When Asian, Latino spices traveled across continents, the result is divine fusion cuisine

Top, a tray of empanaditas,' below fish 'escabeche' with its sweet-and-sour  Flavor

Top, a tray of empanaditas,’ below fish ‘escabeche’ with its sweet-and-sour

By Maricar CP Hampton

The Filipino ‘empanaditas’ are very much a part of the Spanish cuisine, just as the ‘escabeche’ is a derivative of ceviche from Central America.

Using these popular dishes as examples, White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford declared that Philippine cuisine is basically “fusion.”

“Filipino cuisine by nature is really fusion,” she said at the forum called “The Gourmet Intersections: Asian-Latino Fusion Food Crossings” held July 24 at the Rasmuson Theater of the National Museum of the American Indian on Independence Avenue. The forum was jointly sponsored by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center and the Smithsonian Latino Center.

Comerford added how ‘escabeche’ has “so much stuff in it that it’s hard to determine (where the ingredients came from).”

Fusion cuisine or the mixing of the best parts of two or more cultures in one plate was the topic of the forum celebrating the Asian American Latino Festival in Washington D.C. The event featured a lively discussion on Asian and Latino food culture and, as its organizers put it, its “long history of intersection of spices and ingredients, stretching from the farm to the table.” Asian Americans and Latinos trace their intertwining roots to thousands of years ago. And that shared history is still evident today in many dishes as served from food trucks, hole-in-the-wall diners to fine dining restaurants.

Comerford said Philippine cuisine has evolved beautifully over the years. Filipinos usually use four different main flavorings — the sour, the salty, the spicy and the sweet — and all these embody the country’s connection with other cultures.

The ‘sinigang sa bayabas,’ a guava-based stew dish, is inspired by the guavas that came from Mexico, she said. The ‘champorrado’ chocolate rice porridge of Mexico is a breakfast staple in the Philippines.

Iron Chef America judge Trevor Corson provided insights on the migration and evolution of sushi from Japan to the Americas.

“The sushi we are eating today that we think is Japanese is basically Peruvian-inspired because a Japanese chef who wanted to get out of Japan and ended up in Peru wanted to do a traditional sushi but picked up some techniques there and later was brought to L.A. where he had many American customers,” Corson explained.

In Mexico, the influence of Asian people started since the 1560s, said Pati Jinich, host of her own cooking show, “Pati’s Mexican Table.”

“After the Spanish conquered Mexico, and since they arrived, they were looking for what they called the Spice Islands; instead they found the Philippines. They found spice! And so in Mexico we have Chinese cafes, and Chinese coffee shops, and Chinese restaurants galore. And the funny thing is if you go into a Chinese restaurant there, you will find enchiladas alongside chop suey, and you will find forks, and chopsticks are optional,” she said.

Comerford explained the “complex diversity” of the Filipino-Asian-Latino fusion is most evident in the national dish called ‘adobo.’ It seems that every region in the Philippines has its own version.

“Adobo is actually native to the Philippines but it is very akin tthe Spaniards’ ‘adobo’ which is made with olive oil, garlic and marjoram,” she explained. “So when the Spaniards saw it, they liked it, and when the Chinese came, they liked it for its soy sauce.”

But fusion is not just a matter of tossing a variety of exotic ingredients and hoping they will magically blend. It takes creativity to come up with something that works, said Comerford.

Forum panelists from left: moderator Anupy Singla, Cristeta Comerford, Pati Jinich and Trevor Corson. Photo:  Bing Branigin

Forum panelists from left: moderator Anupy Singla, Cristeta Comerford, Pati Jinich and Trevor Corson. Photo: Bing Branigin

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