Asian: More Than Just a Flavor

By Donna Tam

The foodie culture has been “a thing” for some time now and often what we eat has strong ties to our culture. But we’ve only recently started discussing how we as Asian Americans feel about the trendiness of Asian food, or the rise of Asian chefs. How do these trends in food and dining intersect with race, ethnicity and identity?

Sonia Chopra, the managing editor of Eater, will moderate a discussion around this topic during #AAJA16. She spoke with 2016 AAJA convention chair and Associated Press reporter Sally Ho about the complexity of food and identity, the media’s role in the perception of food and what to expect from the panel, “Asian: More Than Just A Favor.”

Q: What can people expect from your panel? What do you hope attendees will gain from the discussion?

Chopra: Food as it relates to identity is such a hot topic for Asian Americans today. In the panel, we plan to dive into some of issues that come up when people write about and cook food unfamiliar to them and their audiences, and we will talk about the root problems and the solutions that we as writers and diners can implement. I hope attendees come away with a larger understanding of the important role food plays in understanding cultures and a better idea of how we can overcome the challenges brought on by

Q: How will this workshop touch on the acceptance of “Asian fusion” among Asian Americans? I mean, why are there so many complicated feelings about a bougie banh mi sandwich or the molecular gastronomy of a mein fun dish?

Chopra: This is a big question! There are so many complicated feelings about this “elevating” of Asian cuisine because it’s seen as appropriation. It’s done — usually — by non-Asians who are taking something that isn’t theirs and trying to turn it into something “better” when, really, what was wrong with it in the first place? Why does Asian food have to be fused with something to make it something American diners want to eat? It’s a serious question and one we hope to discuss at length with panelists and panel attendees.

Q: What will it take for an Asian chef to reach ubiquity and how does the media play a role in that?

Chopra: We think about this a lot as Asian American food writers in the US. The first question to answer is — what does ubiquity mean? If you’re an Asian chef and you launch a great chain of fast-casual ramen restaurants that introduces ramen (or pho, or hakka noodles) to parts of the country that have never tried it — does that count? Maybe, but the true measure of fame, I think, will come when Asian chefs start getting recognized across the country for the work they do in all culinary fields, not just those that are Asian-adjacent. The media plays a huge role in how all chefs are portrayed. We’ll delve into this a lot more in the panel, so we hope you come out to talk with us.

Q: Tell us what AAJA means to you.

Chopra: I’m sad to say I’m new to AAJA, but I’ve heard such amazing things from my friends and colleagues and wish I had been a part of such a strong, meaningful organization while I was trying to start my career. Having a thoughtful network around you is so important and I can’t wait to hopefully play a role, however I can, in the future.

Featured image courtesy of Seattle Weekly.