Fried duck?? Sorry that’s TOO “Asian”

How does Roy Choi, the father of the modern food truck industry follow up to his Kogi Truck craze? CHEGO! Chego means ‘the best’ in Korean and is a restaurant specializing in rice bowls. How does Chego and Asian American Studies correlate? Well I’ll be discussing how the ingredients used and the presentation of the bowls is significant in the realm of Asian American Studies.

Chego is restaurant specializing in bowl foods with rice mixed with variety of ingredients from different Asian countries. Growing up in Koreatown, I ate bowl foods all the time and in many Korean restaurants, the ingredients you find in bowl meal is simple: rice and meat of your choice. But at Chego, the bowl looks a little exotic. The bowl foods in Chego looks like a bunch of leftovers you would find in your refrigerator and mashed up to create your next meal. Roy Choi even stated his meals are what he calls “refrigerator food”. But maybe that is what Chego is all about. Maybe the exoticness of these bowls is what attracts customers. I came in thinking Chego is a Korean inspired fusion restaurant but I was completely wrong. Chego is an Asian themed rice bowl restaurant combining ingredients from all over Asia into one bowl. From kimchi to chinese broccoli, Chego’s menu consists of popular ingredients used in many Asian meals.

But how does the ingredients used in Chego’s bowls and other Asian themed fusion restaurants have any significance to Asian American Studies? We have to first question why certain types of ingredients are usually left out and which types are consistenly used. Anita Mannur briefly states in her book East Main Street: Asian American Popular Culture.

“Moreover, neither cooking show instructs viewers how to cook culinary unmentionables such as dog, or gizzards… they deal exclusively with wholesome ingredients, strictly adhering to the realm of what is considered palatable.
In promoting a vision of fusion, something is always left out of the question. But the ingredient that is ‘left’ out cannot merely be ignored (p89)”.

Fried duck is a common entrée found in many Chinese restaurants, but there aren’t any fusion restaurants using fried duck as an ingredient for one of their dishes. Even though fried duck is delicious to those who tried it, mainstream American consumers are not attracted to the idea of eating duck as it’s too “Asian” and some many even consider it taboo. Certain types of fusion food are only acceptable to mainstream American consumers if it combines Asian ingredients that are acceptable to mainstream standards i.e.: rice, chicken, basil, pork or steak just to name a few. Popular Asian ingredients and food are left out not based on taste but by perception of mainstream. When creating fusion meals, the ingredients used in fusion meals has to adhere to mainstream tastes or else it won’t sell. And in the end it’s all about profitability. No matter how good fried duck might taste in a burrito, it won’t matter if mainstream consumers are not appealed by it.

How many of us will eat chicken feet hot dog?

Anita Mannur, “Model Minorities Can Cook: Fusion Cuisine in Asian America,” East Main Street: Asian American Popular Culture, eds. Shilpa Davé et al (NY: New York University Press, 2005), pp.72-94.

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