Episode Description: Sophia, Hannah and David discuss the Americanization of Asian cuisine, the difficulties of finding our favorite foods and more in this episode of Second GenerAsian!
[Second GenerAsian Theme - Tenny Tsang]
Sophia Lo: Hi everyone, and welcome to...
All: Second GenerAsian!
Sophia: I'm Sophia.
David Deloso: I'm David.
Hannah Julie Yoon: I'm Hannah.
Sophia: And today's topic is...
David: So we're titling this episode "Asiana Podcastville," and for those of you unfamiliar with what that's referencing, the Norris University Center here at Northwestern opened a new restaurant this year called Asiana Foodville. And if you think about it, that might be the most ridiculous name for any shop that's claiming to be authentic.
Sophia: I thought of FarmVille when I first heard the name. That being said I haven't had the Chinese food from there, so I can't really comment on the authenticity of the food. But the name was just kind of weird, little funny. They might have changed it to Asiana now.
David: Yeah, we were there today and it just said "Asiana Community-driven," so props to them if they did change the name.
Hannah: My biggest gripe is that it is so unnecessarily expensive. To quote my favorite drag queen Valentina, "Ladies, I am boiling. My blood is simmering through my veins." I'm deeply and utterly offended that the food is so expensive. Like, they take one of my favorite Korean foods, shrimp crackers, they sell the shrimp crackers, which is an authentic Korean snack and it's like four, three dollars there when you can get those from like 99 cents at H Mart.
David: And so going off that, we just wanted to explore, I guess, the struggles of getting authentic Asian food living in America. Because there is a lot of quote-unquote "Asian food," but a lot of it is very Americanized, which I guess is true for pretty much any food really, but with Asian food specifically, I feel like a lot of Americans have never been exposed to the real stuff. And it's kind of sad because there's a lot of really good food that I think Americans might find gross just because they've never been exposed to it. And because the only, say Chinese or Japanese or any cuisine that they've been exposed to is kind of bland and boring.
Hannah: Yeah, if I have to see another ad or another attempt of making some vegan pho with quinoa and broccoli and avocado again… [sigh]. Those make me so sad.
Sophia: Who makes pho with quinoa?
Hannah: Exactly! No, that makes me so sad.
David: And I guess from my perspective as a Filipino, Filipino food at least where I grew up was pretty much non-existent. I mean at least for Chinese food there were Americanized versions. With Filipino food, there was just no options. But when I moved to St. Louis, there were one or two options. One of my parents really good friends is a chef, and she cooks some really good Filipino food. But other than that, there's maybe one option that is okay. And it's just kind of sad because I feel like for me I was never really exposed to Filipino food aside from my my parents cooking of course, but like I never got the appreciation for it that maybe I could have. And especially coming to the Chicagoland area, now I've been able to expose myself to a lot of food that I had had before but never like consistently, and I think it's not something you can get everywhere in America.
Hannah: So, why don't we all go down the line and say one food that we both A: love and then B: always find it super hard to find in America?
Sophia: Okay, so I love love love dim sum. I wouldn't say it's extremely hard to find but I think with dim sum in the US there's this specific dish I really love. It's called lo bak go and it's turnip cake. It's pretty simple, nothing too special, but I find that really hard to find here just because I think it is a little bit more traditional, so not every single dim sum place makes it. When we had dim sum in the Chicago area, I literally screamed when I saw the lo bak go and I don't know if either of you remember that.
Hannah: I do remember that, yeah.
Sophia: Yeah, I remember just jumping out of my seat and going like, "I need that."
Hannah: If I'm anywhere that doesn't have a large Korean population, what I find myself missing the most is really any form of Korean soup. We have many different words for many different types of soups, but I think the one thing that they have in common is one, they are a great source of comfort for me and other Korean Americans because you can just feel the love of whoever made it like seep into your veins and seep into your bones as you drink the delicious broth. And also, part of the delicious flavor that comes from it, I feel comes from very specific ingredients in Korean cuisine that are just very very hard to find if you're not in Korea or near a Koreatown. You know, growing up in the Bay Area where there were a lot of other Korean Americans around me, I never had any trouble going to a restaurant and eating a delicious soup of any kind. My favorite soup out of all the soups is this one called soondubu jjigae, which is like soft tofu soup. It's really good. It's spicy, has kimchi, has this really soft tofu and serve boiling, boiling hot and while it's served to you, they usually put an egg, they crack an egg in it while it's still boiling and then you let it cook for a while. So then the yolk is still really soft. It's so good! I feel that has a specific flavor maybe because the way my mom made it when I was growing up, she used like very specific ingredients that she would get from my grandmother who lives in Korea and like who owns a farm in Korea, so it's like I grew up with very authentic Korean flavors. Like especially here whenever I go to a restaurant, I'm always really wary of trying their soondubu. Yeah, even when I was in H Mart when I first came here, I tried their soondubu jjigae and it was fine, but I don't know. Personally it felt like something was a little off, you know. Feel like something is almost familiar but not quite familiar.
David: I will add that ever since Hannah told me about soondubu, I've been hunting for authentic soondubu around Chicago. And I did actually try the soondubu at H Mart very recently.
Hannah: What did you think?
David: I thought it was good.
Hannah: Yeah, it tastes fine.
David: But there was no egg, and I've been told by you that the egg is essential.
Hannah: No, it's not real soondubu unless you have an egg.
