Fusion food can be cringey, conjuring up images of ’90s-era trends in which East-meets-West flavors collided on the plate (wasabi mashed potatoes, anyone?). Culinary overlap, on the other hand, is a natural expression of identity for those of us who live across cultures—and it tastes great.
Somyeon noodles with marinara sauce. Meatballs seasoned with sesame oil and soy sauce. Always pizza with kimchi on the side. These cross-cultural combinations may sound familiar if you are the child of immigrants, as I am. Growing up in New York City, I had access to a dizzying array of foods, including charred lamb gyros, perfectly spiced Jamaican patties, and succulent pernil.
This exposure, along with the traditional Korean cooking I ate at home, shaped my tastes. My family infused Asian flavors into almost everything we ate, which felt like a concession at times (sometimes you just want a plain old sloppy joe like any other kid, you know?). Today, however, that same impulse is practically a fad: I’ve seen gochujang on chain restaurant menus and bulgogi taco kits at the supermarket. I didn’t realize how fortunate I was to be immersed in so many culinary traditions at the same time. I now do. Mixing cuisines is not a trend or a compromise for many of us; it is a natural part of cooking in our multicultural kitchens.
Consider these recipes a love letter to my younger self, a mash-up of traditional dishes and flavors from my childhood: Miso swirled into chocolate chip cookies marries kalbi jjim with Jewish braised brisket. Not fusion, but not non-fusion either. It’s all comfort food, rooted in nostalgia and comfort—neither here nor there, but seemingly, and now comfortably, everywhere.