As first generation Asian Americans, we were raised on Asian, specifically Chinese and Taiwanese, cuisine. The vast majority of our meals were home-cooked Chinese food, even the lunches we brought to school.
I would open my lunchbox, and you could smell it right away – garlic. I would shovel fried rice into my mouth with chopsticks, barely tasting the comforting blend of soy sauce, garlic, and egg. I’d then shove the thermos away before anyone could see it and pinpoint the smell to me.
Still, I’d get caught. “You’re so Asian,” my friends would laugh. I would look at them, happily munching on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with no crust, and laugh half-heartedly with them.
It’s a scenario that I’ve lived through over and over again. I began asking my parents for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, under the pretense that it was the right combination of carbs, fat, and protein to fuel my swim practices. It was good pre- and post-workout fuel, but that didn’t stop me from thinking: oh thank god, now no one will make fun of me.
Fast forward to a couple of years later, when you see Asian-inspired menus everywhere. Restaurateurs have taken Asian food and glamorized it, turning it from a home-y, comforting, down-to-earth meal into a five-star worthy restaurant dish. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it bugs me nonetheless.
These food trends are created and judged by white people. Not to be racist or anything, but there it is. The same people who have scoffed at my homemade dumplings or stinky kimchi now say dumplings are their religion and preach the health benefits of fermented vegetables. They create these food trends without crediting or even thinking about the food’s origins.
Ramen houses? Everywhere you turn in NYC. Matcha? Better than coffee. Soup dumplings? All the rage now. Kimchi? You better eat it up because it’s probiotic, and god knows all our guts need healing. Goji berries? The new superfood. So exotic.
These people are saying they “discovered” this “great new food,” and it’ll be the “hot food trend of XX year.” But these foods aren’t new – we’ve been eating these foods for years.
Ramen was invented in the early 20th century; matcha has been a part of traditional tea ceremonies since 1103; soup dumplings were started in a suburb of Shanghai; kimchi is Korea’s national dish; goji berries are a part of traditional Chinese medicine.
Even as Asian Americans today, we’ve happily slurped up homemade ramen, reveled in finding good matcha, craved soup dumplings from China, pickled our own kimchi, and grown our own goji berries. These foods are a part of our history and culture, both our past and our present.
We’re not saying that only Asians can eat Asian food. We’re really happy that people are starting to appreciate and value our foods. What we are saying is that we’re tired of you calling it a “trend” when these foods have been around longer than you have.