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Spread of Ethnic Food Overseas: Beneficial or Harmful? Essay

When ethnic food spreads beyond its country of origin, it is commonly seen as beneficial to their respective ethnic minorities and diaspora overseas. This is because bonds are forged when they prepare the food together and it also allows for other countries to appreciate the ethnic food and the country where it originated. As a result, the country’s ethnic identity is reinforced. However, this is a misconception as contrary to typical belief, the introduction of ethnic food overseas dilutes its authenticity and permanently deconstructs the ethnic identity of its country of origin.

Hirose & Pih (2011) argue that a consumer’s cultural culinary experiences and the authenticity of ethnic food are dependent on general associations with ethnic identity, while Bak (2010) feels that the authenticity of ethnic food is diluted once it is introduced overseas because it is altered to suit the locals’ taste. Young (2005) provides an alternative perspective, arguing that the manner of eating an ethnic food affects its authenticity too.

However, Abarca (2004) asserts that one should not insist on the authenticity of ethnic food as it stifles culinary improvements. Young (2005) also mentions how ethnic food is an identity marker and it is actually very hard to define what constitutes an ethnic cuisine because of the subjectivity of differing traditions and perceptions. The aforementioned articles have in common the concepts of authenticity of ethnic food and ethnic identity, though divided on what affects or constitutes authenticity.

Bearing in mind the differing viewpoints on the key concepts discussed, in this paper, a complete definition of authentic ethnic food is one that is prepared, served and consumed in the traditional method as in its country of origin, with the traditional ingredients required to produce its essential features. Therefore, based on this definition, the authenticity of ethnic food is diluted because it is prepared by foreigners, modified to suit the local’s taste, prepared using alternative 1.

WRIT001_Assignment 2B_G19_Ong_DarrenWeiSheng ingredients and consumed in an untraditional manner. This in turn deconstructs the ethnic identity of the country where the ethnic food belongs. Hence, the authenticity of a country’s ethnic cuisine and its ethnic identity will be preserved if its ethnic food were not brought overseas. Perceptions of a restaurateur’s ethnic identity Firstly, consumers have the general perception that the restaurateur’s ethnic race ensures the authenticity of ethnic food he/she serves.

Ethnic identity is commonly equated with the authenticity of ethnic food, as people associate their cultural expectations of ethnic food with the respective ethnic race. Hirose & Pih (2011) agree that in America, the ethnic race of the restaurateur affects the authenticity of the ethnic food they prepare or serve. This is supported by their example of an American food reviewer who insisted that only Japanese should operate Japanese food restaurants to ensure its authenticity (Hirose & Pih, 2011).

Bak, 2010 complements Hirose & Pih by illustrating that Koreans who dine at ethnic food restaurants expect the operator to be of the same ethnicity. Otherwise, they believe that the authenticity of the food would be adversely affected. This is reinforced by her example where a Korean wanted to cancel his appointment at an Indian food restaurant when he mistook the owner as a Korean (Bak, 2010). Furthermore, Brayton & Millington (2011), whose article argues that ethnic food is used to reconstruct migrants’ ethnicity in Canada, support Hirose & Pih and Bak.

They claim that customers are concerned about the ethnic food restaurateur’s race when eating at these restaurants, and quote the culinary experts from the television programme “Restaurant Makeover”, who mention that ethnic restaurateurs should only serve their own ethnic food (Brayton & Millington, 2011). Sukalakamala & Boyce (2007), whose article explores consumers’ perceptions of an authentic Thai dining experience, agrees with the other three articles that the restaurateur’s race affects the perceived authenticity of the ethnic 2.

WRIT001_Assignment 2B_G19_Ong_DarrenWeiSheng food. Their statistical study shows that 73% of their subjects (sample size of 247) feel that the ethnic race of the chef ensures the authenticity of the Thai food, and 81% of them feel that there should only be Thai staff managing the Thai food restaurant (Sukalakamala & Boyce, 2007). The key takeaway from these four articles is: consumers believe the authentic race of the restaurateur assures the ethnic food’s culinary standards he/she prepares or serves, and hence its authenticity.

