to hate fusion – I saw it as a careless dilution of authentic cuisine – this particular Friday evening, I recognized that there was something to crave for in fusion cuisine. The San Francisco foodies have it right. The unspoken rule of American fusion cuisine works: yummy + yummy = yummy.

off the grid
PHOTO LUCAS SIN

Lucas Sin

Contributor

Lucas studied cognitive science and English at Yale University, and is now a chef and co-founder of Junzi Kitchen, a modern Chinese restaurant that showcases the noodles and bings of northern China.

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