Spread of ethnic food overseas: beneficial or harmful?
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
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,...
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