in the borderlands, two kitchens make food fusion not food war

fried yellow chilis, photo from NPR
fried yellow chilies, photo from NPR

I love this photo of fried yellow chilies because it captures the essence of this fusion. Served with a dipping sauce, these chilies blend Chinese and Mexican food cultures. Recently, a friend in Canada sent me this article. She knows I am a foodie and she knows my family’s history. After all, her family is Chinese-Filippino and they count themselves Canadian. Fair enough.

This NPR article by Lisa Morehouse discusses the culinary hybrid cuisine that developed in the borderlands between the US and Mexico when an upstart import asserted itself: Chinese food meets Mexican food. The fusion also explains why my own family came to Jamaica. Perched on the doorstep to America but unable to enter the US because of the Chinese Exclusion Act, these immigrants, my ancestors, went to other places to live and developed a new cuisine. The common thread throughout the generations: we live to eat. And so we endure.

As a Jamaican of Chinese ancestry, hybridity is not surprising. I grew up eating food that was a hybrid of two cultures. The favorite dish of my childhood: pork and yam. It has a pungent sweet-tart sauce (Chinese) and steamed (BTW Chinese cooking method) with slices of fat pork (Chinese and Jamaicans both adore pork) alternating with slices of yam (Jamaican). Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods sampled this fusion and dubbed it “Chimaicanese.”

pork and yam, photo from Phenomenon

My cousin Peter lent me Norma Benghiat’s cookbook and I copied the recipe for pork and yam. I have yet to try it because I cannot find yam, a y-shaped tuber that is essential to this dish. I have an idea to try taro (เผือก) instead. After all, I will be following in my grandmother’s footsteps to create this three-way: Chinese, Jamaican, and Thai.

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