Asian-American Cuisine’s Rise, and Triumph

So these chefs’ cooking, born of shame, rebellion and reconciliation, is not some wistful ode to an imperfectly remembered or never-known, idealized country. It’s a mixture of nostalgia and resilience. It wasn’t taught — certainly not in the way other cuisines have been traditionally taught. Graduates of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., recalled that little time was devoted to Asian cooking; at Le Cordon Bleu in London and in Paris, none. One instructor took offense when Preeti Mistry, whose Indian-inflected restaurants include Juhu Beach Club in Oakland, Calif., likened a French stew to curry. Another told David Chang that pork stock, essential to tonkotsu ramen, was “disgusting.”

Neither does their cooking have much kinship with the “fusion” cuisine of the early 1990s, when non-Asian chefs like Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Gray Kunz began folding Eastern ingredients into otherwise Western dishes. (“Fusion” is another term that sits uneasily with Asian-American chefs. “I wouldn’t call myself ‘fusion,’ ” said Maiko Kyogoku, the owner of the idiosyncratic Bessou in New York. “To describe food that way? It’s an extension of myself.”) In spirit, Asian-American cooking is closer to other American-born cuisines with tangled roots: the Lowcountry cooking of coastal South Carolina, which owes a debt to slaves from West Africa who brought over one-pot stews and ingredients like okra, peanuts and black-eyed peas; and Tex-Mex, which is not a bastardization of Mexican food but a regional variant of it, cultivated by Tejanos, descendants of Hispanics who lived in Texas when it was part of Mexico and, before that, New Spain.

There’s also no one cultural touchstone or trauma that binds Asian immigrants: no event on a national scale that has brought us together. But part of what distinguishes our experience from that of other immigrants and people of color is the fraught, intimate relationship between our countries of origin and the U.S., which has been foe and protector, oppressor and liberator, feared and adored. In 1899, the British writer Rudyard Kipling urged the U.S. to “take up the White Man’s burden” in the Philippines after the Spanish-American War:

Go send your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need
[…] Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child.

This begot more than a century of American military intervention in East and…

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