David: Mine's a little different, because of course I was able to get the authentic Filipino food from my parents, but the one thing that you can't get here, at least when I was growing up is Jollibee. It's a fast food chain from the Philippines that specializes in Filipino versions of American dishes. So their most popular dishes are the Chicken Joy which is fried chicken, and Jolly Spaghetti, which is spaghetti but Filipino style, which means it's very sweet. It's really delicious. But that was something that for the longest time I could only get every other year when I went to the Philippines. And now living in Chicago, I have access to not one but two Jollibees in the area. And it's been something that I never knew I needed until it was there. I wouldn't say it's authentic because it is an American dish, but they do it differently. And if you ever have the chance to try it I highly recommend it because it'll change your life.
Hannah: So while we're on the topic of food, I want to bring up a news headline that I saw today. So I heard that Gordon Ramsay is planning on opening his own authentic Asian restaurants. So I was just skimming it, and his statement was he said he wanted to go for an authentic Asian Cuisine inspired by 30s Japan, I think. Which to me sounded very odd because if he were to say, "I want to open a restaurant with an authentic European experience", he would get torn to shreds. To generalize an entire continent's cuisine is I think disrespectful of the diversity within that continent, especially a continent as large and humongous as Asia.
David: I think that's one problem that often happens with the Americanization of, again, not just Asian food, but specifically with Asian food. Like, Americanized Asian food all tastes kind of similar.
Hannah: I personally don't mind like White chefs making Asian food. My biggest problem is that often times when that occurs, they try to either homogenize the entirety of Asia or they don't appreciate the detail and the culture and the sensitivity behind those foods. I think as long as you're doing that it's okay, but oftentimes that doesn't happen.
Sophia: Wait, so you also said this was inspired by 30s Japan.
Hannah: Yeah, and that was weird to me is like me.
Sophia: What makes 30s Japan so special?
Hannah: I don't know. Also like what makes Japan special out of all the...
David: Yeah, it's weird for him to say that he's opening an Asian restaurant or a generally Asian restaurant and then specifically focus on Japan. Because if he wants to open a Japanese restaurant, he's perfectly welcome to do that and maybe even higher specifically Japanese chefs.
Hannah: Yeah. The reason why I opened that article was because I wanted to see, like, was he hiring anyone to go on board with this, was he hiring sushi chefs from Japan? But I thought the article didn't mention anything about that which is why I'm a little concerned.
Sophia: Gordon Ramsay is a professional chef, so I don't think he's just randomly pulling recipes offline or saying hey, this sounds like it might be good. I will assume he is trying to cook it as authentically as possible. And if that's the case, then I think that's great. I think as you mentioned it is sort of weird to be like, yes, all of Asia in this one restaurant.
David: I mean, I definitely trust Gordon Ramsay more than Asiana Foodville for example.
Hannah: Oh, another problem with the name. It also lumps all of Asia into one.
David: Exactly. Yeah, it's the same thing. It's Asian food in America is just Asian food. This isn't true for everyone, but a lot of Americans tend to lump Asian food as like one specific cuisine, which it's definitely not. Because, you know, Chinese food, Japanese food, Korean food.
Hannah: I mean, obviously they all influence one another. But they're all very distinct cultures, and you do have to respect that.
David: Exactly. Even some of the, for example, in the supermarket, some of the like Asian food brands. It's like they're trying to cover as much of Asia as possible with one specific brand. Like Annie Chun.
Hannah: Annie Chun!
David: It's not something that has to happen. Americans who aren't Asian can develop an appreciation for Asian food and different Asian cuisines.
Hannah: If we can separate, like, Spanish food and French food...
Hannah: And German food. Why can't we separate Korean food and Chinese food and Filipino food?
David: That's something that hopefully is getting better.
Hannah: I know now that a lot of white American chefs who want to open their own Asian restaurants will go to Asia like the specific country’s cuisine that they want to open the restaurant of and they will spend 20 or 30 years just training in that country with masters, and then they go back to America and they open the restaurants and like, they know what they're talking about, and they know, like, what they're making because they took the time to like learn the culture and appreciate the culture.
David: So just wrapping this whole thing up, it's totally fine for Americans to explore Asian food. I mean, I want more Americans to explore different cuisines and the cuisines that I hold really dear to my heart.
Hannah: But we just want your experiences to be authentic.
Hannah: We will be glad that more Americans who don't come from our specific cultural background.
Sophia: Food brings people together.
Hannah: Yeah! Food brings people together, exactly.
David: And food is culture in a lot of ways. Parts of the of our cultures that we connect with very strongly, a lot of them are food based.
Hannah: Yeah, no matter what culture you come from.
Sophia: I will say that bringing you guys, I know you guys have had dim sum before, but also bringing a lot of people in this dorm who have never had dim sum and who aren't Asian was really great for me just to share that with everyone, and Kalen tried chicken feet, I'm very proud of him for that.
Hannah: Yes, we're proud of Kalen. Shout out to Kalen!
David: And as an open letter to the people who run Asiana, formerly Asiana Foodville, we don't hate you. We're glad that you're trying.
Hannah: We appreciate the fact that you’re trying to provide Asian food to the university. But to lump all of us into one booth at Norris is a little insensitive. Specifically because my biggest problem with it is that you call it Asiana Foodville, but you don't include any South Asian food.
David: So moving things to food that we do love,
Hannah: Snack of the day!
Sophia: Yay, so today's snack of the day is wei ta lai or Vitasoy, it's this soy milk based drink. It's not actually soy milk. So, they have other flavors too. they have a chocolate flavor, which I really like, a malt flavor, which I really like. You can probably find it at your local Chinese supermarket or local Asian market. I found my most recent pack at H Mart.
David: That's where I found my first pack, and I did love it very much.
[Second GenerAsian Theme - Tenny Tsang]
Sophia: I'm Sophia.
David: I'm David.
Hannah: I'm Hannah.
Sophia: Thank you so much for listening.
David: Our theme music was composed by Tenny Tsang. This is NBN audio.