As a kid, I didn't like cold sandwiches. Growing up, I was never a ham-and-cheese kid, so my grandmother would pack me thermoses of rice, meat, and veggies for lunch. As one out of the five Vietnamese kids in my middle school, I was the black sheep of my group of friends and dreaded lunchtime, but my story isn't unfamiliar to many Asian Americans.

The contents of my flower-printed thermos were always an exciting part of lunch to my ever-so curious friends, but having the food I’ve grown up with be ridiculed felt like a criticism of both my culture and myself. I grew to hate my favorite foods and to enjoy cold sandwiches.

It’s 2019, and Crazy Rich Asians broke the box office last year, Ugly Delicious with David Chang has every Momofuku restaurant booked, and I no longer feel like that 12 year old kid who’s too embarrassed to open her lunch pail. The girls who made fun of my lunches are now sipping matcha lattes at Urth Caffe and snapping pictures of salmon maki at Sugarfish. The Asian food scene is opening doors for Asian-American representation and redefining what it means to be Asian-American.

Introducing Asian American Cuisine

Sarah Fung

To encourage their children to eat vegetables, parents occasionally will bake vegetables into brownies and mac and cheese in hopes that their children will “accidentally” enjoy vegetables and become more open to trying new ones. The popularization of Asian American flavors follows the same pattern.

In the early 1900’s, American Chinese food favorites such as orange chicken and chow mein were created by Chinese immigrants to appeal to the tastes of American miners. Despite these anti-Asian sentiments, restaurants were able to thrive, and later on, traditional Chinese food became popularized. Today, rather than just bombarding American society with a hodgepodge of new flavors, many chefs are taking familiar western flavors and fusing it with Asian ingredients and culinary styles. 

Inclusivity in Media

Remember watching Crazy Rich Asians and drooling over the iconic street food scene or the dumpling making scene? Well, I personally think about them a lot. No one can deny the cultural influence of Crazy Rich Asians, and this movie alongside Netflix shows like Ugly Delicious and Chef's Table have everyone wanting in on the Asian American food scene. The craftsmanship of sushi-makers, the colorful varieties of flavors, and the delicacy put into folding dumplings are all highlighted to paint the picture of Asian American cuisine as more than just Panda Express. Introducing AAPI cultures and foods to people through media representation is a way to deconstruct historical stereotypes about AAPI identities.

Cultural Inclusivity

When I walk into Garden Creamery, one of the most Instagrammed ice cream shops in America, I see ube next to black sesame and matcha next to kaya ice cream. All the flavors are not your typical vanilla or chocolate; instead Garden Creamery introduces customers to traditional Asian flavors through everyone’s favorite dessert: ice cream, a way of integrating new and old.

Erin, the owner, makes an effort to educate all of her customers on the location from which the ingredients are sourced, the ethnic origin of the flavors, and their English names. Having grown up in Hawaii, she was exposed to both a diversity of cultures and a diversity of flavors. Her background lays the foundation to the unique tastes of her ice creams, allowing her audience to experience flavors that are familiar to some and new to others. Offering vegans and lactose-intolerant folks non-dairy sorbets and coconut-based treats, Erin is making the push towards creating a space that is inclusive both dietarily and culturally.

#SpoonTip: Curious about the light green hoji-cha or bright orange lili-koi scoop, but don’t know what either one is? Garden Creamery gives a small description of each one and allows you try each flavor.


There’s a social aspect that Asian food is introducing to the restaurant scene. Rather than ordering individual dishes, family-style is becoming a popular way of eating that allows people to try new things. Whether it's getting dim sum for brunch, grilling bulgogi at Korean barbecue, or sitting together around a steamy pot of hot pot during winter, we are all bonding in some way with each other and with food. You can even eat dessert family-style at popular cafes like U-Dessert Story which encourages sharing large, mango sticky rice toast boxes or matcha bingsoo.

Even drinks can be a social experience. With 26 boba shops within a one mile radius of campus, Berkeley has made boba its unofficial post-midterm treat, and even though I don’t like boba, I’ve gone out for boba at least a couple times this semester for the bonding experience.

Social Inclusivity

The Bay Area is known for opening the dialogue about cultural transformations, and this applies to the food scene. Third Culture Bakery prides itself on being inclusive in every form as the first gay bakery as well as an embodiment of the “third culture” movement for kids such as myself who grew up in between two cultures and are forming their own.

Behind the display case in the pink and white shop, you see a rainbow assortment of donuts with flavors you’ve grown up with your whole life next to flavors you have yet to try. Wenter Shyu and Sam Butar integrate parts of their own culture through donut flavors such as matcha and honey saffron, but they also put these flavors aside others like Vietnamese iced coffee and black sesame. This mixing of flavors from across Asia is indicative of the change in what it means to be an Asian-American today.

Intercultural Solidarity

Asian fusion food is both a reclamation of and an introduction to an Asian America. Traditionally, “fusion” foods were popularized by white chefs who sold “exotic” dishes for high prices. However, chefs today such as Roy Choi are reclaiming it as a part of their identities through Korean-fusion street tacos or chicken tikka masala on fries. Growing up in America, you’re constantly surrounded by people of different backgrounds and ethnicities, and everyone brings something to the table. Fusion food is a tangible, yet symbolic representation of each individual’s own experience and allows them to tell their story.

Because I’m Asian, many people expected me to know everything about banchan and sushi even though I was raised on Sunday dim-sum brunches and bowls of pho during cold winters. Surrounded by this multicultural environment, each individual’s experience differs from one another, and with the intermingling of cultures comes culture and cuisine that is sometimes considered inauthentic and othered. Yes, I’m upset that I grew up trying to avoid speaking Vietnamese in public, that I hated lunchtimes, that I wanted to like Sara Lee and Kraft cheese. But there’s an intercultural solidarity that comes with me introducing my friends to Vietnamese food, them introducing me to food from their culture, and us all trying the different fusion restaurants in the Mission District that reminds me that the food scene is just echoing the social changes around me.

Being Asian-American used to be hyphenated: you’re either Asian or you’re American. However, now, I see a new culture coming up where the hyphen isn’t a hyphen—it’s a bridge. It's time to recognize America not as a melting pot, but rather, as a hot pot where we recognize and celebrate each individual culture. Asian-American now refers to one unified identity connected by sharing flavors and experiences. I can say that I like cold sandwiches now, but only when they’re made of milk bread and chashu.