A marriage of cuisines: The art of fusion cooking

Have you ever come across two completely different types of food that shouldn’t work together but just do? Take peanut butter and jam for example, who would have thought they go so well in hand together? Or the good ol’ chips and curry sauce that just seems to work in your mouth?

Fusion cooking is a lot like that, but instead of combining different foods, you’re combining culinary traditions and flavours from around the world in a way that creates dynamic, yet still delicious dishes.

It’s the wonder that created ramen burgers, pizza tacos and wasabi risottos, it’s flavours that sounds bizarre but tastes incredible, it’s breaking down the walls between cultures, between cuisines, between old and new ways of cooking.

This style of cooking was spearheaded by culinary icon Wolfgang Puck in the 1970s, who laid the groundwork for fusion cooking in America. He took Asian flavours and cooking styles out of places such as Chinatown and Koreatown and infused them into his own French and California-based cuisine.

“The concept of fusion cooking can be traced back even to the earliest migrations of humans”

What resulted was a fresh and innovative Asian-fusion menu that started a ripple of ‘east meets west’ eateries popping up throughout the country, most notably in urban areas where there’s major cultural integration.

But hasn’t cooking always been an amalgamation of cooking techniques? Though given its fresh take in the 1970s, the concept of fusion cooking can be traced back even to the earliest migrations of humans, when people moved to far off lands and took with them their cooking know-how and techniques.

Sounds historic, yes, but I was surprised to discover how much fusion food has permeated our lives, especially mine. Growing up in two very distinct cultures, my experiences of food have always been either Asian or Western, or a mix of both.

My mother’s food was a hugely memorable part of my childhood; her cooking style being a combination of the culinary knowledge she gained from her Malaysian heritage with the skills she learnt whilst living in Hong Kong, plus whatever ingredients she can get her hands on in the UK.

“Sometimes culinary synthesis can be a gustatory disaster, but equally it can work surprisingly well”

She often takes western recipes and infuses Asian flavours into it, adding in ginger, garlic and a whole concoction of different spices.  Sometimes culinary synthesis can be a gustatory disaster, but equally it can work surprisingly well. I distinctly remember that one time we had run out of egg noodles (nightmare, I know) but wanted to make a stir-fry, we ended up using Italian spaghetti instead, and lo and behold, there we have it, the spaghetti stir-fry.

What may seem as a simple change in ingredients amounted to a new hybrid dish. In this sense, fusion cuisine is also about adapting your cooking to suit the availability of ingredients; it’s really about improvisation, innovation, and well, wherever your imagination takes you.

Fusion food can be complicated if you want it to be, or it can also be something you can easily whip up. If you’re not in the mood to venture into the hit-or-miss world of fusion cooking, Nottingham has many fantastic places to try out fusion food; Time Out Café in town centre, for example, has a menu full of fusion dishes that are perfect for foodies looking to expand their palate. And who knows? You might find your next favourite dish there.

Serena Tam

Featured image by Serena Tam

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