Since the introduction of ethnic food overseas allows foreigners to open such restaurants in foreign lands, this results in a dilution of the authenticity of ethnic food and permanently deconstructs ethnic identity. However, some foreigners disagree that the authenticity of the ethnic food is diluted when they prepare it. For instance, the Nepalese in Korea claim that they can prepare authentic Indian ethnic cuisine because of their amicable relationship and geographical proximity with the Indians (Bak, 2010).

Nevertheless, even though a foreigner may know or claim to be familiar with the preparation of an ethnic cuisine, customers will still perceive it to be unauthentic as the foreigner is not from that ethnic race. Therefore, this mental barrier that consumers have inevitably translates into the dilution of the ethnic food’s authenticity and permanent deconstruction of ethnic identity when ethnic food is introduced overseas and prepared or served by foreigners. Modification and localisation of ethnic food Furthermore, when ethnic food is brought overseas, restaurateurs modify it to suit the locals’ palates.

Bak (2010) explains that the compromise occurs because of the need to satisfy the customers’ cultural expectations while allowing them to stay in their own food consumption comfort zone. As Bak (2010) points out, Indian food restaurants in Korea tone down on the use of spices because some locals dislike it. Since Indians are known for their spicy food, it 3 WRIT001_Assignment 2B_G19_Ong_DarrenWeiSheng forms a key characteristic of their ethnic identity. Therefore, reducing the use of spices when preparing the Indian food is tantamount to degrading its authenticity and the Indians’ ethnic identity.

Gvion & Trostler (2008), whose article examines how ethnic food has been reconstructed into multi-ethnic cuisines in American restaurants due to the growing interest in multiculturalism in America, agrees with Bak unreservedly. Gvion & Trostler (2008) argue that even before customers try out an ethnic cuisine, it must first appear familiar to them. They strengthen their argument by showing that ethnic food restaurants in America modify their menus to appear as similar as possible to those in the mainstream American restaurants (Gvion & Trostler, 2008).

Young (2005) supports Bak and Gvion & Trostler to a large extent, as she mentions that Korean ethnic dishes served in America are usually sweetened to appeal to the Americans’ taste buds. To support her point, she illustrates how bulgogi, a traditional Korean salty meat dish, is now sweetened with soy sauce to increase its appeal in America (Young, 2005). The essential learning point from these three articles is that ethnic food restaurant operators will modify the ethnic food they serve to suit the locals, in order to attract more customers and business for their restaurants.

After all, the ultimate aim of restaurants lies in profit making, and hence restaurateurs would usually be more than willing to compromise on the authenticity of the ethnic food so as to attract as many customers as possible. Altering the taste of the ethnic food dilutes its authenticity and is akin to a conscious deconstruction of the country’s ethnic identity. However, Abarca (2004) refutes this point, claiming that the modification of ethnic food does not matter, as it leads to the betterment of the ethnic cuisines and enables foreigners to know of it, thereby promoting the country’s ethnic identity.

Abarca (2004) mentions an example where Southwest Americans appreciate the Mexican ethnic food served by the ethnic minorities residing there, and in turn integrate them into their society. Nonetheless, these 4 WRIT001_Assignment 2B_G19_Ong_DarrenWeiSheng foreigners have been short-changed, as the ethnic food they consume is unauthentic to begin with and thus, cannot be said to be an accurate representation or experience of the ethnic food and identity.

Incremental modifications of ethnic food in foreign lands dilute its authenticity and may even result in the loss of its ethnic identity, as other countries may claim it to be theirs. This is highlighted by Sukalakamala & Boyce (2007), where they share how Italian pizza was gradually modified and assimilated by Americans into their diet when introduced into America, and is now claimed to be their ethnic food. This is indeed true as most people generally associate pizza with America nowadays (Sukalakamala & Boyce, 2007).

Overall, even though the introduction of ethnic food overseas allows foreigners to know of it and may promote the country’s ethnic identity, there is still an erosion of the authenticity of the ethnic food since it has been modified. This may even result in the sharing of one’s ethnic food with another country, leading to a deconstruction, followed by reconstruction of the ethnic food and the country’s ethnic identity. Such a reconstruction is damaging to both the ethnic food and the country, as the ethnic food is never the same again.

