If Mexican tacos can encase Japanese sushi (see Takumi Taco), then Somali chickpea pancakes can withstand a good Irish poached salmon topping. Why not? Cultures aren’t clashing with these foods. OK, there are haters out there, but we stand on the side of wide-reaching acceptance on any interracial marriage meal. We reserve judgement until we’ve taken a bite. Or nine.
Admittedly, sometimes the pairing doesn’t work or it’s not done right. Other times one dish is only slightly influenced by another culture. A Columbian arepa made from quinoa can hold arugula. That’s not necessarily “authentic.” But the tweaks work when Palenque does it.
Dishes made from grandma back in the Old Country — where ever that country is — sometimes can’t be made authentic. The ingredients aren’t available. So cooks do what countless others are doing, and use local ingredients. Grandma may smack these cooks on the head for the sacrilege, but she doesn’t have to know. Or maybe, errrm, she can’t know. (Bless you, Nana!)
For our first exploration into this crossroads of cuisine, we hit Madison Square Eats, a pop-up food market featuring more than 20 of New York City’s best restaurants and food innovators.
Check out how these eateries combine cuisines:
Starting with Southeast Asian-inspired tacos, two American-born cousins incorporate the food of their parents, who are ethnic Chinese via Vietnam.
- Fish Taco: Beer-battered crunchy basa, shredded cabbage, sliced red onions, with lemongrass aioli, cilantro, and scallions.
- Holy Phuc! Dog: Beer-battered crunchy fish on top of a hot dog, with a Mexican four-cheese blend, pickled red onions, scallion oil, and tomato-basil Creole sauce with a blow-torch finish to meld the flavors together. (It’s a crazy-as-phuc combo.)
Here, the old country is Sicily, where arancini (ah-rahn-chee-nee) are a handheld street food made with arborio rice and a filling in the middle. The fundamental ingredient is the rice. The filling, however, can be flexible. The classic filling is ragu with mozzarella. Then there are these variations:
- Buffalo Ball: Spicy chicken and gorgonzola cheese.
- Mac and Cheese Ball: You get it.
- Pizza Ball: Marinara, mozzarella, and fresh basil.
This eatery offers Bolivian-American food. But don’t call them fusion.
- Cholas: Slow-roasted brisket or pork sandwiches with locoto hot peppers, bacon, hibiscus onions, carrots, cheese, and parsley on a toasted bun.
- Papitas: Cilantro sauce, fish oil, white wine vinegar, Parmesan.
- Salteñas: Traditional sweet chile dough shaped into half-moons, but there aren’t potatoes and olives inside. Instead, there’s a hard-boiled egg in a savory stew.
Expect Korean cuisine distilled for the mass market, a little bit McDonald’s style.
- Rice Bowl: It’s essentially bibimbap, a traditional Korean dish meaning “mixed food.” You choose the protein (bulgogi, a Korean-style ribeye; gochujang-marinated pork shoulder or chicken; or ginger-scallion-glazed tofu), sticky or purple rice, up to three vegetables, and one of six Korean-style sauces.
- Korean Sausage: Pork shoulder, gochujang, Korean red pepper flakes, garlic, ginger, salt, and black pepper.