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

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

China to Open Stock Markets to Pension Funds

In unprecedented move, government to soon allow local pension funds to invest up to $94 billion in domestic shares More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age 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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs