asian diaspora

Asian Cuisine: How Well do you Know Yourself?

JUST A STORY

The Ramen Marauder and I sat down for dinner the other night for a simple vermicelli noodle salad I made. I chopped the lettuce, poached the noodles, seasoned the ground pork with ground pepper, ginger, and garlic, and cooked it with a short mixture of fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and garlic oil - just enough to prevent it from tasting plain, but adding no significant flavor.

I assembled our bowls with lettuce, noodles, and ground pork. The rest was laid out on the table: chopped cucumbers, chopped carrots, chopped cilantro, chopped mint, lime slices, fish sauce, hoisin, sriracha, sesame oil, cashews. As we both finished dressing our dinner bowls, I realized that this process must seem intimidating to anyone who isn't familiar with Vietnamese food.

Vietnamese Vermicelli Noodle Salad Asian Food Cooking

How many people really know what they like? I mean, really understand what they like, from sweet to salty to sour to funk? Asian food requires a sense of self that not everyone has. It can be taught, sure, but it's not something many restaurants take the time to teach, right?

Most western cuisines cook complete dishes and serve the food as it should be eaten. Any self-proclaimed food expert will tell you that you won't find salt and pepper on tables at nice restaurants because the chef has already seasoned the dish, and you're expected to eat it accordingly.

But what about Asian restaurants?

To start, so many westerners don't have the taste bud vocabulary to comprehend everything that Asian food offers. The most adventurous ingredient I've found in European cookbooks is anchovies in order to add a hint of salt and a suggestion of umami. This may be why we see chicken at Asian restaurants fried to a point beyond recognition, then slathered in a sauce that has no business being the focal point of a dinner entree. Or why Chinese cuisine looks so different from country to country, incorporating the local palette into the recipes. Maybe it's why Thai restaurants seem to lack variation, offering the same yellow, red, and green curries with your choice of protein.

Asian Food Cooking Vermicelli Noodle Salad Vietnamese

These cuisines are not simple. It would appear that restaurants assume the consumer is simple - but can you blame them? It seems that those who can't (or won't) enjoy Asian food don't have the culinary confidence to appreciate it, and restaurants don't usually have the time to teach consumers how to eat it. Asian cuisine displays a sense of otherness that many people are afraid to approach.

But the real twist here is that Asian food can be yours. It is yours. Asian restaurants create the foundation of your meal, but you are in charge. You are given the tools to make your meal great - maybe you just need to learn how to use them.


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Com Saigon (Florence, Italy)

THE STORY

We spent this past Christmas in Florence, Italy with the couple who introduced me to the Ramen Marauder. We weren't sure what the holiday would be like, since most places would be closed, but it pleasantly surprised us - the city remained beautiful and bustling.

Florence is a cultural capital of Italy, so naturally the Ramen Marauder and I wanted to eat Asian food; however, I do not like to impose our Asian cravings on those who don't feel the itch like we do. But towards the end of our trip, our friends were kind enough to indulge us, and so we went to Com Saigon.

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From the outside, Com Saigon appeared to have only 4 or 5 tables, but when we were taken to the back, we realized its capacity was at least double that. The restaurant was not crowded, though that could be because it was the day after Christmas.

The owner (or who I would assume to be the owner) seemed excited to host us Americans at his restaurant - I would guess that not many tourists choose to eat at a Vietnamese restaurant in Florence. He asked us whether we enjoyed the food and the coffee, we told him where we were from, and then he introduced us to the chef, who had come to Florence from Ho Chi Minh City.

I imagine it must be difficult to open a non-Italian restaurant in a city that is renown for its Italian culture, where people come from all over the world to experience Italy from head to toe. I'm not even sure the Italians around Florence eat anything that isn't Italian - it seems that not a single food trend had penetrated the dining scene. Big kudos to the owner for taking this delicious risk.

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THE REVIEW

We all ordered the pho (naturally). The broth wasn't salty, and tasted hearty and, well, beef-y. It's characteristic of a lot of pho we've had in Europe, and I do wonder whether the use of MSG and additives is restricted. That being said, because of the rich beef flavor, it was clear that this broth was made with a ton of beef bones. We finished off the meal with a cup of Vietnamese coffee, which has been difficult to find.

Definitely worth it. Please take the time to go and support this restaurant!


Com Saigon, Via dell'Agnolo, 93 R, 50122 Florence, +39 055 263 8648

Fufu Ramen (Bordeaux, France)

THE STORY

Bordeaux may have had the most Asian restaurants we've seen during a long weekend. I knew beforehand that the city is home to a plethora of beloved food institutions, but just the number of casual Asian dining spots was surprising. When all is said and done, I believe we ate more Asian food than any other cuisine while we were in Bordeaux.

We also happened to visit during the Lunar New Year, which is always supposed to be a delicious time. In the past, I've cooked dumplings and pork belly lo mein and salt and pepper shrimp, and I've also gone out for incredibly lavish meals with family and friends. This year felt tame, and to some extent, sad.

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But lo and behold, we came across a parade, complete with a dragon and a lion! We followed it to a small square where a short performance of the dragon chasing the sun took place (the lion called it quits as soon as we reached the square).

While the celebration we witnessed was small, it sparked my interest yet again in the Asian diaspora in Europe. What do people choose to hold on to as immigrants? What do people choose to celebrate as the generations go on? How do these immigrant traditions contrast with resident culture? Do the two cultures feel partitioned or combined within an identity?

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With those thoughts in mind, we attempted to have lunch at Fufu Ramen, but it was packed. I tried to step inside to put our name on a list, but I couldn’t even fit through the door because it was so packed. We decided to go back for dinner right when it opened. We were successful.

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THE REVIEW

If you’re looking for ramen in Bordeaux, this is the spot.  I ordered the chachuramen, and the Ramen Maurader had the tantanramen. The chachuramen was a clean flavor - not too salty or oily. The pork was also perfectly cooked. I’d say, however, that the tantanramen was better. It was a tahini/miso mix that was also kind of garlicky. It was so delicious (if you’re preference is tonkotsu style).

As I mentioned, the wait on a Friday for lunch was insane, and we went for dinner when it opened. I recommend adding it to your list of places to eat, but be ready to wait (probably).

 

Fufu Ramen, 37 Rue Saint-Rémi, 33000 Bordeaux, France, +33 5 56 52 10 29