Academic journal article New Formations

Quesadillas with Chinese Black Bean Puree: Eating Together in 'Ethnic' Neighbourhoods

Academic journal article New Formations

Quesadillas with Chinese Black Bean Puree: Eating Together in 'Ethnic' Neighbourhoods

Article excerpt

My favourite egg foo yung is the one I ate religiously--in an ammonia-scented Cantonese dive on Upper Broadway--every Yom Kippur during my high school years. At Yum Luk, three crunchy 'omelettes', neatly stacked and bulging with bean sprouts, onions, and diced roast pork, rose high above a sea of gluey brown sauce. Sweet and salt, crisp and moist, garlic and pungent: the tastes fused in my nose before the first bite reached my mouth ... Yom Kippurs at Yum Luk were delicious acts of defiance: the beginning of a long history of infidelities to the culinary tradition in which I was raised. (1)

   Mestizo cultures and cuisines remind us that all cultures drift
   beyond the boundaries of the familiar. Some are just more honest
   about it. (2)

As Friedensohn revels in her childhood memories of 'naughty eating', this essay engages with meanings of mundane acts of subversion. The furtive pleasures of forbidden meals--these moments of cultural rule-breaking--offer ways to re-think dominant imaginings of the everyday within landscapes of global cities. Although there is a tendency, both in daily life and in much academic analysis, to relegate cultural practices associated with food to the banal or the realm of fetish, such 'infidelities' and 'drifts' in eating, I suggest, provide windows through which to view some of the postcolonial city's pressing concerns. These concerns might include: debates of cosmopolitanism and its ethics of belonging; difference and its spatial negotiation; cultural heritage and its touristic commodification; gentrification and its discontents; everyday acts of resistance in negotiating dominant discourses and meanings.

Crucially, in this essay, however, I am preoccupied with the question of how, in everyday exchanges, we might live together, negotiating our differences and connections in landscapes of the urban. This is a task, I would suggest, that is vested in conceptions of hybridity and fluidity of identities and spaces, as Iris Marion Young intimates in her celebration of 'mestiza spaces' and 'mestiza people' and the political project of living 'together-indifference'. (3) Nevertheless, Young's provocative stance, developed in contexts of excited wandering through New York City's 'ethnic' neighbourhoods, (4) still has echoes of the unashamed delight in food adventuring, that we might criticise in local guidebooks. At the same time, her call for recognition of the 'mestiza' of people and places--for recognition of the value of diversity and hybridity (of multiple identities vested in class, ethnicity, generation and so on, and of the 'mixed' fabric of the built environment)--receives direct challenge from current trends in urban development. These include, for example, the gentrification of Lower Manhattan, together with the increased 'whitening' of its population since September 11, 2001. (5) These directions in the material and symbolic construction of urban landscapes, in fact, might be regarded as dominant stories of the twenty-first century everyday: stories of culinary adventuring, of commodified tastes in the interest of tourism, and of gentrification accompanied by dilution of difference. (6) So, in this essay, my project becomes one that deliberately seeks to unsettle such stories, questioning their clarity and fixity. Here, 'infidelities' and 'drifts' provide possibilities for more imaginative theoretical tools than those embedded in dominant accounts, and for more nuanced analyses than these accounts might offer. More nuanced analyses, in their turn, become 'other' ways of reflecting not only on the politics of eating each other's food but also on the dynamics of cities--cities we imagine that might best accommodate Young's 'mestiza people' and 'mestiza places'.

For me, the resonant detail of everyday life is the key prompt to this process of seeing things differently. And here I am drawing on Ben Highmore's conception of everyday life as simultaneously familiar and mysterious: 'The everyday offers itself up as a problem, a contradiction, a paradox: both ordinary and extraordinary, self-evident and opaque, known and unknown, obvious and enigmatic'. …

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