Substitution of ingredients Moreover, when foreigners or migrants prepare and consume ethnic food, they may substitute key ingredients that are unavailable in their countries with alternatives, therefore degrading the ethnic food’s authenticity. Young (2005) mentions that the Korean diaspora in America substitute unavailable Korean ingredients with local alternatives. She also cites an example of how ethnic food cookbooks in America are forced to replace ethnic ingredients with substitutes due to their unavailability (Young, 2005).

Sukalakamala & Boyce (2007) supplement Young, as they mention that Thai food restaurants in America do not use authentic ingredients, and this observation is supported by their statistical study. In contrast to the Korean diaspora and Thai food restaurateurs in America, Indian restaurateurs in Korea 5 WRIT001_Assignment 2B_G19_Ong_DarrenWeiSheng refrain from doing this, as some of these ingredients are indispensable (Bak, 2010). Indian restaurateurs circumvent this problem by importing such food sources, paying a high premium over local rice varieties to procure traditional basmati rice1 (Bak, 2010). Young (2005) and Gvion & Trostler.

(2008) present the better view, as it is neither realistic nor sustainable to insist on using the original ingredients in places where they are unavailable or simply too expensive. Naysayers such as some ethnic minorities and diaspora rebut this, claiming that the process of preparing and consuming ethnic food bonds them together and reinforces their ethnic identity, despite using local substitutes for the ingredients. They claim that this process reminds themselves of their roots and maintains their culture, hence leading to the fortification of their ethnic identity (Sukalakamala & Boyce, 2007, Young, 2005).

While this routine does create a home beyond their home, these ethnic minorities and diaspora tend to deviate from the traditional way of consuming the ethnic food, doing it in a localised manner and hence diluting the authenticity of the ethnic food. For example, it is a tradition for Koreans to sit on floor mats to consume their ethnic food but this is not practical in America where their floors are usually dirty and not meant for sitting (Young, 2005).

Koreans also have certain customs in the way they eat; they combine certain dishes together while Americans serve their food separately through different courses (Gvion & Trostler, 2008, Young, 2005). Therefore, where ethnic food ingredients are unavailable, food preparation has to make do with unauthentic substitutes. Since these ingredients are crucial in preparing the traditional ethnic food, substitutes fundamentally adulterate the authenticity of the ethnic food and compromise the ethnic identity of the ethnic minorities and diaspora. 1 Basmati rice is a variety of long grain rice grown in India 6.

WRIT001_Assignment 2B_G19_Ong_DarrenWeiSheng In conclusion, the introduction of ethnic food overseas results in ethnic food restaurants being set up by foreigners on foreign grounds, the localisation of ethnic food, substitution of ethnic ingredients and also a deviation from traditional eating practices. These result in a dilution of the ethnic food’s authenticity and leads to the permanent, sometimes conscious, deconstruction of the country’s ethnic identity. Therefore, the authenticity of the ethnic food and the country’s ethnic identity will be preserved if the country’s ethnic food were not brought overseas.

(2000 words) References: 1. Abarca, M. E. (2004). Authentic or Not, It’s Original. Food & Foodways: History & Culture Of Human Nourishment, 12(1), 1-25 2. Bak, S. (Spring 2010). Exoticizing the Familiar, Domesticating the Foreign: Ethnic Food Restaurants in Korea. Korea Journal, 110-123 3. Brayton, S. , & Millington, B. (2011). Renovating ethnic identity on Restaurant Makeover. Social Identities, 17(2), 185-200 4. Gvion, L. , & Trostler, N. (2008). From Spaghetti and Meatballs through Hawaiian Pizza to Sushi: The Changing Nature of Ethnicity in American Restaurants. Journal Of Popular Culture, 41(6), 950-974 7.

WRIT001_Assignment 2B_G19_Ong_DarrenWeiSheng 5. Hirose, A. , & Pih, K. (2011). ‘No Asians working here’: racialized otherness and authenticity in gastronomical Orientalism. Ethnic & Racial Studies, 34(9), 1482-1501 6. Sukalakamala, P. , & Boyce, J. B. (2007). Customer perceptions for expectations and acceptance of an authentic dining experience in Thai restaurants. Journal Of Foodservice, 18(2), 69-75 7. Young, R. O. (2005). Authenticity and Representation: Cuisines and Identities in KoreanAmerican Diaspora. Postcolonial Studies, 8 (1), 109-125 8 WRIT001_Assignment 2B_G19_Ong_DarrenWeiSheng.

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