News / USA

Melting Pot Cooks Up New American Cuisine

Street vendors experiment with fusion food

Kimchi fried rice
Kimchi fried rice

Multimedia

Audio
Deena Prichep

You can find street food carts In most major American cities, where vendors sell meals from mobile vehicles.

Many end up cooking the foods of their childhood - whether it's new immigrants selling their native cuisine or entrepreneurs dipping back into grandmother's recipes.

But throughout the United States, a new breed of food cart is emerging. These mobile restaurants sell fusion food, bringing together several different ethnic dishes and ingredients to create a new American cuisine - like a Korean taco.

“It’s wrapped in a corn tortilla, Mexican. We have a spicy pork, which is very Korean,” says Kamala Saxton, who owns Marination Mobile, a food truck in Seattle, Washington. “We have put our own homemade pickled jalapenos, which is Korean or Hawaiian. And so there are a number of different ethnicities in one serving of the spicy pork taco.”

The Korean taco might be a new taste for a lot of diners. But Saxton feels like it’s a natural combination, especially given where she comes from.

Korean tofu taco
Korean tofu taco

“I’m Korean, Hawaiian, Filipino and Spanish," she says. "And given that, you have someone in your family that knows how to cook one of those ethnic dishes.”

But fusion doesn’t just happen for vendors with Saxton’s diverse culinary background. Historian Jane Ziegelman, who writes about New York street food, says that even in places which don't have multi-ethnic families, street carts have always been a place where people come together and find out what their neighbors eat.

“You had Irish kids eating Jewish pickles. You had Italian immigrants eating Jewish potato pancakes," says Ziegelman. "You had all kinds of people drinking seltzer, which was, in fact a street food. So people were eating each others’ food all the time.”

This exchange fueled the evolution of the street food itself. According to Ziegelman, knishes, egg rolls and hot dogs all underwent the same American transformation.

Street food menu featuring Japanese hotdogs
Street food menu featuring Japanese hotdogs

“Foods brought over by immigrants grew in size," she says. "This is like something that happens to a lot of foods once they come to the United States. They get bigger and they get blander.”

They also get portable. Ziegelman notes that the hot dog moved from a plate to a bun and the bagel became a vehicle for an on-the-go meal of smoked salmon and cream cheese.

In Portland, Oregon, Megan Walhood fuses this American grab-and-go attitude with the food of her European family. She and her fiancée Jeremy Daniels own a truck called Viking Soul Food.

“The sort of foundation product we serve is lefse, this Norwegian potato flatbread, and I grew up eating that every year at Christmastime," says Walhood. "And then it was Jeremy who kind of had the idea to start using it like a tortilla or a crepe, and just stuffing it with all manner of different things.”

Viking Soul Food’s most popular lefse is the meatball wrap, a recipe which comes from Walhood’s grandmother. It’s topped with pickled cabbage and a sauce of melted Scandinavian cheese. This wrap variety would never be seen in Norway, but Daniels and Walhood believe it appeals to the tastes of people of all backgrounds.

Viking Soul Food's lefse wraps, made with Norwegian potato flatbread
Viking Soul Food's lefse wraps, made with Norwegian potato flatbread

“People see pork and beef meatballs," says  Daniels, "and then they see cheese sauce, and they don’t look anything further.”

Others agree that fusing the familiar with the exotic helps people approach cart food.

“There’s something very familiar to eating a taco," says Kamala Saxton of Marination Mobile. "If you’ve never had Korean food, or if you’ve never had Hawaiian food, fair bet that you have had a taco.”

As a historian, Ziegelman appreciates how food cart fusion has evolved. But for customers, it's how the food tastes that keeps them coming back for more.

“I have had a Korean taco. It’s really, really good," says Ziegelman. "It’s really interesting the way these foods, which never grew up together and have no particular reason to harmonize, harmonize in this really gorgeous way.”

And if you don’t fancy Korean tacos, you might want to give Marination Mobile's kimchi quesadilla a try.

You May Like

Multimedia US Defense Secretary: Iraqi Forces Lack 'Will to Fight'

Ash Carter criticizes Iraq's reaction to Islamic State; National Security Advisor Susan Rice echoed Carter's concerns in an interview on CBS More

Boko Haram Surrounds Havens With Land Mines

Chad and Cameroon say huge numbers of land mines planted by Boko Haram fighters along Cameroon's border with Nigeria are a danger to people, livestock and soldiers More

Women Peace Activists Cross Korean DMZ

Governments of Koreas give international delegation of women peace activists permission to pass through heavily fortified border, but some critics say symbolic crossing only benefits Pyongyang More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs