Melting Pot Cooks Up New American Cuisine
In most major U.S. cities, you can find street food carts where vendors sell meals from mobile trucks. Food is always attached to memory.
And many people 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 this Korean taco.
"It’s wrapped in a corn tortilla, Mexican, taco track. We have a spicy pork, which is very Korean,” Kamala Saxton owns Marination Mobile, a food truck in Seattle. “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.
"It's truthly the mix played in Hawaiian, since I’m Korean, Hawaiian, Filipino and Spanish. 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. Jane Ziegelman is an historian, who writes about New York street food, seh says that even in places that didn't
Hawaii's multi-ethnic families, street carts will still a have
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. 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.”
And this exchange affected the street food itself. Ziegelman says that knishes, egg rolls and hot dogs all underwent the same American transformation.
"Foods brought over by immigrants grew in size. 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.”
And 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, 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. 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. Now this wrap format would never be seen in Norway, but Daniels and Walhood say that it's pretty approachable no matter what your backgrounds.
"Because it's neat box with melty cheese source on the top, and...People see pork and beef meatballs, and then they see cheese sauce, and they don’t look anything further. They can look at everything else.”
Come on, Saxton of Marination Mobile agrees that fusing the familiar with the exotic helps people approach cart food.
"There’s something very familiar to eating a taco. 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 history aside, for food catchon, it's got to be tasty.
"I have had a Korean taco. It’s really, really good. 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, Marination Mobile also serves a kimchi quesadilla.