Dubious Gastronomy

Dubious Gastronomy: The Cultural Politics of Eating Asian in the USA

Robert Ji-Song Ku
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Dubious Gastronomy
    Book Description:

    California roll, Chinese take-out, American-made kimchi, dogmeat, monosodium glutamate, SPAM-all are examples of what Robert Ji-Song Ku calls "dubious" foods. Strongly associated with Asian and Asian American gastronomy, they are commonly understood as ersatz, depraved, or simply bad. InDubious Gastronomy, Ku contends that these foods share a spiritual fellowship with Asians in the United States in that the Asian presence, be it culinary or corporeal, is often considered watered-down, counterfeit, or debased manifestations of the "real thing." The American expression of Asianness is defined as doubly inauthentic-as insufficiently Asian and unreliably American when measured against a largely ideological if not entirely political standard of authentic Asia and America. By exploring the other side of what is prescriptively understood as proper Asian gastronomy, Ku suggests that Asian cultural expressions occurring in places such as Los Angeles, Honolulu, New York City, and even Baton Rouge are no less critical to understanding the meaning of Asian food-and, by extension, Asian people-than culinary expressions that took place in Tokyo, Seoul, and Shanghai centuries ago. In critically considering the impure and hybridized with serious and often whimsical intent,Dubious Gastronomyargues that while the notion of cultural authenticity is troubled, troubling, and troublesome, the apocryphal is not necessarily a bad thing: The dubious can be and is often quite delicious.Dubious Gastronomyoverlaps a number of disciplines, including American and Asian American studies, Asian diasporic studies, literary and cultural studies, and the burgeoning field of food studies. More importantly, however, the book fulfills the critical task of amalgamating these areas and putting them in conversation with one another. Written in an engaging and fluid style, it promises to appeal a wide audience of readers who seriously enjoys eating-and reading and thinking about-food.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-3920-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    It is an altogether plausible tale: the Orient, once upon a time, wasthere, over yonder where the sun ascended to the heavens each day. Tasting the true flavors of the Orient, then, meant arduous journeys over mountains, oceans, and deserts. No longer. Today, the peoples of the Orient¹—be they Saracens or Celestials—reside by the multitudes in major metropolises and minor townships beyond the geographic Orient, including across the breadth of the United States. And, of course, found alongside these outlanders, no matter the country, region, or neighborhood, is an endless assortment of exotic delights, the culinary first...

    • 1 California Roll
      (pp. 17-48)

      Recall that it was not that long ago, despite its lofty status in the current US culinary scene, that sushi, synonymous with raw fish to most Americans, was a frequent object of derision, ridicule, and, above all, dread. When theLadies’ Home Journalintroduced Japanese cuisine to American women in 1929, the magazine discreetly dodged the subject, fearful that it might disturb the genteel constitution of its female readership. “There have been purposely omitted,” the article ran, “any recipes using the delicate and raw tuna fish which is sliced wafer thin and served iced with attractive garnishes.” The magazine did,...

    • 2 Chinese Take-Out
      (pp. 49-78)

      On a hot, sultry day in the summer of 2011, an irate woman in Savannah, Georgia, called 9-1-1. An audio recording revealed the nature of the emergency: “I need the police. It’s this Hong Kong restaurant type to go. I ordered food and they done bring me the wrong food. I done brought it outside and they ain’t going to give me my money and I need my money. Uh-uh, I need to [sic] someone to handle this. They ain’t going to do me in any kind of way.”¹ Instead of charging the woman with abusing the 9-1-1 service, as...

    • 3 Kimchi
      (pp. 81-119)

      On a cluttered shelf in my garage, intermingled with gardening tools, half-empty cans of paint, and cast-aside golf accoutrements, sits an empty one-gallon glass jar that once contained the most delicious kimchi east of California. The jar sits there still, several years after my wife and I completely finished off its contents in what was for us, only sporadic eaters of Korean food, record time—less than a week after my in-laws delivered it, declaring that this was the tastiest and most sought-after kimchi in all of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Not only the tastiest, but also the...

    • 4 Dogmeat
      (pp. 120-156)

      As the semester drew to a close in the spring of 2009, the police were dispatched to investigate a disorderly conduct call at the Binghamton University campus, where I had been teaching for several years. The call came in a few minutes before midnight and was made by a sixty-three-year-old university employee. While the exact details of the events that prompted the call are in dispute, this much is certain, as reported by the school paper,Pipe Dream, the following day: “Nearly four hours into a weekly Assembly meeting, three members of the Assembly and two Student Association executive board...

    • 5 Monosodium Glutamate
      (pp. 159-189)

      Since the late 1960s (April 4, 1968, to be exact) untold numbers of Americans have loudly and incessantly caviled about bodily discomforts stemming from Chinese food assumed to be juiced with perhaps the most dubious chemical food additive ever discovered—monosodium glutamate, aka MSG. Almost universally, they have taken their anger out on Chinese restaurants. One Chinese American, whose parents operated several restaurants in New York City in the 1970s, called it a nightmarish time. “Not because we used that much MSG—although of course we used some,” she said, “but because it meant that Americans came into the restaurant...

    • 6 SPAM
      (pp. 190-223)

      I love SPAM. No, not unwanted commercial e-mails but the canned meat product marketed by the Hormel Foods Corporation. Kimchi fried rice, kimchijjigae, budae jjigae, musubi,gimbap, instant ramen—versions of these and other dishes laden with SPAM have been a regular part of my diet since childhood. Luckily, anyone curious enough to sample these sorts of dishes without actually having to travel to Hawai‘i, where I grew up, can consult Ann Kondo Corum’sHawaii’s SPAM Cookbook. Published in 1987, the book contains nearly fifty such SPAM-centered recipes. For good measure, Corum, who calls SPAM “Hawaii’s soul food” and...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 224-230)

    Appearing a few years ago on the dinner menu of Blue Ginger, celebrity chef Ming Tsai’s “Asian fusion” restaurant in Wellesley, Massachusetts, was an entrée item that baffled the mind as much as it promised to titillate the tongue: “Grilled Harissa Glazed New Zealand Lamb Rack with Coconut Raita,” accompanied by “Summer Vegetable Couscous Salad and Thai Basil-Mint Puree.” At first glance, this dish appears to epitomize Tsai’s culinary philosophy of “East Meets West.” His first television show, which aired on the Food Network in 1998, was calledEast Meets West with Ming Tsai, and his first cookbook, published in...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 231-258)
  10. Glossary of Food Terms
    (pp. 259-266)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 267-280)
  12. Index
    (pp. 281-290)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 291-295)