Sunday, March 16, 2008

Response: Chinese Restaurants

I was interested by issues of authenticity in Chinese cuisine around the world. While most of the restauranteurs had come from China, many of them had not undergone formal training in the cooking of Chinese cuisine. Moreover, even those who had often deviated from traditional dishes, experimenting with the fusing of local and Chinese cuisines. As such, could their dishes still be said to be authentically Chinese? What does that even mean? Yet they are certainly different from the native cuisines of the countries these restaurant owners have immigrated to. It seems then that the dishes have become something akin to the restaurant owner we met in Argentina: neither Chinese nor Argentinian, but something else...something international.

This question of what happens when Asian culture leaves Asia is an interesting one, and one that also came up when we viewed The Wedding Banquet. What does it mean to "assimilate"? Is this a bad thing? A good thing? When cultures come in contact I think it is unavoidable that they will rub off on each other in unforeseen ways, and while I think it is useful to examine how this occurs, I'm not sure that casting judgments on this process is. Who are we to say if someone is too assimilated or not assimilated enough? In the end people need to live their lives and do what makes them happy. I understand that not everybody may agree with this, however, and I would be interested to hear what others have to say.

On a side note, I was interested that both the documentary and one of the readings took a travelogue approach to talking about Chinese restaurants in disparate locations. While I find this approach very engaging, I found myself grappling with the problem of crafting a larger narrative from a small sample of individual interviews. Can these interviews be read as being representative? If not, then what can we take away from them? I'd be curious to see what other people think.

1 comment:

Lucy Lou said...

Coming from a social science / cultural studies perspective, I'm even reluctant to use the word "assimilation." I think it's pretty established in the field that dominant cultures just do not normally gobble up immigrant cultures without leaving a trace. I prefer to think of it as patterns of dealing with biculturalism or even multiculturalism, and there's quite a wide spectrum as we've seen in the Chinese Restaurants series.

So re: the issue of authenticity... it's going to sound like I'm copping out, but I think it's all relative. Our notion of authenticity probably comes from what educated persons who are equally well-educated in two or more cultures (and are thus seen as authorities in both) feel are authentic about each (and even THEN it's still just chasing after a non-existent single standard). But for Cubans, "authentic Chinese" is a totally different thing. And if you throw hyphenated identities into the mix, you could even ask what's "authentic Chinese-Mauritian" or "Chinese-Brazilian."

So yeah... I'm with you on the hesitation to judge what is "authentic" or to even deign to assert that authenticity is BETTER than what is "unauthentic" or "fusion"... but what IS wrong is how many quotation marks I've had to use in this comment. Arrgh.