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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Saturday, December 2

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Random Wed Jan 08 2014

Fantastic Food Fusions

taco pizza.jpg Fusion cuisine often conjures up images of taco pizzas or kimchi burgers, but really good fusion food doesn't seem fusion at all. I'm not talking about adding Siracha or sesame oil into pasta to Asianize the dish; I'm talking about delicious bánh mìs and Indonesian curries that combine the East and West, the past and present, the good and bad with effortless grace. Although the fusions I've described below aren't particularly prevalent in the US, I really hope to see more eclectic combinations on Chicago menus in the future:

Cuban-Chinese: The Merging of Culinary Communism
Many Chinese laborers migrated to Cuba in the 1850s, sparking the beginning of a cuisine that blended both East Asian and Caribbean foods. Since both cultures revere the pig, popular dishes include grilled pork chops in fermented black soy bean sauce and Chinese five spice roast pork. Another popular (and delicious-sounding) dish is fried rice with plantains and yucca. Asian fusion is particularly popular in Chicago, with restaurants like Embeya and Le Colonial redefining American cuisine with an Asian flair. But in terms of strictly Latin-American eateries in Chicago, there's wonton ahi nachos at Gallery Bar, tempura chicken burritos at Dos Ricco's, and those mouthwatering kalbi tacos at Del Seoul.

Mexican-Jewish: Hola Challah
From the Spanish Inquisition to the Nazi regime, Jewish immigrants have sought religious reprieve in Mexico for many generations. In fact, 90% of the Jewish population in Mexico currently lives in Mexico City. Fusion dishes between the two cultures include latkes made with corn and jalapenos and Gefilte fish a la Veracruzana, slowly cooked in tomato sauce topped with pickled chilies. Although the idea of dunking challah chunks in queso sounds rather appealing to me, perhaps a more appetizing alternative would be tamales made with matzo meal. In any case, you really can't go wrong with two cultures that revere mother's cooking. There aren't too many kosher, cRc-certified restaurants in Chicago in general, but one may find some very generic tacos at places like Ken's Diner or Tel Aviv Kosher Pizza & Dairy Restaurant.

challah.jpg Eritrean Italian: A Tastier Aftermath of Colonization
Until 1947, Eritrea used to be called Italian Eritrea and its capital, Asmara, was commonly referred to as "New Rome" and "Italy's African City." Italian is still the language of commerce in Eritrea, and many restaurants serve lasagna, spaghetti,and espresso. One common dish (that I would love to smother all over my face with utmost indecency) is pasta al sugo e berbere, or pasta with tomato and berbere, a spice commonly associated with Ethiopian cuisine. I only wish I knew a restaurant in Chicago that serves African fusion.

Russian-Chinese cuisine: Genghis Khan's Ravaging Appetite
Despite being geographical neighbors, China and Russia don't share similar palates. (Interestingly, tea--not alcohol--is the most common drink in Russia, where it was introduced from China in the 1600s.) Granted, Chinese food varies wildly from region to region, but other than the Russian influence in Harbin cuisine, there really isn't an established fusion between the two cultures. Even pierogis and dumplings, otherwise known as little pockets of joy, have different dough ingredients, fillings, and toppings/sauces. One interesting concoction would be borscht with tofu...or better yet, blinis with egg congee. In Chicago, the closest fusion dish may be the pork stuffed cabbage rolls from Mott St.

Jewish-Muslim cuisine: The Mecca of Meals
Okay, this one doesn't make much sense, as "Muslim cuisine" doesn't exist as a general category. But nothing minimizes enduring resentment like delicious food, right?! As long as there's no pork, alcohol, shellfish or religious tension, I think this combination could be a legitimate fusion.

As one of the top food cities in the US, Chicago undoubtedly stands at the forefront of fusion cuisine. New American may be the rage right now, but I'm seeing harissa and teff creep onto menus, and that's a good thing for both my stomach and obsession with diversity.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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