Fusion cuisine was an inevitability, not just a likelihood; as people move around the world, their cultures mix and create new and ever-changing cuisines. If you grew up in a white, suburban North American neighbourhood like I did, you’ve been eating fusion food your entire life. Our ideas of Asian, Mexican, or Italian food, for example, have been hugely influenced by immigrant culture, available local ingredients, and producers’ willingness to cater to our preferences. Companies like Old El Paso brought us Mexico-in-a-box, and of course we all love a good dish of “authentic” sweet and sour pork! Dishes like lasagna were introduced to Canadian and American housewives in the 1950’s, and were changed to suit the milder tastes of us Westerners. Swap mozzarella for those stinky cheeses and poof! Suddenly it doesn’t taste so foreign and a new ‘Italian’ food has arrived.
Around the world, chefs like New York’s David Chang break culinary ‘rules’ to make dining a more innovative experience; I once enjoyed his fried chicken lunch at Momofuku Noodle Bar, and we feasted on two kinds of fried chicken (one a spicy Asian-style, and the other southern-American) with Korean pancakes, vegetables, and condiments. Or at least I think they were Korean? Who knows! Everything’s fair game in this world.
For awhile, it was stylin’ for restaurants to tout their food as ‘fusion,’ but now the word has fallen out of favour; Tramonto’s at the River Rock, for example, is southern Italian + West Coast, but you won’t see the ‘f-word’ on their menu. Asian fusion has become a genre unto itself, though as Sara Dickerman points out in her interesting article on this subject, chefs now trade the term for phrases like “East-meets-West” or “Pan-Asian.” Food trucks, stoic beasts that they are, continue to embrace the word and concept – all you have to do is Google “food truck” and “fusion” to see what I mean. JapaDog, anyone?
Where am I going with all of this? Well, yesterday I was joined by my friends Mary and Holly at Aoyama Café, a restaurant that couldn’t be more obviously FUSION.
Aoyama is located in Aberdeen Mall, with an exterior entrance on its east side to the café and a mall entrance to the adjoining restaurant. It’s part of the “Blue Mountain Gourmet Food Brand cafe concepts,” with another Ayoama restaurant in Walnut, California and various cafés around the world. They specialize in siphoned coffee (there’s that siphon again, remember Rocanini?) and Euro-Japanese fusion cuisine.
Their food is…..eclectic. You can order Japanese Rice Pizza, Spaghetti with Cuttlefish and Seaweed, Umami Teriyaki Burgers, and French Toast all from one menu. In the restaurant side there’s sit-down service, and our server was incredibly helpful in answering our many questions. We decided on a rice pizza with mozzarella cheese and teriyaki beef ($8.50), the Seafood Garlic Spaghetti (a recommendation from our server, $13.95), and the Hayashi Omurice ($10.95), which is an omelette filled with curried rice and topped with a beef-based mushroom gravy.
Our favourite of the three was the pizza, though it didn’t taste like one – it was just savoury and satisfying, and I’d eat it again. The spaghetti was underwhelming, with over-cooked noodles and one mussel, prawns, cuttlefish, and scallops.
The omurice (which I weirdly pronounced “Oh-mer-ee-chay,” because I now apparently read every other language in Italian) was filling and tasty, though not particularly ground-breaking. It was comfort food I might split with a friend on a cold winter’s day, but could pretty easily make at home. Mary pointed out that interestingly, there was silverware on the table, but no chopsticks.
Holly’s strawberry banana smoothie was refreshing, dairy free, and made with real fruit, but the best part of the meal was the siphoned coffee. Mary was my coffee-drinking guinea pig this time, and the barista let us watch as he prepared her cup. It was piping hot, smooth, and slightly bitter – in a good way. They do take their coffee seriously here.
If you’re shopping at Aberdeen and need a bite to eat, I’d suggest stopping into Aoyama for one of their rice dishes, or a coffee and slice of cake. I wouldn’t, however, recommend it as a destination unto itself; you can find better examples of fusion food at food trucks or either of the Richmond Night Markets. I’m excited to explore the many other examples of fusion cuisine in Richmond, whether they describe it as ‘fusion’ or not!
What are your favourite examples of blended culinary traditions? Know anyone that makes a mean Tandoori chicken burrito?