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

Abstract This essay represents an extended walk through Chelsea, a downtown 'village' of Manhattan, New York City. The purpose of this walking tour is, firstly, to seek out competing and intersecting 'taste' cultures offered within a site already inscribed as different from the 'mainstream'. At another level, the article represents a meditative excursion through arguments that address the politics of cross-cultural encounters through food, positioning these within the 'mixed' spaces and contradictory imperatives of global cities. Extending conceptual frameworks developed by both Iris Marion Young and Ien Ang, the article teases out the paradox of eating 'together-in-difference'. The original impetus for the project was a fragment from the popular press decking a renewed interest in 'fusion' food in New York City's 'ethnic' restaurants. Reflecting on the cultural implications of this particular 'take' on hybrid foods and cooking, the essay traces the history of a Mexican-Asian restaurant on Eighth Avenue in Chelsea's restaurant strip. This history draws together connections of the owner's own narratives of place-making through food, the 'mixed' neighbourhood in which the restaurant is located and the 'creolised' tastes produced in the restaurant's kitchen. Not surprisingly, the analysis suggests the 'fusion' of 'Mexican' and Asian' in this setting is more complicated - culturally, politically and theoretically - than simple assumptions of western/ cosmopolitan appropriation would suggest. Drawing on Narayan's critique of Heldke's anticolonialist stance, the essay concludes with the need to re-think the possibility/impossibility of cultural exchanges through food - their entanglements with meanings of reciprocity and differential belonging.

Keywords ethnicity, fusion food, neighbourhood, restaurant, gastrotourism, New York City

My favourite egg foo yung is the one I ate religiously - in an ammoniascented 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 Kippur s at Yum Luk were delicious acts of defiance: die 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, diat 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'. …

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