The term fusion has developed a bad rap in the culinary world, dredging up memories of ’90s-era dining when mixing French techniques with Asian ingredients was all the rage (shout out to Jean-Georges). If the word seems anachronistic today, it’s because the barriers between cuisines have been so thoroughly torn down in restaurant culture—we’re living in a post-fusion world where chefs can easily pluck from a global pantry to create a Japanese-inspired, historical creation of a Jewish dish, mashed up with a childhood favorite from their mom in the Midwest. Even at the industrial level, mashup foods reign supreme, from Doritos Locos Tacos to Cronut knockoffs.
What’s all too easy to forget, though, is that before “fusion,” there was just world history, the forces of which have driven cultures—and their foods—together since the beginning of time. Colonization, immigration, and trade have all created fusion by force and circumstance, long before high-minded chefs got involved. We’re all familiar with this type of gastronomic cross-breeding in the U.S.—Italian-American, American Chinese, and Tex-Mex fare all have different stories to tell, but each is rooted in the process of culture-clash and assimilation.
But there are many more examples around the world that go back centuries—how the Sephardic Jews left their mark on the kitchens of the Iberian Peninsula, for example, or the ways that slavery informed the cooking of the Caribbean. It’s not always pretty, but this history has brought us some of the most delicious, fascinating foods–foods that tell a story that goes far beyond the imagination of one chef.
To talk about mashup cuisines is to talk about the history of food, and this list barely cracks the surface. Here, we dip into some of our favorites–from the Peranakan fare of the Malay Peninsula to the beer-friendly Indian food of the U.K.—to explore their origin stories, as well the best places to try them in NYC.